Saturday, December 20, 2008


We just got back from seeing Milk, the movie.

I'm not quite sure what to say. I found it incredibly powerful. I think everyone should go see the movie. It has everything a good movie needs - sex, violence, villains, heroes, and powerful acting. I'm trying to imagine someone who feels that homosexuality is evil going to see that movie. I can't imagine that at least a tiny crack wouldn't appear in his or her world view. Maybe my imagination just isn't strong enough.

But while the movie is ostensibly about the battle for gay rights, for me it's about the battle for human rights and justice. (Milk, at one point in the movie gets angry at the other politicians who want to avoid mentioning gays in the fight against an anti-gay rights amendment. They think it is politically safer to talk about civil rights. So I want to be clear, this IS a movie about gay rights. But is also about all human rights.) Any human being who has red blood flowing through her veins has to be touched by this movie on some level. I couldn't help but be affected by a man standing up in the face of overwhelming odds, and simply refusing to accept injustice. Not being timid, not being politic, but standing up and speaking his truth the world.

It causes me to think about my style here. I don't write in declaratory sentences. I try to imagine how someone who disagrees with me thinks about the issue. I try to figure out what someone would have to believe - what facts, what values - that lead him to a conclusion different from mine. Sometimes my gut just wants me to declare "That's bullshit." But then I erase it and start trying to examine the ideas more closely. And sometimes, in my own understated way, I do say, "That's bullshit." But it's pretty rare.

During the Vietnam war protests, I came to see that there is a role for different approaches. The way-out-there radicals who invaded draft boards and poured blood on the draft records pushed the debate into territory it had never been. They were often intemperate, obnoxious, and self-righteous, but they created a lot more room on the debate floor. Others, who would have seemed extreme had the more aggressive protesters not existed, then began to seem reasonable in comparison.

Milk, as portrayed in this film, seemed to be able to do both. He managed to push the debate into new territory, yet he managed to be reasonable and understanding.

I've tended to think that each of us should do what we do best. It is hard for me to stand up and declare truth when I can see lots of different perspectives. On many issues I know which one I think is 'right' but understanding why others think something else is right, seems to be the opening to find non-violent solutions. But Milk also reminds me that we can sometimes use logic and reason as a way simply to be safe, to not take the necessary risks. He shows that if we speak from our hearts, others will hear us, others who are afraid to take that step. He died because he stood up, but if he hadn't stood up, he wouldn't have lived either. He moved civil rights in the US a long way forward.

So this film, for me, raises questions about how I want to live the rest of my life. Milk reminds me how much someone can accomplish when they focus. As I've compared my approach to those of some other bloggers, I've concluded that I tend to have a general goal of pushing people to see things they haven't seen before; that my subject is how we know things, how we come to conclusions - about how things work, about what's right and wrong. Many other bloggers tend to focus on specific issues and attempt to change minds on those issues. I do that to some extent, but my larger focus is getting people to change how they take in and digest information, so that on all the issues they will face in the future, they will be a little more open to seeing things from different perspectives, to questioning the how's, the why's of what they see. I think that's the right path for me, but Milk causes me to consider working harder at it.

Yesterday I had lunch with Rick Benjamin. I first met Rick when I was working with the Anchorage Municipal Board of Ethics as a volunteer consultant when they were revising the Municipal Code of Ethics. Rick was the pastor at an Evangelical Christian church. Yet he didn't behave the way I thought someone like that should behave. He listened to what others said. He was modest, made jokes, and used logic and reason. I don't recall any references to God or any piousness on his part. He was a regular guy. I saw him, maybe once a month, for two or three years at meetings.

Some time after the Ordinance finally passed - and it was a long road - I invited Rick to come over for lunch. I said I wanted to ask him questions about Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. We had an engrossing discussion out on the deck over sandwiches. He answered all of my questions thoughtfully and candidly and many of his answers were not what I expected. He wasn't doctrinaire, he acknowledged inconsistencies.

