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A Cathedral in the Cornfields of Beaverville, Illinois

St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, Beaverville, Illinois, on the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)

St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, Beaverville, Illinois, on the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)

I was once a Morocco Beaver. Let the titters begin.

Morocco, Indiana High School, 1963-64, 7th grade: there was no middle school or junior high. I was on the basketball team, though I was terrible and seldom played. My oldest brother Dick, a senior, was the manager of the varsity team, which played nearby schools in Beaverville, St. Anne and Sheldon, Illinois, as well as Indiana schools, since we were only four miles from the state line. I’m sure he rode the team bus ten miles to Beaverville – maybe it was an intense rivalry way back when, the Beavers against Beaverville – but today was my first time setting foot in enemy territory.

Morocco doesn’t have beavers anymore, and neither do Beaver City or Beaverville. This whole area was once part of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, a wetland the size of the Florida Everglades, until settlers started digging ditches to get rid of the water. They committed a terrible environmental crime – but when the land dried out it was good for farming, and that’s the way of life here.

Beaverville and Morocco don’t have high schools or basketball teams now either, but they still have farmers and a grain elevator, located on a highway, a railroad or both. The elevator’s really the only reason these towns still exist; Morocco’s current population is about 1100, while Beaverville’s down to 300. I live in a metropolis of 1800 and we’re all 70-80 miles due south of Chicago.

Now about that church: it’s really something, especially for a town that tiny. I would guess the building seats 300, the entire population. There aren’t any other churches, because the original settlers were French Canadians who didn’t like being oppressed by British Canadians. Someone built a church, they named it after Mary (and the village too, St. Marie originally), a town grew up, a few stores and the grain elevator. (The Post Office made St. Marie change its name, since there was already a St. Mary, Illinois.)

I was urged to check it out by local readers who saw my previous post, Visit to a Smalltown Catholic Shrine in nearby St. Anne, Illinois, and got a little jealous perhaps, because they’ve got a great church too. And they’re right, so I owed it to B’ville and my own education to visit.

Front of the church from St. Charles Street, June 27, 2013 (Josh Thomas)

Front of the church from St. Charles Street, June 27, 2013. (Josh Thomas)

The draw at St. Mary’s is the stained glass windows and the architecture. The origin of the windows, all by the same studio, is not certain, but likely they came from Lascelles and Shroeder of Chicago, which served French Canadian congregations in the city and downstate.

The architect is known, Joseph Molitor, a partner with Charles W. Kallal in Chicago, the city architect who restored the famous Water Tower, the most prominent survivor of the Great Chicago Fire. A brochure says the Beaverville church is an eclectic mix of styles, predominantly Romanesque Revival, with a central octagonal dome over the nave, surrounded by small windows. Its ceiling is a moderately dark blue sprinkled with painted stars to resemble a night sky; it needs some work, but the rest of the building is looking good.

Angel with a font of holy water - or a moist sponge, anyway. (Josh Thomas)

Angel with a font of holy water – or a moist sponge, anyway. Gorgeous blue robe. (Josh Thomas)

The windows use a lot of opalescent glass made in Kokomo, Indiana (where my mother’s family are from) in the Munich Style as developed and refined by Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge. The windows are rare, numerous, and the parish was able to restore them ten years ago at a cost of $320,000 – or more than $1000 for every man, woman and child in town.

That was some prodigious fundraising, even miraculous, considering that first they had to spend another 465 grand redoing the roof. Those bake sales must have multiplied like Jesus feeding the 5000.

Windows and arches, with a glimpse of the central dome. (Josh Thomas)

Windows and arches, with a glimpse of the central dome. (Josh Thomas)

It makes a visitor wonder where they got such dedication. But they’ve always had it, from the beginning in 1851 when the town was founded, through erecting the present building in 1909, to today. Surely this reflects very strong family and community ties – as well as a succession of priests and nuns who flogged those poor folks mercilessly to empty their pockets, punching every guilt button they could find.

It’s the same way at nearby St. Anne; both French Canadian towns, devout in their beliefs, stuck in the middle of nowhere, just raising their crops, taking their kids to church every Sunday, watching them intermarry, and obeying the Fathers, Sisters, Bishops and Popes as much as humanly possible, when they weren’t out getting in trouble.

Regular readers know I am a sharp critic of the Roman Catholic Church – that is, the hierarchy, not the People. What these folks in Northeast Illinois built in their humble surroundings is two small versions of a great cathedral in Europe. So what if they’re on the prairie next to a cornfield? Their churches gave them an identity, a purpose, a mission. And they’ve stuck to it.

Comparing the shrine at St. Anne with the church at Beaverville, I see they both had their advantages. St. Anne always has been a place of pilgrimage, while St. Mary’s had a school for many years called Holy Family Academy, staffed by nuns from an order in France; the cemetery at St. Mary’s has a special section of the sisters’ graves, dozens of them, whose headstones are sensitively carved with both their religious and birth names.

