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Conservative Parish Votes to Stay In TEC

St. Paul's, Hudson, WI. Fairly new building, cost more than $1 million.

I got a notice from a deacon today; “please take our church off your prayer list, we voted by 70% to stay in The Episcopal Church.”

So I took them off the list and tried to send some support either way.

I’m glad they stayed in, but 30% voted to leave.

It’s St. Paul’s, Hudson, in the Diocese of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Eau Claire is known as conservative and Catholic. It’s also isolated, out of the way and has never been very big. There aren’t any major cities there, and TEC skews urban. I should know, it’s hard to be a smalltown Episcopalian. My home parish is 50 miles away in another time zone.

Hudson’s website is one of the stranger ones I’ve seen. They have a link to a missionary-musician’s website, and “Youth Program” takes you to a Myspace page that hasn’t been updated in years, but cheerfully informs you that Tom has been kicked out for not showing up. “Eat it Tom!”

Evidently the administrator stopped showing up too.

You can also see documents on parish votes, all heavily in favor, on such topics as the Authority of Holy Scripture, the Lordship and Uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the Anglican Communion and Marriage and Blessings. Evidently these were submitted as resolutions to the diocesan convention, where four out of five were voted down.

They were all upset that TEC wasn’t complying with the anti-Gay Windsor Report, which never had any force or authority in this Church.

But in 2010 the parish took another vote and 70% of them want to stay Episcopalians. The other 30% do not.

I ought to keep them on the prayer list, don’t you think. But the deacon wrote to say, stop praying for us, we voted.

I’m glad they didn’t walk out. But I don’t understand anyone who wants to walk out in the first place, much less agitates sufficiently to put it to a vote.

My parish has never voted on queers; has yours?

It’s insulting to assert that we have to vote on the authority of Scripture, or the Lordship and Uniqueness of Jesus Christ. It’s somebody standing up and yelling in the parish hall, “These people in TEC aren’t good enough Christians!”

Or “I’m holier than thou.”

Lord have mercy. Please, God, spare us these people.

(But maybe with that statement I just kicked out Tom.)

It makes me wonder how a particular place, a parish or diocese, takes on a flavor of churchmanship or theology, incorporates that into its identity, develops a self-reinforcing reputation for it, and then fights off all challengers real or imagined.

To most of us St. Paul’s, Hudson looks fairly fundamentalist. How did that happen in the Episcopal Church? But it’s in an Anglo-Catholic diocese, so there’s more to the story; how did the diocese go Anglo-Catholic?

How does it happen that we have liberal dioceses, Broad Church/mainstream dioceses and conservative dioceses?

I live on the border between the dioceses of Indianapolis and Northern Indiana. One place hates Gay people; one place loves Gay people. What the hell is that?

Indy is Broad Church, Northern Indiana is High Church? How did that come about?

Was it some kind of Cult of the Leader? Why would a whole diocese be one way or the other?

How does it happen that parishes develop along ideological/theological lines? Why is Sydney, Australia more Calvinist than Calvin was?

Maybe it’s helpful to look at Smokey Mary’s in New York.

Do you know you can actually Google that, and the first thing that comes up is “Church of St. Mary the Virgin”?

Erwin De Leon documents a visit here, quite a lovely tribute.

It’s the most famous Anglo-Catholic parish in the United States, and its history is unique. It was founded specifically to be the highest of the High Churches, and incorporated to protect itself from anyone’s opposition or intervention, especially that of the Bishop or Convention of New York. Smokey’s going to do what it wants to do, and fuckyew if you don’t like it.

They love incense at Smokey Mary's; I envy them, because we don't get it.

Other parishes and dioceses, it’s less clear how they came to their current character.

The Diocese of Indianapolis ordained the first woman priest on the first day it was legal, the Rev. Jacqueline Means on New Year’s Day 1977. That was obviously a conscious decision made by “my” Bishop John Pares Craine. (Other women were ordained “irregularly” starting in 1974.) DioIndy is a Broad Church, mainstream, liberal diocese. The current bishop is Our Gal Cate™.

I’m fond of saying we wouldn’t give her up for anything. People love her. She’s not a cutting-edge national leader on any issue I can think of, but she fits this place, and when she talks, we listen. Our diocese will host the next General Convention in part to honor her. The whole Church likes her; she’s Our Gal Cate.

But ten miles up the road in the Diocese of Northern Indiana they’re scared to death of queers. How did that happen?

It fancies itself an Anglo-Catholic place, better and wiser than the hicks down south who don’t know anything; they’d never say it that way but it’s the truth.

They are far smaller in miles, dollars and numbers, but they do carry on proudly. More power to ’em.

How did they come to decide, “We shall be High Church, male, Catholic, anti-Gay and in a horrible panic over the ‘future of the Anglican Communion'”?

They’re not schismatic; the current Bishop Ed Little gets credit for that. But oh, he does agitate against homos because the pope told him to or somethin’.

I paint with a broad brush; Ed doesn’t hate people. But he seems not to realize all his agitation has the same effect as hating people.

Northern Indiana’s never had a woman bishop and maybe never will. They got all excited when a previous bishop’s consecration was held at Notre Dame University, which is like the U.S. home of the pope!

Sorry, kiddos, compared to you I’m a Protester.

When the Diocese of Northern Indiana was carved out, the sitting Bishop of Indiana John Hazen White moved from Indianapolis to South Bend. That’s probably what started it. Maybe he was disgusted by the Low Church attitudes of the hicks and farmers he was dealing with. He knew better, so he started over in a new place. The people he attracted coalesced around his preferences, they followed where he led, and Northern Indiana differentiated itself, took on a Catholic identity that way.

It hurts me that they’re anti-Gay; it hurts Lesbian and Gay kids in their hometowns, their parishes and families.

This is what is wrong with these cults of personality. White must have been the finest guy around. But it didn’t mean his shit didn’t stink.

We mistake the founder’s prejudices for the truth.

Or, in the case of Bishop Craine, we go along with the Head Man’s beliefs because we like him. I remember Jackie Means, the first “regular” woman priest. She was a working class gal, not conventionally educated, and her big thing was prison ministry. She was superb at it, and Bishop Craine believed in her. There’s now a John P. Craine House in Indy which provides transitional housing and support services for female nonviolent offenders on release from prison. I support it financially and commend it to all; I’m proud of it, and of the success of its residents. It’s a worthy tribute to the man, and hardly the first thing that comes to mind when considering the mission of the Episcopal Church.

But I seriously doubt Jackie Means would have won a plebiscite on ordination; I might not have voted for her either. Bishop Craine solved that by not putting it up to a vote. Yet here’s this parish in rural Wisconsin voting on whether queers can get married. Big surprise, they voted like Republicans; it’s a small town, how else would they vote?

