Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Louis Crompton on the "Theological Assault" of the Ulpianic-Thomistic Conception of Natural Law (Part I)

My theologian friend Terry Dosh is downsizing his library and recently offered me a number of his books. One of the titles I accepted was Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton (pictured at right). Described by Q Syndicate columnist Richard Labonte as a "master work of interpretive scholarship," Homosexuality and Civilization is a readily accessible book that deftly and entertainingly examines how major civilizations of the last two millennia have treated people attracted to their own sex. In its review of the book, notes that "in a narrative tour de force, Crompton chronicles the lives and achievements of homosexual men and women alongside a darker history of persecution, as he compares the Christian West with the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, Arab Spain, imperial China, and pre-Meiji Japan."

In the following excerpt (the first of two) Crompton examines the "theological assault" on homosexuality, indeed on human sexuality in general, that is the understanding of natural law formulated by theologian Thomas Aquinas. It's an understanding that is built, in part, on the third century Roman jurist Ulpian. As Crompton notes, Aquinas' magisterial work Summa Theologiae, which wedded Catholic theology with Aristotle, systematized and rationalized the church's long-held opinions on (and thus hostility towards) any form of non-procreative sexual expression, including homosexuality. It's an "assault" that continues to this day as the Ulpianic-Thomistic conception of natural law remains the underlying philosophical and theological presuppositions for the Vatican's teaching on human sexuality.

Of course, in light of human experience and the findings of science, these presuppositions and the teachings that stem from them are now widely recognized as erroneous and inadequate. They also remain potentially fatal – especially for LGBT people. After all, for centuries, homosexuals were publicly put to death in horrendous ways for living lives contrary to what was deemed "natural" by the church's clerical caste. As Crompton notes in his book's preface, "A candid examination [indicates] that, from the very birth of Christianity, a hatred existed fully comparable to the hatred directed at pagans and Jews in the first millennium and at heretics, Jews, and witches in the first seven centuries of the second. Certainly, the resulting deaths were in this case fewer, but the rhetorical condemnations were violent in the extreme and chillingly insistent on the need for the death penalty." Today the hierarchy's homo-negativity impacts LGBT people, and youth in particular, in more subtle though no less potentially fatal ways.

I share this excerpt from Homosexuality and Civilization as part of The Wild Reed's ongoing exploration of natural-law theory. For alternatives to the Ulpianic-Thomistic approach, see The Wild Reed's series, "Beyond the Hierarchy: Liberating Catholic Insights on Sexuality."

In 1120 a joint council of church and state held in the Near East was an ominous harbinger of the future. Crusading Norman and French knights had carved out a kingdom in the Holy Land after their capture of Jerusalem in 1099, but their position there was hardly secure. Gormund, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, lamented that beleaguered Christians dared not go even a mile outside the towns they occupied. In 1119 forces under Roger of Antioch had suffered an especially devastating defeat on the so-called Field of Blood, a reversal that seems to have kindled the same kind of siege mentality that had infected Carolingian society three centuries earlier.

Church and state now cooperated in a council that met at Nablus, a historic town thirty miles north of Jerusalem, with a mixed population of Franks, Samaritans, and Muslims. Though the meeting ranked formally as a church council, it was in fact a quasi-political assembly of ecclesiastical and secular officeholders, presided over jointly by King Baldwin III and Gormund. As at the Council of Paris, military anxieties led to harsh morals legislation and several statutes on homosexuality. Active and passive partners were both to be burned. Male rape victims were spared only if they had "cried out loudly," but they still had to perform a religious penance; if a man was raped twice, he might be burned as a consenting sodomite. Self-confessed sodomites were to do penance for the first offense and to be exiled after a second confession. It has been conjectured that concerns about same-sex relations in the Holy Land sprang from several sources: their well-publicized prevalence among the Normans, the fear that crusaders would adopt the freer mores of the Islamic East, and the scarcity of Christian women.

A council held in far-off Palestine would, of course, be remote from the centers of European affairs. But the Third Lateran Council, which met in Rome in 1179, also raised the issue of homosexuality. Convened by Alexander III to deal with his conflict with Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, it was the grandest council the Latin church had yet seen. It addressed the growing threat of heresy, made new rules for papal elections, decreed that no one might (like John of Orléans) be made a bishop before the age of thirty, and issued decrees on sodomy. Canon 11 declared that married clergy should lose their benefices and that priests "involved in that incontinence which is against nature" should be deposed from clerical office and relegated to a monastery to do penance.

By this decree errant priests were hidden from public view and spared secular punishment. Laymen faced a much more severe fate, since the same canon provided that they should be "excommunicated and completely isolated from contact with believers." In the medieval world, excommunication could have dire consequences. In Denmark, Aragon, and the German empire, for instance, it could mean a sentence of death if the secular authorities chose to act.

Far more important, however, than such canons in definitively fixing the church's stance on homosexuality was a magisterial work, completed in 1267-1273, which sought to reconcile faith and reason by wedding Catholic theology with Aristotle. this was the Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Though he had earlier been suspected of heresy, Thomas was finally canonized in the fourteenth century, and in 1879 his writings were recognized by Leo XIII as the official philosophy of the Catholic Church. There is, however, nothing innovative about Aquinas' judgment of homosexuality; here the Summa systematizes and rationalizes long-held opinions.

The distinguishing feature of the Summa is its attempt to justify traditional Christian morality by an appeal to natural law. Thus, Aquinas both embraces Old Testament standards and develops a philosophical point of view he thinks has validity quite apart from scripture. Accordingly, he classifies "unnatural" sex acts into four categories according to their seriousness. First is "solitary sin" or masturbation; second, heterosexual intercourse in the "wrong vessel" (that is, anal or oral intercourse) or in the wrong position; third "sodomy," that is, relations with the wrong sex; and finally, most sinful of all, bestiality.