The front of St. Mary's Cemetery was reserved for the Sisters. (Josh Thomas)

The front of St. Mary’s Cemetery was reserved for the Sisters. (Josh Thomas)

The school is gone now, with only mentions and artifacts available to visitors, but it must have been thriving in its heyday; I imagine, since it was an academy, it may have been more than just a parochial school, but drew from all over the area. Meanwhile nearby St. Martin’s, Martinton is only a simple frame building like you’d expect in such an isolated, rural spot.

Corinthian column under the organ loft, topped by gold leaf (Josh Thomas)

Corinthian column under the organ loft, probably topped by gold leaf. (Josh Thomas)

Martinton is on the highway (U.S. 52), as Saint Anne is but Beaverville is not. I took a county road to get there, called 2950/3000 North; tourists never see the light of day in Beaverville. Instead what it had (and still does, three tracks right next to the elevator) is the railroad – specifically the Kankakee, Beaverville and Southern Railroad. Amazing!

There ain’t no Chicago and Morocco Railroad, lemme tell ya. But Beaverville has always been on the line; David, one of my correspondents, said the stop there shows up as “St. Mary” on the old maps, from before the Post Office intervened to change the town’s name.

My point here isn’t a travelogue, much less an architectural review; I’m a layman. Instead it’s all the things the People built.

They’re not quite my people – my family and my town are English Protestants, not French Catholics – and yet they are my people; my drive today cost 50 miles and two gallons of gas round-trip. These folks were and are farmers, and wherever they started out from, I know where they ended up. We can still see today most of what they built, and we can guess at some of the reasons why. Nationality played a part – all the windows at St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s are inscribed in French – but so did faith, family, business and pure survival.

Organ loft and rose window (Josh Thomas)

Organ loft and rose window (Josh Thomas)

As much as I tease the Roman clergy and sisters about mashing all the guilt buttons, let’s think about their motives, too; it’s inherent in the Catholic religion that churches be as beautiful and edifying as possible, so they can reflect the glory of God and teach us who our Creator is.

That’s a very worthy project.

The rectory, behind the church before you get to the cemetery, has been updated a little since it was built; the pastor serves Martinton, too.

The rectory, behind the church before you get to the cemetery, has been updated a little since it was built; the pastor serves Martinton, too.

As an Episcopalian who is both Protestant and Catholic, I am used to beautiful churches in large towns. But I am awed by what these farmers did in these two villages. They built far beyond their means, but somehow managed to match their means to what they built – and all for a reason, the best reason, to glorify God. They didn’t go practical, as farmers usually do; for practical, see that little “nothing” of a church at Martinton. At Beaverville and St. Anne, they built their ideals – and this area is richer because they did.

I’m richer because I went there. If you ever get a chance, you should go too.

All three of them noticeably contribute to the food pantry at Martinton, which is exactly how it should be. So what if St. Martin’s never had a gimmick; it knows what its ministry is, because there are food-insecure folks in all of these towns and it’s the Church’s job to feed them. So they do.

I still wouldn’t cross a county road to see the pope, even this new one Francis; but once you get past the Vatican’s sexual obsessions, the People are living out the faith despite it all. That’s my kind of church.++

Good work, Sister Holy Cross. (Josh Thomas)

Good work, Sister Holy Cross. (Josh Thomas)

America Is Rushing to the Altar

A West Point cadet and his boyfriend, 2013: here's what freedom looks like.

A West Point cadet and his boyfriend, 2013: here’s what freedom looks like.

All over the teevee, Straight commentators are marveling at how fast Americans’ views on Gay marriage are changing. Why, they’ve never seen anything like it! And they can’t explain it.

Not to worry; I am here.

Jerry Falwell did us a big favor. Then he died.

U.S. politics changed dramatically in 1980; Ronald Reagan kicked Jimmy Carter out of the White House and ushered in a new conservatism marked by hyper-capitalism and greed, military aggression (with invasions of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989, and illegal funding of the Contra War in El Salvador throughout the decade), racism, sexism (the Equal Rights Amendment died in 1982) and homophobia. The pendulum swung far to the right.

Now it has swung to the left with the re-election of President Obama, and LGBTs are among the beneficiaries.

Falwell, a Baptist TV preacher, had huge political ambitions, and his support for Reagan was key in forming a new electoral coalition. Whenever one of these big shifts happens, the composition of the political parties realigns. Today’s TV talking heads, with their sound-bite brains, remember all this as involving “Reagan Democrats,” who were White ethnics and union workers in Macomb County, Michigan, right outside Black Detroit. But Falwell’s Fundamentalists were arguably the more important voting bloc; they were nationwide and united behind Reagan, in an effort to reverse abortion rights. President Carter won the union vote in 1980 despite the Reagan Democrats. He lost conservative Christians, despite being one himself.

