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Vocation: What am I uniquely called to do?

My cell at Holy Cross Monastery, 2007

My cell at Holy Cross Monastery, 2007

For a couple of years now I’ve been wrestling with a troubling question: What does God want me to do?

Of course, it’s not just “troubling,” it’s an incredible opportunity. Imagine being able to do what God wants! Wouldn’t that be great?

But first we have to know what God wants. Then we have to figure out how to do it; we have to trust God enough to begin to do it, and we have to be stable enough, and faithful enough, to sustain us in whatever work or state of being is right for us.

This much I’ve learned; “what God wants” is not some decree from on high, but simply what is best for us, what uses our unique talents, gifts and personality, what enables us to become more and more ourselves.

I find lots of clues in that sentence; God does not want me to cure cancer, because I don’t know anything about it, have no background or experience, etc. God wants someone to cure cancer, but not me. God builds upon who we are, what we’ve done and who we can become.

Two years ago I went on retreat to Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. It’s on the Hudson River across from Hyde Park, FDR’s home, and Poughkeepsie, the last stop on the Metro-North railway from the City, a lovely area near the Catskill Mountains. Strangely enough the west bank of the river is home to a bunch of monasteries and convents; people like to go to the river to refresh their souls, the same impulse as baptism. Should I become a monk?

I had a nice time, the guys treated me well. The Order has several Gay members, always has, they’re well-integrated into the life of the community. Everyone’s seeking God, not sex, and over time they find God there. I’m very happy to support OHC, but I came away knowing I didn’t belong there.

So where do I belong? What should I be doing? How can I serve God, just being Josh? I didn’t even know how to ask these questions, much less answer them. So I found a spiritual director half an hour from home, an ordained Presbyterian woman, my second religious facilitator. We meet for 90 minutes once a month and the question is vocation—though of course that also includes everything going on in my life.

I heartily recommend that everyone find a spiritual director. The process of examining one’s spiritual life, with a view to deepening one’s relationship with God, is worth a lot more than the $40 Marcia charges. She’s fantastic. So was Tom, a Disciples of Christ minister who worked with me the year before. Seriously, if you’re at all stuck or drifting in your relationship with the Holy One, get thee to a director.

For ten months now I’ve been meeting with Marcia, and yes, I’ve come to a few understandings; God wants me to continue posting the Daily Office website and blog. That’s my principal work, for God and myself, at this time. Very few people put the Liturgy of the Hours online so it’s easy to pray, I do it in a fairly distinctive way, and reach a small but worldwide audience. So keep doing that.

Second, I ought to do what only I can do, what I’m uniquely capable of and passionate about, even good at. And I do have such a project, writing a novel about a Gay Christian marriage, a sequel to my first novel that actually sold a little bit.

I’ve been working on this book since 1996, which is pretty pathetic. But I do keep plugging away at it, and I have another blog with nine chapters posted. (I spend most of my time revising them rather than finishing the next 40 chapters.) All I can say is that the book is very difficult because of course I’m no expert in Gay Christian marriages. What do I know? I’ve been single since 1993. And while I’d like to think my last relationship was a bit of a template, at least in terms of my commitment, in fact that relationship ended.

I used to think my vocation was to be in such a marriage, but God’s been awfully tardy about sending me anyone new. Most likely I wouldn’t have deserved anyone if God had been quick about it. Stability is a difficult thing to learn; ask the monks.

This relates to the third thing I’ve come to with Marcia: I can’t get closer to the Divine if I’m simultaneously resisting getting closer—and this resistance is the essence of humanity. We always, always, always resist. You could even call this original sin; we ourselves put the mortality into our mortal being.

Earlier this month Marcia (well, Jesus actually) walked me into the Blue Cave. (See my earlier entry about this dream here.)

I only made it two steps before I broke down crying, but Jesus held out his hand to me and I stepped in.

Jesus held out his hand to me!

So I know I don’t have to live in this stuck place; that the Blue Cave isn’t scary, even if I feel scared. That’s just my resistance, being afraid to change.

In the Gospels Jesus talks about “those who gain their lives will lose them; and those who lose their lives for my sake will find them.” It’s one of those paradoxes he loved to use when he taught. But what does it mean? And how do we take his advice/promise, if we can bring ourselves to do so?

There are a lot of ways to interpret this, but maybe the most practical insight comes from Alcoholics Anonymous, which I’ll paraphrase thusly:

Trying to run my own life screws me up so bad that I don’t have any choice left but to turn it over to God. It’s either that or croak.