But they also voted 70-30 to stay with us, and wow, am I impressed.

I read an attack the other day on the Broad Church; the first time I’d ever seen that. A conservative (Catholic? Protestant? I don’t remember) claimed we ruined everything theologically—although they always argue “theology” when it’s really “politics.”

Some of our inclinations simply arise from demographics; no one looks to the Diocese of Quincy for original thought. Ditto San Joaquin and Fort Worth. Pittsburgh, though, is another matter, the epicenter of Anglican schism.

It’s been clear since at least the 1970’s that Pittsburgh was going fundamentalist. “Trinity School for Ministry” (formerly the Church Army Training Center, before they kicked out all the queers) is located in that diocese. It now advertises on schismatic websites. What happened in that place to send all the swine off the cliff?

A bishop gets elected; he doesn’t have much formal power, but he’s certainly influential, so he influences. He favors a certain theology or practice; he surrounds himself with staff members, and makes appointments, favors some people and disfavors others, and gradually gains sway over every major decision. Rectors do it too; it’s expected almost. The laypeople are not by and large paying attention.

Then one day you wake up in a homophobic diocese—or New Hampshire, with a Gay bishop. It could go either way.

Eventually that bishop retires, but the people he’s put in place keep running things, so all the replacement nominees are basically People Who Agree With That Guy, and the tone of the diocese or parish starts to turn to stone.

Fort Worth “always” elects conservatives. Quincy “always” elects Anglo-Catholics. Indianapolis “always” favors women’s ordination. Northern Indiana “never” does. It’s an insidious process that depends on laypeople not paying attention.

It’s aided and abetted by the deference many people still give to the clergy. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it; I know lots of great bishops, priests and deacons.

But never bow down to them in procession; that was not Jesus Christ who just walked by. She may be his representative, but that’s all. (Anglo-Catholics teach you to defer to the priest; Protestants refuse to, and they’re right.)

So here we are, 2010, Anglican Wars are dying down, liberals are in and conservatives are out; I like it that way because it means some Gay kid in Plymouth, Indiana is not getting battered by his or her church. Or Hudson, Wisconsin or Quincy, Illinois. Child-battering is a sin, and this applies to Gay issues!

But I’m very pleased to hear from St. Paul’s, Hudson; they think we’re wrong but they don’t want to leave. Hallelujah!

What they do with the 30% who voted to leave is probably just watch them go.

Eau Claire can’t afford that. The Episcopal Church can’t afford that. Who died and made us prophets, y’know?

But it’s what we’re called to, so it’s what we’re doing, hesitantly and not very well; and it’s not like homophobes in Hudson can’t find another place to go.

It isn’t easy being a prophet, though; it’s a crucifixion.++

He Just Wishes Gay People Would Keep Quiet & Go Away

“Bob” needs a barber so bad.

I woke up this morning to another e-mail from a Christian critic of Gay people. It wasn’t awful like some of them can be; I guess that makes him a moderate. I could accept several of his sentences, but not the overall tone; when I called him on that he ran away. But it’s worth looking at, because we hear these kinds of things all the time. It deserves some analysis.

First some context; I don’t know the man. He wrote to me because of the prayer website I operate here. He read an old essay of mine on that website, “On the Gay Issue: Pray,” written as an open letter to Bob Duncan, former Bishop of Pittsburgh, during the height of his anti-Gay schism in the Episcopal Church (which appears to be petering out lately). The essay contends that no one in the Church, Straight or Gay, is capable of discerning God’s will in the matter without praying first, in case our assumptions are wrong; that sexuality is so fraught with baggage, so overlaid with various agendas (arising in our own bodies) that none of us has the mental capacity to apply pure Reason to the questions, whether we analyze scripture or science or politics or the media or anything else.

In other words, “God, what if I’m wrong?”

I commend this question in prayer to Gay people and Straight people alike, all over the spectrum of beliefs.

It’s good for Gay people to pray this question, because God has an answer for us that’s Good News indeed.

But it’s also good—necessary—for non-Gay people to pray this way, whether they’re liberal or conservative. God gives the same answer to them that s/he gives to us.

But anti-Gay people never pray that way! They seem to think they couldn’t possibly be wrong.

That’s what I attack in the essay. They seem to think they can analyze scripture and come up with the right answer. But they’re wrong. We have to pray about it. People’s lives are at stake here. The Church’s future is at stake. And your brain isn’t big enough to know what to do if you don’t ask God first, in case you might be wrong.

(Hat tip Jonathan Hagger, faithful priest in the Church of England, whose whole website is designed to get people to think, question and pray.)

There have been times I’ve gotten e-mails from people who appreciated my little essay.

There have been other times a bigot’s responded in attack mode. But this guy today wasn’t like that. Here’s what he wrote.

I just wanted to send you a quick note. I was surfing the internet looking for information on the daily office when I discovered your site. Thank you for making this information available. I sincerely appreciate your efforts. I also read your open letter to Bob and felt moved to send a quick comment.

The problem for me with the gay question, as you call it – is that I don’t see it as a problem really. I think God accepts and loves us all regardless of who we are. And that is enough for me. What some gay men and women seem to be seeking is man’s approval and affirmation and not God’s. I do not consider my sexuality to be my identity and it is certainly not something that defines my faith. If my actions are sinful, I will repent of that. I do truly believe that most sexual activity is sinful – because most sexual activity is selfish and self pleasing in nature. But, where it is truly an expression of love (and only the individual and God can truly know whether the act is based in love), how can it be considered sinful? If God is love, than so is it’s expression. God will teach me what is sin and what is not and inform or convict me likewise – not man or a man’s current definition of what sin is.

The political nature of sexuality in the church seems to be more about the sin of personal pride than of any particular sin related to a specific act. When I enter my church physically or in communion by prayer, I do so as an asexual man – humbly and not by any other label – and where I have sinned – and we are all sinful (gay and straight alike) – I repent of those sins. I do not enter as a category of sin nor do I announce it to others or seek special recognition for it as a class or feel specifically set aside or marked by it, etc. All sin is disgraceful in the eye of God. I have repented of mine, and I am confident in my faith that it is forgiven, That is enough for me.

Sorry if I have rambled or offended. I truly think God loves us all gay and straight. I think none of us, not one – are worthy of it. I truly abhor all politics and hate it when those who are political use Jesus or God in a political way. I only want to love God with all my heart and soul and my neighbor as myself (whether my neighbor is gay or straight).

Peace and Love and many thanks for your site,

(signature)

Notice he’s on a first-name basis with “Bob,” the schmismatic cleric in Pittsburgh who’s now gotten a promotion to archbishop from his new anti-Gay church.

I take it this e-mail came from one of “Bob’s” followers. But don’t hold that against him; look at what he says.