Rep. Martha Griffiths, D-Michigan, steered the Equal Rights Amendment through Congress. It failed to be ratified by the states, thanks to a backlash led by Phyllis Schlafly, an Illinois lawyer portraying herself as a happy housewife. (Warren D. Leffler)

Rep. Martha Griffiths, D-Michigan, steered the Equal Rights Amendment through Congress in 1972. It failed to be ratified by the states, thanks to a backlash led by Phyllis Schlafly, an Illinois lawyer portraying herself as a happy housewife. (Warren K. Leffler)

It’s proven impossible over the years to roll back abortion rights, and Reagan had a sense of how hard it would be. Every January Falwell and his allies would converge in a big demonstration at the Supreme Court trying to overturn Roe v. Wade; they helped elect Reagan and kept expecting him to show up, but he never did. Year after year he gave them a speech played over the loudspeakers, but he never once appeared in person; he didn’t want to be in a picture with them.

To juice up his movement, Falwell expanded his issues to cover “family values” and demonize Gay people. Abortion was always his number one target, and Gay people seemed like easy pickings. His strategy was successful for awhile, but it was fatally flawed.

He ran a persecution campaign, but those only work for awhile. (He should have known that, being a Christian.) Nothing generates more sympathy than TV pictures of people being abused.

Civil rights marchers being beaten by Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, 1965. This scene led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year.

Civil rights marchers being beaten by Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, 1965. This scene led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year.

Falwell had a problem; he couldn’t scapegoat all the women of America because there are too many of them. The goal of the anti-abortion movement has always been to put women back in their place. It’s not about unborn babies or the right to life, it’s about how grown women act here and now. It’s about men’s power and who gets to decide things. If Falwell had waged war on all women, not only would they object, so would a certain percentage of men; so he turned his venom on Gay people instead, thinking (and not unreasonably) that queers had no defenders anywhere.

It worked for awhile; but he and his clones, especially Pat Robertson, gradually became better known for hating Gay people than opposing abortion. They helped this image along by making outlandish claims and repeating obvious lies.

A hurricane did not destroy Disney World, and Gay Day went on as usual.

Where once Gay people were unmentionable, all of a sudden we were being talked about constantly.

We came out. And we kept coming out, coming and coming.

We started to reveal ourselves in the 1960s in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and of course in New York. What started as a trickle in time turned into a flood.

Daddy didn’t like that his boy was a queer, but Mama still loved her son; so did Grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins. As for that Lezzie daughter, well, anybody could see that Martha Griffiths had a point – and Betty Friedan, the whole lot of them. A woman ought to be able to be a doctor if she wants to be, or even a lumberjack. If that’s what she wants, well, it won’t pay to try to stop her. She never was the type to wear pearls anyway.

Three strands this time, plus a cross necklace. Schlafly promised to turn back the clock to the days of "Father Knows Best."

Three strands this time, plus a cross necklace. Schlafly promised to turn back the clock to the days of “Father Knows Best.”

Here’s a fact that’s still unbelievable to me: I was the first openly-Gay person in Cincinnati (Palm Sunday, 1978), along with an MCC pastor who soon left town. The Rev. Howard Gaass and I lent our full real names to a bunch of articles in The Cincinnati Enquirer. The reporters did a fine job with it, sensitive and accurate. They interviewed all the Lesbians and Gay men they could find. But none of the women were quoted by name, and only two of the men.

I don’t know what was running through Howard’s mind, and I’ve never criticized his leaving town; I hope he just got a new opportunity and jumped on it. But I knew you can’t run a social movement while hiding your name and face behind a curtain. You have to take responsibility; you have to show some leadership. On Gay issues that was especially important, because the stereotype was that we were all wimps and sissies, ready to run if somebody looked at us cross-eyed.

You have to be willing to sacrifice, in public, for your beliefs, even if it means you’ll get killed. John Lewis, in that Selma photo above, nearly did get killed. But now he’s a Congressman from Georgia.

(While I’m just blogging!)

The famous Gay debate at the American Psychiatric Association in 1972: Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and a Gay psychiatrist (John E. Fryer) in a Halloween mask.

The famous Gay debate at the American Psychiatric Association in 1972: activists Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and a Gay psychiatrist (John E. Fryer) in a Halloween mask.

I have never spent much time thinking about why it took most LGBTs so long to come out. I think I’d probably resent them, actually; so I’ve always banished that particular thought. What was obvious to me, that coming out is an absolute necessity, was not so obvious to most. I do not hold to the standard blather about coming out that “it’s an intensely personal decision that everybody has to make for themselves,” so that we end up with Ricky Martin finally telling the truth in 2010, once he had to explain how he and his male partner ended up with two kids. I don’t begrudge the man, even if he was livin’ the crazy life all those years.

I’d rather have allies than not. (And I suppose Frank Kameny could ask what took me so long – except that in 1960 when he took the U.S. Government to the Supreme Court over anti-Gay discrimination, I was only 9.)

Please tell the Talking Heads that this incredible shift on Gay marriage has come about because we started telling our families and friends the truth.

And because Jerry Falwell was a Public Idiot.

And because of AIDS.

Oscar nominee, Best Documentary. Didn't win. Gay films never do.

Oscar nominee, Best Documentary. Didn’t win. Gay films never do.