I wonder if we don’t all face that existential choice sooner or later, regardless of what we’re addicted to.

We all get deceived by our own autonomy. “I’m in charge here, no one’s going to live my life but me. I’ve got to take the bull by the horns, lift myself up by the bootstraps, stop procrastinating, full steam ahead, (insert your favorite slogan here).”

I mean, that’s all nice while it lasts, but it won’t last. No man is an island, we need other people too much—but the humans aren’t reliable either.

A couple of weeks ago the humorist Garrison Keillor had a stroke; so much for running his own life, eh? He’s back at work now, good as new almost. A blood clot turned his brain into a cheese omelet.

Whether we’re 17 or 67, we all get to that point. Every crisis, physical or economic or psychological, becomes a spiritual crisis if we have the guts to face it. I’m only now acquiring the guts to face mine.

This I’ve known for awhile: God is not some kind of psychic imperialist demanding you give him all your money, control and selfhood. God is not Robert Mugabe. (And woe to the guy who is.)

God is gentle, available, inviting—that’s all. It’s always your choice what to do.

But it doesn’t take a genius to see that my resisting knowing my vocation is the same as resisting the book I want to write—and both are proxies for the main issue. Who’s in charge here?

I’d love to be but I only screw it up. I have more ways to ruin things than there are leaves on my backyard maple tree. And baby, that thing’s loaded.

My Tree 10.23.07

So I am learning this week to be content with my two vocations; to learn to be stable enough, quiet and patient enough (hell, just plain sober enough) to wait until God supplies some more agenda.

God has given me creative work in the past, meaning, friendships, fun; I don’t have those right now, but I know God will supply me with more, just like Job.

I have to be faithful enough to wait, and listen, and recognize that humility isn’t just a decision of mind but a state of being. The principal thing we have to learn in this life is we’re not God, no matter how much we run around thinking we’re in charge of our little worlds.

What am I going to do in the meantime? I’m going to get my hair cut, go to the store to buy dinner, post another Office at midnight; and I’m going to finish that book as if I knew what marriage is about, Straight or Gay. No one else knows before they get married, so why should I?

But I do have a fuzzy vision, and that’s the work God gives me to do.++

On Abortion: The Woman Comes First

This is going to be a tough column to write, but too bad. Anyone who’s ever loved their mother has beliefs about abortion.

I not only loved my mother, who was a bit of a hellcat and not always easy to love; we couldn’t help but love this gentle, soft-spoken, highly opinionated conservative, whose many sins somehow got outweighed because dammit, when she was right she was right.

She was kind of a pretty gal; I hope I have a picture I can put up of her.

Her life story was one of three determinative events that shaped my view of abortion: It’s never a good thing, but sometimes it’s okay. Sometimes it’s even the most moral choice.

On March 31, 1927, a young woman named Thelma Rees gave birth to a girl. This was my mother, whom her parents named Betty.

Thelma then died of a heart attack, and my grandfather mourned her to his grave.

Childbirth is very hard on women; this is why old 1928 Book of Common Prayer contained a service from the late Middle Ages called the “Churching of Women.” It’s very strange when read out of context today, but its formal name indicates what it was about: The Thanksgiving of Women After Childbirth.

It doesn’t celebrate the new life the woman brought forth; the baby is barely mentioned. What it does is profoundly thank God that the mother didn’t die giving birth to her.

And so Thelma died. Should she have had an abortion?

Maybe so; she couldn’t have known what would happen, and the technology of medicine was primitive then; but on a moral basis, maybe she should have had an abortion.

You have to weigh two things in your scales: the person you have, and the person you might have.

One is here now; one may be here later. Some babies are stillborn; some never make it.

If Thelma Rees had known in advance that giving birth to a baby would kill her, would she not have been justified in saving her own life?

I’m very glad she had that baby; I wouldn’t exist if she had not, and the baby she had, hellcat and all, was well worth knowing.

But we’ve always missed Thelma. Why didn’t she have a right to life?

Fast forward to 1949: My mother married an incredible loser and World War II veteran (Battle of the Bulge, POW) who kept fighting the war in his own little house; the definition of domestic violence. He couldn’t provide for himself, much less his wife and child and a new baby; he didn’t have the money for another kid.

My mother was scared to tell him she was pregnant again. She figured he would blame her for the pregnancy; she figured he would kill her.

