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Copernicus & Kepler, Episcopal Saints

Maria said, “We’re not the center of the universe!”

 

Today is the Feast of Copernicus and Kepler, Astronomers, and already we’re seeing some reaction.

Michael Poteet, a Presbyterian member of the Daily Office congregation, writes, “Is today actually a feast day for these two astronomers on the Episcopal calendar? I think that is marvelous!”

And Maria L. Evans, a stalwart laywoman from Missouri, adds this: “I totally dig that they are on the calendar. Where else but the Episcopal church do we put people on the saints calendar that point out, ‘Guess what? The universe doesn’t revolve around us!'”

(I had to tell Maria this known fact: the universe revolves around the Subdeacon’s new granddaughter. Her name is Hadley, and she’s got more hair than Clint does.)

But there’s a bigger point to be made here, which I will now divulge to you (free of charge): Yes, it is marvelous and wonderful that we have a Copernicus and Kepler Day; and no, there is nowhere else but The Episcopal Church where you will find any feast days of scientists.

Episcopalians feel easy around scientists. We have a few in our congregations, and they help us remember that the quest for knowledge is 100% God-Approved™.

(I should get a graphic made up for that; I’d stamp it on all kinds of things. And people; I’d tell my pals Letha and Maria that they’re 100%… no, wait; 99%, Maria, but that’s still pretty good.)

It’s part of the genius of The Episcopal Church that we mix freely with scientists and artists, bankers and queers; housewives, grandbabies, bakers and cops.

Other churches get their panties in a knot over evolution; we look at them like sideshow freaks, because they are.

I mean, we don’t want to disturb the poor dears, because everyone’s entitled to their opinion; but please, Louise, grow up.

This attitude, though (we’re superior, and we know it), can cause other kinds of problems. The Christian life is one of humility – Jesus was executed on a tree like a common criminal – and you don’t want to go in that bathroom after the Queen of England’s been there; you just don’t.

A century ago, at the height of British imperialism and American Manifest Destiny – long before we had a calendar of saints that included scientists – the Church was infected with the virus of triumphalism; that “we’re just better than you are, so we’ll naturally win.”

The Rev. Canon Elizabeth Kaeton preached about this years ago; “Christian triumphalism has been the energy that has marred our missionary efforts around the globe and in all ages. Consider what we have done to the Native Americans in this country – from the time of Columbus to the time of the great Western Migration. …. Just read Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible to get a sense of the effects of Christian triumphalism.”

However, the criticism of triumphalism itself leads to more problems; we get stifled about the very thing that Mother Kaeton tells us to be worried about. As a result, we don’t do evangelism at all.

We know we’ve got the best theology in the whole entire universe; but we’re afraid to say so, because it isn’t polite, and there isn’t any arguing about what we did to the Indians.

But we didn’t do it; that was somebody’s great-great grandpa, not us.

I’m glad for Mother Kaeton, but I don’t like our paralysis.

We’ve been through the thesis, then the antithesis, but we’ve never arrived at a synthesis. Superior Theology –> You’re Not So Hot, Pal –> (silence).

And I don’t suppose I’ll be able to get us there either, but I shall try. (No charge!)

What Maria asked was right; “Where else but the Episcopal Church?”

The answer is: nowhere else. If you want science and art under one godly roof, come to ours. It’s our exclusive product.

(We don’t trademark it, though; other churches are free to borrow everything we do, and we deeply wish they would.)

Someone, a group of people on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, came up with the idea of commemorating Copernicus and Kepler as saints, and we are enriched by this. Copernicus was a priest; nobody remembers that anymore, but it’s a fact. He was the nephew of the Bishop of Warmia. He believed in Jesus Christ and all the stars above.

If TEC had its act together (a very big if, since we never get our act together, because of the stupid way we elect our Presiding Bishop) – if we ever did, we’d open St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette, Indiana, the home of Purdue University, for a gigantic celebration of scientists.

We’d put ads in the paper, and we’d invite Ei-ichi Negishi to give the sermon. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year and lives three miles away!

I suspect the church would be packed. Because the scientific community has a great need for its faith to be acknowledged; for its constructive contributions to society to be recognized, as the Christian sideshow freaks will never do.

“Packed” is how Episcopal churches are supposed to be.

But we don’t do it, because we’ve never arrived at a synthesis that says, Liturgize everything you do.

Liturgize everything we are. We’re scientists and artists, we’re homeless and queer; we’re all of you, and you are us.

 

We’ve Forgotten How to Rogate
A week ago, Anglican churches across the world observed, on some tiny level, Rogation Days. They happen every year in the last weeks before Pentecost.

My websites made a fairly big deal about Rogation Days, with headlines, photographs and artwork. It was another example of the Vicar peeing into the wind, because no one paid that much attention, but gee. If I ruled the world it would be a different place!

(I’m not sure I want you to rule the world, uhkay? But Maria can, or Letha. We’d have a really good world if Stephanie or Leonardo were in charge.)

 

St. Michael’s, Bunwell, England, 1967; priest, acolytes, congregation and band pause to bless a stream on their procession around the parish boundaries. (Bunwell Heritage Group)

“Rogation” is an ancient word for a parade of blessing. Here’s what you do: get the priest and the acolytes all dolled up, plus a brass band if you’ve got one, then set them all out to make a parade around the neighborhood, throwing holy water everywhere you go. “Rogate” the parish boundaries; march and have a good time. Bless the labs and coffee shops and everything in between.