Aquinas' condemnation of homosexuality as unnatural rests on two principles of natural law, both as ancient as Plato's Laws. The first was the theory that animals do not engage in same-sex behavior, and the second was the fact that it is non-procreative. The doctrine of natural law has been enshrined in Roman law by the third-century jurist Ulpian, who in a passage incorporated into Justinian's Digest had defined natural law as "what nature has taught all animals." "This law," Ulpian declares, "is not unique to the human race but common to all animals born on land or sea and to birds as well. From it comes the union of male and female which we call marriage, as well as the procreation of children and their proper rearing. We see in fact that all other animals, even wild beasts, are regulated bu understanding of this law." Though Ulpian speaks only of heterosexual pairings, Aquinas, in the Summa, turns his definition into an implicit condemnation of homosexuality, declaring that some "special sins are against nature, as, for instance, those that run counter to the intercourse of male and female natural to animals, and so are peculiarly qualified as unnatural vices."

All this points to a broader question, again as old as the Greeks: is it really appropriate to take animals as our models? Animal behavior may be admirable or horrifying. Whatever our concern for other species, most people would regard most human achievements as something distinct from animal behavior. Charles Curran, commenting on the use of the Ulpianic-Thomistic conception of natural law in Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical on contraception, has suggested that "a proper understanding of the human should start with that which is proper to humans . . . Ulpian's concept of natural law logically falsifies the understanding of the human." Obviously, an appeal to animal behavior as a guide to morals under the rubric of natural law is open to a multitude of reservations.

Today, modern biological science has raised another objection. Extensive research has shown that same-sex behavior is quite common in the animal world. Zoologists publishing in scientific journals have documented same-sex activity among more than 450 species "in every major geographical region and in every major animal group." These include groups as diverse as gorillas, elephants, lions, dolphins, antelopes, kangaroos, llamas, warthogs, gulls, and turtles. Indeed, the "natural" world seems deliberately designed to confound natural-law moralists, for not only do hundreds of species engage in every kind of same-sex eroticism but more than one-third form male or female couples, bond as devoted pairs, and on occasion feed, protect, and rear young.


For more on natural law at The Wild Reed see:
Aquinas and Homosexuality
Daniel Helminiak on the Vatican's Natural Law Mistake
Nathanial Frank on the "Natural Law" Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage
Homosexuality is Not Unnatural
Rediscovering What Has Been Written on Our Hearts from the Very Beginning
Dialoguing with the Archbishop on Natural Law
Spirituality and the Gay Experience
Joan Timmerman and the "Wisdom of the Body"
Good News on the Road to Emmaus
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
Liberated to Be Together
The Blood-Soaked Thread

See also The Wild Reed series, “Perspectives on Natural Law,” featuring the insights of:
Herbert McCabe, OP
Judith Web Kay
Daniel Helminiak
Garry Wills
Gregory Baum
William C. McDonough

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Quote of the Day

The tragic story [of sixteen-year-old Sergio Urrego's suicide] is why it matters that discussions of Catholic families include discussions of gay Catholic families. And of Catholic families who have gay members.

And of Catholic institutions whose coldness and brutality towards those who are gay can make a life-or-death difference, especially for vulnerable young people.

– William D. Lindsey
"Another Suicide of Gay Teen: Catholic Context"
September 15, 2014

Related Off-site Links:
Gay Teen Commits Suicide After Being Outed and Harassed by Catholic School Officials – Adrian Garcia (The Gaily Grind, September 11, 2014).
The Makeup of Synod of Bishops on the Family is Disappointing – Thomas Reese (National Catholic Reporter, September 10, 2014).
Pope Francis’ Course and Crew for Synod Family Sail Can Sink the Vatican Titanic – Jerry Slevin (Christian Catholicism, September 2014).
How LGBT-Friendly Are the Appointees to the Synod on Marriage and Family? – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, September 11, 2014).
The Ways of Love: International Conference Towards Pastoral Care with Homosexual and Trans People – October 3, 2014Ways of Love (September 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Minnesota Catholics, LGBT Students, and the Ongoing Work of Creating Safe and Supportive Schools
Confronting Classroom Homophobia
Making Sure All Families Matter
The Blood-Soaked Thread

Image: Source.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Visit to the Weisman

On Sunday, September 8, my friend Joan and I visited the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota.

I share this evening photos of both the unique architecture of the Weisman and some of the artworks in its diverse collection. Enjoy!

Above: Joan takes a look at Charles Biederman's "#4, Diaz" (designed 1986, fabricated 1990).

Notes Wikipedia:

The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum is an art museum located on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. A teaching museum for the university since 1934, the museum is named for Frederick R. Weisman, a Minneapolis native who became well known as an art collector in Los Angeles. Often called a "modern art museum," the 20,000+ image collection has large collections of Marsden Hartley, Alfred Maurer, Charles Biederman, Native American Mimbres pottery, and Korean furniture. The museum's current building, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, was completed in 1993. The stainless steel skin was fabricated and installed by the A. Zahner Company, a frequent collaborator with Gehry's office. This "skin" of curving and angular brushed steel sheets is an abstraction of a waterfall and a fish.

Above: "#27, Giverny" (designed 1952, fabricated 1971) by Charles Biederman.

Above: "Self Portrait" (1897) by Alfred Maurer.

Above: A work by Edith Carlson.