I know my father; she was absolutely right. I spent my entire childhood trying to prevent a “Murder-Suicide in Indiana” headline.

It was 1948; she considered an abortion—of my brother Steve!

She didn’t tell me about this for many years later, but it was still shocking. Where would I be without my Steve?

She didn’t do it; she found a way to break the news to my father so he could accept it. (That is, she timed it perfectly. How often do women have to time the news perfectly?) Dad didn’t kill her; Steve got born. So did I, three years later.

We all ran around the house trying not to get killed, but I found out that sweet-talking Dad calmed him down; especially if he also got a Noctec.

Would Mom have been justified if she’d sought to abort my brother? Damn right she would have, and I defy anyone on this point.

Domestic violence is the principal cause of abortion.

It’s the most common crime in America, and most cops don’t give a fuck. (A few do; thank you.)

Fast forward again, 1971: manning the phones of the Lafayette Crisis Center, a suicide prevention place, which I’d turned to because of a seriously crazy dad. I got trained, almost thrown out (“uptight, anxious, unable to feel, not enough empathy, who the hell are you?”), then finally accepted after a miraculous unloosening, in which I really did feel all the terror of being 14 and Gay and having a dad trying to kill my whole family.

One of my first shifts off probation, meaning I was allowed to be there on my own, I got a call from a woman who put Drano up her vagina because her boyfriend would kill her if he found out she was pregnant.

Man, I worked those phones. “911” didn’t exist then, I had to beg for an ambulance to get to her address, which she didn’t want to give me.

The morality of abortion is this: you go with the one you have, not the one you might have.

I knew my lady’s name, and I searched the obituaries for a month, fearing I lost her. Drano, I mean, Drano.

She did not die. I suppose it’s possible the whole thing was some kind of put-on; but I’m the one who heard her voice, and knew how scared she was.

If it were her life or the baby’s, which do you choose? That’s what it comes down to.

Still, the decision is highly fraught; we’re talking about my brother Steve.

There was a piece in The New York Times recently in which a young woman purported to choose abortion because pregnancy was inconvenient. That really made me mad.

She claimed she was accepted into an extremely competitive graduate program that wouldn’t let her miss a single day and didn’t give a damn about a woman’s health; that she’d aspired to this program for years and couldn’t possibly turn it down; so this baby she was carrying was inconvenient. She couldn’t give it up for adoption because she was so attached to it; but she couldn’t miss a day of class, so she would abort it for the sake of her career.

I didn’t believe a word of this, but she turned to The Times for affirmation of her decision; and by and large she got it. Most people thought it was fine to X-out the baby because, after all, grad school’s important! And the program punishes people who get sick for even a day.

I’d sue their fucking asses in a heartbeat. There’s no graduate program on earth that’s quite that heartless.

But it was a good exercise in discovering the extremes of abortion. This woman didn’t make a lick of sense; she’s attached to the baby so she can’t give it up for adoption, but not so attached she can’t kill it?

And the women of The Times thought she was right? Her graduate education is that important?

I think in law the option for abortion has to be there; but the women who find pregnancy inconvenient don’t deserve graduate school.

Don’t fuck if you’re not ready for the consequences. But no one said that to her; no one. She made a baby, but she chose grad school. She loved that baby so much she wouldn’t give him to someone else; so she murdered him.

The law should find a way to distinguish between Thelma and Betty and the bitch who found her child inconvenient.++

Follow the Master

John_Bunyan

He who would valiant be
’gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.

—John Bunyan; mod. Percy Dearmer

We’re all pilgrims on this earth. We all walk alone.

It’s just us and God; me or you and God. A lonely journey, a solitary existence.

All we have to go on is our own understanding, and we know our own thoughts are unreliable. We’re more apt to be deceived by ourselves than by another person.

(This is why Christians cannot worship God by themselves in the woods or online; we need the correction of a community. Five hundred heads are better than one.)

So with apologies to Mr. Bunyan, a Baptist who was imprisoned after the English Civil War for not conforming to the Church of England, here are my thoughts as one little pilgrim.

First let me note that it was common back in those days to refer to Jesus as Master.

Slavery was legal back then and Bunyan seriously considered it. He saw himself as a willing slave to a spiritual master.

We’d reject that today as part of a culture of cruelty. No one ought to be enslaved, even by a loving God. It’s beneath human dignity. It’s also beneath the dignity of the loving God, who never compels, but only invites.