In olden days (imagine an English village before the Industrial Age), you’d bless the town and all the countryside. (You want good weather for this, which may be why you have it in the month of May.) You bless the farm fields; sprinkle water over them so the little plants will grow. Say a prayer; God give us this day our daily bread. You bless the work, of the farmer and the shopkeeper; you bless the trees and birds and streams.

Bless everything for miles around; people would come out for this, because they need and want the blessing. They all join the parade.

Before you say this is a pipe dream, no one will do this anymore, just wishful thinking, consider: we do not really like the way we’re living.

We need more blessings; we need to know that God cares, and have someone say (a whole group of people, the Church) this is good; this is holy.

Whatever work you do, we bless it. We honor you for doing it. We’re calling you important, for three days every year.

I would like to see Episcopal churches make rogations wherever they are. Great big cities, country towns, hospitals and war zones: Blessed be God in your work.

Now I’ll sum this up. We celebrate astronomers today. We celebrate scientists and science itself, Those Few Things We Actually Know.

We do so because our God is a God who Knows Things. The Source of Knowing; the Creator of this wonderful, mysterious place we live in.

He likes it when we make discoveries. He cheers; “Hey, Moses, they finally found that one!”

(She also likes it when we learn that she’s not male. Or female.)

The Church that celebrates this God of knowing and creating has a slightly better knowledge than the Churches of the small God, the one who’s bitter and violent and tight.

Episcopalians of the Brave Josh World must be the first to confess our sinfulness; we’ve been involved in one genocide after another, from Indians to Black folk to people with AIDS.

We’re all inclined to be bitter and violent and mean. So admit it, tell the truth. “Oh Lord, We’re So Fucked Up.™”

THEN: go and bless the labs. The kitchens, the factories, the fields, an occasional whorehouse; they need blessing too, and they’re more faithful than we are. (Come off it, we’re all whores here.)

Bless the banks; bless the legislative chambers. Bless the trenches and the guys who dig in the dirt to build a road you’ll use and never think about. Sprinkle holy water everywhere.

Down with anti-science. Down with triumphalism. Up with humble blessing wherever we go.

Though it’s true that we don’t live in English villages anymore, and most of the world never did: it’s also true that the enormous liturgical and spiritual resources of reformed catholicism contain riches we do not use, but easily could, and demonstrably should. The Blessing of Animals on St. Francis’ Day is the perfect model; every dog and cat and parakeet lover for miles around wants her little ones blessed, because it helps her express how much she loves those creatures.

We should do the same blessings with nurses, doctors, dentists on Miss Nightingale Day; with soldiers, cops and emergency workers on the Feast of Cornelius the Centurion. We could be blessing the whole world, and we’re not; why not?

Teachers and schoolchildren; authors, artists and musicians; farmers and gardeners need holy water, which we just happen to have.

If we would liturgize the everyday experience of office workers, our churches would be packed. So let’s do it; bring Good News.++

Me too, Pops?

Tea Party? No. Fascist Backlash.

Margaret Hamilton, absolutely fabulous as the Wicked Witch of the West.

I woke up this morning thinking about the upcoming election, that what we’re seeing is a fascist backlash since the election of Barack Obama.

I’m not sure that “fascist” is the right word, but it’s as close as I can come right now. “Right-wing extremists”? “Jack-booted thugs”?

The point isn’t the name-calling; the point is the backlash, and finding the most accurate description of these self-named “tea partiers” who have nothing to do with the Boston Tea Party. Our country is not controlled by a foreign imperial power. The Boston Tea Party was about independence, which is no longer an issue.

Instead what we’re seeing is a very large resurgence of John Birch Society-type ideology. It’s strange, because Americans dismissed these folks as the lunatic fringe 60 years ago. Why are they back?

Why are there so many of them? And why are they so loony?

• Christine O’Donnell tells us she is not a witch. Claiming to have flirted with being a witch made her money ten years ago, but now it costs her, so she isn’t one. Never was; “I am you.”

• Rand Paul’s county coordinator stomps a young woman on the head – and then demands an apology.

• Sharron Angle, doing a fast walk away from a reporter asking about her foreign policy, says, “Yes, we have two wars.”

• Carl Paladino threatens to “take out” a reporter.

• Joe Miller hires active-duty soldiers for his security detail, and they handcuff a reporter who annoys them.

• Ken Buck says Gay people are born with a predisposition like alcoholics.

• Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona, is incoherent and can’t even start an answer during a televised debate.

• Sarah Palin can’t tell Katie Couric what newspapers and magazines she reads – because she doesn’t read any.

Meanwhile the Democrats flounder too, unable to explain what’s going on in a simple pithy phrase.

Maybe that’s why I came up with “fascist backlash.” If you’ve got a better label, leave a comment. “Fascist” seems a little too strong to me, but I don’t know what else to call it. So focus on the backlash.

I just watched President Obama give a campaign speech in Bridgeport, Connecticut on behalf of Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic Senate nominee, whose opponent is Linda McMahon of phony wrestling and “Sexy Bitch” yacht fame.

The President spoke well, with all the fire and eloquence and truth-telling of his 2008 campaign.

I’ve been hugely critical of him, because he’s been the last person to understand the fascist backlash. But once again, listening to him today, I was drawn back into his vortex while it lasted.