Above: "Untitled" (1984) by Keith Haring.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Visit to the National Museum of the American Indian
A Visit to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry
A Visit to Kansas City's Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
An Afternoon at the Science Museum
A Day at the Abbey
Return to the Abbey

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In the Garden of Spirituality – Beatrice Bruteau


“We are not on earth to guard a museum,
but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

– Pope John XXIII

The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on religion and spirituality continues with an excerpt from a 2006 interview with Beatrice Bruteau (right) who, notes What is Enlightenment? senior editor Elizabeth Debold, is "a practicing Catholic whose evolutionary theory is a unique synthesis of the two great twentieth-century evolutionary spiritual pioneers of the West and East: the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Indian sage and revolutionary Sri Aurobindo Ghose."

Somewhere deep down we are all filled with a mystical longing, with a longing for ultimate meaningfulness, and therefore we need to see all of our world in that context. To attain this in today's climate, we need a new theology of the cosmos—one that is grounded in the best science of our day. It will be a theology in which God is very present precisely in all the dynamism and patterns of the created order. A theology of evolution sees God as deeply involved in the evolutionary process of the world. God is making the world by means of evolution. And the evolutionary process in its turn is seen as striving toward God. So, you see, God is Self-expressing and Self-realizing in evolution.

. . . Deep reality is that place in the center of our being where we experience our existence in an unlimited way. The deep self is not defined, not described by any of the qualities of our bodies or personalities, by our histories or social positions, our jobs, or our religions. This is fairly hard to realize. We tend to think of ourselves, introduce ourselves to others, believe others are seeing us in terms of these qualities. In meditation and its associated practices, we try to center ourselves in our sense of existing without identifying with these descriptors. To the extent that we become accustomed to this, we may spontaneously behave in a new way.

You can see from this how our energy is affected. When we define ourselves in terms of our qualities, we have to devote energy to protecting them and trying to gain more valuable ones—more beauty, personality, wealth, power, social status. But if we liberate ourselves from such identity, then all that energy becomes available for the radiation of goodwill to others. We have realized ourselves as the Self that says only I AM, with no predicate following, not “I am a this” or “I have that quality.” Only unlimited, absolute I AM.

And the interesting thing is that as soon as you experience yourself this way, you at once find that you also are saying toward the whole world, “Let it be!” It seems to be the nature of that which is I AM to say, “Let it be.” This is the love that is called “agape.” Agape is the love that seeks the being, well-being, full being, ever-fuller being, of the beloved. It is a love that is not a reaction to the beloved but rather a first action, an action beginning in you, coming out from the center of your being because of the nature of your being. This energy of love is inexhaustible. It doesn’t have to be reserved or apportioned or used economically. It is plentiful, bountiful, enormous. It is a dynamic out-flowing activity, energy. It’s constantly in motion and radiant, like a star is radiant. It streams out from us in every way. The True Self in us is constantly radiating this willed goodness.

– Beatrice Bruteau

NOTE: Under the auspices of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform I recently developed and have started presenting a workshop entitled Companions on a Sacred Journey: An Introduction to Evolutionary Spirituality. (To learn more about this workshop and/or to schedule a presentation of it to your faith community, click here.) In this workshop I outline the characteristics or hallmarks of evolutionary spirituality by noting that such a spirituality . . .

• Encompasses a “theology of the cosmos” and thus a “theology of evolution” – a way of thinking and talking about God that recognizes and celebrates God’s presence and action within and through creation.

• Is open and responsive to the questions posed by science and the unfolding reality of the universe.

• Is mindful of and attuned to mystery, in particular the mystery of the sacred within all things.

• Places emphasis on inter-connectivity, inter-dependence, and the oneness of all creation.

• Is accepting of paradox and emphasizes “both/and” rather than “either/or.”

• Recognizes and celebrates that we are all participants in a “divine journey,” one that urges us to ever more inclusive states of being.

• Recognizes that we are in a time of transition and transformation, often understood as a “paradigm shift” in human consciousness. Because it calls for a fundamental change in our thoughts, perceptions, and values, this shift challenges us in how we think about and relate to God, the planet, each other, and all forms of human institutions, including the church.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
In the Garden of Spirituality – Ilia Delio
Sufism: A Call to Awaken
Keeping the Spark Alive: Conversing with "Modern Mystic" Chuck Lofy

Related Off-site Link:
Vatican at War with Nuns Over Evolutionary Thinking – Jason Berry (Global Post via The Progressive Catholic Voice, June 10, 2014).

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Memet Bilgin and the Art of Restoring Balance

Lately I've been aware that in a number of areas in my life I'm lacking focus, discipline and balance. I periodically find myself mired in this way and draw inspiration to move beyond it, in part, by immersing myself in images and thoughts, along with the words and insights, of dancers. After all, these are women and men who, like gymnasts, jugglers, acrobats, and other types of athletes, cultivate and maintain high degrees of focus, discipline and balance. They do so in order to move and operate with grace and flexibility from a core of strength and power. I find such language and imagery an instructive metaphor for the spiritual life (one of those areas I need to work on!) Indeed, I like to think of myself as having the soul of a dancer. Perhaps you feel that way too!


Strictly speaking, Memet Bilgin isn't a dancer, though he definitely has the physical strength and grace of one. In his youth, the 36-year-old Turkish Canadian was a member of the Turkish national sailing team and seemed set for a career in computer programming when he turned to the arts in his early 20s. By age twenty-four, he was half of the award-winning aerial duet Wings of Desire, which combined an eclectic mix of dance, traditional mime and aerial acrobatics. Currently, Memet is performing the "Sanddorn Balance" act which, although designed by others, he has very much perfected and made his own. When I was in Australia earlier this year my brother Chris and his wife Cathie generously treated me to the show Empire, staged in a carnival-style venue on the rooftop of the Crown Casino in Melbourne. Memet is one of the performers in this highly theatrical and entertaining show, and his Sanddorn Balance act is a definite highlight.