So what did Bunyan mean?

He was a Puritan, a horrible perfectionist who wrote a bestselling book, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

He had very little education and was a tinker by trade. But he became very famous after his allegorical novel, in which a poor man seeks to follow God no matter what.

It’s a story of great faith, which is why it became a bestseller. It’s a hopeful story; the pilgrim makes progress. He gets closer to his goal of spiritual union with the one he calls Master.

What does this matter in 2009? I think Bunyan was right, and that his insight especially applies to guys like me, whom he’d never have approved of.

God is magnetic. Once you acknowledge him or her, she inexorably draws you to her.

God becomes your Master.

This is very strange for Gay guys, who understand “masters” in a sadomasochistic context.

I’ve spent my whole life running away from “masters.” They’re not my cup of tea.

But God is a serious Lover, and I’m inexorably drawn like iron.

God’s that attractive.

But God isn’t male, much less a porn star; he doesn’t mind using my erotic desire, my physical imperative as a mortal, sexual being; whatever works.

If I like to think of God as male, that’s fine with her.

Jesus was male; he had to be one way or the other, and so he was male. The world would have crucified him at 13 if he’d been Trans. So he wasn’t; this gave him 20 more years to try to get through to us. Then the inevitable happened.

Now in 2009 he struggles to get through to me; it might seem strange to say “God struggles,” but humans are tough nuts to crack. Jesus looks for a vocabulary I understand.

No big surprise, he’s figured out that I know the language and the imagery of pornography.

I know what a Master is, and the only one I’d ever accept is a Lover.

To the SM uninclined, Jesus doesn’t have to jump through all these hoops. Lover is sufficient; they understand that.

Life’s even easier for heteros; but then, it always is. All they need’s a God, and Jesus is there for them.

But what can be done for the abused; for those who’ve become accustomed to being vilified?

Maybe they’ve resisted their whole lives long to dictators in leather and tinfoil hats; how does God get through to them or me?

I think he just puts on his chaps, strides in and asks for love.

Only when love is returned does he reveal that he’s way beyond all this; that our perception was our projection, the way we needed him to be.

God is way, way past that; and yet he’s not; she’s not.

God can appear however we need her to appear. And she’s kind enough to be whatever we need to think of her as, without once denying her selfhood.

To John Bunyan she was quite the taskmaster, because he was so excellent a pilgrim. She made him that way and loved him for it.

To Hillary Clinton she’s Ms. Gorgeous In Pants.

To President Obama, he’s got dark skin and is really macho, but quiet about it.

To Ruth Bader Ginsburg, God’s a Jew.

To Muslims she’s probably an Arab. God can be anything she wants to be.

So what’s she like to an abused Gay guy?

I don’t entirely know; but she does speak my language, she knows where my hands have been and what my eyes have seen, and she will do anything, everything to draw me to her, like magnet to iron.

It’s not proper to sexualize God, because God is so much larger than our sexuality. Sex is something mortals get into, not angels. God’s got bigger things in mind.

But as the inventor of sexuality, he’s perfectly free to use it to draw us closer to himself.

When the Master calls, follow; even though you’re scared. Follow.

He isn’t the least sadistic, so you can trust him. He wants you to live.++

Jefferts-Schori is So Last Year

K.jeffertsschori

In 2006 the bishops of the Episcopal Church elected a woman president.

They must have felt they were being so, so liberal; prophetic even.

In the face of so much opposition to women priests from Catholics and Protestants, the bishops picked the best woman they could find, +Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Bishop of Nevada.

She’s a scientist with a Ph.D. in marine biology. She’s soft-spoken, so she’s easy to hear in the quietness that surrounds God. She would prove to be, the bishops hoped, a healing balm amidst the raucous confusion of the Anglican Communion.

But she hasn’t worked out quite as hoped.

I applaud the bishops’ revolutionary decision, but maybe they should have chosen +Cate instead. She isn’t prominent in the House of Bishops, but the laypeople like her. She’s cruising along with an 85% approval rating.

(I just made that up, but I wouldn’t be surprised. She has done exactly what you’d want a first woman bishop to do: to ease through the transition, accustom people to the new normal, and take the initiative with new programs. When teenagers walk up to her for confirmation, they’re as scared as I was facing John P. Craine. That’s an Episcopal bishop!)

+Cate didn’t authorize me to write a word of this, but isn’t she lovely? I so wish my mother had lived to see a woman on the throne in Indianapolis, running a big corporation.