Here’s what I wrote back.

On the surface I have no problem with what you write.

Yet over and over again you criticize Gay people in this note, while claiming you have nothing against them.

Apparently the big sin to you is announcing one’s sexual orientation, which Straight people do all the time as a matter of course, every day, throughout their lives.

The next sin is seeking to stop violence against Gay people, including that perpetrated by the Church. This becomes “the political nature of sexuality” to you. But it’s not. It’s about replacing violence with justice.

I’ve seen the violence, I’ve had it used on me, I’ve seen it against hundreds of other Gay people, it’s a fact of life nearly everywhere in the country, nearly everywhere in the world – yet here you are moaning about pride, politics, “seeking man’s approval and affirmation” by being honest and organizing against violence.

Two young guys in Malawi are probably going to die in prison because they held an engagement party. Maybe they’re lucky they weren’t stoned to death by crowds of Christians. Russians in California – Orthodox Christian Russians – bring weapons to human rights marches and often use them. Russians in Russia beat Gay people’s heads in while the police stand around and watch. Eric Rudolph, that heroic American “patriot,” sets off nail bombs at a Lesbian bar in Atlanta when he’s not trying to blow up the Olympics. Yet your big insight is that you don’t consider your sexuality to be your identity, so you accuse other people of over-identifying.

It isn’t about pride or individual sin, it’s about a thousand forms of violence and economic discrimination committed by Christians who think they’re loving God by hurting us.

The only way to end that violence is by coming out, just like Straight people do, and organizing to get Christians to stop the violence.

You don’t know what sin is, (name), after all the prophets have tried to teach you. You’re worrying about people’s individual sex acts instead of justice for the poor and oppressed.

I’ll give you this, you’re halfway there, but you’ve got a long way to go. You haven’t even stopped oppressing people yourself yet.

But thanks for writing. As long as you don’t pick up a rock I trust you.

I thought that was a reasonable, reasoned response. I wasn’t angry when I wrote it. (I sometimes am angry when I answer haters.) I’m very aware when I’m writing on behalf of dailyoffice.org that I’m representing more than myself, one little blogger with views. I’m a commissioned evangelist, by authority of Presiding Bishop John Maury Allin. I publish prayers with 461 years of authority behind them in the Book of Common Prayer. I’m just a layman, not a priest, and I don’t speak for God (no one does, not even the pope), but I receive many e-mails from people spilling their guts in worshipful joy or horrible pain. I have a responsibility to do my best with these e-mails. I often pray during the writing of them.

I thought I did okay with this guy. But here’s what he wrote back. It’s just inane. But it’s even got some sweet touches, which I appreciate.

Wow. I guess at some point this becomes an us vs. them sort of thing. I didn’t declare my sexuality and I won’t. I am not on a side here. I really don’t see it that way which I guess is where your hostility is coming from. If you are not for me in total — then you are against me, etc. I totally remove it from the equation. I do agree the world is a violent place and no one can deny any of the violence that has occurred or do anything but condemn it. And I do. The rest is really just one long personal attack and I forgive you for that. I still stand by what I wrote. And I promise I don’t carry rocks.

I apologize for upsetting you. That wasn’t my intention. And I won’t proceed any further. You won’t hear again from me. Thanks again for you web site. It’s a good thing.

I was hoping he’d actually respond to the substance. But no, he decided I’m hostile and it’s all one long personal attack.

What can you do with a person like this? Nothing. Except send him back to “Bob,” I guess, and hope for the best.

Here are my takeaways for what they’re worth.

• They really don’t like Gay people coming out. This just drives them insane.

• They’re obsessed with personal morality, especially sexual morality. They pay no attention whatever to corporate morality, national morality, the Church’s collective morality. It’s all about what you do with your private parts.

• That personal focus derives from an utterly selfish quest for personal salvation; “forget anyone else, I want into heaven!” And oh, do the Protestants cater to that. Every fundamentalist/Pentecostal huckster in the world sets himself up as heaven’s gatekeeper. They find a ready market in capitalist consumer America.

• But the prophets were concerned about Israel’s morality, the nation’s righteousness, the national whoredom, the national oppression of the poor and defenseless.

Jeremiah, you might as well have saved your breath.

Oil spill in the Gulf? Crackheads and meth-heads in the Minerals and Mining Service? Goldman Sachs? You hear not a word about them from the personal salvation crowd. It’s all about doing the nasty to them.

• They’ve somehow allowed sex to become the sole criterion for who gets into heaven and who doesn’t. Bernie Madoff would make it but Leonardo Ricardo would not.

• This is why they can’t possibly understand the scripture or science of sexual orientation without praying. God has no other means to reach them but prayer—because they never admit, “Of course, I could be wrong.”

No eyes to see, no ears to hear; I didn’t invent this stuff. My correspondent fled.

Well, it happened to Jesus too, especially with the Rich Young Man. There’s nothing you can do sometimes; the RYM was hoping for an entrance pass to heaven, having obeyed the law in every respect, but Jesus didn’t give it to him. “If you’re so perfect, sell all you own, give it to the poor and follow me.” And the RYM went sadly away, because he was very, very rich—and not about to do what Jesus required.

• How we use money, not how we use sex, is at the top of St. Peter’s Questionnaire at the pearly gates.

How we use money is both a personal question and a national, international one. The world isn’t looking too good these days. The Gulf spill happened because BP and other oil companies bought off the MMS, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and the Republican Party. Sorry, pelicans and fishermen.

The first disciples kept all their goods in common, but we don’t do that. Monastics are the only ones who do anymore. Some monasteries are rather wealthy but others struggle.

• Yet I agree with my correspondent that most sex acts are selfish and therefore sinful—though I’d add that it’s because the Church doesn’t teach the difference between having sex and making love.

The Church isn’t allowed to teach that, people would get all upset. Teaching would invite questions, and people don’t want questions; they don’t want the old morality to be wrong, even as they’re busy violating it every chance they get.

Defend marriage—from whom? The Straight people? I’d go for that!

“Bob” and his friends do not, and they are never wrong. “Why, it sez so right there, page 492!”

LGBT people have the great gift, and the great burden, of having to ask whether they are wrong and the patriarchy’s right. This can lead to decades of soul searching, out of which arose my essay.

But God will cut through the crap if you ask him; “I love you just the way you are.”

Go and sin no more. Make love, don’t have sex.

And be very, very careful with what you do, individually and collectively, with your money.

He hath showed strength with his arm, *
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he hath sent empty away.

The government in the United States, “the system,” is set up to make some people rich at the expense of others—just like apartheid in South Africa. It’s immoral, but all “Bob” and his cronies care about is who’s diddling whom. You can’t build a church on that, folks; it will collapse.

