When I read the June Correspondence I couldn’t believe I missed the photograph in the March 2002 issue that Name Withheld and Kelly Nguyen described as pornographic and obscene. I located my March Sun and rapidly flipped to the inside back cover to see this “sordid projection of adult fantasy onto a little girl.”
I stared at Rita Bernstein’s photograph. I turned it upside down. I looked at it edgewise. Surely, there must be something layered within this picture that I did not see. I asked my wife to look at it and give me her immediate response. Her reply was “Super picture.”
I am at a loss to understand how this picture could be interpreted as pornographic or obscene. We have a history of sexual witch hunts in this country brought about by such narrowly constructed viewpoints. I would hope that Name Withheld and Nguyen’s perspective is not representative of the majority of The Sun’s readers.
As a children’s-rights advocate, I was happy to see readers object to the photograph, by Rita Bernstein, of a partially nude minor in the March issue.
I was not surprised by the photographer’s response. Her answer is the standard misconception of the issue at hand. From a children’s-rights point of view, we should all object to the use of nude children in any form of media — whether for artistic, medical, or pornographic purposes — and we should demand a law be passed that prohibits the publication of images of nude minors until the models reach the age of maturity and can reliably consent to the infringement of their privacy.
I am more gullible than most, so I must write to ask if Poe Ballantine is actually dead. I have always enjoyed his work, and was particularly moved by his essay in the June issue, “Where the Rain Belongs.” His contributor’s note in that issue says he drowned while crossing the Atlantic in a canoe. Please let me know whether this is true. As I said, I am extremely gullible — or, actually, I hope I am extremely gullible.
Poe Ballantine responds:
Every now and then it’s kind of hard to tell, but, yes, I’m still alive. I don’t even know how to canoe. Bless everyone for their concern, cards, letters, flowers, and M&M’s.
As a recovering alcoholic who quit drinking thirty-three years ago, I would like to make a few comments on Lois Judson’s “A Day in the Life of a Nonrecovering Alcoholic” [June 2002].
She says her disease will doom her to jail, institutions, or death. She should be so lucky. What will really happen is she will lose everything: the love, affection, and respect of her husband and daughter; her nice home in a pretty, clean, safe neighborhood; her job and all the middle-class trappings that come with it — including access to the medicine cabinets of trusting friends and neighbors. Maybe when she finds herself turning tricks for a fix or a place to sleep, she’ll finally decide, “I don’t want to live like this anymore.”
Her sharing at the aa meeting “didn’t go over well,” she says. If she ever does get straight, she will look back and realize that she wasn’t sharing at all. She was playing the typical con games that all addicts play. One could not pick a more difficult audience to try to con than a group of recovering alcoholics. They’ve all been there.
A Higher Power won’t suddenly appear when Judson needs someone to care about her and give her the courage she lacks. It’s her disease, and hers alone. Either she’ll lick it, or she’ll go down the tubes.
She should be scared shitless. That she isn’t is not a good sign.
This summer I’ll celebrate twenty-four years of sobriety in AA. I found Lois Judson’s memoir stunningly honest and wonderful. The best sentence was “This would mean that all the bad and good are mixed up, and it’s too complicated to assign certain amounts to each person — so complicated, even God, if there was one, couldn’t be bothered to do it.”
The Readers Write section on “Desire” was strangely disappointing for such a rich subject. Are The Sun’s readers struck dumb by the positive? I remember every man — and one woman — I’ve ever desired, and the precise moments when the craving crested. Those moments burn in my memory like mountain peaks lit by sunset, each one different. Not one contribution took me back there.
I stopped going to the local Baptist church as soon as I was old enough to defy my mother’s wishes, and I have been a free spirit ever since. I wince at the hypocrisy of all organized religion — most recently, that of the Catholic Church.
How refreshing, then, to read Derrick Jensen’s interview with Catholic philosopher Thomas Berry [“Singing to the Dawn,” May 2002]. That elderly monk sounds like a wise man of deep faith who can teach and inspire us.
I would disagree with only one thing Berry suggested, that Jesus “never said anything about our relationship to the land.” I immediately thought of the following passage from the Sermon on the Mount: “Behold the lilies of the field; they toil not and neither do they spin” — a clear admonition to be more like the other living things that depend on the land without depleting it.
In the introduction to his interview with Thomas Berry, Derrick Jensen writes: “The fate of the next generation, which will live to see a world of 8 to 10 billion people, is often on Berry’s mind.” I would like to hear how Berry, a practicing Roman Catholic, reconciles his concerns about the population explosion with church dogma that encourages unlimited human reproduction.
I enjoyed an ironic chuckle at Thomas Berry’s assertion that “bears don’t need to be taught how to be bears, but humans need to be taught how to be human.” It is my understanding that bears do learn from other bears how to behave. An animal raised in captivity may or may not succeed in the wild, partly because it may not have the requisite maternally or culturally imparted skills to survive and mingle with its wild peers. Berry’s dismissal of nonhuman cultures is evidence of the pervasive anthropocentrism he warns us away from.
Thomas Berry responds:
To Don Perryman: You are quite correct. I should have modified my statement concerning Jesus’ not saying anything about our relationship with the land. He did make the comment about “the lilies of the field.” While this single comment seems to offer us very little in an ecological context, it does in reality describe the adjustment that we need. Our relationship with the natural world should not be primarily one of “use” but a relationship of inner fulfillment through the wonder, beauty, and intimacy of nature.
To J. Magyar: The Church has been, in my view, terribly wrong in its failure to encourage the Catholic people to limit the size of their families. Yet the Church does not positively encourage “unlimited human reproduction.” What the Church does insist on is that the sexual act not be directly frustrated in its natural performance. Extensive encouragement has been given to abstinence during those periods each month when a woman is most likely to conceive. Probably much more thought needs to be given to the use of contraceptives and the entire question of “natural law.” The urgency of the issue you are presenting is fully justified.
To Rochelle Gnagey Skolnick: You are right that bears do undergo a certain amount of acculturation. As with many animals, they need to learn skills in hunting, among other activities. Yet, both in the extent and in the nature of their teaching, they differ considerably from humans. Human teaching, unlike that of the other animals, includes the answer to the question “Why?” Learning to be human is an awesome task. I am not sure that we have yet accomplished it. Bears, in my view, are infinitely better at being bears than humans are at being human — whatever that is!
Katherine Vaz’s story “Blue Flamingo Looks at Red Water” [May 2002] was a beautiful piece of literature and a valuable source of insight into an unbearable situation: the loss of a child. I’ve lived alone almost all my life, partly to avoid just such a pit of anger and despair. Vaz made me understand better what I have gained by my decision, and what I have lost.
I was wearing down after five months in Costa Rica with my college study-abroad group. Then my dad sent me the April 2002 issue of The Sun. Renee Lertzman’s interview with Paul Hawken [“Down to Business”] energized me, and I made copies of it for about ten people.
I received many thank-yous, even from people who I’d thought wouldn’t like the interview. One friend, who had told me she would never give up Starbucks, agreed completely with Hawken. It just goes to show that, as Hawken said, when you propose a hopeful solution, most people will respond and want to help.