I don’t have much to say about AIDS today, except that I’m glad to be a founder of AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, the world’s second-oldest support and advocacy group.

It grew because of Lesbians more than Gay men. The real heroes of AIDS, and there are many, are women who didn’t have it. That pattern was repeated in city after city – Gay women, Straight women, compassionate and courageous women.

What finally broke down the sexism of Gay men was that we needed those women.

The political connection between AIDS and Gay marriage is that what once was unmentionable became a topic on everyone’s lips. Ronald Reagan tried his best never to mention the word, until his friend Rock Hudson came down with it.

I was working at Gay Men’s Health Crisis while Hudson was jetting off to Paris, desperately trying to save his life. I didn’t blame him; my clients were doing the same thing. Still, there was a pathos to that whole episode. Hudson denied being Gay and having AIDS as long as he could, and then it stopped mattering.

I lost only one close friend to AIDS, an Episcopalian from Ohio named Craig Jason Byers. To his name I add composer Calvin Hampton, whose Mass music I used to sing at seminary in 1974, the same year I first marched in the Stonewall anniversary demonstration. “Pride Parades” used to be demonstrations, kids. (And yes, I was scared that first time.)

I credit my religion, my faith, my Christ, for propelling my activism. I credit my mentors Ervin Faulkenberry, Howard Galley and Brooke Bushong, Episcopal Church evangelists who couldn’t have been less like Jerry Falwell.

I credit the prophet Amos, to tell the truth; “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

God made me do it – and still does.

A flood of Gay victims made our existence inescapable.

People with AIDS; Frank Kameny. Matthew Shepard; “God Hates Fags.” Too many to count, and still going on today; Edie Windsor, fighting DOMA to the Supreme Court; Uganda’s David Kato, murdered for being Gay.

Sweet Matt, an Episcopalian headed for a career in the State Department; he wanted to serve his country.

Sweet Matt, an Episcopalian headed for a career in the State Department; he wanted to serve his country.

All that victimization finally piled up – just as a new generation arrived, determined, as new generations always are, to prove that their parents were completely wrong about something very important.

For my generation it was the War in Vietnam, civil rights, women’s rights. For this generation, we’re It.

I still hate their tattoos and always will, but thank you, America’s Youth. You are once again leading the world.

2008 election results among LGBTs. (Political Science & Politics Journal)

2008 election results among swing-state LGBTs. With Democrats, women and young voters, we elected this President. His re-election marks another generational realignment in the governing coalition, much as Reagan changed the 1980s. (Political Science & Politics Journal)

Marriage is easier to deal with than discrimination.

When America changes, even radically, the change is only partial. Yes, we fought a civil war to end slavery. But we waited another hundred years to start to enact racial equality.

Same-sex marriage will soon be the law of the land, whether or not we win the cases to be argued this month in the Supreme Court. Maybe we’ll lose; we lost Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986, then won Lawrence v. Texas just 15 years later. Yay, Gay people can have adult sex in private without getting thrown in jail!

(Justice Scalia, hateful bigot that he is, was right in Lawrence, that if Gay sex was made legal, Gay marriage wouldn’t be far behind.)

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed, but the Employment Non-Discrimination Act continues to languish. Apparently it’s okay with Congress if you’re queer and willing to die for your country, but not okay to be Gay at Chick Fil-A.

Tracey Hepner and her wife, Brig. Gen. Tammy S. Smith.

Tracey Hepner and her wife, Brig. Gen. Tammy S. Smith.

Marriage is something everyone can identify with (even as heterosexuals increasingly reject it), while having a job where you’re treated the same as everyone else is still too much to ask. This is just what John Lewis, Dr. King and millions of African-Americans went through in 1965; “you’re citizens but you’re not allowed to vote.”

Picketing the White House in 1965; not a leatherman or bikey dyke in sight.

“Homosexuals Are Citizens, Too”: picketing the White House in 1965, not a leatherman or bikey dyke in sight.

Of all the Gay issues to provoke a deep response in Americans, why is marriage the great galvanizer? I think it comes down to two things.

First, Falwell and his ilk were and are such clowns that anyone could see through them and laugh, long before Jon Stewart perfected political satire on “The Daily Show.” Ol’ Jerry was kind of a big fat guy, and he set himself up for ridicule the day he went after Tinky-Winky.

Falwell was a firm believer in using simple, powerful symbols to get his message across; his Moral Majority rallies featured lots of flags and patriotic music sung by well-scrubbed, clean-cut White kids; it was like getting beaten over the head with a Pat Boone record. But Falwell made a mistake when he went after this little cartoon kid.

Falwell was a firm believer in using simple, powerful symbols to get his message across. His Moral Majority rallies featured lots of flags and patriotic music sung by well-scrubbed, clean-cut White kids; those rallies were like getting beaten over the head with a Pat Boone record. But Falwell made a mistake when he went after this innocent cartoon kid.

Something else happened as part of this that I don’t think anyone’s really noticed.