+Cate

Catherine Waynick, Bishop of Indianapolis.

Cate knows how to lead; Katharine does not. She’s a horrible communicator, incapable of spreading the Gospel of Christ.

She’s a nice person, but she’s shy, and shy doesn’t win any headlines.

She’s cold, but warmth makes friends.

If the bishops really wanted to be revolutionary, they should have chosen +Gene Robinson. But they didn’t have the guts.

Everywhere he goes, he proclaims the Gospel; he’s warm, and people warm up to him, even though he’s Gay. He knows how to make friends.

Theologically he’s conservative; he believes Jesus really did rise from the dead, and really did feed the 5000, and really did touch Desmond Tutu to help free South Africa from apartheid—surely a miracle in our own time!

Gene has no problem at all telling people why they should pay attention to this Jesus fellow, while Katharine has a great deal of trouble with that.

She does proclaim Jesus in her way, but she’s hesitant and halting, a post-Christian bishop for a pre-Christian age.

She’s not willing to claim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life; she seems to believe in him, but not by any of the old formulas. She thinks he’s one Way, even the best Way, but not the only Way.

And she’s not entirely wrong; proclaiming Jesus in 2009 does require a great deal of sensitivity to other cultures and worldviews. Sledgehammer Jesus doesn’t work any more.

But neither does Kid-Glove Jesus, her default position. She leaves people wondering whether she really believes in Christ at all. And that’s an unacceptable position for a Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

As a woman she’s constantly scrutinized; what’s her theology, her taste in clothes? Where’s Hillary Clinton’s hemline these days? Any action with her cleavage?

Bless her heart, Katharine hasn’t given us that controversy. It may be the only one she hasn’t.

Her taste in clothes is frankly poor, like a marine biologist’s. But most folks are willing to forgive that, because, after all, she’s a woman thrust into an impossible position, trying to preside over the Episcopal Church as it breaks up over whether God loves Gay people or hates their freakin’ guts.

I do appreciate her willingness to serve in this very fraught time of crisis. I think most Episcopalians agree she’s doing the best she possibly can in service to her Lord, and that’s no small thing. It’s something to be proud of and to thank her for.

But I don’t appreciate her constant equivocation regarding the Christian faith, including the absolute imperative that God hates no one and loves Gay people.

Katharine’s unwilling to say that, so she doesn’t even know Good News. She’s a politician, just what the House of Bishops ordered; just what serves our Church the least.

Meanwhile Gene’s someone to rely on; he knows the Good News and he doesn’t hesitate, he doesn’t equivocate, even as he conveys the Gospel in the most culturally-sensitive ways he can think of.

I assume God had a plan in mind in not making Gene presiding bishop; this frees up Gene to be himself, to state his truth as best he knows how before large groups of non-believers. I bet +Jon Bruno envies the crowds Gene can draw.

(Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles, is an ex-cop who killed a man in the line of duty. You don’t want to mess with Jon. What a tribute it is to God’s redeeming power that he called Jon to ministry and the episcopate, drawing the people of L.A. to the Prince of Peace.)

We are seeing in Katharine Jefferts-Schori a failed presidency, I think, though not without honor; she’s done the best she could, but Lord, she’s so last year.

Her mild voice didn’t keep a single homophobe inside the Episcopal Church; nor did it drive one out.

We have to be very careful about driving people out; this isn’t the Church’s purpose. We need the warm bodies, we need their financial contributions, we need their acts of faith. We don’t need a church that’s all of one mind about anything.

But it does sometimes happen that worldviews clash, and regrettable as it may be, there comes a time to stop tolerating intolerance. Sometimes you’ve just got to boot a guy out.

The Episcopal Church has learned, through trial and error, that God loves Gay people as much as anybody else, and therefore approves their human loves like all other loves. This is what we’ve learned.

We know this means that people who don’t love homosexual love, who think it’s anathema and abomination, will walk apart. We don’t like that but it is what it is. We pray we all stay on the Way, even if our paths are different.

We’re all just trying to follow the Way here. But yes, the paths diverge.

All hail our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori. She has tried to keep us on the path.

I don’t think she’s very good at it, but she’s done what she can. I’m sure we’ll meet up again someday, and won’t that be fine?

Meanwhile I want to walk with Gene and Jon and Cate, Christian bishops who know Jesus fed the 5000. I know we’ll get there eventually, and theirs is a pretty good path.