They’re always going to diddle whoever they want to, regardless of hypocritical pronouncements. God knows all about diddling; she set it up, it propagates the species and makes Gay people, and beyond that it bores her. She’s got bigger things to worry about.

We’d better worry about the same things she does. Because someday we’ll all have to meet our Maker, and “I repented of my diddling” might not get you in. But “I made peace, I fed the poor, I voted out the oppressors” is doing the Lord’s work, and she likes that.++

Name Change: TEC to the Church of America

The National Cathedral in Washington: an “Episcopal” church, whatever that means.

Not many people know this, but 100+ years ago at the height of the Oxford Movement, the Protestant Episcopal Church came within a single vote of changing its name to the Catholic Church of America.

Can you imagine? If the vote had gone through it would have changed our identity completely. In good ways, I think, but the change would have been dramatic.

It would have marked the triumph of Anglo-Catholicism over the Low Church/Evangelical/Calvinist/Puritan Party. And considering the changes of the 20th century, that might have done us a great deal of good.

I’m striking out when trying to research this online, however; I can’t find documentation for it. So my assertion relies on a 36-year-old memory of something Howard Galley told us at the National Institute for Lay Training at General Seminary in New York in 1974.

(Sidebar: this speaks directly to a cheerful online dialogue I had recently with Dr. Derek Olsen on Daily Episcopalian, who complained nicely that Galley wrote “the most Protestant” take on priestcraft in his 1989 book, The Ceremonies of the Eucharist. I felt a need to defend Howard’s Catholic bona fides, including his report about how close we came to renaming ourselves the Catholic Church in America.)

One would have to dig through musty books at Church headquarters in New York to compile the documentation. If you know where those records are online, please leave a comment!

I’ve never forgotten what Howard said—or the pride in his voice that his beloved Anglo-Catholics came so close to a total redoing of The Episcopal Church’s identity. My point to Derek was that as General Editor of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Howard was very skilled at honoring both the Protestant and Catholic sides of our tradition. Nor was this strictly political on his part, to get his Prayer Book revision through; he honestly believed in Reformed Catholicism, in the best Anglican tradition. He didn’t have to fake it when it came to his Evangelical credentials; he was himself, as I am, a commissioned Evangelist.

Nor was he in the closet about his Anglo-Catholicism any more than I am. But I’ve got my limits; I really don’t want monstrances paraded down the center aisle, or certain other popish practices, glosses, add-ons and fantasies; but when my brother Dick had lifesaving surgery in 1969, I wore my little Haitian rosary beads out. And Bro survived to this day, thanks be to God.

I now propose, unlike 1880 or thereabouts, that TEC change its name to The Church of America.

Drop the word “Catholic,” which our remnant of Calvinists will never agree to, and identify us instead with our country, just like the Church of England, the Church of Nigeria, the Church of Ireland, the Church in Wales. No church deserves this name like we do, and it fits our governing constitution making our Church independent of all other Anglican churches, like our nation is independent of all others while maintaining close ties.

“The Episcopal Church” is an accurate description of who we are—as long as you speak Greek, and I don’t. Neither do you.

“Episcopal” means “the bishops’ church,” as contrasted with a Presbyterian one like the Church of Scotland, “the priests’ or presbyters’ church.” In truth TEC is closer to “the laypeople’s church” than most anyone else you can name, because we actually empower the people in the pews who fund this whole apparatus and do the lion’s share of the work. But yes, Episcopalians have bishops just like all of Jesus’s followers had for the first 1500 years of Christianity. (Presbyterians got so disgusted with the Bishop of Rome they threw all the bishops out categorically. Does this make for better governance? Debatable.)

Empowering the laypeople is what makes for better governance. So TEC is set up just like Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court. If you have the votes you win, if not you lose. For lack of one vote the Catholic advocates got shot down.

The problem for Episcopalians and Presbyterians (who mostly get along great these days) is that Americans don’t speak New Testament Greek, so 300 million of us have no idea what these words mean. Our names have become a stumbling-block (and woe to you if you erect one of those).

“The Church of America” wipes all that confusion away. It identifies us with our Lord, our country, our independence, our liberal democracy, our freedom and our faith.

We don’t promote raw nationalism, so that shouldn’t be an issue, even if it becomes for some a temptation. There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with promoting thoughtful patriotism. At times in the past 50 years we could have used the reminder.

We’re the most comprehensive church in the nation, incorporating both Catholic and Protestant traditions. American Christianity includes both, and so do we.

Uniquely among churches we base our faith on Scripture, Tradition and Reason, in dynamic tension. First we look to what the Bible says; then to what the Universal Church has generally taught in most times and places; then we critique those two with the Reason and logic of our God-given brains. That’s why we ordain Gay and Lesbian people, by the way; we know what the Bible says, what the Tradition has taught, but neither one stands up to Reason anymore—nor to the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

As an Evangelical Catholic, I’ve argued for awhile now that TEC’s genetic Anglophilia hurts us in the world today. We love our Shakespeare for darn good reasons—but we’re not English, we’re Americans, and our Church includes Cherokees and Sioux, Inuits and Hawai’ians, not to mention Chinese, Japanese, Haitians, Nigerians, Koreans, Aussies and various nationalities in Europe. We need to de-emphasize our Britishness and connect more strongly with the polyglot nations we actually live in.

I will always love Anglican chant, Ralph Vaughn Williams and the host of other Britannic worthies who have given us a magnificent worship tradition. But we need to burn some sage, too; it’s like incense.

Let’s be Americans; we were one of the first churches here in colonial days, but now we’re our own country since 1776.

Let’s steer past the old questions of are we Catholic or are we Protestant? We’re both, and we’ll never give up either tradition. This is part of what made Galley so brilliant. His evangelicalism is what allowed him to restore the Holy Eucharist or Mass as the principal service on Sundays—a completely Catholic triumph. And he did this while training me and six others as evangelists.

No one else but “Episcopalians” had the chutzpah to raise up a Church of Saints Peter and Paul and call it the National Cathedral. That was us.

Of course, our boundaries go beyond the US of A; we’re active in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, Ecuador. But they are all Americans with us here in the New, not-Europe World.

Name change: TEC to the Church of America. Eliminate the stumbling block of an ancient Greek word while we explain ourselves to Generation X, Y and Z. Church of America, always active in the development of our country, from George Washington to George W. Bush. President Obama likes to go to St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square across from the White House.

Honor our Potawatomis and Apaches, Tlingits and Iroquois; no one’s more American than they are.

Honor our faithful who are Black; no one’s more American than they are.

Honor our faithful in Ecuador, the Dominican and the Virgin Islands; they’re Americans too.

Honor our Germans and Brits and Frenchies and Latinos; together we make a nation and a Church. Polynesians too!