He’s so talented, and so smart; he’s earning his increasingly gray hair, which he joked about today, then tore off a rip-roaring speech (without TelePrompters, as if that’s a serious issue).

He was heckled at one point by a sizable group of AIDS activists, and it was interesting to see how he dealt with them. George W. Bush would have manipulated the crowd to drown them out, and then had goons drag them off. Obama didn’t handle it that way.

He engaged them, answered them back, pointing out that Democrats are increasing funding for world AIDS treatment and research, not Republicans.

(President Bush did receive good marks on this issue – for Africa, not the U.S.)

From there Obama got back on message and roused the crowd; “If we turn out this year like we did two years ago, we will win.”

Fact is, I hate what he’s done/failed to do on Gay rights. When a politician starts hurting my people, as Obama has done with his “emergency” appeal on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I turn against that politician.

Still, this guy might actually be learning on the job, so I waver back and forth on supporting him. I definitely want to minimize Democratic losses next Tuesday; if the self-proclaimed tea partiers win – any of them – it will be bad for the country. The fact is, none of them are qualified for the offices they seek; none of them. And this isn’t just ideology on my part; a Senate candidate proclaims, “I am not a witch”?

Angle runs away, Palin runs away, Wilson runs away, Brewer runs away; this is a conscious strategy to keep from answering questions. Palin thinks Twitter and Facebook are all she needs – but she’s wrong. You can’t govern a country by 140-character tweets.

So let’s recognize what we’re actually dealing with here: Obama prevented a Great Depression.

He’s paying the price for the Great Recession. He’s done several things right and several things wrong, but I’m still in my house and so are most of you.

The banking system did not collapse; it’s seriously messed up, as the foreclosure scandal illustrates, but banks are open, still taking deposits, still clearing checks.

It would be nice if they also made loans, but even FDR didn’t fix everything in a week. (And Obama’s no FDR.)

Maybe Obama’s naivete is finally wearing off; today in Bridgeport he pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s #1 goal is defeating him in 2012 – not creating jobs, not returning America to world leadership in education, science, technology and manufacturing, but defeating the Dems at all costs.

Where is the patriotism of Republicans? They parade it at every chance, but they don’t act patriotically. It’s all about politics to them, it’s all about the next election.

Meanwhile Sharron Angle threatens “Second Amendment remedies” – armed rebellion, treason – if she doesn’t win.

So does some black Republican preacher/candidate in Texas; “nothing should be off the table.”

That’s why so-called “tea partiers” showed up with guns last summer at Obama speeches. That’s why they march through the streets with AK-47s.

They’re threatening to shoot their way to power. I say that’s fascist.

Obama isn’t a Nazi, isn’t a socialist, isn’t that old bugaboo, a Communist. He’s a cautious and moderate Democrat.

He’s also Black, and that’s what’s brought out these extremists.

I wish he were more of a fighter (as he was today in Bridgeport) and less of a philosopher. But he is what he is, a far better President than the last one. Despite all of his missteps on Gay rights, he still deserves our support. He’s an honest man with convictions – and he invoked Lincoln again today, which I appreciate.

He mentioned getting us out of Iraq today, a subject never mentioned by any other candidate, and people cheered.

I wish he’d get us out of Afghanistan too; I supported his initial push with more troops there, but now I think it’s hopeless. We can’t tie the USA to a crook like Karzai, when the real issue is Osama bin Laden.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen is sending airbombs to synagogues in Chicago. Thank God, the Saudis and the Brits, they never got there.

We’re being battered on all sides, and so is our President. He sure isn’t perfect, nobody’s messiah, but the smart choice is to dance with the one who brung ya.

Angle, Palin, O’Donnell, Buck, Wilson? They’re Christian Dominionists; click the link. Palin is the worst; O’Donnell and Angle are the dumbest.

The shorthand way to understand them all is this guy. He sought total control, which is the opposite of human liberty celebrated in Boston.++

Garden Wrapup, and I’ve Got Broccoli!

To harvest, you need a sharp knife.

The forecast low temperature for tomorrow night is 27º, so I was outside this afternoon doing the last harvesting of my garden – and lo and behold, I’ve finally got two heads of broccoli!

I couldn’t believe it, but they’re beautiful things. One is as big as you’d see in a store, one is smaller – and there’s a little bitty floret all on its own, cute as the dickens.

Took ’em long enough; I planted them months ago, and they didn’t seem to do anything. My cabbage never did form a head, and though I only planted it for decoraton, I yanked it out today and put it in the compost pile. But I have broccoli, plus three whole shopping bags full of produce.

I ended up with two dozen bell peppers, three dozen tomatoes (some green, but they’ll ripen indoors), a dozen or so onions (which didn’t grow as big as I’d hoped) and a whole huge mess of leeks.

I ran into my friend Jayne this evening at Murphy’s grocery, and she’s coming by tomorrow after school to get some leeks, peppers, fresh oregano and green tomatoes. I love her, but I’m not giving up my broccoli!

[Sidebar: Until now I’d have said I am “almost never” a selfish person. I know a lot of others like me, including my best friend Stephen; indeed, none of my friends is the least bit selfish. They’re kind, loving people, which is pretty much my criterion for who gets admitted into my circle of real friends. I have a lot of them.

[But when it comes to my own produce, I am both generous and self-interested. I’ve only got 2.1 heads of broccoli and dammit, them’s goin’ into my soup!