We never know where we’re going, but whoever leads to the One is my bishop.++

Gene.HartfordCourant

(Hartford Courant)

Hey Kids, Let’s Bring Down Civilization!

FondlyDoWeHope.FerventlyDoWePray.RussellJenkins.RaviniaFest.9.17

The most bizarre accusation hurled at the Gay and Lesbian rights movement is that if we succeed, we will destroy society.

Well gee, sounds kinda serious. Destroying society? Gay people have the power to do all that?

Uh, no. But the bigots do aim to scare you to death, so out with the big guns. Sodom and Gomorrah! God Himself (oh really?) destroyed them for their sins!

That weird little Old Testament story, reprinted in the Koran, purports to explain why of all human sins, homosexuality is the worst of the worst. The whole city was set on fire!

Oh really? What kind of a God would do that?

And is that God anything like our God, the suffering servant?

The people who want to destroy the Episcopal Church are trying their best to stage a big, loud argument over the nature of God. Many are passionate followers of the Calvinist heresy, while others are devotees of the Romanist heresy—you know, “I’m infallible.”

What a freaking joke, like the pope’s shit don’t stink.

Somehow heteros have convinced themselves (some of them, not all), that civilization itself depends on Straight people; “If we let Gay people get as nasty as we are, the human race will disappear!”

Fat chance, buster. The one and only commandment of God human beings have ever obeyed is “be fruitful and multiply.”

God didn’t have to command it, they do it anyway.

In 40 years we will add 2,000,000,000 human beings, all of them wanting cars and A/C and the internet; a new China, a new India in 40 years.

Global warming? God did not command that we destroy the planet to “subdue it.” It’s about to subdue us.

The heterosexual supremacists and home-schooling insurance agents are funded by rich old white guys like Howard Ahmanson, Jr., a “reconstructionist” who wants the United States government to be remade according to the Rushdoony model of neo-fascism so that Gay people are stoned to death, capitalism becomes the state religion and those with capital win, while those without don’t.

Episcopalians don’t know what hit them.

They wonder, Why did our church become such a target? They rightly claim, “We’re insignificant!” And yet we’re not.

We’re the church of George Washington and half the presidents; the most prestigious church historically, though not any more.

We’re also inextricably linked to the Church and Queen of England, and if they can bring down that broad, they can bring down anyone.

It’s sad really that Episcopalians remain so fully in denial that they can’t see what’s happening to their Church. A few do, but most don’t; they think it’s some kind of fight over Gay rights or somethin’.

LGBT folks are just the scapegoats, the red meat for the ravenous. The motivation for the base. Gay people will destroy civilization!

Meanwhile Bill T. Jones is readying a new dance for the Ravinia Festival, commemorating the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Jones never takes commissions, but this one he accepted; as an African-American he grew up feeling that Mr. Lincoln was the one Caucasian he was allowed to love. So he’s put together a dance which will premiere Sept. 17 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago.

Bill T. Jones is openly Gay. With his late partner Arnie Zane, he established a dance company that’s often regarded as one of the most innovative among current choreographers.

(“Well of course, ballet! Everyone knows they’re queer!”)

It’s modern dance actually, but okay, you made your point. Some professional dancers are Gay.

Does dance build up civilization or destroy it?

One would think that a Gay choreographer would ipso facto destroy civilization; but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Choreography expands the repertoire of bodies in motion; that is, dancers, who are traditionally held in high esteem by every ethnic group and Indian tribe there ever was.

And Mr. Jones’ subject? A. Lincoln, a civilization-destroyer if ever there was one.

Somehow all these accusations don’t connect up.

So it just might be the case that the Big Charge (“civilization destroyers!”) is a Big Lie.

I don’t believe God ever destroyed a single city.

I do think God seeks to redeem them all—and they all need redemption.

Is God a destroyer or a redeemer? That’s a question the Episcopal Church has faced and answered.

Mr. Ahmanson does not like the reply—but it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven.

Sorry, Howard.

Either you sell everything you have and give it to the poor, or you ain’t in.

Sorry, Howard. We didn’t make the rules here, but we’ve all got to abide by them. I’ve got a needle if you care to try.

Here’s the current state of the Episcopal Church. A bunch of rich bigots have decided to take it down, principally because it no longer supports unfettered capitalism and greed. It calls greed one of the seven deadly sins, and that pisses them off.

