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Book Review: “Holy Women, Holy Men”

Like many Episcopalians, I’ve been using Holy Women, Holy Men (2009) for about three years now. It’s a book of saints, major and minor, whose “feast days” are observed every year during the Holy Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer.

The saints range from the world-famous to the truly obscure from the past 2000 years of Christian history. A large percentage lived prior to the Protestant Reformation; others lived through it and after it. They come from many traditions; the Undivided Church prior to the Great Schism of 1054, which split the Church into East and West, Orthodoxy and Catholicism; Episcopalians and other Anglicans; and, for the first time, worthy Baptists, Lutherans, Moravians and others. There are even a few Jews.

Holy Women, Holy Men is an update of prior works called Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The new book’s purpose is to provide a calendar list (which saint goes on what day), along with Bible readings and a prayer known as the Collect of the Day, which mentions the saints and what they are known for; that is, why we observe them. A thumbnail biographical sketch is included on the page opposite the prayer.

HWHM, produced by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, offers a great expansion and diversification of the saints recognized by The Episcopal Church. There are many more women now, including more Americans. The list of saints is also more international than ever and goes beyond a standard collection of Dead White Europeans.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer mentioned 67 saints, but gave no liturgical directions; by 1964 the American Church added a hundred new worthies, each with lessons and a collect. Now HWHM adds another hundred or so, including 20th century Americans like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dorchester Chaplains of World War II, Julia Chester Emery, a great laywoman, and Jonathan Daniels, a seminarian who gave his life in the civil rights movement.

In broad terms this is a successful book; it holds up less well on any given day. After three years of trial use, the Episcopal General Convention decided, based on the Commission’s own request, that it wasn’t ready for prime time, and thus its trial use was continued for three more years in a vote last month.

Some of the saints chosen are controversial; I object to a few of them, for what that’s worth. John Calvin, the theologian of hellfire and damnation, is in there, including his proclamation that all humanity is guilty of “total depravity”; so is Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” (She also popularized Thanksgiving Day and helped make it a national holiday.) John Henry Newman gets a day, despite causing all kinds of uproar when he defected from the Church of England to Roman Catholicism – and then arranged to be buried next to his longtime “friend.”

Beyond the question of including or excluding someone, which is bound to be contentious, some people raise objections to the exact phrasing of the prayers; everyone’s a critic in this democratic Church. Some commenters want to substitute other Bible readings that accompany the Eucharist.

The Commission knows its work isn’t done yet, so I give them credit for that.

However, the production of the book itself is almost shocking in its flaws; like the Bible, the Prayer Book has to be letter-perfect, and HWHM, essentially a Prayer Book supplement, is full of typos and other mistakes. Sometimes it doesn’t even spell the saint’s name the same way from one page to the next. I don’t think The Episcopal Church has ever produced a book this sloppy. (I should know, having proofread the Psalms in Authorized Services (1976), the forerunner to the current BCP.)

The worst feature is the inclusion of unrelated saints on the same day. Apparently the Commission intends for some churches to observe one person and not the other, according to local preference. We’ve never had to pick and choose before, and the logic isn’t always obvious. On August 3 there are separate services for George F. Bragg, Jr., an African-American priest and Church historian, and W.E.B. DuBois, the African-American father of sociological science who studied the Black slums of Philadelphia. Could no one figure out a way to combine these two? Which one is a Black parish (or a White one, or any other kind) supposed to choose? They combine them, of course – or leave them both out.

On August 27, we observe two great priests and missionaries to the deaf, Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle—with the latter given the slightly degrading treatment no other saint receives of being merely “with” Gallaudet. Unlike all other clergy whose days are observed, their priesthood is not mentioned in the day’s title; why not?

We have a day for “William F. Mayo, Charles F. Menninger, and Their Sons, Pioneers in Medicine,” with the years of death of the fathers. The sons aren’t named, nor are their death dates given; are they really included or not? The bio accompanying the day mentions that the Mayos were Episcopalians, but there’s no note at all on Charles Menninger’s faith; his son Karl, who comes up in the sketch but not the title, wrote an influential book, Whatever Became of Sin?, which emphasized holistic healing of body, mind and spirit – but what his old man believed, we’ll never know.

The book is great for including a lot more women than we’ve ever had, but with the simultaneous inclusion of a lot more men, the male-female imbalance hasn’t changed at all.

Beyond all this is the question of how any day can be special if every day is taken up with a saint. At dailyoffice.org, I’ve had to alter my policy on including artworks with Morning and Evening Prayer, to put the emphasis back on Jesus and the other figures of the Bible, so we don’t get caught up in observing every Aelred, Aidan, Alban, Alcuin, Alphege and Anselm that comes along.