[So come to find out that regarding food, I am as greedy and protective as my dog Luke. He’s developed a habit lately at breakfast. He’ll go and look at his pellets, but he doesn’t start eating until I leave the kitchen and start opening up the blinds to let in the morning. At suppertime he’s entirely different; he knows that meat and veggies are his, and he races to dig in. But in the morning I have to prove that I’m not interested in his stuff.

[The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are very concerned about human selfishness; “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” That constant refrain and warning have never really made total sense to me; I was already brainwashed/in love with Jesus at a very young age, I got the message the first time. I’m a social worker, a Gay activist, a commissioned evangelist; I chose voluntary poverty when I was 14 and I’m glad I did. I also have the tremendous blessing I call the Shared Gay Personality™, which in my experience is wonderfully altruistic. But here I am guarding a dollar’s worth of broccoli. “That’s mine, dammit!”]

This evening I made my friend John’s recipe for potato-leek soup. It’s perfect in terms of technique, though naturally I tweaked it a bit. Mind you, as a smalltown Hoosier I’ve never eaten leeks before, much less grown them. First the recipe, plus my additions in parentheses, and then my reaction.

Puréeing is good, but leave some lumps in, I say.

John’s Potato-Leek Soup

5 leeks, sliced (mine were less than an inch in diameter)
1 onion, chopped coarsely
2 T oil (1 T butter, 1 T olive oil)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
14 oz can of chicken broth
4 C water
S&P to taste
(1 C whole milk)
(chopped parsley to taste)

Heat butter and oil; add leeks and onion and cook to opaque but not brown. Add broth, water and potatoes; bring to boil, then simmer 10-15 minutes until cooked through. Purée in blender (but only two-thirds; I want some lumps so you know I made this by hand). (Add milk, return to low heat; add parsley.) Serves 8 maybe.

The result? It’s very good and technically perfect, since you also get the flavor of the potato broth. And it’s very, very easy.

But the leeks are too mild for this to be as good a potato soup as you can make. For that you need onions, not leeks.

Mind you, I regard onions as a kitchen miracle; they add so much to so many things I cook. Stir-frys, meat loaf, spaghetti sauce, pot roast, omelets, pizza; when I’m chopping onions I know I’m cooking.

Yet I would never describe myself as an onion-lover, as if I can’t get enough of that taste. I use them in proportion, they’re seldom the stars in my cookery, any more than garlic is, another onion relative that adds depth and flavor.

But I guess I do love onions, and my Grandmother made a fabulous potato soup with them, better than this potato-and-leek version. Potato soup was one of the first dishes I mastered, when I was maybe 13.

Leeks are wonderful (and the leaves are so pretty), but so far to me they’re bland. Why would anyone eat this soup when they could eat Grandma’s?

Leeks are described as sweet and mild. But the pungency of an onion adds so much more flavor. Considering that potatoes themselves are bland, why add mild to bland? I did find out to add more black pepper than usual, a dozen twists on my little mill at least, when ordinarily I’m cautious with the peppercorns; I’m a Hoosier, we don’t do spicy food.

My big satisfaction this evening was, as it’s been all summer, growing some of my own food. And you can’t get fresher than just picked today. No fertilizer, no herbicides, just good old Indiana loam, some of the richest soil on earth.

This land is so fertile that my tomato plants bent their cages double. I’m used to the vines growing a yard tall and five feet wide, producing scores of fruits per plant, but this year they just went nuts. Tomatoes are my favorite food, but I let some of them rot on the vine after I’d put up all I thought I could use.

Still, as the season wanes, the last few tomatoes become ever dearer; when winter comes the ones for sale in the stores are pretty much worthless. So even though I had bags and bags of produce to clean and make decisions about, I had to eat one of my ripe tomatoes fresh over the sink with a salt shaker in my hand. You ain’t Hoosier till the tomato juice drips off your chin.

At season’s end I feel like I made great progress as a gardener this year; I had an actual vegetable garden for the first time, instead of my previous haphazard experiments. I cleared out and marked off a good large space with a southern exposure, instead of planting things in flowerbeds next to the house and seeing what worked. I grew several new species; it’s not good to just grow the same old things year after year. I had strawberries and broccoli and leeks, as well as the usual herbs, tomatoes and peppers. I tried new things; I don’t know why the cabbage didn’t work – or maybe I do.

Some people love to eat cabbage; I mostly like to look at it.

The biggest learnings come from failures, including that cabbage. I should have enclosed it, and the broccoli and peppers, in chickenwire to keep the rabbits out. I’m so unmechanical I don’t know how to build things, but I think next year I’ll try driving some sticks in the ground and wrapping plastic fencing around. This won’t entirely deter rabbits, who are happy to dig underground for free rabbit food, but it will slow them down and maybe give me a cabbage or two to look at. I have nothing against eating cabbage, it’s good for you, but I’m a single guy who can’t possibly eat the whole thing before it goes bad.

My other big failure was not watering the garden when I should have. From spring to midsummer we had plenty of rain here, but by mid-August we went into a mild drought, and I should have been faster on the uptake; tomatoes are nothing but sunshine and water. Instead of huge and perfect juicy fruits as I had in early summer, in time they started to split, which invites bugs and then it’s all over. A good gardener keeps track of the rain.

I am not a good gardener yet, but I’m getting there. Most of my strawberry plants survived, but a few of them died, probably because I neglected to water them. That’s okay; instead of planting the ever-bearing variety as I did this year, I’ll plant the spring-bearing “ohmygod it’s a strawberry festival” ones next year, and make jam with the surplus like I used to for my mother.