Let us always have connections to other national Churches in New Zealand, South Africa and the Philippines through the Anglican Communion, no matter how much the Church of England’s Archbishops embarass us with their constant defense of sexism and homophobia. We want post-colonial relationships in the world of today, not yesterday.

Let’s stop having to tell people what “Episcopal” means. It takes a freakin’ hour and even that doesn’t help. The American Church is something most people can get their brains around.

Let’s focus on our countries, our communities, and offer services broadly appealing to all, wherever people are on the Catholic-Protestant scale.

We’re at our best when we’re blessing the whole city, state and nation: cops, firefighters, soldiers, social workers, 9/11 emergency responders, nurses, animals, ambulances and all the ships at sea. We’ve always done this, because we’re a national Church.

It’s time we started acting like it, that’s all. Change the name and get on with our mission.

If you want to grow your parish, make a great big deal out of Florence Nightingale Day. Hold a countywide celebration of nurses, medical professionals, EMTs, physicians, patients and their families. If my stats on the Daily Office blog are at all representative, she’s bigger than St. Francis of Assisi, when he’s got every birder, dog and cat lover in America.++

Funeral of Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women.

Purdue Wins National Championship!

Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, of Purdue's National Championship team in women's golf. (Brent Dinkut/Journal and Courier)

The Purdue Boilermakers won the NCAA National Championship in women’s golf today, the first Northern school in history to take the title.

They beat the Trojans of Southern California by a single stroke on the 18th hole. The finish was dramatic.

My mother would have been jumping out of her skin about now. Oh, how I wish she’d lived to see the day.

She learned the game of golf at Purdue, where she graduated with a B.S. in Pharmacy in 1961, the year the Purdue men’s team won the National Championship.

Physical education was a required course for undergraduates back then; they’d teach any student whatever sport they were interested in. She chose golf, and got pretty good at it, though nothing like these girls today.

My mother played the game for the rest of her life, which is what “lifelong learning” is all about.

In fact, the grade she got in golf class changed her life, and not in a good way; she missed graduating with honors because she got a B in that 1-credit-hour class. But still, she got the last laugh a few years later, when she won the 1st Flight tournament in the Lafayette City Championships.

I got to host her at the Memorial Championship in Dublin, Ohio, Jack Nicklaus’s ode to his golf heroes and heroines at the Muirfield Golf Club. We saw some amazing performances, including Paul Azinger’s unbelievable win when he came back from cancer. Golf was good to my Mom; she had a lot of fun playing. (And Nicklaus is the son of a pharmacist.)

This year’s Purdue team is coached by Devon Brouse; the team star is Maude-Aimee LeBlanc. The team is slightly controversial around here because none of the players are Americans. But girls come from all over the world to play college golf in the United States; the individual champion this year is a gal from Sweden who plays for Oklahoma State.

Purdue’s Maria Hernandez was the individual medalist last year. Brouse has had this program shooting for the top for some years now, and in 2010 they hit the jackpot.

College golf (high school too) is team play, not the individual sport you see on TV. It makes for an interesting dynamic. For one thing, all the players wear their school colors; Purdue wore black shorts and black golf shirts with a “P” on the chest. Black is considered an aggressive color. Maybe next year they’ll wear Old Gold.

As a team sport, the scoring is different too, and that changes the strategy. The highest score on a team is dropped, so only the five best players’ results matter. If one gal’s having a bad day, it doesn’t count. But the pressure is on for her teammates. The performance of a single star doesn’t cut it; what matters is what her teammates shoot.

Purdue finished 1 over par for the tournament, hosted by the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. USC finished 2 over par. A Purdue player tied for third as an individual, but the consistent low scores of her teammates carried the day. The last two shots of the day won it.

Then came a bit of pageantry before the awarding of the trophies. A gaggle of bagpipers marched onto the course, because golf was invented by the Scots. These weren’t college boys, but a professional bagpipe outfit in kilts. For the climax of a women’s golf tournament, let’s get guys in skirts! They had a drum major in spats, and drummers twirling their sticks ceremonially. It was a show—and no matter how much one might get sentimental over Robert Burns and Auld Lang Syne, there’s no way to make bagpipes sound like musical instruments. They make a glaring, awful noise—but Scotland gave us golf, which made my mother happy, and gave us a championship Purdue won today.

So why this post? I will never miss an opportunity to proclaim “Purdue Wins National Championship” in a sport, because great athletes provide an excuse to cheer for the whole school’s students, including those in pharmacy. This is my excuse for cheering on my Mom.

She was a far better pharmacist than she was a golfer—not that she didn’t crow about that city championship when she was in her 40s. I’ve still got her little hole-in-one trophy from later years, though it’s engraved for “Betty Arnold” as if she was married to her boyfriend, not living in sin. Oh, the scandal!

She would cheer these Purdue girls, and be the first to point out that you can’t have a world-class university unless you attract the best students from all over the world. Purdue has more foreign students than any other state university in America, and I for one am proud of them.

Go Mom! GO PURDUE! Go Mom.++

National Champions 2010, the Purdue Boilermakers. (Jason Barnette)

In Bidness Since 1951

Hoosierboy Dave Letterman, born 1947.

If I were a business I’d be rich by now. You don’t last 59 years without learning to do something right; generally it’s called making a profit.

But I’m not a business, I’m a charity—or a charity case, but oh well. I’ve made profits before; for awhile there I was able to support myself and a disabled lover. But that was then, now is now, and I’m 59 years old! Time for a little reflection and some crystal ball-gazing.

My fellow Hoosier David Letterman often pronounces it “bidness” in his comedy routines, and I invariably love it because that’s exactly how my Granddad pronounced it. “Well, son, you goin’ into bidness?” His exact words.

No, Granddad, I’m not. I decided against it when I was 14. I became a social worker, Gay activist, journalist and writer—totally non-profit. And it’s worked, more or less, for jeez, a long time. No complaints here, I’ve had a fantastic time. Met great people, some famous, some not; always felt fulfilled in my work, proud of myself. True, I’m a bit insecure financially these days, but that’s nothing new; I may never get a job again, and I’m three years away from a paltry Social Security check.

So now’s a good time to remember a friend in San Francisco named Charles, who bequeathed me some good money because he liked my writing; he liked me. If it weren’t for him I’d be dead.

But in this post I want to look ahead, not behind, not at Granddad, not at Letterman, not for old time’s sake, none of that. Reminiscing is swell, but I’ve got my eye on the future—two things specifically, my Church job and my next book.