• Goaded by their girlfriends, young Straight men stopped feeling threatened by Gay men.

I suspect this is the most powerful change of all; the dueling stereotypes (“All Gay men are sissies”/”All Gay men are dangerous rapists”) lost their power.

This is the personal, psychic equivalent of today’s political statement that Gay marriage has no effect on Straight marriages.

So live-and-let-live will soon become the law. Not even Fundamentalists can shout down “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s scripture in the United States, a self-evident truth.

It is a sad fact, though built into our democracy, that the law always lags social change. The battles over evolution and climate change are winding down, too. Obama’s re-election sealed their fate. I don’t know what will become of the Republican Party, but it’s increasingly obvious that ya just can’t turn back the clock. The 195os are done.

This is the best generation of young Straight men the world’s ever seen. My admiration for them knows no bounds. (Well, it knows one bound; I don’t desire them. But you know what I mean.) These guys are great!

When Scalia lost the football players, all hope went with them.

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like: when Scalia lost the football players, all hope went with them.

Finally, there’s this; it goes back to that quiet conversation between Gayboy and Grandma, Lezziegrrl and Grandpa. On the back porch, or over a cup of tea, or right after a big screamfest in the living room, or down at the fishin’ hole, where you have to whisper because the fish have ears:

It isn’t just sex, it’s love.

Well, it's both sex and love, actually. But love remains, decades after sex fades. And there aren't many grandparents in America who would deprive their kid of that.

Well, it’s both sex and love, actually. But love remains, decades after sex fades. And there are fewer and fewer grandparents who would deprive their kid of that.

So we win – and will live to fight again another day.++

Christmas Is Better When We Keep Advent First

The words of the great Advent hymn tell us plainly: Christ hasn't got here yet.

The words of the great Advent hymn tell us plainly: Christ hasn’t got here yet.

Today is the 3rd day of Advent, the four-week season of preparation before Christmas. I find it’s my favorite time of year.

The best way to observe Advent is to avoid doing Christmasy things before December 24th; and to use the time in other, better ways.

This isn’t easy in the United States, or people think it isn’t; they feel an invisible pressure to run around and buy things, or go to Christmas/”holiday” parties, and generally be in a rush to “get everything ready.” Meanwhile they’re not getting ready on the inside, only on the outside.

This is mostly because of television, the great amplifier of commerce. But Christmas isn’t about commerce, it’s about the birth of a Savior.

Babies come when they get here, and no amount of preparation truly gets us ready. So why are we kidding ourselves? (Because somebody can make money by stoking our anxieties, then seeming to offer relief in exchange for money.)

I don’t watch TV; I gave mine away. That by itself eases the pressure by 90%. I take Advent at a slow, relaxed pace that allows me to think and feel.

I feel sorry for people who run around this time of year. I want to tell them, “You’ve got plenty of time!” But they don’t see it that way.

I wouldn’t be caught dead going shopping on Black Friday. Some people do wind up dead that day, trampled to death at Walmart. What a wonderful Christmas their survivors must have, thinking about the big-screen TV that never came home.

The world is upside down. That’s the Bible message in a nutshell; how we live is completely screwed up.

This hasn’t changed since the Scriptures began to be written down at the dawn of history. Everything we think is important is actually trivial; the things we take for granted are the most important of all.

People don’t want to hear this now anymore than they did 6000 years ago. Still, some of us persist in broadcasting the message, or at least trying to live by it.

I can’t make people stay home on Black Friday. All I can do is to stay home myself, and do something thoughtful and fun.

AdventLighting

I always start with an Advent wreath, which is just some evergreens arranged in a circle with four candles to light, one for each week until Christmas gets here. It helps us to mark the passage of time – and not get ahead of ourselves. That’s the temptation in December, always to get ahead of ourselves. The Advent wreath reminds us not to do that. Expectant parents don’t start the party until the baby gets here. Then it’s time to break out the gifts and have a feast. But not before.

The last few years I’ve had to make my own wreaths. I have a circular frame, arrange greenery around it and stick four candles in their holes. Make dinner, put the food on the table, light the candle(s), say the Collect of the Day, then eat. In the Gospel stories Jesus was always eating with his friends; they were a hungry bunch.

The wreath, and the waiting it enables, gives me the annual structure of Advent. I do the same thing with it every year. But I also do something different every year, because I’m not in the same mental place as before. Advent 2012 is new this year, and I want to be aware of what here and now is like. My circumstances have changed, so I ask myself what feels right for now?

This year I am writing, and publishing on my prayer sites visited by millions all over the world, a short, simple prayer for every weekday of Advent. I got the inspiration this year from seeing a photo on Facebook of my friend Cresta’s little boys making homemade Christmas decorations. This brought back memories; when I was a child everybody made little items to decorate their tree. Before there was plastic tinsel manufactured by heathens in China, people used to string together pieces of popcorn and drape that around their tree.