Following is an excerpt from Jessica Leo's Advertiser article about Empire and Memet's understanding of his role in it. Basically, he sees his act as a metaphor for the restoring of balance in a world of misplaced priorities and depersonalizing objectification. This understanding of the importance of and need for balance is applicable to a range of situations. I certainly find it speaks to me and my life at this time. I also appreciate the emphasis on restoring balance. This is helpful in two ways. First, it reminds us that our experience of balance is often fleeting, and so we shouldn't beat ourselves up when things aren't perfect, aren't one-hundred percent of the time harmonious. I like how in this post's opening image, Memet looks as though he's "picking up the pieces," which brings me to the second point I want to make: the seeking of balance and all the practices and exercises and "starting overs" that this involves are all part of the journey . . . and maybe even where it's at! We find balance in our seeking of balance. In our spiritual life, this might mean something as simple as the one prayer or the half-hour of meditation we did today that we didn't do yesterday or haven't done for quite some time. (Memet's act starts with a simple feather balanced on a small stick!) In such simple heartfelt acts we begin to restore balance and harmony. And through these we can experience oneness with the transforming love that is the sacred source and sustainer of all.

Memet Bilgin is one of the stars of Empire, a show which walks the line between burlesque, circus and comedic cabaret.

Around a decade ago, Istanbul-born Memet Bilgin left a career in computer programming to run away and join the circus. It’s not a common leap for most to make, especially someone who as a child was deeply immersed in the laws of physics and mathematics but for the disarming Turk – who these days calls Montreal home – it was all about rounding out his inner desires.

“I think it happened because I was looking for something artistic in my life and I think my artistic half was always there …. but it was in my early 20s I started realising I was craving arts,” he says.

And he’s not about to head back to a desk job anytime soon, even though his current gig, touring Australia with Spiegelworld’s new show Empire, is keeping him away from two other passions – renovating his Canadian cottage and building a boat.

In fact, Bilgin’s role in the show – which includes a deeply focused finale in which he balances a feather on a collection of precariously balanced branches – couldn’t be further from life in front of a computer. Performed night after night to audiences stunned into silence it’s an act that requires Bilgin to enter a somewhat meditative state.

“The good thing about the act is it really does clear me mentally. It’s not an act with residual stress, like a desk job when you come out of an eight-hour shift and you’re exhausted from it mentally,” he says. “For me it’s a very rejuvenating act mentally but it is very tiring physically.”

It is also a role that brought him out of three years’ retirement from the circus with Bilgin joining the cast just before Empire left its debut town of New York City to tour Australia.

For Bilgin – and most of show’s cast – there is plenty of meaning imbued in Empire’s subtext even if for audiences it’s simply billed as an “outrageous night out”, walking the line between burlesque, circus and comedic cabaret.

“The show for me is really about the last six years including the economic crisis of 2008 and every major theme that has run through those six years,’’ he says.

“There is a facet mirrored in this show – from the Bubble Girl, which for me represents our admiration of all things beautiful even though we just want to trap them in plastic cases, to the Gorilla Girls, which are about ‘sex sells’. . . and I think initially what it was is the branch balance number was about restoring balance at the end."

And now for an added treat! Here's part of's October 2013 interview with Memet. Enjoy!

Tell us how you were approached to be part of Empire?

A fateful phone call, one November day… (that was in autumn, for us northerners).

Who came up with the name “Stick Guy”?

Stick guy just came out of the ether of the show: at one point or another, everyone has gotten a diminutive shorthand name associated with them, and this was the one that stuck with me.

We saw your performance in Empire last time you were in Melbourne. We were gobsmacked at your sheer strength and concentration it took to balance those long sticks, how do you get your mind and body into that shape to perform something so physically draining and impossible for us mere mortals to achieve?

This act really solicits many disciplines I’ve done elsewhere in my life and career. From mime and dance training, to my personal hobby that is freediving, to the strength I got as an ex-aerialist. Ultimately, it is years of being on stage and knowing one’s body and mind.

Where did the stick balancing idea originate from?

The branch balance (or Sanddorn Balance as it’s originally called) came out of a Swiss circus company called Rigolo. Rigolo has been doing these kinds of shows for over three decades, and this was just one of the many original ideas that came from their endless creative process. As with all art, it came about accidentally, and funny enough, this number was originally almost cut from the final show it was in. But thank goodness it wasn’t, and instead was taken to its full potential to what you can see today.

How many hours a day or week do you practice and what does your training involve?

In life, I train in one discipline or another at a very minimum of one hour every day. This is my strict minimum. When we are in creation or rehearsals, it is like a full time job (or even more), with 8 to 12 hour days. Being on tour is a special kind of regimen, and usually involves an hour or so of warmup and/or rehearsal 6 days a week (plus the 2~4 hour “high alert” state you have to remain in throughout the duration of the show). In my younger years when I was doing aerial work, my minimum daily training was more like 2 hours.

Everyone has a bad day, however as a professional how do you ensure that your performance is as flawless as possible?

This is an interesting question and is really, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects of being a good performer.

I would say 99% of the effort and energy I put into my performance is in reducing risk and making sure things work properly. From the moment I get up in the morning to after the bows at the end of the show, I’m always aware that there is a performance to be done, and that I am depended upon. On stage, all of that sweat, all of the concentration is entirely dedicated to making sure nothing goes wrong. Sure, sometimes things can go wrong, but it is my job to make sure it’s as close to never as possible. For instance, in over ten years of performing, I have never missed a show, never called in sick (knock on wood). Come rain come shine, Freddy Mercury said it best: show must go on.

What about the sticks? Are they made from any special tree or do they have to be a certain weight?