The bios are especially problematic, along with the grandiose titles given most saints of the middle and later Church. If someone was a king, an earl or a rich man’s daughter we’re going to hear all about their wealth, prestige and stellar education; apparently the poor don’t have what it takes for sainthood according to this Commission. It’s the worst English class-consciousness I’ve ever seen in an American book. Jon Daniels gets his whole name spelled out like a baptismal certificate, when he was just a young guy in blue jeans.

For a denominaton that is no longer the Church of the Upper Class, that indeed is struggling at times for its ongoing life, the Standing Commission has no clue how to market these people as role models – the principal role of a saint. It’s as if this Commission takes all its meetings at Downton Abbey, while the rest of us carry the tea and pay for the lodgings.

I exaggerate; I know some of the Commission members, who are good people trying to do a difficult job. This book isn’t the only thing they’ve had on their plate; this year they offered, and General Convention approved, rites for same-sex blessings (which aren’t marriages, they hasten to add). There was a little arguing about it but the Convention okayed those new liturgies by a landslide, so the Commission gets kudos for that.

Pushing back final approval of this book was also the right thing to do. It isn’t finished yet, it’s kind of a mess—and we’re not used to that. Millions of people depend on what our official books say, but HWHM isn’t entirely dependable yet.

Let me also give credit to the Commission for engaging the Church and the public in the process of revising the calendar, with all its pitfalls. Anyone can comment on their blog at http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com – and people do. I was able to put the Commission in touch with the descendants of a new saint, Conrad Weiser of Pennsylvania, a colonial diplomat with the Native Americans of the Northeast. I’m proud of that, but find it sad that Weiser’s family, with their own website and frequent reunions, had no idea that TEC was elevating their ancestor, and that the Commission never even looked for his relatives. All it took was a Google search.

I expect better of The Episcopal Church; I expect the best human beings can do, and Holy Women, Holy Men isn’t it. Maybe it will be someday, but it isn’t now.

Howard Galley, General Editor of the Book of Common Prayer (1979), would have made sure it was before it was released, but he isn’t here anymore; I nominate him for sainthood.++

Sometimes saints get added from the ground up, not the Commission down; Thurgood Marshall, an Episcopal layman and the first Black Supreme Court justice, was recognized after his parish in Washington, D.C. began celebrating his life every year and talking up his candidacy. The same thing is now happening for Dr. Pauli Murray, a priest and civil rights leader in North Carolina. The Standing Commission’s guidelines for recognizing sainthood say to wait 50 years after a person’s death, but that didn’t stop Dr. King, Jon Daniels or Justice Marshall.

 

Fundamentalist Chickens Come Home to Roost

A lawyer lays out photos of a child who died at day care, as his father looks on. (Kelly Wilkinson/The Indianapolis Star)

Here is a sad story, worth telling because one family’s tragedy is directly traceable to America’s so-called culture wars – which have nothing to do with whether you prefer Mozart, Gaughin or Woody Allen. Two parents in Indianapolis took their little boy to day care, just like millions of other parents do every day. Except this time the little boy didn’t come home.

Juan Carlos Cardenas, age 1, wandered off during lunch, but none of the adults noticed. When they finally went looking for him, they found him face down in the baptismal pool. He drowned.

Why was there a baptismal pool at the day care center? Because it was held at a church; specifically the Praise Fellowship Assembly of God.

The newspapers never have said, to my knowledge, how far away the baptismal pool was from the main day care area; or whether the pool was covered with a lid when not in use; or whether he had to climb up to get to the pool; or whether it was sunken into the floor, so that anyone could trip and fall into it; or how long Juan Carlos was gone before the adults noticed and went looking. The Indianapolis Star, whose story this is, has always been vague about the details – except for a very salient fact: day cares aren’t licensed in Indiana if they’re run by churches.

In Indiana church day cares are “registered,” not licensed. They are exempt from all the safety and staffing requirements state government imposes on commercial day cares and secular non-profit versions. The state legislature decided, after pressure from churches, that they didn’t have to comply with the legal requirements. The church-run centers have lower costs that way; the state doesn’t interfere with their “exercise of religion.” Juan Carlos sadly exercised himself all the way to the room with the baptismal pool.

How many staff were on duty that day? The Star doesn’t say, never has. I guess that’s up to the judge to find out, because a lawsuit’s coming – against the Indiana state government.

Thank you, legislators, so much.

By “registering” church day cares instead of licensing them, the state knows that they exist and takes a role in advising churches how a day care should be run. The state can even do inspections – but it can’t force compliance, because that would interfere with “religious freedom” – to run a day care that kills a kid.

But wait, there’s more: it turns out the state legislature decided, faced with the obvious need for more day care facilities, that it would give out vouchers to qualifying families to send their kids to day care – without requiring them to go to a licensed facility. The Cardenas family enrolled their son at the Praise Fellowship.

Thus the state is deeply implicated here, and probably liable to some extent, though a judge will eventually decide. The church itself has already settled with the family – and shut down the day care center by refusing to accept the vouchers anymore. The state didn’t order the shutdown, they left that to the church.