I operate a website called dailyoffice.org, featuring Morning and Evening Prayer according to The Episcopal Church. I started this gig almost six years ago, in thanksgiving for finally being able to buy a house after decades of wandering. I felt a need to pray, but I soon realized how difficult it is to pray consistently, even when I’m full of joy (which I mostly am). The church has a prescribed method for this and it works really well, but it’s clumsy in actual practice; you gotta juggle a Prayer Book and a Bible, and page back and forth, and it’s just a mess. “So,” thought I, “let’s put it all online!”

It’s worked great; I’m closing in on 900,000 page-views and by Advent 1, 2010, I want to hit a million.

I never dreamed of such success; I’ve always operated the site primarily for myself, to thank God for my house. I’ve gotten closer to the Holy One than I ever imagined.

Plenty of times I’ve rather resented the responsibility of it, since other people actually show up to pray too; I never really planned on that. But if I don’t post the prayers of the day for some reason, I get all kinds of e-mails, “Are you okay? Are you dead? What’s wrong with you?”

They don’t understand it was just NIPSCO, the local power company. If the wind blows 5 mph, the electric goes out. Or the webhost goes down, or somethin’.

I have faithfully discharged this responsibility every day for almost six years. Dang, I’m good! And it’s been a joy to me, though anytime we come to rely on computers, hell awaits.

In the past few days, thanks to a push by a vicar in the Diocese of Newark named Bob Solon, Jr., The Daily Office now has a Facebook page. It’s here. Some 350 people have joined just since Saturday; this is Tuesday. I sometimes tell myself I operate one of the largest Episcopal churches in the world (who, me?)—but then I remind myself some of those 900,000 visitors were just looking for a picture of Florence Nightingale without any intention of actually praying. She did, though.

It’s possible, if the site and the blog keep growing, that I may get invited to… I dunno, give a talk somewhere, run a little how-to workshop, even put together a book of original prayers. Might even get a little paycheck someday, or maybe not. It doesn’t ultimately matter. I didn’t become an evangelist/social worker/writer/activist for the payout, but for the satisfaction of living my life like I’m supposed to.

And it’s not like I haven’t screwed it up every chance I got; I’m a sinner, same as you.

But I’m a lover, same as you. It all comes out in the wash.

I’m really proud on my birthday to say, “I made a commitment and kept it.” Almost 900,000 page-views! The prayer sites are by far my most successful projects evah—and I’m divo enough to tell you about every other success I’ve ever had, if there were time. But there isn’t. This brings me to My Other Big Thing, my next novel.

I’ve been working on it for ten years and I’m still not halfway done. It’s a sequel to my first book, in which a Gay reporter (who might that be?) helps a big butch cop catch a serial killer, and by the by just happens to fall in love with his Commander. It’s called Murder at Willow Slough; you can read pros and cons here.

I’ve lived with these two archetypes, the reporter and the cop, since 1994, and only produced one book about them. But yesterday I posted a new chapter, #23, on my novel-in-progress blog. It’s for adults only, because one of the things I’m trying to do is to create a very sexy, spiritual, longterm Gay relationship.

Indeed I feel that’s my vocation, along with the Office, to lift up a new model of Gay Christian romantic hotness for all the world to see.

I might be totally deceiving myself; that’s entirely possible. Artists never really know what they’re about, and that’s assuming I’m an artist. I think I am, but who would know? Not me. It’s the public that decides who’s an artist, and fiction-wise I’m not high on too many lists.

Murder at Willow Slough made it to #1 among Amazon’s Gay mysteries several times, but that was years ago, and who knows whether the sequel will sell. It’s been a long time since I was the hot young thing. Half my readers could be dead by now.

Occasionally I think, “I’m better known than ever before in the Episcopal Church; I blog, I write, I post the prayers.” Six years’ worth of twice-a-day prayers equals 4,380 posts; almost 900,000 page-views, though of course half those folks would be utterly appalled at Gay Christian Men Having Sex.

But I do feel that writing that story is what I’m called to, what I’m uniquely here for. I even believe (let humility rise and rise and rise) that GOD is the one who calls me to this, because GOD is the source of human love.

I’m uniquely positioned to do this work, whether I do it well or ill, precisely because of my earlier career in Gay journalism. I met thousands of LGBT people, coast to coast, big cities and small towns, north and south, butch and fey, smart and dumb, criminal and law-abiding, male and female and somewhere in between—and I became impressed over time by the things they had (we have) in common. They were, we are, a gentle, loving people.

Some were really screwed up; some were really together. Some were selfish; more were selfless. I learned that an activist meeting in Marietta, Ohio was no different from one in Cincinnati, San Francisco or New York; people put themselves out, took risks, made themselves vulnerable, to liberate the next generation, plus guys and gals in Malawi, Iran and hate-filled Russia.

I hope that my books reflect the things I learned. I also hope they do it with a sense of humor—though I cannot do bitchy dialogue to save my soul. That’s someone else’s specialty, and I have to admit it’s not a skill I aspire to.

I’m a lot more impressed by longterm lovers than I am by porn stars who stick a baseball bat up some guy’s ass for money.

So my characters reflect my biases; I love my guys and make them archetypes because of what I believe about you, Gay or Straight, woman or man.

With Anne Frank, I think most people are basically good; but remember, she was a victim of the Holocaust.

That has figured into my writing as well. I wouldn’t give you a dime for the serial murder exploitation industry, but it happens that as a reporter, I broke a story and was haunted by it for years.

One needn’t look far for tragedy when it comes to Gay people. Two lovers in Malawi are now sentenced to 14 years in a hellhole prison for daring to celebrate their engagement.

I write about Americans; Hoosiers of course, write what you know. My characters are physically beautiful because A) some people are; B) I was once halfway cute, and it’s not as easy as you think; and C) I want you to fantasize about them. But they are far more beautiful inside than out, because that’s how I’ve found you to be.

I made my guys rich, though I am poor; I wanted to know what it’s like to be rich, like I am, like you are. For some people that’s income, for most people that’s grace.

Chapter 24, when it happens in the next few days, will introduce the murder plot; I’m still writing within the Gay mystery genre. Waiting 24 chapters is a long time for a murder mystery, but I had too much to say to get there faster. Like Thomas Wolfe, my problem is “too much to say.”

I’ve lived 59 years, I’ve seen a lot, and novels are hard to write so that everything that must be in actually is, and everything that needn’t be gets cut. It’s a novel in progress—and I must say I love the rewrites. I love the cuts, I love the additions.

I’ve constructed a rock-solid loving relationship; and some very hot sex, according to my turnons. A few chapters might approach pornography, but unlike ubiquitous videos, they’re not designed to get you off; maybe you will, maybe not. They’re designed to show who these characters are, and to bless even the hottest sexuality just like the Song of Solomon does.

If God approves of same-sex love, and I know she does, her approval includes every act under the sun, same for Gay marrieds as for Straight marrieds. God created our bodies; do you think she did not know what we would do with them?