The branches are dried palm fronds with very minimal treatment. I treat the tips of the branches so that they don’t fray or crack from wear and tear. Otherwise though, they’re just plain old sticks. They are, of course, carefully selected for their weight, but aren’t otherwise special.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
There Must Be Balance
May Balance and Harmony Be Your Aim
A Discerning Balance Between Holiness and Wholeness: A Hallmark of the Resurrected Life
Seeking Balance
The Soul of a Dancer
A Dance of Divine Light
Prayer of the Week – October 28, 2013
A Visit to Melbourne

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

To Be Held and to Hold

God wants to love you in all that you are, spirit and body. . . . How then do you bring your body home? By letting it participate in your deepest desire to receive and offer love. Your body needs to be held and to hold, to be touched and to touch. None of these needs is to be despised, denied, or repressed. But you have to keep searching for your body's deeper need, the need for genuine love. Every time you are able to go beyond the body's superficial desires . . . you are bringing your body home and moving toward integration and unity.

– Henri J.M. Nouwen
Excerpted from The Inner Voice of Love
p. 19

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Garden of Spirituality – Henri Nouwen
Lent with Henri
David Whyte: "To Be Courageous is to Stay Close to the Way We Are Made"
"In Finding Myself, I Found God and My Voice"
Lovemaking: Pathway to Truth, Harmony and Wholeness
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
The Longing for Love: God's Primal Beatitude
Never Say It is Not God
Just Now and Then
Love at Love's Brightest

Related Off-site Links:
Henri Nouwen: Priest and Author Who Struggled with His Homosexuality – Kittredge Cherry (Jesus in Love Blog, September 21, 2012).
The Anguish of a Closeted PriestNihil Obstat (June 24, 2008).
The Official Website of the Henri Nouwen Society

Recommended Books:
Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen – Michael Ford (Image, 2002).
Henri's Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen's Legacy – Chris Glaser (Pilgrim Press, 2010).

Image: Marcus Dean and Bill Heck in Yen Tan's 2013 film Pit Stop. To read Michael D. Klemm's review, click here. For an interview with Jonathan Duffy, the film's producer, click here.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Visions of Crazy Horse

Depictions of the "strange man of the Oglalas"
in art, film, and sculpture.

Today marks the 137th anniversary of the murder of the Oglala Lakota warrior and mystic Tȟašúŋke Witkó ('His-Horse-Is-Crazy' or 'His-Horse-Is-Spirited') generally known as Crazy Horse (ca. 1840 – 1877).

I've chosen to commemorate the life and journey of Crazy Horse on this day by sharing various depictions of him in art, film, and sculpture.

Right: Standing next to the stone cairn that marks the spot at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where Crazy Horse was fatally bayoneted on September 5, 1877. For more images and commentary on my 2013 visit to Fort Robinson, click here.

As I've mentioned in a previous Wild Reed post, my interest in Crazy Horse has little to do with the warrior aspect of his story but rather with what writer Ian Frazier says is the "magic of Crazy Horse . . . how unique and brave and chivalrous and unpredictable and uncaught he was."

In Frazier's opinion, Crazy Horse was great because he "remained himself from the moment of his birth to the moment he died. . . [H]e knew exactly where he wanted to live, and never left." Furthermore, writes Frazier, Crazy Horse's "dislike of the oncoming civilization was prophetic. He never met the President, never rode on a train, slept in a boarding house, or ate at a table. And, unlike many people all over the world, when he met white men he was not diminished by the encounter."

Known by the Oglala Lakotas as "our strange man," Crazy Horse was somewhat of a loner; an outlier dedicated to the welfare of his people but indifferent to tribal norms. He ignored, for instance, the sundance and, writes Larry McMurtry, "didn't bother with any of the ordeals of purification that many young Sioux [or Lakota] men underwent." Orthodoxy was never Crazy Horse's way – yet another reason, no doubt, for my admiration and interest in his life and story. I also appreciate and resonate with author Chris Hedges' observation that Crazy Horse's "ferocity of spirit remains a guiding light for all who seek lives of defiance."

Crazy Horse never allowed himself to be photographed. Over the years, however, numerous photographic images have surfaced purporting to show the 'strange man of the Oglalas.' A number of these images are on display at the Crazy Horse Museum at Thunderhead Mountain, South Dakota (below).

It should be noted that although Crazy Horse was a skilled warrior, his humility ensured that he never wore a war bonnet, as two of the figures are depicted wearing in the display of photographs above. Of these photographs, perhaps the most controversial is the one at bottom right. For a discussion on this particular image and how it was ultimately deemed not to be a photograph of Crazy Horse, click here.

Left: A 1934 sketch of Crazy Horse made by a Mormon missionary after interviewing Crazy Horse's sister, who claimed the depiction was accurate. The drawing belongs to Crazy Horse's family, and has been publicly shown only once, on the PBS program History Detectives.

Right: A black-and-white image of an ink and watercolor portrait of Crazy Horse painted around 1940 by Lakota artist Andrew Standing Soldier. According to the Lakota Country Times, "the artist had gained a reputation for his accurate portrayals of Lakota life in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as historic events. The painting was based on descriptions given the artist by Crazy Horse's relatives and close friends, who reportedly pronounced it an excellent likeness." The original of this painting is in the Sheridan County Historical Museum in Rushville, Nebraska.

Above: Crazy Horse’s fatal stabbing at Camp Robinson on September 5, 1877, recorded by the Oglala artist Amos Bad Heart Bull. According to Thomas Powers in The Killing of Crazy Horse (2010), "One fact was remembered with special clarity by almost every witness – Little Big Man’s effort to hold Crazy Horse as he struggled to escape."

Power's The Killing of Crazy Horse is the most extensively researched book available on the death of Crazy Horse. Following is an excerpt from Susan Salter Reynolds' Los Angeles Times review of Power's book.