Indiana sent an inspector to examine the facility back in November, four months before little Juan Carlos was drowned. The inspector cited the facility for 18 violations. However, the church was exempt from complying. See how this works?

After the child’s death, the state sent another inspection team, but by then it was too late, and besides, the state couldn’t close what it never licensed to open.

All this so the Assembly of God, and every other congregation like them, could practice its religion.

No doubt they were well-meaning, but that didn’t keep the child safe. He wandered off and nobody noticed, probably because there wasn’t enough staff.

The Star has never said whether the baptismal pool was considered a violation. Pity the poor inspector whose hands were tied by the legislature. She was busy counting the number of marked exits and making sure the applesauce was refrigerated and not expired, but never got trained in what to do about a baptismal pool. Clearly baptism is a religious matter.

A rational state – New York comes to mind – would handle this differently, I suspect. There, if a church wanted to open a day care center, the state would have welcomed them with open arms – and then told them that religion notwithstanding, they had to be licensed. If they got licensed, they would be eligible for the state to send children there and pay for them.

Not in Indiana.

I hope the state pays through the nose for the parents’ loss. I wish, though it will never happen, that the settlement funds had to come out of the salaries of state legislators. They’re the ones who failed the kid by not requiring oversight.

Why did they do it? Because the churches wanted them to, and had a thousand reasons why they couldn’t comply with the regulations. These aren’t just day care centers, but “ministries,” and everyone knows you don’t mess with a ministry, no matter how wacky it is. Indeed, politicians are eager to do everything they can to help out churches – including giving them money to take in kids like Juan Carlos.

The stupidity of all this need barely be mentioned. A child is dead and politicians killed him. They didn’t mean to, the kid just wandered off.

Surely however we can see many connections between religion, politics and the nation’s problems. Are you worried about the budget deficit? Try paying for your wars next time. Whose wars? George W. Bush’s, the Lord’s Anointed. That’s what the Fundamentalists said; by invading Iraq, Bush was going to remake the Middle East, guarantee Israel’s safety and thereby usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

I’m still waiting.

We could make long lists of the failed promises and lies of Fundamentalist preachers and politicians, but instead let’s ask another question: why and how did mainline Protestants let these goons take over in the first place?

Or: how are Episcopalians responsible for the wholesale theft of the Christian religion?

Fundamentalism is a 20th century movement, and its roots go back to developments in the 19th century, a period of great scholarly ferment among theologians. New methods of Biblical “criticism” arose, and many reactionary Christian leaders became alarmed. They launched a movement to stress the “fundamentals,” no matter what discoveries scholars made about the texts.

They decided to take over Protestant Christianity – and they did it, because Episcopalians didn’t want to dirty themselves fighting back.

They decided to write papers instead, and become even more scholarly. To the triumphant Fundamentalists, it meant God slew all the Amalekites. Piece of cake, really.

Now a hundred years later we are living with the results – when we’re not dying from them, like Juan Carlos Cardenas.

Does anyone realize how many state legislatures, like Indiana’s, Fundamentalist Christians now control?

Here’s a map of the 2004 presidential election results, which I submit as a proxy to answer the question. St. George the Bush won, of course.

It’s a vast swath of the United States.

But maybe you’d rather look at it by population; we’ve got a map for that too. This map is called a cartogram.

2004 presidential results, weighted by population.

 

That looks a little better perhaps and helps reveal the closeness of the popular vote and Electoral College. But it doesn’t do Juan Carlos or his parents one bit of good in little red Indiana, or a pregnant rape victim any good in Todd Akin’s Missouri.

God help you if you’re a Muslim in Murfreesboro, Tennessee or a Gay kid in Casper, Wyoming.

The unwillingness to fight of Episcopalians and others these past hundred years has real consequences. If the questions were only theological they wouldn’t matter so much. But Fundamentalist Christians want to make themselves the Established Church in the United States, and every other country they can get.

Christian Fundamentalists act just like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the “ultra-orthodox” in Israel. They want to control everything and everybody, and they’ll happily use war to get it.

It’s that last part that freaked out the Episcopalians so much and paralyzed them. “These people are warlike!”

Well, d-uh. Memo to theologians and bishops: there’s no sense arguing when your enemy’s got a gun in his hand.

So they surrendered. They won’t admit that’s what they did, but the evidence is all around us.

Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri who’s “no abortion, no exceptions,” would have told my grandmother, “We don’t care if this pregnancy will kill you. Your maybe-baby is more important than you are.”

(My grandmother did die in childbirth. If she’d had a safe, legal abortion, I wouldn’t be here – and I still think she should have had a choice.)