Do you think she did not smile when she made us?

Even plants have sex lives; let’s get real, people. God loves it when we love. She reveals herself when we love.

So here I am, Kent and Jamie on the beach, looking studly in their Speedos, trying to figure out their ethics and their relationship, their wealth and their poverty, their responsibilities and their fun, and none of the answers are givens. They have to invent themselves, but they have role-models if they look.

Kent’s parents loved each other; Jamie’s were more conflcted. Kent is universally popular; Jamie is more talented but more polarizing. Life is not just a bowl of Jell-O, Mary Martin, though you seem very wonderful and smart.

I hope to do my guys justice, that’s all; it’s very, very hard to write a novel. There are all these literary overlays (“Metaphor, Symbolism!”), but we also have some examples of “just tell a story, don’t worry about the analysts and critics.” I wish I were a great writer, one of the immortal ones, but I’m just trying to crank out a book here. I do believe with Rita Mae Brown that a novel is the most intimate art form ever invented, just you and me, alone at night, in bed. Read my books and you will know my soul, good or bad; I will show you who I am and then take my lumps.

When I met those activists and barflies in San Francisco, Washington and Marietta, I invariably met people who love.

That’s why I’m not much impressed with the bitchy queen purveyors. Yes, they exist, and at times they’re incredibly witty, but when they’re not, they’re just destructive, as in self-destructive. Internalized homophobia is the greatest threat we face.

The one thing I like in my slow-moving novel-in-progress, is that occasionally it’s halfway funny—not at anyone’s expense; it doesn’t have to be. Life is funny all on its own, we need not attack people.

I’m very proud of what I’ve written lately, and I’m even prouder of the rewrites. Non-pros don’t realize, rewrites make the song sing. Cut the crap, sharpen the dialogue, introduce a surprise; keep working.

I’m 59 today; not perfected yet. I try to write about Great Men without really feeling myself one of them. But that’s a key to fiction, imagining how things could be, or should be, or might be, or will never be—or really are, if only the rest of the world knew.

I like my life, Granddad; I know I’m not what you planned, but it’s worked out okay so far, and if I can see these projects through to completion, I will rest in peace.

No one questions sizzling and committed heterosexual marriage; I plan to offer the hottest Gay marriage in history.++

Tom of Finland, the greatest Gay man who ever lived.

Birthday Week Begins!

The clock is just past midnight as I begin this; it’s Monday, May 17. Today would have been my late brother Steve’s 62nd birthday.

Mine is tomorrow. Either he was born early or (more likely) I was born late; we were anniversary babies. I will be 59, gasp cough cough.

He and I went 20 years without speaking after I came out; he didn’t want a Gay brother. I was never allowed to see his kids, in case I would touch them and give them AIDS. (I’m HIV-negative, but that doesn’t matter to the paranoid. If a person could get HIV from touching, the whole world would have long since been infected.) He was a jerk; then slowly, he began to change.

Our mother got sick with cancer in 1994. He loved his mother, and the three of us debated over who would take care of her. He invited her to come and live with him in southern Indiana; but she wanted to die at home in West Lafayette, and I was an experienced caregiver, available to move in with her, so that’s what happened.

She didn’t last very long; January 9, 1995. Steve and I didn’t see that much of each other during her illness, but he did come north to spell me for a weekend so I could go to Indianapolis to watch Purdue men’s and women’s basketball. Her illness was hard on me, she was demanding, so I was very grateful he gave me that weekend. I know he took the best possible care of her.

After she died I stayed in her house, and he often invited me down south to his house for a visit. We became very close friends, although he never stopped giving me a hard time for being Gay.

On every other topic we were brothers. I miss him very much.

Because of the timing of our birthdays, we quickly developed a shared ritual we called Birthday Week; I commend it to everyone. Mom used to say, “My birthday is My Day.” Steve and I decided, why not a whole week!

Episcopalians and Catholics observe octaves of major feast days, an 8-day celebration. Birthday Week fit right into the calendar. Sometimes we’d start a few days before, sometimes a few days after, this was a moveable feast, whatever our whims decided, eight freakin’ days.

I loved him; he loved me. He was a very fine man with a prejudice. And he was a bit sadistic with it, but I always fought back.

He so loved his mother that he honored me for taking care of her, and that mattered more than our turnons.

I relied on him for certain kinds of advice; I have no mechanical ability whatsoever, while he always knew what to do when the water heater stops putting out, or the car won’t start, or moles invade the yard.

I miss him terribly, but I’m very grateful that we were close those last few years. He died shortly after the millennium turned.

But I still have the legacy of Birthday Week, and I’m going to take advantage of it. I’ve been waiting for this; Birthday Week starts now. I imagine him smiling up in heaven, right next to Mom.

Sunday I drove to West Lafayette and bought more landscape lumber, 8-foot-long border planks for my Proper Garden; I have reclaimed a wasteland in my back yard and made it beautiful. I’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, geraniums, cabbage and broccoli, and put in a strawberry patch; tossed out gravel, replaced it with topsoil, weeded and weeded and weeded, dug and raked till my back hurt, killed off these terrible trees that grow 10 feet tall in six weeks, sawed off the tree stumps, thoroughly knocked myself out. It’s taken a couple of years, but now I have a real garden, planted and marked off. The area’s still a little rough, the ground is uneven, but within those 8-foot planks, there’s a garden. Will the muskmelon seeds I dried and saved from last year do anything? I don’t know, but it will be exciting to find out.

Steve was a big fan of Vincennes muskmelons. In the gravel walkway on the north edge of the garden, I’ll plant gladiolus bulbs, some of my mother’s favorite flowers.

In the front yard with a northern exposure, Steve’s favorite azaleas are giving way to our brother Dick’s prize peonies. The Indiana state flower, y’know?

My garden is done, and I’m ecstastic. It isn’t even my birthday yet and everything’s done!

I also bought a little garden figurine, a foot-tall angel made in China with green and white mosaic wings, ten or twelve dollars; she now stands under the giant maple in the back yard, Our Lady of the Big Tree once featured in the Chicago Sunday Tribune.

The marigolds are happy, the begonias, three varieties of lilies; pansies, oregano, yuccas, impatiens; the hostas are doing okay, and so far I’ve been able to control the freakin’ ivy and the would-be kudzu. I worry about some gifts, though, that date to my buying this house six years ago; Peter gave me some excellent tulips, but they didn’t produce well this year, and a woman I used to work with at Southlake Mental gave me irises, which aren’t doing well either. I can picture her but I do not remember her name! It’s awful, she was very competent and good with clients, we worked so well together, but now, when irises are blooming all over town, mine aren’t. She deserves better, y’know? She deserves to be remembered by name.

But I’m getting older, and this s— happens, and it’s Birthday Week.