They have located any number of bishops, priests and pseudo-theologians who agree that God’s the kind of guy who destroys whole cities because of homosexuality.

(Many of us believe that God’s not a guy at all. A Father, yes, but not a guy, much less one who blows up cities that piss him off.)

These bishops, priests and pseudo-theologians—all anxious to become bishops and archbishops and VIPs, so they multiply like rabbits—have learned that the one thing that riles up the base more than anything else is the idea of Gay equality. So they flog it like nothing else—like Muslims in Sudan, if a woman wears pants.

(I am very grateful for moderate and liberal Muslims who note that the Prophet never said a single dang word about women in pants.)

Meanwhile the Reconstructionist bishops, priests and pseudo-theologians have created more acronymic organizations (AAC, ACA, ACNA, CANA, AMiA, the list is endless) to try to pull together something that works to convince the Anglican non-pope, who is scared to death of presiding over the breakup of the Anglican Communion, that they have actual command over the bigot convention.

This is hard work, because some of them ordain women and others don’t, and some think God dictated the King James Bible and the 1928 (or 1662) Book of Common Prayer, and others don’t; and it’s all one great big mess.

Meanwhile, they constantly tell each other the Episcopal Church is dying, when in fact it’s doing better than ever, now that they’re out of it.

I don’t know that Bill T. Jones is an Episcopalian, but he’s creating, not destroying. Duh?

Gay and Lesbian marriage doesn’t change any other marriage in Iowa, Spain, New Hampshire, the Netherlands, Massachusetts or anywhere else. The sky is not falling; it’s still there. Just look up; it’s still there.

There will always be people who want to follow Leonidas K. Polk, the “fighting bishop” who seldom fought in the U.S. Civil War; as Jesus said, “The right wing is always with you.” It’s one of those calamities of life we cannot avoid. There will always be people more interested in their own enrichment than anything else.

But the early Christian Church held goods in common, and no amount of free-marketeering can change that. God is not a capitalist.

God’s not a fascist who seeks to stone people to death for not conforming.

God is a Lover; and yes, I think ultimately a Master, who seeks willing servants—but that’s all voluntary, a matter of spiritual surrender to One who loves us.

Bishop Leonidas Polk, the biggest slave-owner in Maury County, Tennessee, thought he had a God-given right to slave labor from Black men and women; then he found out he was wrong.

Sorry, Howard; send your camel through this needle. With God all things are possible.++

LeonidasPolk.MatthewBrady.401

Leonidas Polk, slaveowner, with his hand on a big book. (Matthew Brady)

Back on the Porch at the End of Summer

Side Porch with Impatiens.Peter

Side Porch with Impatiens (P. Schroder)

It’s late and I’m finishing up a salad, grilled chicken with homegrown tomato and homemade vinegrette; unbelievably delicious. When did I become a good cook?

For years I hated cooking, because I had to do it all the time. That made it work. From the age of 7 I’ve been cooking, since my mother left home to go to college. No one ever gave me lessons, I had to learn from the back of a spaghetti box. My older brothers and I were forced to learn to cook, which is a really good thing for boys, but we didn’t think so at the time.

When I was 10, Mom graduated from Purdue and went to work as a pharmacist, on her feet all day. When she got home from work she did not see it as her duty to become the Happy Homemaker. “You cook; you already know how.” It was no great loss, because she couldn’t cook very well either, but at least we respected her reasoning. There is nothing male or female about cooking. So I kept learning and gradually expanded my repertoire; one of my early specialties was French toast, which we’d have for supper. Is there anything easier in the world than French toast? Eggs, milk, a little salt, dip a slice of bread in it and fry it up. My big innovation was cutting the bread slices diagonally.

Ah, so elegant; Gay even then.

Eventually I grew up and fell in love with a series of men who could not boil water. Always, I was the cook. And that made it work.

I think I finally learned to enjoy it when I didn’t have to do it anymore, in my early 40s after Jack and I broke up. I feel almost guilty writing this, as if my getting good in the kitchen was somehow his fault; but with his illness and all, he was a lot of work. And as much as I regretted the breakup, it did free me to live for myself for a change.

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that my seven years with Jack marked my transition as a cook, from unskilled to competent and occasionally creative. I remember putting together a chicken tarragon dish one night that turned out great; the secret’s the white wine. Suddenly I’m a French chef!