A big needle to pierce the kernels, some yards of thread; baked orange slices and some coarse ribbon - far better than store-bought. (Ladybird Cottage)

A big needle to pierce the kernels, some yards of thread; baked orange slices and some coarse ribbon – far better than store-bought. (Ladybird Cottage)

The Book of Common Prayer, from which I get the content that goes on my prayer sites, does not contain prayers for each of the weekdays of Advent, only for the four Sundays. So here’s tomorrow’s example of my little daily scribbles. You can see it’s just a thought or two.

[A Homemade Prayer for Wednesday of Advent 1
by Josh Thomas

Dear Lord and Friend, this world doesn’t make it easy to keep Advent. We live in a culture where the buildup is more important than the event. But you were a stranger in a strange land too, so help us be cheerful as we go quietly about our lives. Amen.]

My friend Stephen surprised me this year with an animated, online Advent calendar by Jacquie Lawson. Traditional Advent calendars are printed things you buy at the Hallmark store, with little cut-out doors for kids to open, one per day, showing and telling the Christmas story. I don’t have kids, so I don’t do Advent calendars anymore, until now. Ms. Lawson’s little product is a great way to start each day; every one is different. Her theme this year is “Alpine Christmas” and features her familiar dogs, cats and whimsy; she’s not religious because she wants to sell a lot of calendars, but a snowman’s a snowman and you can build your own with a variety of tools she supplies. Today she has a skiing bear who takes a spill at the bottom of the mountain.

I am also doing one other thing this year: I never decorate my house until Christmas Eve. I don’t believe in it; I believe in waiting instead. But this year, in case that feels too rigid, I go down to the basement every morning and pick out one little trinket to display. My house will gradually fill with signs of Christmas until the day finally gets here. On Monday I brought up my Christmas kitchen towels, because Monday is laundry day for me, and today my kitchen counter has a Santa Claus cookie jar right next to the flour and sugar. I am looking forward to finding my downy fawn tabletop, which always goes on an end table in my living room, as well as my miniature trumpet in its little black case, lined with red velvet. Christmas is a time for music, the making and singing of it, not just the listening. I don’t listen to Christmas music until December 24.

Yesterday I went to Murphy’s grocery and got subjected to the Muzak version of “We Three Kings.” Which isn’t even a Christmas song, it’s for Epiphany instead, but nobody knows that anymore except Episcopalians.

I like to host 12th Night parties on the Eve of Epiphany, but I probably won’t do that this year. Do you know what merriment people in England used to have on 12th Night? Jesters, fools, people in drag – like having a Gay bar right in your house!

Cast of "12th Night," Capitol Shakespeare, Bismarck, North Dakota, 2008.

Cast of “12th Night,” Capitol Shakespeare, Bismarck, North Dakota, 2008.

You do whatever feels right to you; my only advice is to think about it and be deliberate. Maybe you’re one of millions who doesn’t like Christmas, religious or secular, because it makes you feel lonely and depressed. (I’ll write an Advent prayer about that, too.) If so, feel free to ignore what the world is doing. Jesus is in favor of taking care of yourself.

But if you love Christmas, as I do – the carols sound so much better when you wait for them and sing them at midnight mass – enjoy this time of year, wherever you find yourself physically and mentally. Christmas practices vary from place to place and person to person. I remember the pleasant shock I felt once, seeing a Gay-themed movie from Australia, which had the characters picking out their Christmas tree in the summertime, with everyone wearing shorts instead of bundled up like we are in the North. If you have a loved one, or several, I visualize you gathered with them, having some wonderful times. If you are alone, and aging like me, you can also enjoy the season, picking and choosing what to participate in and what to pass up.

This year I am glad to be who I am and where I am, safe and warm at home. I find my Christmas is better when I keep Advent first.++

(Kerr Pelto, caligrapher)

(Kerr Pelto, caligrapher)

 

 

I Hate Halloween

Preparing tomorrow’s Daily Office prayers (Oct.31) turned out to be remarkably difficult. In the morning we observe two obscure but noble Asian bishops, Paul Sasaki of Japan and Philip Tsen of China; there’s only one picture of Sasaki on the whole dang internet, and none at all of Tsen. Since I operate a blog called The Daily Office East for the Asia-Pacific region, as well as one for the Western Hemisphere, I can’t ignore these guys. China had a long history of Western missionaries trying to drum up support for Jesus Christ, while the Japanese Anglican church is unique as the first homegrown, indigenous missionary effort, supported by The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England.

I know nothing about these Asian churches except what I read online, so it’s difficult to tailor a “product” for them; the blog is in English, not their native languages, and most of the traffic we get (and it isn’t much) naturally comes from Australia. I’m always on the lookout for art and photographs that depict Asian Christians, but that means relying on Google and Wikipedia in English, both of which leave a lot to be desired. At any rate I finally got Morning Prayer done for East and West (the content is almost identical, but the East is many hours ahead).