I got a dog last October, name of Luke; he hasn’t figured out flowers yet, and has made it his business to topple every planter in sight. He doesn’t mean to, but he’s a fox terrier, and they jump and run and boom, sorry begonias. And geraniums. And everything else he can accidentally knock over. I keep moving his stake-out chain, but I haven’t yet found the perfect spot where he can do no damage, and “Yowzah, Daddy, Arf Arf Arf! (Oops, bad dog, you don’t gotta tell me, I know.)”

He gets bacon anyway. I tell him that come August, when the tomatoes are ripe, I am eating all the bacon myself, BLTs, no matter how much he jumps and yaps and knocks things over.

It’s Birthday Week; my gardening is done. I have an 8×24 space marked off for flowers and food. I have a gravel walkway; the invasive trees are gone. Our Lady of the Maple happily presides in the shade. Maybe I’ll get a couple of jars of strawberry jam according to my mother’s recipe.

As for my homophobic brother: it was good to find someone who knew me all my life, loved me 90% and hated me just 10. It was mutual, after all, I never let him off the hook; attack me and I fight back.

I planted those azaleas for him, and they did better this year than ever before. Ninety/ten’s pretty good when you think about it. So Birthday Week starts now, on His Day. Mine is Tuesday, Jayne’s graduation party is Saturday, and Sunday is Pentecost, the Church’s Birthday with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I finally have a Proper Garden, and an Angel of the Maple Tree. Life is good.++

My Own Little Strawberry Festival

I planted 18 strawberry plants today, and I’m so happy with myself I could spit.

I extended my garden another 8 feet to the east to make room for the berries. That wasn’t where I originally planned to put them but that space will work out nicely. My garden is now three times bigger than it was a month ago!

Strawberries are my all-time favorite fruit since I was a kid. The first house I remember living in, from age 4-7 in Ohio, had a strawberry patch, and my mother used to bake a shortcake every year, right off the back of a Bisquick box. (That recipe’s rather leaden, but kids don’t know any better.) I was in heaven. My brother Steve used to get sick, he’d eat so many berries. We decided he was allergic, which left more for me!

We moved back to Indiana once I finished first grade, never lived in the country again and never had a strawberry patch either.

The berries you buy in a carton at the store are these gigantic things from California; they look fantastic but they’re not sweet, flavorful or juicy. The smaller berries we grow around here are the opposite; guess which I prefer.

They look good, they travel well, but the taste is inferior.

As I grew up I remember driving to a nearby town with my Grandma; in berry sesaon we’d see roadside stands out in the country, which is how you got the freshest, best produce then, some lady selling a few quarts out of a shed. Grandma would stop and look at the berries, but often she wouldn’t buy because of the price. The berries sure looked good to me, and the money didn’t seem like much, but Grandma was not going to pay an extra dime a quart. “We’ll find some others,” she’d say as we got back in the car and drove away. Of course there weren’t any others anywhere, to the great consternation of a little boy.

Grandma was 31 years old when the stock market crashed in 1929, and for the rest of her life she darned socks and saved string, “tinfoil” and Christmas wrap in a drawer. My brothers thought she was a cheapskate and didn’t like her, for that and other reasons, while I understood why she did what she did. Strawberry pie is a whole lot better than gooseberry pie; she had two gooseberry bushes in the backyard, so those were free. (And tasted like it, unless she had ice cream. Gooseberries are sour, fit only for geese.)

My brothers always had somewhere else to go when the gooseberry pie came out.

Episcopalians in the Midwest are very fond of holding strawberry festivals as fundraisers. Christ Church Cathedral has a big one every year (six tons of berries, 18,000 shortcakes) on Monument Circle as the ladies raise money for mission work; my home parish in Lafayette sells berries at the Round the Fountain Art Fair on the courthouse lawn, with lots of volunteers dipping furiously. Michael Martin, a parishioner and pencil artist, shows his new work there, along with a lot of other state and regional artists; I just bought one of his prints. In my book-in-progress, a strawberry fest is the big spring fundraiser for Jamie’s House, a fictional domestic violence shelter in Bexley.

Someday maybe I can have my own strawberry soirée!

The seedling directions said to plant in rows three feet apart, with 1 1/2 feet between plants in a row. This is because strawberry plants spread by sending out runners on top of the ground. I only had room for three rows of four plants that way, which left me with half a dozen plants left over, so I split the difference and got all 18 in the ground. I figure the runners are going to go wherever they want and it’s not going to hurt them to be a little closer together for awhile. Eventually the “mother” plants will die off while the runners take root and start producing instead. As long as my plants get established I’ll be happy.

In her later years my mother started another strawberry patch at her last house. Her health started to deteriorate, so I moved in with her, and one of my jobs every morning starting in late May was to go out and gather her berries, hundreds of them every day. I learned something; do not plant strawberries right next to the house, because you won’t be able to reach them all when you’re sitting at the edge. You have to be able to move all around your patch. I will be able to do that with my garden.

She had an easy method of making strawberry freezer jam that worked nicely; clean the berries, crush half of ’em (Indiana berries are juicy, Lucy), add sugar, bring to a boil, add a packet of Sure-Jell, boil another minute, then ladle into leftover pickle jars, screw on lids and stick ’em in the freezer. Nothing to it and your strawberry fest lasts all year!

But what about the shortcake? The Bisquick version is heavy and fairly tasteless (everything made of Bisquick tastes like a biscuit); you could hurt somebody if you threw it at their head.

If we dropped Bisquick shortcakes on Pakistan, Al Qaeda would surely give up.

The little Twinkie-like “shortcake shells” you find at the grocery won’t hurt anybody but they’re for people who can’t cook and don’t care what they taste like. Some versions on Recipezaar call for baking a yellow or white cake from a mix; they may be lovely but they’re not shortcakes. Maybe I need to get over the “shortcake” idea altogether, even though it was imprinted on my brain from childhood. (Did my mother throw one at me?)

Strawberries on a slice of pound cake would be good; but, aha, I know what I’ll do, combine berries with my favorite kind of cake: angel food, ’cause I’m mommy’s little yadda-yadda.

These berries I planted say they are “everbearing,” while my mother always had one big crop in May and June. Here’s what about.com says about the plants I bought:

Everbearing strawberries produce two to three harvests of fruit intermittently during the spring, summer and fall. Everbearing plants do not send out many runners.

Later it says there aren’t many runners because the plants put all their energy into producing three crops a year. I’ll believe it when I see it. I love the idea of fresh strawberries in August and October, but the key will be how these babies taste. Maybe I should have bought plants like my mother had…

Oh well, I am not my mother! And this is all an experiment anyway; it’s called gardening. The only thing more fun than the growing is the eating.++

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Strawberryman!