I doubt I plant leeks. I don’t dislike them but I wasn’t that impressed, and I think I’ll put down onions instead, and maybe some radishes again. Planting leeks as seedlings, which is how Murphy’s offers them, is a pain in the ass. They are tiny little things, 400 to a four-compartment plastic container, and I didn’t find any good advice online about how to deal with them; all the articles from state extension services discuss planting from seed only. I separated my seedlings as seemed best at the time, planting 20 or 30 of them in a hole instead of one by one, but what that gave me was a clump of 30 ingrown leeks. Why would I want 400, especially when they’re “sweet and mild?”

Nope, I want onions instead.

This year I tried out a new type of triangular tomato cage made of plastic, where you can put the crossbars where the plant needs them, instead of where the stamped-out wire happens to go. That plastic cage is the only one still standing; the wire ones I’ve had for some years proved worthless in this rich and juicy rivermuck. In very fertile soil it’s much better to build a modular structure as needed, knowing the vine’s going to grow five feet wide and spill all over everywhere if you don’t control it.

Tomatoes supported on a cage don’t get down in the dirt where they can be attacked by bugs. I’m tellin’ ya, I had a tomato jungle again this year. Leonardo thinks Guatemala’s wild; he should see what grows in my loam.

One last thing: a very old woman who’s an expert gardener lives four doors down at the end of my block. I’m told she’s a farmer’s wife who moved into town with her husband when they retired; that’s common here, because life in town is more convenient. When old age stops tying you to the land, you move to town.

I’ve never met her, a widow now, though I’ve seen her hobbling along on occasional walks, a little old lady in Reeboks. Her home, lawn and vegetable garden are impeccable. She already has her garden cleared for next year; has had for a couple of weeks.

Today I learned that there has to come a time when you say about a garden, “That’s it, I’m done for the year, this is the best I can do.” She gets a head start on next spring by preparing her land this fall. For the first time I emulated her today, as I finished my harvest and started ripping things out.

Every year she builds her own rabbit fence; does her weeding in the morning before it gets hot. Doubtless she measures the rain day by day and waters her garden as needed; it’s always lush. I envy her for knowing so much more than I do, and doing her work instead of getting lazy once the thrill of planting fades away. Anyone can get excited about growing things in the springtime; the key to a garden is regular maintenance.

I did a better job of weeding this year than ever before, and I cleared that land, marked it off and planted new species. My marigold terrace is still half-fabulous, at least until tomorrow night; I had chives and oregano and parsley and tomatoes and tarragon to beat the band. My impatiens and dill, lilies and peonies gave me enormous pleasure. I grilled out on the side porch all summer, and taught my dog to stay there with me.

But there’s no substitute for experience; for trying and failing, for learning by doing. Grow some leeks, see what they’re like; switch to onions next year if you like, or petunias or pumpkins. Keep the water steady and the weeds under control.

The rules are pretty basic but you have to pay attention.

I hope I get to meet Mrs. Voglund someday; maybe we’ll talk about leeks, and why onions are really much better. Maybe we’ll talk about controlling rabbits.

Maybe I’ll tell her how fabulous Grandma’s potato soup was; how she chopped and cooked everything by hand, and never puréed.++

The only image on the internet of a simple potato soup, without garnishes, toppings, machinery or fanciness.

New Art, New Computer, New Novel

Steve Tobin: River. It's 60 feet tall, made of glass.

I need to buy a new Macintosh. Some months ago my then-new Mac got fried in an electrical storm, and I got an insurance settlement (and a new surge protector). Up to now I’ve held up on buying the new Mac, making do with the older laptop I’m writing this on. But I’ll have to bite the bullet, because not having a new desktop unit is preventing me from completing my next novel.

In other words I’m being neurotic again. It’s very hard for me to spend $1100 on anything these days. My financial situation is very shaky and I feel a bit immobilized. It doesn’t help that my usual supplier MacMall has ripped me off in the past with rebate come-ons (though they’re prompt and accurate about shipping the main unit). I mean, rebates? All rebates are dishonest. Just give me the discount now, don’t make me mail something, wait and forget about the money you owe me.

(I once got a 23¢ rebate check, which promptly bounced and cost me $10 for depositing a bad check.)

There are other Mac resellers, of course, and I suppose I should go with the cheapest one. Still it takes a couple of leaps of faith, and I’ve been procrastinating.

But I’ve got to get this novel out; it’s pretty central to my identity, my mission, my vocation. The book’s about a Gay Christian marriage.

Gay marriage is a hot political issue, but this book goes farther than the headlines of the day, because it locates the relationship within a defined spiritual system (the Church) and a theology (mainstream Episcopalian).

One of my grooms is a nominal Methodist who goes to church weekly because “it’s a family thing; we go to church because, well, we always have.” Kent loves the Christmas holidays, but doesn’t think all that much about God or Jesus the rest of the year; he goes to church to see his cousins, aunts and uncles.

Jamie, the man he marries, doesn’t go to church as often, but thinks intensely about the fathersonandholyspirit. I hope you can see some conflict coming already!

This book, tentatively titled “The Centurion’s Boy” and available in blog form here, starts with a sex scene – or rather, it starts with a betrothal that leads to a sex scene.

