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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 23, 2007

Everyone should be executed

American Indian author explains his take on the Bible at Cleveland Public Library

Cleveland--Presented with a full house at the Stokes Wing Auditorium of the Cleveland Public Library, author Sherman Alexie spoke on November 18 about growing up on a reservation, being Native American in an all-white school, and just how literally people should take the Bible.

Alexie, who just won a National Book Award for his young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is a four-time national poetry champion, screenwriter, director and erstwhile stand-up comedian as well, and it was his skill in the last of those vocations that he brought to the fore.

Starting with his infancy, he told the story of his life: his Coeur d’Alene father moved to the Spokane reservation and married a Spokane woman, creating Sherman Alexie.

He noted the size of his head, indicating that since Coeur d’Alene are infamous for having huge heads, it took a while for anyone to notice that he was hydrocephalic. As a toddler, he had surgery to insert a shunt and relieve the pressure, an operation that the doctors warned could leave him a vegetable.

“What kind of vegetable?” his mother asked.

While the author is himself a practicing heterosexual, his dedication to illustrating the full breadth of American Indian life has led to years of confusion by the public about his sexual orientation, especially after he wrote and directed the film The Business of Fancydancing, about a gay Indian writer returning to the reservation after living in the city.

While Alexie’s razor-sharp comic timing had the crowd in stitches throughout his presentation, things turned at least slightly serious during the question and answer session at the end.

He was asked by a young man if he would speak to the role spirituality and the church can play in social justice issues.

“Are you Jesuit?” Alexie asked, pointing out that the question sounded like one that would be posed by a member of the Catholic order.

Looking the young man over, he decided not.

“No, you look like you enjoy sex too much,” he said, to raucous laughter.

Alexie noted that the concept of social justice was one put forward by progressive churches in the 20th century, but many of them have since steered rightward.

He pointed to black churches, who have been allying themselves with white Christian conservatives to fight against LGBT equality, the same groups who would have fought integration and the civil rights struggle fifty years ago.

He also pointed out that Leviticus, the book of the Old Testament most often used against gay people, has a whole list of reasons for people to be executed. A long list. A very long list.

“If we went by the Bible, every one of us should be executed for at least one reason,” he posited. “The more interesting among us should be executed for multiple reasons.”

 

 

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