As I consider my own Church, and how willfully useless it’s been in fighting for an accurate, balanced, faithful and intellectually respectable Christianity, I think back to the great heroes and heroines of the faith, who were never afraid to fight back. Our calendar of saints is filled with intrepid fighters, who didn’t shed blood but gave their lives combating heresy and preaching what the Church calls “pure doctrine.” We celebrate these people every day and every year. What made us so wimpy when challenged in our own time?

We’ll never fully know, and can’t turn back the clock, but here’s the good news: Fundamentalism can still be defeated, if we’ll take up the tools at hand and fight for the full, entire faith – including its nuances, doubts and contradictions too. I give credit to the 20th century bishops and theologians, they preserved and enhanced the faith for those of us inside the walls. That’s no small achievement. But it doesn’t bring back that little boy, either.

Fundamentalists don’t like the truth, and are afraid of it, so they rely on lies. This is a position of great weakness, because the truth can beat them every time, and the keyboard is mightier than the sword. Mine isn’t, but ours are; Leonardo Ricardo has pointed out the similarity between the Arab Spring and America’s future choices if the Fundamentalist-Tea Party-Republicans succeed this fall. We are not powerless, no matter how many billionaires line up for Romney. If the Assembly of God takes over the government, Americans won’t like it one bit. (In many places, when Fundamentalists have taken over the school board in one election, they’re thrown out the next. Even Kansas finally got rid of its militant anti-abortion attorney general once they saw what he was like.)

No side will ever win a complete victory. But we have power if only we’ll use it.

My hope for the Episcopal Church is that the next time we elect a Presiding Bishop, we’ll pick one who isn’t afraid to fight for the truth. Jesus doesn’t care if two men or two women get married, but he cares very much about how we treat women – children – the poor – the elderly – the sick – the homeless – the oppressed. Since Fundamentalists are intent on marginalizing powerless people, we can count on having his power on our side.++

Valentin de Boulogne, c. 1618: Take That, Goldman Sachs!

 

 

The Polls Are Tight, but the GOP Is Collapsing

“I just love a man in magic underwear.”

Does anybody get what’s happening to the Republican Party? Superficially they look okay – Mitt Romney’s getting ready for his coronation next week in Tampa, and he’s not far behind in the polls – but the reality is the party is falling apart. And this has been apparent for some time now.

The clearest indication was last winter as the primaries got started. They had a bunch of cartoon characters running for president – remember Herman Cain? – but this has been going on for years. Michelle Bachmann always reminded me of that former secretary of state of Florida, Katherine Harris, who liked to do remote stand-up interviews on TV (“Hannity and Colmes”) in profile so men could see her breasts. She ran the worst campaign imaginable for the U.S. Senate in 2006 – then when she’d get in trouble she’d just make stuff up:

In late August, Harris lost another key staffer, Rhyan Metzler, in the wake of a disastrous political rally at Orlando Executive Airport. Only 40 people showed up for the event, and Harris blamed the paltry turnout in part on a last-minute change in location. She claimed that a tree fell on the hangar that was originally scheduled to hold the rally, forcing her campaign to switch to another hangar. Airport officials, however, stated that not only had no trees fallen, but also that there are no trees as they get in the way of the airplanes; further adding that the event in fact took place in the hangar that Harris’s campaign had originally booked. Harris’s campaign blamed Metzler for the comments Harris made after the rally. (Wikipedia)

Remember Christine O’Donnell of Delaware, running for Senate in 2010? She had to go on TV and tell the world, “I am not a witch.”

Spouting off earlier today on CNN; Phyllis Diller’s ghost would have made more sense. And been funnier.

Now we’ve got Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, yet another GOP Senate candidate, saying he “misspoke” about “legitimate rape” last weekend. He opposes abortion for any reason, including rape, incest and the life of the mother, and he got caught telling a TV interviewer that when a woman’s raped, her body can “shut that down.” And therefore she doesn’t get pregnant, and therefore there’s no need for a rape exception while men like him try to make abortion illegal.

“If it was a legitimate rape,” Akin said – as opposed to what, a phony one?

Indiana has Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer, running for Senate this year; he ousted Richard Lugar, a Rhodes Scholar and the respected foreign policy leader of the U.S. Senate. The Indianapolis Star editorial board asked Mourdock for the solution to partisanship and polarization in Washington, and he answered, “More partisanship.” He’s one of those do-not-compromise Tea Party guys.

Seems more like do-not-resuscitate the Republican Party to me.

They have no candidates. They’re fresh out. When a political party runs out of candidates, it’s finished.

In the presidential primaries, the Republicans did everything they could think of to nominate someone besides Mitt Romney. No one wanted him. Michelle Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll a year ago – then sank like a mobster thrown into the East River. Herman Cain was going to be the savior – Newt Gingrich – Rick Perry, remember him? – Rick Santorum, who lost his last race in a landslide – Ron Paul, the author of racist newsletters and promoter of “Austrian economists” – there was no end to the “anyone but Romney” parade. So now they’re stuck with the last guy standing. And who did he pick for his vice-presidential nominee? Rep. Paul Ryan, co-sponsor of Todd Akin’s bill to overhaul the Hyde Amendment, which for 30 years has prevented government funding for abortion except in the case of rape.