This is because the book is a sequel to my 2001 novel “Murder at Willow Slough,” in which Jamie and Kent, a gorgeous young reporter and a hunky young cop, solve a serial murder and fall in love. “Slough” may be the first Gay novel ever written without a single sex scene. It does get steamy at points, but that book ends with declarations of love.

So it only makes sense that the next book should open with them tearing their clothes off. Even so, Jamie wants more than mere love, he wants commitment.

That’s why it’s a book about marriage; any marriage, Gay or Straight, Christian or atheist.

Jamie’s been married before, to a man who died young. (In some ways this tracks my own biography, but that was only a jumping-off point.)

Jamie’s the one who knows what marriage is. Kent just wants to get married because that’s what people do; his version of the normal family narrative.

Jamie has very little family, but Kent’s the center of a big, rich, even historic network of blood relatives.

Putting together two guys, two sets of expectations and two families is what the book is about – while also investigating another murder.

You can see already it’s a sprawling novel; that’s how I tend to write. I’ve got Civil War and Underground Railroad history in there, the whole thing could spin out of control if I let it – but I won’t.

In nearly every Gay male novel, the two protagonists are independent actors, footloose and fancy-free, living in a big glamorous city, having left behind their (homophobic) families in Costa Rica or South Africa or Utah.

I don’t blame those authors; real Gay life often happens just that way. But my characters are located in a particular place, smalltown Indiana, where one is very much involved with his relatives, who aren’t homophobic at all.

I like upending some of the usual conventions. I like that Kent is part of a big loving family for whom “church” is more habit than anything else.

And I like making him confront, through his lover, the reality of God. I think that’s a worthwhile thing to write about.

Meanwhile Jamie is stuck without a car, living in a giant old farmhouse that’s so historic it hasn’t been redone since it was built.

No matter how much today’s Gay people want to reinvent ourselves, we’re all tied to the families we grew up in, even if our relatives rejected us decades ago or we rejected them.

If your husband’s a family man, what can you do but join the family – and remake it according to your own understandings, needs and vision?

Do we have to reject all that came before us, including our religious background, because of idiotic things some profiteers of faith said and did on TV?

Do Gay Christians have boring sex lives, when the unofficial Gay religion is hedonism? Or does making a commitment and keeping it free up believers in surprising ways?

These are the questions I wrestle with. But I can’t come to any decision until I decide to buy a new Macintosh.

While I’ve sat here and stewed about this the past few months, my thoughts about Jamie and Kent have raced ahead. I’m constantly writing dialogue for them in my head, new scenes, disagreements, sexual episodes and religious ones too.

Jamie decides that if they have to live in the old family homestead, it’s got to be redone, even if that means criticism from the rest of the family. He’ll preserve the most historic features and not violate the spirit of the place, but everything else is up for grabs. He loves art, but the relatives never got past paint-by-number. They are Hoosiers, he respects that (and is one too), but since they’re rich it’s time to spend some money.

He’s also going to reform their sexual politics and replace the patriarchy all family relationships have been built on. Relatives who don’t like it can “blame the Gay guy,” which will leave Kent as popular as ever.

New generations have to renew the old ways of doing things; thesis, antithesis, synthesis. All while chasing after some bad guys.

The point of Jamie’s being religious isn’t so I can say, “This is how you’re supposed to be and do and believe,” but to illustrate which side God’s really on. It isn’t the side of the bogeymen who claim to speak for Christ on TV.

The fact that Kent and Jamie have a very sexual (and semi-kinky) relationship is also meant to make this point; God loves sexual love, that’s why s/he built it into our bodies. Gay or Straight, it’s all the same to her; what s/he cares about is the quality of the relationship – the faithfulness of it, which is a lot more than “who puts what in where.”

So these two guys set out to find ecstatic delight in each other.

All permanent, loving relationships are a new synthesis, even though as Tolstoy said, happy families are all alike. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…”

Steve Tobin’s art, which I’ve only recently discovered, makes me itchy to start writing again. Jamie’s going to fill that house with spectacular joy; that’s how he reflects the God of creative beauty, and how he loves his lover.++

Steve Tobin: Exploded Clay.

Bishop Eddie Goes Down Flaming

Clue #1: that's him up there on TV, not Jesus. (Jessica McGowan/The New York Times)

You may have heard that self-proclaimed Bishop Eddie Long, of a megachurch in suburban Atlanta called New Birth Missionary Baptist, has been sued by four young men who claim he sexually molested them.

You may not know that Bishop Eddie Long is an outspoken opponent of Gay people who: a) has a cure-the-homos ministry at his church; b) once led an angry march against same-sex marriage; and c) is so wealthy and politically prominent in north Georgia that Coretta Scott King’s funeral was held at his church.

You may not be shocked by much of this; who can be shocked anymore, when so many anti-Gay pols are caught tapping their toes in the men’s room or hiring rentboys to “carry their luggage” across Europe?

Still, The New York Times tells the whole sordid story of what is being alleged.

As just another sex scandal, this isn’t worth my time or yours, except that if The Times story is correct, everything about this man has screamed scandal for years. And still he has a congregation of 25,000, including MLK’s widow!

His message that God wants people to prosper has attracted celebrities, professional athletes and socialites

Ah, the good ol’ prosperity Gospel; “come to my church and get rich!”

Millions of people fall for this all over the world. It is a staple of life in third world countries, but you’d think educated, sophisticated people in Atlanta would see through it.

But they don’t.

When you come to my church to get rich, the only person who gets rich is me!