History and story, myth and legend, primary and secondary sources form a thicket around Crazy Horse's death. He was certainly a threat to the U.S. Army. For 20 of his approximately 33 years, he fought U.S. government efforts to encroach on native land, particularly in the gold-rich Black Hills of South Dakota. He was a significant leader in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 and has been credited by many with the Native American victory in that engagement and the death of Gen. George Armstrong Custer. This was only one of the many battles in Crazy Horse's life. Stories of his bravery, told in other tribes and reported in various newspapers, took on a mystical, legendary quality even in his lifetime. These stories have grown even more vivid with time — for many, Crazy Horse has been the human embodiment of the last stand in the Native American way of life. Treaties came and went, but Crazy Horse represented something different: Native American power.

. . . The death of Crazy Horse seems a hollow, pointless betrayal, premeditated by U.S. officials. Although many accounts recorded by soldiers claim that Crazy Horse backed into the bayonet of a soldier ushering him toward the jailhouse, there can be no doubt after Powers' telling that he was murdered and that the murder was planned.

Above: The killing of Crazy Horse as depicted by Joe Servello in William Kotzwinkle's children's book The Return of Crazy Horse.

Above: Amos Bad Heart Bull's depiction of the June 25-26, 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn. Crazy Horse is pictured center.

Above: The Battle of the Little Big Horn as illustrated by S.D. Nelson in Joseph Bruchac's children's book Crazy Horse's Vision. Writes Nelson:

As a member of the Standing Rock Sioux [or Lakota] tribe in the Dakotas, my painting has been influenced by the traditional ledger book style of my ancestors. The picture on the endpapers of this book [detail above] was painted in the traditional ledger book style of the
plains Indians, which include the Lakota people. It shows the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the crowning achievement of the Lakota chief, Crazy Horse.

What is the ledger book style and where did it come from? During the last part of the nineteenth century, Native peoples were forced onto reservations by the United States government. Some of the strongest resistance to this was among the Plains Indians. As a result, many of their leaders were put in prison, and hundreds of children were sent east to boarding schools to be "civilized." During this time, some Indians were given ledger books in which to draw. These books had lined pages and were intended for bookkeeping. Artists used pencils, pens, and watercolors on the ledger book pages to create bold images of their vanishing culture. Their work was distinguished by outlined two dimensional figures and indistinct facial expressions.

Continues S.D. Nelson in the "Illustrator's Note" of Crazy Horse's Vision:

For the Lakota people, colors have special meanings. For example, red represents the east where each day begins with the rising of the sun. Yellow represents the south, summer, and where things grow. I painted Crazy Horse blue because blue represents the sky and a connection with the spirit world.

I included other traditional symbols in my art for this book. Plains Indians often painted themselves, their horses, and their tipis. They believed that doing so gave them special spiritual powers. Warriors used images of lightning bolts and hail spots to represent the awesome power of a thunderstorm. Images of lizards and dragonflies represented speed and elusiveness.

As a young boy, Crazy Horse, then known as Curly, embarked on a vision quest. As was his way, however, he ignored the rituals and procedures of purification that would normally precede such a quest. Yet a vision he had. Following is how Russell Freedman describes this vision in his book The Life and Death of Crazy Horse. This excerpt is accompanied by S.D. Nelson's cover illustration for Joseph Bruchac's Crazy Horse's Vision (left) and a depiction of Crazy Horse's vision by artist Roy La Plante from the cover of Win Blevins' Stone Song: A Novel of the Life of Crazy Horse (below).

For two days [Curly] remained on the hilltop without eating, fighting off sleep, his eyes like burning holes in his head, his mouth as dry as the sandhills around him. When he could barely keep his eyes open, he would get up and walk around and sing to himself. He grew weak and faint, but no vision came to him. Finally, on the third day, feeling unworthy of a vision, he started unsteadily down the hill to the lake where he had left his hobbled pony.

His head was spinning, his stomach churning. The earth seemed to be shaking around him. He reached out to steady himself against a tree. Then – as he himself would later describe it – he saw his horse coming toward him from the lake, holding his head high, moving his legs freely. He was carrying a rider, a man with long brown hair hanging loosely below his waist. The horse kept changing colors. It seemed to be floating, floating above the ground, and the man sitting on the horse seemed to be floating, too.

The rider's face was unpainted. He had a hawk's feather in his hair and a small brown stone tied behind one ear. He spoke no sounds, but Curly heard him even so. Nothing he had ever seen with his eyes was as clear and bright as the vision that appeared to him now. And no words he had ever heard with his ears were like the words he seemed to be hearing.

The rider let him know that he must never wear a war bonnet. He must never paint his horse or tie up its tail before going into battle. Instead, he should sprinkle his horse with dust, then rub some dust over his own hair and body. And after a battle, he must never take anything for himself.

All the while the horse and rider kept moving toward him. They seemed to be surrounded by a shadowy enemy. Arrows and bullets were streaking toward the long-haired rider but fell away without touching him. Then a crowd of people appeared, the rider's own people, it seemed, clutching at his arms, trying to hold him back, but he rode right through them, shaking them off. A fierce storm came up, but the man kept riding. A few hail spots appeared on his body, and a little zigzag streak of lightning on his cheek. The storm faded. A small red-backed hawk flew screaming over the man's head. Still the people grabbed at him, making a great noise, pressing close around him, grabbing, grabbing. But he kept riding.

The vision faded. . . .

Above: Detail of a depiction of Crazy Horse by Kenneth Ferguson (2006).

The Death of Crazy Horse: A Tragic Episode in Lakota History is a compilation of eyewitness accounts of the last days of Crazy Horse. Edited by Richard G Hardorff, the book contains the "narrative" of Susan Bordeaux Bettelyoun, born near Fort Laramie in 1857. In the 1930s Bettelyoun wrote a number of manuscripts, one of which is known as the Crazy Horse manuscript. Following is an excerpt.