Then at night, I have to make a slight nod to secular Halloween, while the Church celebrates the Eve of All Saints (which is what All Hallows’ Eve really is). I have only one great painting of all the saints, by Fra Angelico, which I have to save for the real day on Thursday, plus a dozen pictures of All Saints churches, of which any one will do. Then I’ll run the All Saints’ Day Collect again on Sunday, when most parishes will actually observe the feast day. In My Ideal World™, Episcopalians would actually observe All Saints’ Day like it’s supposed to be done, with a big celebration this Thursday and no concession whatever to ghosties and ghouls, trick-or-treat and Texas chainsaw massacres. I hate what Halloween’s become.

Then there’s what Gay people do to it, which is the most appalling of all.

I’ve never found drag amusing. I don’t oppress the people who engage in it, but it completely leaves me cold.

Halloween turns me into a mean old man, a curmudgeon. I have “no sense of humor.” But I don’t know what’s funny about drag queens, or leathermen wearing eye shadow, or guys going naked in public, or blood-soaked skeletons on the eve of a religious holiday.

I’m not fond of the Mexican Day of the Dead, either – and I don’t think it should be observed in churches.

You can buy “Jesus Malverde,” patron saint of Mexican drug traffickers, right next to conventional Catholic statuary on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York. They’re equally popular, says The New York Times.

All Saints’ Day is one of the highest holy days of the year, according to the Book of Common Prayer, a “principal feast” which takes precedence over any other day or occasion. There are only seven such days, with Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Christmas and the Epiphany. Further, All Saints’ is so important it now has a popular “extension” the next day, called All Souls’ Day, supposedly for unrecognized saints, and more popularly for deceased friends and family, even though the word “saint” means any member of the Christian community, past or present. I’m a saint, you’re a saint, we’re all saints here. But most people don’t see it that way, they think saints are always heroic figures, so now we’ve got an extra day to remember Aunt Gertrude too.

You can tell I lack a sense of humor about this – though when I was a kid we actually did tricks along with our treats, which was great fun, especially for a “nice” little boy like me. In town we “soaped” windows, which meant buying a cheap bar of Ivory soap, then going out at night to rub it on the windows of neighbors’ cars and houses, whether we liked them or not, then running like hell so we didn’t get caught. To little boys, the most fun part was showing that mean old man on the corner what we thought of him.

Now I’m the mean old man. Country kids would knock over neighbors’ outhouses. We’d have done that too, but in town everyone had running water.

Today towns and cities designate a day and an early time frame for kids to go out, invariably with their parents, to beg for tooth-rotting treats. It can’t be nearly as much fun, but everyone’s paranoid these days about apples and Snickers bars with razor blades in them. I doubt anyone ever stuck a razor blade in a Red Delicious, but today you’d get arrested just trying to give a kid a piece of fruit instead of a mound of candy.

So, bottom line, I am old and curmudgeonly, and I’d like to observe All Saints’ Eve and Day in peace.

When I first moved back to smalltown Indiana in 2005, I eagerly bought bags of mini-Snickers and Butterfingers; no one came, leaving me with 80 little candy bars to get rid of. The next year I didn’t buy anything, so kids knocked on my door; I gave them coins instead. Now I just act like nobody’s home. I haven’t had my windows soaped once. You can’t even find a picture of it online.

The idea of a night for adults to dress up, act silly and have fun does appeal to me. But don’t do it on the eve of a holy day, it’s insulting to my religion – even though the Church chose November 1st to be All Saints’ Day deliberately to co-opt and Christianize the old Celtic/Druid festival. It turns out people are more interested in celebrating death than life, which shouldn’t surprise us at all. Now we’re stuck with it and I don’t like it.++

 

But this guy in drag was plenty funny. (Blake Edwards)

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.

 

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.

 

 

Their Anti-Gay Prejudice Precedes Their Bible-Quoting

The kid does make it to sanity, thank God.

Last night I watched a documentary on Netflix called “This Is What Love in Action Looks Like.” It’s about a 16-year-old Gay boy whose fundamentalist parents shipped him off to a “Gay cure” residential program in Memphis, Tennessee, against his will.

I found it hard to watch, partly because of several poor choices made by the filmmaker (failure to attribute some sources, sitting for a pseudo-interview instead of just facing the camera himself, and constant use of MySpace, the declining social network, as a framing device, which gets old very fast) – and, of course, the topic. It amazes me that in 2010 there were still people – some of them adults – going for the “Gay cure,” paying through the nose for unqualified hucksters to shame them morning, noon and night.

This week Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, the umbrella group for “ex-Gay” ministries, has finally agreed there’s no such thing as a “Gay cure.” Good for him; he has a bit of integrity at last.

However, his announcement is causing him to be slammed by others in the “pray away the Gay” movement, a story you can read here in The New York Times: “Rift Forms in Movement as Belief in Gay ‘Cure’ is Renounced.”

So far Exodus seems to be holding most of its supporters, though some have left the group. The Times article contains this killer quote:

Robert Gagnon, an associate professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of books on homosexuality and the Bible, last week issued a public call for Mr. Chambers to resign. “My greatest concern has to do with Alan’s repeated assurances to homosexually active ‘gay Christians’ that they will be with him in heaven,” he said in an e-mail.