I made it again recently because tarragon has taken over my herb garden and it doesn’t go with just anything. I cut the plant back and brought in a mountain of tarragon branches; I’ve filled three containers with dried leaves and there’s still a stack of branches on my dining room table. I could invite the whole county for chicken tarragon and still have boxes, jars and bags to give away.

So Jack left just when the cooking was getting good. He ate at crummy restaurants the rest of his life and ain’t that too damn bad.

I no longer have anyone to please but myself. And increasingly I do just that.

The past few summers I’ve spent a lot of time on my side porch. It’s covered but open, no screens, a perfect place for my charcoal grill. My house is the only one on this block with an original open porch; everyone else has closed theirs in. My porch is a summer kitchen, and this year I’ve made more improvements to it than ever before. It’s always been a pleasant place to be, with hanging baskets of impatiens, other plant stands, a tree; this year I started to decorate it more seriously, with better lighting and a little piece of art. In prior years I had a couple of friends over all the time and we had great fun out there. This spring they broke up, and I haven’t seen S.— since. He came once when Peter was here from Amsterdam, but that’s it. I haven’t pushed S.—, I figure he’s in a bit of “good pain” over his new status as a single guy, and if he associates me with the painful past, I don’t mind his avoiding me. Or rather I do, because I miss him, but it’s okay; he’s got to heal. I recommended they break up (they argued all the time and sometimes scared me), though I didn’t intend to lose S.— in the process.

Besides, this has been the coolest July and August since the state started keeping records, so I haven’t been on my porch much since Peter left in June.

Labor Day, however, is a whole different thing: the unofficial end of summer. Cookouts are mandatory, even for single guys like me. Time to fire up the grill no matter what.

I had a taste for my grilled lemon chicken. Nothing to it; marinate in lemon juice and Worcestershire. It’s much better bone-in than not, so I went to the grocery; no split breasts, though they’ll happily sell you boneless ones for three times as much. I ended up buying a whole chicken cut up and grilling only the breasts; plus they still had homegrown sweet corn in September!

Grilled corn is good (“roastin’ ears”), but I cooked mine on top of the stove per usual. It was sweet and delicious. I made a lettuce salad and some dill vinegrette; dill from the garden, under my kitchen window. I used red wine vinegar, which kind of overpowered the dill, but Lordy, red wine vinegar is one of God’s good gifts. When did I learn to make my own salad dressings? (After Jack.) And why would anyone pay Kraft or Paul Newman $3 for a little bottle of dressing when you can make so much better at home?

It’s shocking, really, how much better food tastes when you make it yourself.

I’m all in favor of restaurants where a real chef offers his or her best meals. No one wants to eat their own food all the time, and a good restaurant can inspire us to try new things, new ingredients, new combinations, new foods. As one who learned from the back of a spaghetti box, and thus followed a unique, idiosyncratic series of tangents to the dishes I now cook well, I am a big fan of cooks who took a different path and teach me by example.

But it’s good to think about what a good meal really is: something profoundly social, even if you’re only communing with yourself.

My ideal night is Peter and a chickee on the side porch; or Jack and four guests and conversation long into the night; or S— and T— even when they yelled at each other, because in between times we enjoyed each other.

Dinner is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. When it also tastes fantastic, all the better!

That Jesus fella was pretty smart at his last supper.

So it’s Labor Day, and I’m alone. S— did send me an e-mail this weekend, “we should get together, where did summer go, I’ve been so busy,” etc. I’m pleased that I’ve not coerced him into coming when he plainly hasn’t wanted to. I’ve left him alone, though I did command his attendance once when Peter was here. Otherwise no.

Meanwhile I’ve been filling in a blank recipe book Peter bought me, to replace my 3×5 cards I’ve collected since 1976, on which are written everything I know about cooking since I was 7 years old. Yes, there’s a French toast recipe; yes, there’s Joshua’s Patented Spaghetti Sauce, which I haven’t revised since January 25, 1992, when I cut the red meat by 50% after Jack’s first heart attack. I follow that recipe like it’s the Gospel According to Mark.

I’ve allotted three pages in my new book for all my vinegrettes. And I won’t write them down till I make them again.

Yes, I miss my friends, Jack, S—, T—, Peter, all the ones I used to know; but in the meantime life’s good eatin’. The holiday menu is a ribeye, stewed tomatoes and a baked spud with sour cream and chives from ten feet away, growing like mad, trying to compete with the tarragon and oregano, thyme and dill.

Make a meal for yourself and commune. There is nothing better in this life than a homegrown tomato.++tomatoes