So when the Ex-Gay Conference was held at his church this fall (he was no longer the lead pastor if I have my fact straight,) I really wanted to talk to Rick and ask him what the hell was going on. But it was busy times, I was traveling, Sarah Palin was grabbing all of our attention, and I never made my call. But about a month or so ago, Rick called me to invite me to do an ethics presentation at his class at Wayland Baptist University. So I said I'd like to talk to him about the ex-gay conference too. He said, 'sure, let's have lunch.' And yesterday we did. We talked about lots of things. It was an honest discussion between the two of us, and I went as a friend, not as a blogger. But towards the end of lunch, my blogger identity began to wake up, and I asked if I could blog some of the discussion. He said, "Sure."

But while we were talking I hadn't been in record mode and so I suggested we meet again and he agreed. I'm hoping we can do this before I leave for Thailand. I decided not to raise it in yesterday's post, but after seeing Milk, I think it is important to raise. For many, the Rick Benjamins of the world are the enemy. If there are other Rick Benjamins in the Evangelical movement, I think that the differences between Progressives and Evangelicals may not be nearly as great as we've allowed ourselves to believe. Many in their movement have bought the stereotypes of Progressives and many Progressives have bought the stereotypes of the Evangelicals. That meant, in a lot of cases, both sides wrote each other off, and let the media reinforce their horned visions of each other. Obama's campaign didn't make that mistake. And a number of Evangelicals began to wonder whether the Bush administration had used and abused them.

The human heart is a remarkable and complicated organ. Ultimately, combined with the brain, it can do wonders. I strongly believe that most hate is self-hate re-directed at others. (In the movie, for example, Milk believes that Dan White is a very closeted gay.) If we can get more people to raise kids who feel good about themselves, we can greatly limit the amount of hate in the world.


  1. Steve

    You've touched on a whole universe of topics, things that need to be discussed over wine on your deck on a glorious summer day. But I'm here; you're there, and the distance fails us.

    I so deeply understand the need for heart and reason on things that separate people. For faith and science. For tears and laughter. For Rick and I to share and disagree.

    Gene and I just got back from a quick trip to a coastal town in France -- a wonderful time, bringing home cheese that made people look under their bus seats, wondering what foul item would be found -- the joy of new memories!

    Thank you for going to see 'MIlk'. I hope many will. We remember his assassination. Gene and I had met three months earlier...

    I have to finish a paper now. I'll write again later.

  2. What do you think is the youngest age of a person seeing this? Would my 12 year old appreciate it?

  3. Jay, I'm getting more and more reasons to visit London. And the deck is available any time you come. Though if it isn't summer, I suggest we talk inside.

    Tea, Well, I'm not sure about 12. I don't remember even if your 12 year old is male or female. There's male-male kissing, there's males naked making love, but you don't see any body parts you wouldn't see at the beach. There's a lot of political stuff. This is mostly a political movie. There are two murders, but nothing that isn't on tv regularly. There's a suicide. I probably would have taken our kids to see this at that age, but perhaps you should check the web to see other advice. If the kid was gay, I'd say, absolutely. There are very few female parts in the movie. There is one strong woman who comes in, to many of the men's chagrin, to become campaign manager. So, it really depends on the kid. I'd tell her/him all the stuff in it and let the kid decide. Tell 'em it could get boring in the political parts. It wasn't for me in the least, but for a 12 year old? I don't know.

    Here's what one site says about kids seeing it:

    "Milk" (Rated R; 2 hours, 8 minutes): Sean Penn gives a bighearted performance as Harvey Milk in this sprawling, emotional account of the birth of the gay rights movement in San Francisco. There is a suicide victim seen hanging, a murder victim in a body bag, semi-nudity, pot smoking, drinking and profanity and sexual language. Violence is nongraphic but intense. For mature high-schoolers."

    Peter, Thanks. And thanks for commenting.

  4. Rick Benjamin is my ideal of what a real Christian is. Even though we have disagreed, he has always counseled his parishioners to respect, love and treat everyone, even those with whom they disagree as Jesus would have.

    To put it into Jewish, he is one of the ultimate "mentchen" in this world


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