My husband, Chas Tackett, was a scout, but when he was not on duty, he clerked in Jewett's store, and [he] had waited on Crazy Horse. My mother-in-law and I drove up to the store when Crazy Horse was there; she pointed him out to me. He was a very handsome young man of about thirty-six years or so. He was not dark; he had hazel eyes, [and] nice, long light-brown hair. His braids were wrapped in fur. He was partly wrapped in a broad-cloth blanket; his leggings were also [of] navy-blue broad-cloth, [and] his moccasins were beaded. He was above the medium height and was slender.

Above: Detail of the cover illustration by Ed Lindlof of the 1992 edition of Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas by Mari Sandoz.

Above: "Crazy Horse" by Dan Nance.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, although I certainly respect Crazy horse's courage on the battlefield, the warrior aspect of his life and journey isn't the primary focus of my interest in him. I also think it's important to note Paula Gunn Allen's perspective, one which she articulates in her insightful book The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions.

As long as [Indian people] are seen [solely] as braves and warriors the fiction that they were conquered in a fair and just war will be upheld. It is in the interest of the United States – along with the other political entities in the western hemisphere to maintain that foolish and tragic deception, and thus the focus has long been on Indian as noble or savage warrior who, as it happens, lost the war to superior military competence. The truth is more compelling: the tribes did not fight off the invaders to any great extent. Generally they gave way to them; generally they fed and clothed and doctored them; generally they shared their knowledge about everything from how to plant corn and tobacco to how to treat polio victims to how to cross the continent with them. Generally, Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and the rest are historical anomalies. Generally, according to D'Arcy McNickle, the Indian historian, anthropologist, and novelist, at least 70 percent of the tribes were pacifist, and the tribes that lived in peacefulness as a way of life were always women-centered, always gynecentric, always agricultural, always "sedentary," and always the children of egalitarian, peace-minded, ritual and dream/vision-centered female gods. The people conquered in the invasion of the Americas by Europe were women-focused people.

. . . [T]he traditions of the [female energy] have, since time immemorial, been centered on continuance, just as those of the [male energy] have been centered on transitoriness. The most frequently occurring male themes and symbols from the oral tradition have been feathers, smoke, lightning bolts (sheet lightning is female), risk, and wandering. These symbols are all related in some way to the idea of the transitoriness of life and its wonders. The Kiowa death song (a male tradition that was widespread among Plains tribes) says, "I die, but you live forever; beautiful Earth you alone remain; wonderful Earth, you remain forever," telling the difference in the two traditions, male and female.

Above: "Crazy Horse" by John Nieto.

Above: "Vision of Crazy Horse." I found this image here on the Gallery in Mount Shasta website. It's unclear who the artist of this work is. Yet judging from artwork on the site that is of a similar style, I believe the artist is David Joaquin.

Above and below: Crazy Horse as depicted by artist Joe Servello in William Kotzwinkle's children's book The Return of Crazy Horse, described by Ruth Ziolkowski, wife of the creator of the Crazy Horse Memorial, as "one of the first books about Crazy Horse and the memorial for youngsters."

Above: Detail of the cover illustration by William Reusswig of the 1954 children's book The Story of Crazy Horse by Enid Lamonte Meadowcroft.

Above: A depiction of Crazy Horse from the My Hero Project website. It accompanies a piece written by "Courtney from California," part of which reads:

What makes Crazy Horse a hero to me is that he was fearless and wanted to save his land and people from those who were trying to take it over. He didn't just sit around and let them kill his people and take his land, but he fought back, and he kept fighting up until the day he died. He did not succeed in [keeping] his land, but at least he tried, and made a difference. His people will always remember him as a strong, kind, and brave hero.

Above: Hollywood actor Victor Mature in the title role of the 1955 film Chief Crazy Horse.

Writes Chad Coppess at Cinema South Dakota:

In 1955 Universal International Pictures released Chief Crazy Horse, which supposedly depicts the life of the famed Lakota warrior. It was filmed in South Dakota's Black Hills and Badlands. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where Hollywood played loose and fast with the facts. Scriptwriting aside, casting and costuming leave a lot to be desired in the accuracy department. Victor Mature plays the title role. His Italian ancestry and some heavy makeup apparently made him perfect for the character and entitled to wear a ridiculous set of red painted feathers on his forehead.

Above and right: Michael Dante as Crazy Horse in the short-lived 1967 western television series Custer (also known as The Legend of Custer).

Notes Wikipedia:

The ABC network's Custer faced competition from NBC's long-running 90-minute western The Virginian starring James Drury and Doug McClure and CBS's Lost in Space starring Guy Williams, June Lockhart, and Mark Goddard.

Wayne Maunder was twenty-eight when he was cast as the 28-year-old Custer. The show was canceled due to wide protest of Native American tribes throughout the United States.

Above: Rodney A. Grant as Crazy Horse in Son of the Morning Star, a 1991 miniseries about George Armstrong Custer.

In his book The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History, Joseph M. Marshall III notes the following about Son of the Morning Star and a number of other film and TV projects that depict Crazy Horse.

In a 1991 made-for-television miniseries (about Custer), [Crazy Horse] was a moody, reticent pedestrian (literally). A feature film the same year in which he shared equal billing with Custer attempted the "untold story" approach, but it went awry soon after the opening credits. Between 1955 and 1996 he has appeared as a background or minor character in several westerns, and once as an insect-eating captive in a western television series about Custer that lasted only slightly longer than the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Above and left: As I've noted previously, my introduction to the 'strange man of the Oglalas' was through John Irvin's 1996 telemovie Crazy Horse, starring Michael Greyeyes.