The rapid expansion of the church — often called “Club New Birth” because it attracts so many young black singles — has also made Bishop Long a powerful political player, especially in DeKalb County, home to one of the wealthiest black communities in the country. The church has become a mandatory stop for many politicians — local, state and national — and Bishop Long supports candidates of both parties.

Thus a sexual undercurrent has been running in Bishop Eddie’s church for quite some time; no one’s ever called my parish “Club St. John’s.”

Picture all the young, affluent Black professionals in Atlanta joining the church so they could cruise the opposite sex. Not even MCC at its worst was ever that bad – and in MCC’s early days some people did treat it as if it were a Gay bar, since there were so few Gay places to go.

Four former members of a youth group he runs have accused him of repeatedly coercing them into homosexual sex acts, and of abusing his considerable moral authority over them while plying them with cash, new cars, lodging and lavish trips.

Well, who paid for the cash, new cars, lodging and trips, but 25,000 greedy professionals at the church?

Bishop Long has denied the accusations in a letter sent to a local radio station and has promised to address them from the pulpit on Sunday. He declined, through his lawyer, to comment for this article.

A local radio station? When the story’s on the front page of The New York Times?

CNN headquarters is 30 miles away, but he’s denying this in a letter to a radio station?

If you were aggrieved and internationally famous, would you write a letter to a radio station to protest your innocence?

I’d load up my black SUV with bodyguards and entourage and storm the world media citadel, I wouldn’t write a letter. (And if you think newspapers are hurting these days, you should see how bad radio’s doing.)

The accusations are all the more explosive because Bishop Long styles himself a social conservative, rails against homosexuality and calls for a ban on same-sex marriage. His church even holds seminars promising to “cure” homosexuals.

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” – Wm. Shakespeare

(By this measure half of Viagraville must be downloading pictures of guys in Speedos when they’re not trying to destroy the Episcopal Church.)

The accusations center on the LongFellows Youth Academy, an exclusive group of teenage boys handpicked by Bishop Long for spiritual mentoring.

The boys went through a bonding ritual, known as a “covenant ceremony,” in which Bishop Long gave them jewelry and exchanged vows with them while quoting from Scripture as ceremonial candles burned, according to court complaints filed against the pastor. Reciting Bible verses, the pastor promised to protect them from harm and called them “spiritual sons.”

But four former members of the group now say the real purpose of the academy was to provide Bishop Long with young men whom he could lure into sex.

This is what greed’ll getcha, fellas. While you had bling on the brain, he allegedly had something else on his mind.

Bishop Long cuts a flashy figure in Lithonia, the Atlanta suburb where he lives and has built his church. He is often seen in a Bentley attended by bodyguards. He tends to wear clothes that show off his muscular physique. He favors Gucci sunglasses, gold necklaces, diamond bracelets and Rolex watches.

Oh yeah, I want to contribute to that guy’s church!

The man drives a Bentley and even Coretta couldn’t see what was going on?

His lavish display of wealth is in keeping with his theology. In his sermons, he often tells his congregation that God wants them to be wealthy and asserts that Jesus was not a poor man.

That isn’t theology, it’s ripoff-ology.

That quote is what pissed me off so much I wrote this post. Because here’s what Jesus actually said (Matthew 25:34):

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'”

And these “missionary Baptists” never heard of that? Coretta Scott King never heard of it?

Puh-lease. There wasn’t a bit of “missionary Baptist” about Bishop Eddie until he started getting bad press.

So what did he do? He hired a PR guy.

The Times again:

In 2005, for instance, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published tax records showing that from 1997 to 2000 Bishop Long had accepted $3 million in salary, housing, a car and other perks from a charity he controlled.

(snip)

After the article about his compensation, Bishop Long hired a public relations firm and went on a campaign to improve his image, Mr. McDonald said. He began charitable programs to feed the poor, help struggling people with mortgages and even offer haircuts to the homeless.

From there The Times explores Bishop Eddie’s background.

He studied business at North Carolina Central University, then went to work as a sales representative for the Ford Motor Company, but was fired over inaccuracies in his expense accounts.

From here on Bishop Eddie’s story turns banal. Thieves aren’t interesting, they’re common. Yes, Christians believe in forgiveness, but we still keep an eye on our wallets.

These “missionary Baptists,” though, kept hoping that Bishop Eddie would miraculously make their wallets fat while he was emptying them right in front of their eyes.

Christians believe in miracles, too, but those mostly happen with loaves of bread, not wads of cash. Prayer cloth, anyone? Reverend Ike used to send you one if you gave him a “sacrificial gift.”

Now back to Bishop Eddie’s ideas about sex:

He also adopted what has become known as “muscular Christianity,” a male-dominated view that emphasizes a warriorlike man who serves as the spiritual authority and protector in a family. His books on relationships suggest that men get in touch with their inner “wild man” and channel their fighting instincts into taking responsibility for their lives. Women are to submit to their husbands, he says.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was not a “wild, warriorlike” man. He wasn’t a milquetoast, he wasn’t a fool, and he broke every religious law on the books talking things over with a Samaritan woman. Indeed, women were (and still are) his most faithful followers.

B. J. Bernstein, a lawyer for the four young men who claim to have been coerced into sexual affairs with Bishop Long, said the pastor exerted a paternalistic and, at times, autocratic influence over young men.