Ryan, they say, is an “intellectual” who “really understands the budget.” But it isn’t true; his numbers don’t add up, he won’t say what tax loopholes he’d close while giving the rich another tax cut, and without that his budget increases the deficit, not decreases it.

Oh and by the way, no more Medicare, no more Pell Grants or food stamps, no Medicaid – but he’ll sure protect the military from any cuts, even though the United States spends more on “defense” than the next 60 nations combined.

This stuff’s just weird. But the media and the big thinkers don’t seem to get what’s going on.

The old professional Republicans are caught between two monsters they unleashed – unlimited campaign contributions, which allow billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers to control the candidates and the agenda, and a Tea Party that’s full of extremists.

When even Dick Lugar goes down, there’s no hope for the old Republican Party. Meanwhile, the Democrats are barely hanging on themselves, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re next.

Remember when Bobby Jindal was going to be the GOP savior? He didn’t make it past one disastrous appearance on TV. Or Marco Rubio? He lied about his résumé, how his parents got to Florida from Cuba. Chris Christie? He can’t open his mouth without ticking people off. (And he’s got a scandal on his hands with private prisons.)

Who else do they have? Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was the logical veep choice for Romney – Ohio’s a big swing state – but Portman would have put everyone to sleep, when that’s Romney’s only specialty.

So he picked Ryan, hoping for another Palin-style “game-changer.” You remember her, right? The one who reads so many newspapers and magazines she can’t name any of them?

Palin is proof this has been going on for some time now. The GOP is out of candidates. They not only don’t have a bench, they don’t have a starting lineup.

This is the perfect time for a fresh face to replace Todd Akin in Missouri.

I know this sounds strange, because other people aren’t saying it much yet, but the United States is trading democracy for government by the rich. And it’s not just individuals like Adelson and the Koch Brothers, or Karl Rove and Dick Armey; it’s the corporations and Wall Street, it’s Facebook and Google. Without them Romney would be tying his dog to the car roof and heading for Canada again.

They know where you are, who you are and what you think, 24/7. Thanks to that tracking device in your pocket or purse, the GOP marketing machine can tailor an ad just for you.

We’ve signed away our privacy rights because our toys are entertaining. The ballot box is our last, most sacred private place – but it’s not private anymore either, and that’s assuming you’re allowed to cast a ballot. All over the nation Republicans have led efforts to restrict ballot access. They don’t want young people voting, or poor people, Blacks or Hispanics. Republicans now openly admit this; the sponsor of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law predicts Romney will carry the state now, and in Ohio election officials openly admit they’re not going to accommodate Black voters.

Imagine: the Republican Party’s only road to the White House is by openly suppressing the vote!

Do you hear outrage about this? Not really. Everyone’s too busy on their cell phones to notice.

The only cure for these trends is a Democratic landslide. But that doesn’t look at all likely.

If it were to happen, the professional Republicans would retake control of their party, by attributing their defeat to the Tea Party. They’d have to find a way to stick that genie back in the bottle.

If President Obama squeaks by this year, and maybe hangs onto the Senate thanks to Todd Akin, nothing much will change, which is really bad for the country. There’s a reason Rush Limbaugh said four years ago he wants this president to fail; it’s because Republicans don’t know what else to do!

My sense is that Democrats are even more clueless about the 24-hour news cycle than Republicans are. They still think Twitter’s something you post statements to and raise money on, instead of a giant loudspeaker that magnifies every half-witted criticism – or bold-faced lie – someone makes.

All politicians have thick skins, but they need rhinoceros hides these days. Obama has been too fearful of criticism and too cautious, and we’re paying the price for it; unemployment lingers because he can’t stand not being loved.

President Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Obama can’t stand the heat, but he won’t leave the kitchen either. The government is paralyzed. And the people are too busy texting to notice.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but the world is becoming a more dangerous place, and our military won’t be able to protect us from it. Our enemies are internal and work in skyscrapers.

If America stops functioning, what’s to become of the world? Europe is teetering, the Chinese are still paranoid and authoritarian; where will leadership come from?

Congress recently voted down a bill to protect our electronic infrastructure. You’d think Republicans and Democrats could agree that the internet and our computer systems are worth protecting. But no – even though everything we do as an advanced nation depends on those computers.

If you want to attack the banking system – the electrical grid – planes, trains, highways – shipping – communications – you don’t need to shoot down satellites à la “Star Wars.” Just get a bunch of hackers together. In a sense, the future belongs to this guy or someone like him:

Julian Assange of WikiLeaks (AP)

Assange himself, holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, is screwed. But there are surely thousands like him, waiting to bring down “the great Satan.”