Filmed on location in South Dakota and Nebraska, the film has been described as a "gripping story with a fine cast" and praised for its attention to detail. As has been noted, in The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History, historian and author Joseph M. Marshall is critical of movie portrayals of Crazy Horse. Yet he concedes that Irvins' film "came the closest" in credibly portraying Crazy Horse's life and story.

Right and below: Michael Greyeyes as Crazy Horse in John Irvins' 1997 film Crazy Horse, a work that remains inexplicably unavailable on DVD.

Left: Jay Red Hawk as Crazy Horse in Oliver Tuthill's 2010 feature-length documentary, Questions for Crazy Horse: Hypothetical Conversations with the Strange Warrior of the Oglala Lakota.

Notes the film's website: "This film takes an introspective look into how American Indians perceive [Crazy Horse] and what questions they would have for him concerning contemporary problems if he were alive today." Elsewhere, the film is described as "an imaginative, fearless attempt to help bridge the gap between myth and modern Indian life."

Above: A bronze sculpture of Crazy Horse by Sunti Pichetchaiyakul, part of the artist's Native American Chiefs Collection.

On Sunti Pichetchaiyakul's website the following is noted:

Sunti was very fortunate to work with one of Crazy Horse’s living relatives, Donovin Sprague, who provided Sunti with a family sketch of the warrior and shared with Sunti the oral history of the Lakotas, describing Crazy Horse’s appearance. Legend tells that Crazy Horse had a light complexion and light hair, which he wore long with either one or two red tail hawk feathers, or an eagle feather. Crazy Horse did not wear a war bonnet or many accessories, however Crazy Horse brushed himself with soil and painted small white circles on his body as war paint. He was also given a stone by a medicine man that would protect Crazy Horse during battle. The warrior strapped this stone behind his ear and it is told that the stone would heat up when the enemy was near, alerting him of danger. Yet Crazy Horse’s most prominent feature is the 2-3 inch vertical scar on his left cheek in which a bullet entered his cheek bone and exited out of his lower jaw. While there is a lot of mystery as to whether or not the scar was on the right side of Crazy Horse’s face and whether the bullet actually entered under his jaw and exited out of his cheekbone, Sunti was determined to depict Crazy Horse in the way that he is remembered by his people, which is also, perhaps, most historically accurate.

Above: "Crazy Horse" by Batguy.

Above: Another sculpture by Sunti Pichetchaiyakul depicting Crazy Horse. This one is entitled "Crazy Horse: He Rides His Horse Like the Eagle Rides the Wind." It is based on John Clymer’s painting, "Crazy Horse" (detail at left).

Above: "Crazy Horse" by Bill Churchill.

Above: The Crazy Horse Memorial, an ongoing project at Thunderhead Mountain in Custer County, South Dakota. The mountain carving (referred to as the monument component of the project) was designed by the Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.

As I mention in a previous post, I think it's unfortunate that this particular depiction of Crazy Horse is so unnaturally rigid. Compare it, for instance, to those of sculptors Sunti Pichetchaiyakul and Bill Churchhill, highlighted above. Like these sculptors, I picture Crazy Horse galloping across the plains, his body loose and fluid, his head down low to that of his horse's. I would have loved to have seen a sense of this energy and movement reflected in Ziolkowski's work. I also have an issue with the monument's depiction of Crazy Horse pointing his finger towards his ancestral home of the Great Plains. This is because in many Native American cultures using the index finger to point at people or objects is considered rude. Perhaps this issue will be addressed when the hand of Ziolkowski's monumental Crazy Horse sculpture is completed.

Notes Wikipedia about the Crazy Horse Memorial:

The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization. The memorial consists of the mountain carving (monument), the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural Center. The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain on land considered sacred by some Oglala Lakota, between Custer and Hill City, roughly 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. The sculpture's final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet (18 m) high.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion. If completed, it may become the world's largest sculpture.

Left: Standing beneath the Crazy Horse monument, June 10, 2013. For more images and commentary on my visit to Thunderhead Mountain and the Crazy Horse Memorial, click here.

Above: Detail of the model for the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Above: "Crazy Horse" by redrab8t. This drawing is actually a rendering of the opening image of this post, which in turn serves as the haunting cover illustration of Russell Freedman's book The Life and Death of Crazy Horse. Nowhere in Freedman's book is the artist of this cover illustration credited.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Crazy Horse: "Strange Man" of the Great Plains
Pahá Sápa Bound
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 1: The Journey Begins
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 2: The Badlands
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 3: Camp Life
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 4: "The Heart of Everything That Is"
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 5: "I Will Return to You in the Stone"
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 6: Hot Springs, South Dakota
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 7: Fort Robinson
Michael Greyeyes on Temperance as a Philosophy for Surviving
Something Special for Indigenous Peoples Day
North America: Perhaps Once the "Queerest Continent on the Planet"
"Something Sacred Dwells There"

Recommended Books:
The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History – Joseph M. Marshall III (Penguin Books, 2005).
Crazy Horse: A Life – Larry McMurtry (Penguin Books, 1999).
Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas (Third Edition) – Mari Sandoz (Bison Books, 2008).
Crazy Horse: A Dakota Life – Kingsley M. Bray (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008).
Crazy Horse: A Photographic Biography – Bill and Jan Moeller (Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2000).
The Life and Death of Crazy Horse – Russell Freedman (Holiday House, 1996).
Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors – Stephen E. Ambrose (Anchor, 1996).
Crazy Horse's Vision – Joseph Bruchac (Lee and Low Books, 2006).
The Killing of Crazy Horse – Thomas Powers (2010).
The Death of Crazy Horse: A Tragic Episode in Lakota History – Richard G. Hardorff (Bison Books, 2001).
Stone Song: A Novel of the Life of Crazy Horse – Win Blevins (Forge, 1995).