The four complaints filed in court describe how Bishop Long arranged for the church to provide cars to the young men and put them on the church payroll. Two of them also said they received free lodging in church-owned houses, where, they said, Bishop Long visited them for sessions of kissing, oral sex or masturbation. He also took them on trips to other cities and abroad, sharing rooms with them, with the knowledge of several church officials, the complaints say.

“There are biblical and spiritual passages that were given to them to make them comfortable and make them believe that they were not gay,” Ms. Bernstein said.

He must be quite the salesman, if he can make you believe you’re not Gay even when you’re sucking his d—.

I admit, he must have gifts that leave me in the dust. I could never convince any guy of that when his mouth was full.

Finally there was this, which just made me livid.

“We’re not just a church, we’re an international corporation,” he told the newspaper in justifying his compensation. “We’re not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can’t talk and all we’re doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around this world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation.”

An “international corporation.” Yes, let’s entrust our souls and bodies to one of those. Say, British Petroleum or Halliburton or Blackwater USA. Let’s all worship at the international corporation.

I’m not shocked that Laura Bush might be induced to do it, but I never expected it out of Coretta Scott King.

(Alan S. Weiner/The New York Times)

“We’re not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can’t talk…”

Apparently the gift of gab is all this guy’s got. Apparently that’s all it takes and there’s a sucker born every minute.

“…and all we’re doing is baptizing babies.

Baptism is the single most important thing that will ever happen in your life. But here this guy is, trashing it as unimportant. I suppose it’s not the way to get ahead as he has done.

While Bishop Eddie is going down flaming, he’s taking 25,000 affluent, educated professionals down with him, all so he could drive a Bentley, flash his Rolex and suck some d—.

I’m appalled at the Biblical illiteracy of his wealthy and educated congregation. I presume none of them went to Morehouse, Spelman, Georgia Tech or Harvard to study the Bible; I guess they all majored in Rolex.++

Bishop Eddie in an arena, with a Hooters ad over his shoulder.

Conservative Parish Votes to Stay In TEC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidently the administrator stopped showing up too.

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

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

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

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

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

My parish has never voted on queers; has yours?

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

Or “I’m holier than thou.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We mistake the founder’s prejudices for the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Survived 2009

Rabbit stew. Looks almost appealing.

Fifteen months ago my friends and I were wondering if we’d all lose our houses and be living in the woods. Should we get a gun? Who among us knows how to fish? How do you make rabbit stew, anyway? If you bring me a squirrel I can probably fry it up, but no, it won’t taste like chicken.

The stock market lost 37% in 2008. In 2009 it rose 27%, but that’s people’s retirement money and a good chunk of it’s still gone.

A friend of mine sells GM cars; I prayed for him every single day, but somehow he survived. Thank you, President Obama, even as you paid a terrible political price.

We survived 2009!

Tonight, New Year’s Eve, I’m cooking up some red beans and rice, in honor of my dear friends in Louisiana; they’ve survived too, and after Hurricane Katrina, when Phil went missing, every extra year is a blessing. His dad Ervin would probably add some boudin to the dish; it’s a Cajun blood sausage, considered quite the delicacy, but I don’t like it. It’s spicy-hot and I don’t do blood sausage, especially from filthy gas stations outside Grand Mamou. Ervin used to go nuts after that stuff, but I use Polish sausage instead.

Red beans and rice with shrimp, done the right way; stew on top of the rice in a bowl.

In October of ’09 I brought home a little pooch from the Humane Society of Indianapolis. It’s been six weeks now and I think I’ve finally got the hang of toilet training. Despite a few tense moments Luke has been a joy to me; I should have gotten a dog years ago, we could have been together all this time. But I’ll sure take the one I’ve got. Now that I’ve corrected my mistakes he’s corrected his; the stake in the yard with the 30-foot lead has taught him, here’s where you go. Luke to Josh: “Why didn’t you say so?”

He is so cute, so sweet; if only the humans were like that. My favorite behavior of his currently is how he burrows underneath his Purdue blanket, so when he’s in his house, all I can see is a lump of cloth. Somewhere under there is 10 pounds of terrier lost in the folds. He’s also great about eating my leftovers; a dab of chicken or steak here, a ham hock there, some cheesy rice and broccoli—and everything goes better with COTTAGE CHEESE!

We have a routine for treats too; he sits on the throw rug under the sink, I sit on the kitchen steps and put a treat on my knee. He watches, then I say, “Come!” He races over, grabs the treat and takes it back to the rug before he devours it. But wait, there’s more—I’ve got another one in my pocket!

Luke on Day 2 at home.

In 2010 I have work to do; after discussion with my spiritual director Marcia, I’m going to try letting God have much more power in my life. This is a one-month experiment, which I ought to be able to get through; after that we’ll evaluate. The program involves writing some personal prayers that really discuss what’s going on with me, working every day on finishing my new novel about Gay Christian marriage, and spending 20 minutes a day in silent meditation, which I’ve neglected for some time now. I also have some other goals, but they’re not New Year’s resolutions; they’ll take longer to work out, and besides I need an attitude adjustment. At this late date I’m no longer very good at running my own life, so it’s time to let God take the wheel for awhile. Perhaps every serious believer eventually comes to a place like this, but I’m here now, so it’s time to trust more and screw up less.

The beans and rice are about done, so farewell 2009, we survived you. Best wishes to Peter, Leonardo and all of you in 2010; I wish you health, prosperity and a greater awareness of the Ultimate Reality.++