The professional Republicans have long since sold their souls to the devil; here’s a picture of the transaction.

This year Texas Republicans have forbidden their schools to teach “critical thinking skills.” Logic might lead a person to doubt God, or do something about global warming, or even let Gay people get married.

The end result is that Republican candidates now think a raped woman never gets pregnant.

America can certainly survive without the Republican Party, but it can’t afford to lose the Democrats too. Yet here’s a picture that looks a lot like the one of Reagan and Falwell.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Sen. Charles Schumer. (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

Those two both represent Wall Street, and Democrats need money too or they won’t win elections.

Is there a silver lining to all these clouds? I don’t really see one, but I notice that Sen. Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts) was the first GOPper to call for Akin to resign from his campaign. Brown is afraid that anti-abortion insanity will make him lose to this woman.

God forbid anyone calls her a savior, but she’s the only one I see with a chance to help turn things around.

I’ll give the Democrats this, they do have candidates. They haven’t entirely sold out. But they’re going to have to do a much better job of rallying and governing the country, or I’m afraid we’ll just watch it slip away on YouTube – then wake up one day and wonder why there’s no electricity. Or banking, or transportation, or anything.

If that ever happens, the next thing to go is the food supply. If that goes, expect the Army on every corner. They’ll be reluctant, but they won’t have a choice.++

The Gospel According to Gay Guys

13th century Russian icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus; graphic design by Peter Schröder Studio, Amsterdam.

My third novel was published yesterday and is now on sale as an e-book at Amazon, in the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

You can read it on all Kindle formats, iPhone and iPad, as well as desktop computers with a free downloadable Kindle app; link below.

Other formats will be rolled out soon, along with more stores.

My book’s as long as the Bible – but much more entertaining. It reads fast and has comedy too. At $6.99 it’s only a penny a page. (Although there’s really no such thing as a “page” in an e-book, since readers can change the text size to whatever they want.)

I’ll tell you a secret: it’s really a Gospel for Gay Guys. I stole “according to” from someone else’s work.

Three of the chapters are sexually explicit. My friend Leonardo is going to blush. He may even walk away from it for awhile, but I bet he comes back to find out what happens next.

It’s got four-letter words, because that’s how guys like us talk. I wrote it in the vernacular. Maybe it would sell better if I’d told Peter to label it “Vulgate Edition.”

But it’s good news for every Gay guy who ever loved God.

I have no idea what reaction I’ll get from women. They were 50% of the audience for Murder at Willow Slough (2001), the book that introduced these characters, Jamie and Kent. Women loved that book; some of them will like this too, but it is a grown-up story. Slough contained no sex; this book makes up for lost time.

Here’s the official pitch from the Amazon sales page:

Kent is a cop, Jamie is a reporter; they fell in love three months ago while working on a serial murder case, and now they’ve come to the end of their first date. They want to make sure their relationship lasts, but they are babes in the woods and the forest is scary. They have to face their dangers and fears, separately and together.

Their challenges range from a drive-by shooting in Murder City USA to a seductive waiter at a resort hotel, but their worst difficulties are close to home: family expectations, health issues, money concerns, sexual styles. And “what are you going to do about kids, anyway?”

Jamie keeps getting attacked by creatures out to kill him, and Kent’s never around when he needs him. They move into a weird old mansion and suddenly a 10-year-old boy disappears.

They treat each other tenderly, but what they don’t say matters as much as what they do.

The Gospel According to Gay Guys is a romance, a murder mystery, an epic family history. It’s the story of one man coming to faith, and two men making a marriage.

Does God love Gay guys? Absolutely – including, and within, their sexuality.

The Church has always taught that within marriage, sex is sacramental. So the book’s got a couple of communion times in it.

Last month the Episcopal Church approved same-sex marriage rites. It’s local option, so they won’t take place all over the country right at first, but in marriage equality states, local priests will be able to sign our civil licenses, the same as they do for Straight couples.

The Episcopal Church has given GLBT Christians everything we want: our own bishops and priests, marriage, non-discrimination, full respect. That’s great news.

Sure, it took a long time, about 40 years, but as God measures time, this was an eye-blink.

The message of the book is this: we’re free to come back to church now. The Episcopal Church Welcomes Us.

Episcopalians aren’t being trendy, they’re being faithful. God wants LGBTs in church, so Episcopalians have thrown the doors open.

There are other good, welcoming churches of all denominations, on every continent. Whatever church you grew up in or used to go to, you can probably find an accepting community.

I make a case that the Episcopal Church is ideal for Gay people because it’s both Protestant and Catholic, but also that no one should tell you how to think. Go where you’re comfortable; go where you find God in the church’s midst.