The quote marks around Gay Christian are Gagnon’s. The man can’t even write an e-mail without insulting millions of people. Some Christianity, huh?

Meanwhile a website I sometimes visit has a video up from something called The David Pakman Show in which Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, a pro-LGBT group, debates a military chaplain who claims he can exorcise the Gay out of him.

It isn’t worth watching, unless you also get a thrill out of seeing Pat Robertson predict that God will send a hurricane to destroy Orlando because of Gay Day at Disney World.

Not very amusing, to my taste. Seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.

There was a time, early in my activist career, when I used to appear on television a lot, talking about Gay stuff. That’s partly how I became, for a few years anyway, “the most famous Gay person in Ohio,” according to Cleveland magazine. Such a title, eh? I’m sure I could have pawned that for a peanut butter sandwich.

I mostly did it because no one else would. Now there are plenty of spokespeople. I think I was fairly good at it, but I quickly realized that I didn’t care to debate homophobes about whether we have a right to exist. Wayne Besen can, if he wants; I find it boring, and useless, and even worse, insulting.

Elie Weisel shouldn’t have to go on TV and sit next to someone denying the Holocaust, just to satisfy some misguided journalist putting on “both sides of the story.”

There’s only one story about the Holocaust; it happened, six million were murdered.

There are six million stories about the Holocaust, but skinheads and bigots can’t tell you one of them.

I’m no Elie Weisel, of course; just one little Gay guy in the Midwest. And what’s happened over the centuries to GLBT people is that we’ve mostly been picked off one by one, not as part of an organized, nationalistic genocide.

Death is death, and injustice is injustice. They don’t give prizes for who’s the most oppressed, and if they did the Jews would win.

However, none of them would show up to collect their plaque. And I really think we shouldn’t either.

Wayne Besen is free to do his thing; maybe it’s useful to someone. But the journalism involved is badly flawed.

TV did the same thing to Martin Luther King, Jr.

And no, reporters, it’s not a matter of “giving the other side enough rope to hang themselves.” That was never TV’s motivation in the Civil Rights Era. There was only one side to the story, and CBS, NBC and ABC were too scared to say so. Their big fear was that Southern stations would cancel the network news and they’d lose money. Lester Maddox and his axe handles got on TV to safeguard corporate profits.

So here’s little David Pakman, who found himself a chaplain in a freak show. And here’s Wayne Besen, thinking he can get some logic through to the audience over the intertubes.

We need to understand that bigots’ prejudice precedes their Bible-quoting. They learned the prejudice before they were old enough to read.

Uh-oh, boys holding hands…

This fact, that the bigotry comes before the religious “justification,” is important for LGBTs, especially Christians, to remember, because we can easily get caught up in debates with homophobes just like Wayne Besen and others do, without any cameras rolling. Principles of the faith, such as listening to others and respecting them, almost seem to require it.

But in 2012, let’s be aware of the Law of Diminishing Returns. In my experience, homophobes understand one thing only: power. They shut up when we show up.

That’s what happens in the movie; the teenage boy blogs on MySpace about being trapped in Christian hell, and protesters show up where he’s being held against his will.

The protesters are smart, loving and kind – just like Gay people mostly are – and eventually the state of Tennessee shuts the place down for providing mental health services without a license or qualified personnel.

No doubt, Alan Chambers has experienced much of the same; that’s the reason for his shift. He and his board members have finally realized those queers make some good points.

There isn’t any “cure,” and Exodus has finally stopped claiming there is one. Praise the Lord for small favors.

President Obama has come out for same-sex marriage in an election year. That is, he finally did the right thing he was afraid to do before.

I remain half-bemused and half-appalled at the Big Media descriptions of all this. While there are more and more LGBT voices being heard, of writers, thinkers and activists, Big Media’s still playing it straight, focusing on rising poll numbers supporting equality. I guess they’re so caught up in the moment (and the homophobic history of their companies and profession) they can’t get much perspective. They don’t seem to know why attitudes are changing, beyond that a generational shift is taking place.

Well, yes, but that doesn’t explain it. The facts are on our side!

We’ve always told the truth about ourselves, including the science, what’s known and what’s unknown. We’ve told the truth like Martin did and Elie still does.

He knows what he’s talking about; he lived through it, and he’s even got pictures to prove it.

The generational shift is happening because we’ve got the facts, our opponents put out bald-faced lies – and the rising generation can tell the difference.

They were not carefully taught the prejudice – for which we have the civil rights movement and especially the women’s movement to thank.

They told the truth too.

It will be interesting to see what happens when America stops denying global warming – but that apparently will take another generation, and I’m not sure I’ll live that long.

Truth Wins Out is well-named, Wayne Besen; I give you credit for that. (Their slogan is “Fighting Anti-Gay Lies and the Ex-Gay Myth.”)

Though really, you should have dressed up like Linda Blair and made that chaplain exorcise your Gay away right on camera.++

Whaddayou bet her makeup man was Gay?