My biggest target audience is GLBT Christians raised in the faith, who left because of Pat Robertson and the Pope. Churches have been full of anti-Gay hatred for as long as most of us have been alive. I left too; I don’t blame you.

But times are changing, and churches are, too.

Find yourself a good faith community, test it and join it. It’s much easier to encounter God with other people around. Yes, you can worship on a mountaintop or in the woods, but let’s face it, you don’t do that very often. The community has a purpose: mutual teaching, mutual support.

And it welcomes people with no religious background at all. When we first meet Kent Kessler, his faith is as vague as can be. He doesn’t know much, he’s never examined the claims Christians make for Jesus, and his life is okay without asking about him. He goes to church because his family does, but he just never thought much about it.

I hope Gay guys can still listen when God calls.

But the book doesn’t preach, it tells a story: here’s what happened after these guys fell in love.

Genuine romance changes lives. So does real friendship. We’re never the same. We’re better off for knowing someone and trusting them with our inner selves, the way we really are.

I’ve loved several Gay guys, and they’ve loved me. So this is what I’ve learned from them; God is there inside our love.

Physically, spiritually, emotionally – in every way, God is right there.

I’ll end now with a final observation. Maybe you already know God loves you. I hope you do; it means you’re one of his.

But few of us perceive the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us. It includes all the things about yourself you hate.

Gay guys have been taught to hate ourselves, and nearly all of us still do, deep down inside. The most homophobic people on the planet aren’t Christians, but Gay guys. “Religious people” have taught us how to do this, but we’re the ones who absorbed the lessons down to the core of our being, where our sexuality is located.

But The Gospel According to Gay Guys argues that Gay liberation began with Jesus Christ. There were these two guys living together, see…

You heard it here first. The idea isn’t original with me, but nobody tells the story like I do.

It takes a Gay guy to tell it; someone who isn’t academic, and whose job doesn’t depend on pleasing anyone else. Chances are your parish priest could tell it, but s/he doesn’t.

I’m the one who’s free to go for broke. So in this book, I do.

If that isn’t worth $6.99, go to the movies or buy yourself another drink. All I can do is tell you the truth; from here on it’s up to you.

You can download it here.

Whatever mistakes are in the book I’m responsible for. Whatever’s true about it the Holy Spirit wrote.++

Tom of Finland. I so wanted this for my cover art, but the Peter Schröder Studio had a better idea; saints first, studs second.

 

 

What Kind of Country Will the United States Be Next Year?

(Eric Thayer/The New York Times)

Mitt Romney has picked Congressman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate. Whoopee! Conservatives say this is a game-changer, while liberals are licking their chops and going on offense.

I’ll save my invective; I don’t see a need for it today. My sturdiest observation is that now the voters get to choose what kind of country we’ll be. We can pick Romney, Ryan, Adelson, the Koch Brothers, an end to Medicare and Medicaid, the EPA and financial regulation; or we can choose Obama, Biden, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Obamacare, clean energy and Dodd-Frank.

I’m rooting for the blue team, but it should be a good game. It’s the Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys, no matter which side you’re on. We’ll all get to cheer the good guys and boo the bad ones.

Let’s hope the refs at SCOTUS don’t try changing the outcome again.

Coming off the bench, do you like Ayn Rand or Elizabeth Warren? Pick one.

Up to now the polls have shown Obama with a slight but clear edge, in the country as a whole and in each of the swing states. Unemployment is high and people seem to think Romney would be better at handling the economy. They like Obama better, though; they think he’s much more likable than Romney.

Almost 70% of people want to see higher taxes on the rich, like Obama does. Romney wants to cut taxes for the rich and raise them for you.

“Health care reform” as a concept is unpopular—but its component parts do win favor; insurance coverage for nearly everyone, no disqualification for pre-existing conditions, carrying adult children on their parents’ policies until the kids get older and can buy their own. People like those things, they just don’t like “Obamacare.”

They don’t like that Romney made his money buying up companies, laying people off, shutting down plants and moving them overseas. They don’t like that he doesn’t pay much in taxes, or takes a $70,000 deduction for his wife’s show horse. They don’t like that he has secret bank accounts overseas, but wants to be President here. Which is it, pal?

They don’t like his being a Mormon, but they didn’t like Jeremiah Wright either. So that’s probably a wash.

They don’t pay much attention to foreign policy; it’s “over there somewhere.” Some of them know that Obama ended the war in Iraq (more or less) and killed Osama bin Laden. And some know the war in Afghanistan is still going on, though no one can really tell you why. But by and large, people don’t really care—even though these wars, started by George W. Bush, have been tremendous drains on the national treasury, which a lot of people claim to be concerned about—the money, that is, not the wars.

We could save money by ending the war in Afghanistan.

Not many people know that Romney likes saber-rattling and threatening war with Iran. Nobody likes Iran, but neither can they find it on a map or tell you the difference between Iran and Iraq. Iraq’s the one with the Q in it; that’s about the level of our knowledge. Both of them are Muslim countries “over there” somewhere. Are Sikhs Muslims? Americans don’t know. Sikhs wear turbans, and anyway they’re all foreigners.

In short we’re massively ignorant in this country, and I find myself wondering, with such a stark difference between these candidates, which way we’ll end up going.

Will we finally see through Obama and find the socialist he really is? Or will we finally see through Romney and find an abusive capitalist who really couldn’t care less about anyone who isn’t a millionaire?

Will Adelson and the Koch Brothers succeed in buying the election? I wouldn’t put it past them, but on the other hand they haven’t so far. Adelson’s first choice was Newt Gingrich, who went over like a lead balloon.

This election will put to the test, once and for all, the conventional wisdom about democracy: namely, that you can trust the voters to make the right choice.

They didn’t in 2010; they didn’t this year in Indiana, when they voted out Senator Dick Lugar. But they did in 2008, I believe, when they voted for President Obama, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate.

What we got from the 2008 vote was Obamacare—no small thing—and tourniquets to stop the economic bleeding. The patient hasn’t recovered yet but at least it didn’t die.

(I hated Lugar’s record on domestic votes, but support him on foreign issues. In his previous election Indiana Democrats didn’t even put up a candidate.)

The person I most trust on investments, John C. Bogle of the Vanguard Group, is a Republican who voted for Obama in 2008 and is going to do it again this time. Bogle makes sense.

Trust the voters? That’s as much a crapshoot as buying stocks and bonds.

My frank belief is that the USA isn’t a democracy anymore. We’ve become a plutocracy instead. But that’s an unfamiliar word to Americans, so we’re not riled up at all. (It means government by the rich.)

If I’m right, this is our last chance at a fair election. With all the billionaires lined up against him, if Obama can pull this out, then power still rests with the people, at least for awhile yet. I don’t think democracy will last much longer, but I don’t want to see it die before I do.

We face a moral choice this year, more than an array of policy choices, which every election presents. Do we idolize the rich and demonize the poor, or do we give everyone a fighting chance?

Do people get rich because God blesses them with wealth? Many religious leaders teach this. Jesus didn’t, he taught the opposite, but he’s not on the ballot this year—and I’m not sure he’d win if he were.

Romney’s crowd believes they’re rich because God blesses them—which means that anyone who isn’t rich doesn’t live right. That belief’s built right into Mormonism, and many Protestants and Catholics embrace it too.

I do not. To me, this is the most obscene photograph I’ve ever looked at.

That’s Mitt Romney, right in the front.

I ran it on dailyoffice.org during Lent, as an illustration of greed—one of the 7 Deadly Sins, you know.

It’s a promotional photograph for Bain Capital. It shows money coming out their ears.

Is that the kind of country you want to live in, where you elect a guy like that to rule over you?

Are dollars your God? Vote for Romney.

If God is your God, you cannot vote for Romney. You may not like Obama but you have to vote for him.

Who will win? I don’t know, but this election will determine what kind of nation we are forevermore.

I’m more optimistic about Obama than I am about the longterm future. I think we’ve already sold our souls to the devil, and that it started the day we traded “entertainment” for corporate brainwashing on TV.

Your cellphone is a tracking device. Big business wants to know where you are and what you’re doing at all times. Step out of line and the government wants to know too.

Your devices own you. You sold your soul already. Satan didn’t tell you the terms of the deal, but you didn’t ask. “Oh, look what this thing can do!”

Voting becomes less and less important than our daily choices. The guys who make money from those choices love this era we’ve entered. The rich get richer and you’re a chump.

People who live on the East and West Coasts know all these things, or sense them, but they don’t understand why “the heartland” doesn’t get it. Why, they ask, do non-millionaires vote Republican, against their own obvious self-interest?

Answer: people don’t pay attention anymore. They watch TV and soak up impressions. Obama is nice but “dangerous”; Romney is boring but “successful.”

Mostly they just vote the way their parents did. For “lesser offices” (no matter how important), they just vote the name they know.

They vote their emotions, which are mostly a product of TV.

Adelson’s putting $100 million into TV.

Obama may win this time, but I think the war’s already over. The United States got conquered by internal enemies, who work on a few streets in New York, Wall Street and Madison Avenue.

If Romney wins, we’re done. That’s what I think. So get yours while you can, I suppose. What else can you do when it’s “every man for himself”?

It’s human nature. There is no American Exception.

Love the one you’re with. While you can, anyway.++

Brigadier General Tammy S. Smith with her wife Tracey Hepner, a former Army captain. Smith just got promoted and is now the first openly-Gay general in U.S. history. Romney and Ryan would kick her out of the military, cut food stamps for the poor, and turn Medicare into a coupon program to limit health care for seniors and the disabled.