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We Are the Madding Crowd

One of the weird-but-nice things about my online congregation is how incredibly diverse we are.

The same thing happens to every other vicar. I wonder how they manage it; some days I wonder how I do.

I’ve got an anti-abortion state rep from Oklahoma following me; she used to be with NARAL. But most of my followers are pro-choice, as I am; I’m opposed to abortion as a general principle, but I want it to be legal – because women have always sought it, in every time and place, and I want them to be safe.

My mother considered aborting my brother. I’m glad she didn’t, but when she explained her reasons I could well understand. She was afraid my dad would kill her, which was a constant threat we lived with for 25 years.

Why men blame women for getting pregnant is beyond me; it does take two to tango.

The fortunate news for me is that the Daily Office is really not concerned with abortion, but the simple-complex praise of God. The prayer service is mostly Bible with an added theme or two, and Holy Scripture doesn’t address abortion, unless (like the Vatican) you stretch “Be fruitful and multiply” beyond all recognition. Thus I can happily welcome this Oklahoma woman, who has obviously been wrestling with herself on the subject for years. I’m glad she comes sometimes; she helps me by her presence to remember that “my ways are not your ways, nor are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”

I mean, Josh’s opinion is not authoritative on anything. I might like it to be, but then, you know, I do prattle on. (And here you are, reading more of my prattle.)

Who isn’t pro-life? We’re all pro-life. And we should be; I certainly don’t want fetuses aborted for being Gay. I don’t want them aborted at all, if a woman can avoid it.

But I grew up with my dad, and I’ve seen how violent some men are. So I don’t like abortion, but don’t you dare send my mother to a back alley; Don’t You Even Dare.

That prayer site gets Protestants and Catholics; being an Episcopalian, I swing both ways. Some days I’m a total Catholic; but then Maureen Dowd writes another column (like yesterday’s), wondering why her church is so out of touch and out of date, and I want to shout, “The Protesters were right!”

She never seems to grasp why there was a Protestant Reform-ation. I guess if you go to Catholic school, the nuns just brush right over it.

(Of course there aren’t really nuns anymore in Catholic schools; the pope’s doing his best to get rid of them all. They don’t worry enough about abortion and homosexuality, he says. They’re too worried about the poor.)

But there’s poor Maureen, trying to make sense of her Church again, invoking JFK and Vatican II for the umpteenth time, like they were going to solve the structural problems inherent in the Church According to Rome.

If you set up a dictatorship, it means you follow the dictator. I don’t cry for you, Argentina.

They want married priests now; they’re right about it, though they happen to be 500 years late. They want women priests too, and they’re right about that; but not in your lifetime, Maureen. Wait a few centuries, then maybe.

Otherwise I’m all for mainstream Catholic theology. It’s beautiful, it’s gorgeous, it’s ennobling; it makes us better people.

Just leave out the sex, because they’re all screwed up about that.

I am Protestant and Catholic; that’s what’s unique about the English Reformation. The way we got here was bloody awful, but as a 21st century American I couldn’t be happier with my Church.

We have a woman Presiding Bishop. I don’t like her – she’s cold, political, calculating – but I thank God for her. Maybe she’ll wind up in a BBC mini-series someday, if the Brits can ever get past their own navel-gazing. She could give Tom Becket a run for his money (especially if Judi Densch gets the starring role).

She wears the worst robes you’ve ever seen; never was a woman more desperate for Gay advice. –> But she isn’t about the clothes, and I am very grateful to belong to a church whose male bishops voted in a woman to preside over them. Those men are living out their faith like no men ever have, and I’m in awe of all of them (while taking an appropriately skeptical view of their various pronouncements). This woman is a saint, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t like her. Katharine Jefferts-Schori is my Presiding Bishop.

My congregation reflects the democracy of the internet. We’re pro-Gay and anti-, Catholic and Protestant, Pentecostal and Baptist, American and Filipino.

This is the mind-blowing legacy of Thomas Cranmer, an English Catholic (married) priest who boiled the seven-times-a-day prayers of monastic life into a twice-daily discipline that ordinary people can follow. It’s almost all Bible; you can’t go wrong.

No controversy.

I don’t get why everyone’s not Episcopalian. It’s the only church on earth that makes any sense!

(Of course, it’s very English, and yes, that causes problems, and it’s this too much and it’s that too little. It has a million problems. – But not the essential ones: popes going off half-cocked or TV preachers building cults of personality. Prosperity Gospel? You’ve got to be kidding me.)

Meanwhile I’ve got business executives who come to the site, and ministers with outreach to the homeless. I depend on them, and they depend on me.

I’ve got Gay people and Straight people; neo-cons and Marxists. We’re all just trying to get by; to invite into our lives a little solace, a little strength, a little holiness – because we need it; because we’re sinners. Because we’re loved.

God’s love knows no bounds – and that includes insurance guys, radical feminists, the whole conglomeration of humanity.

I struggle to respond to them sometimes. I worry that my words carry too much weight, that the choices I make (especially in the art and captions) don’t reflect them accurately, don’t nourish them enough, don’t enable them to worship together with people who aren’t like them at all.

I worry it’s a cult of personality. I know there are people who come because I write it.

I want to have fans, but Jesus is the One who matters, not me.

So I can get confused. For example: I have no doubt Barack Obama will win the Episcopalian vote. (That woman PB tells you all you need to know, without dictating a single vote. As a Church, we’re feminists; that’s our moral stance. We’re pro-Gay and pro-choice and we even collect rainwater from downspouts, which is really ridiculous where I live, 75 miles south of the Great Lakes.)

But it may well be that some percentage of my congregation sincerely believes, as a matter of moral conviction, that Mitt Romney is the better choice for president, and I have to respect that.

I cannot follow their reasoning, but if the Daily Office is really for everybody, I have to be welcoming to everybody.

Sometimes this becomes a great challenge; I couldn’t begin to tell you what a rector goes through, dealing with a swath of humanity.

I’m not wise enough to know how to be Jesus. All I can be is Josh, who is no one to take dictation from.

The good news of course is that I don’t have to be Jesus, and I wasn’t put here for this purpose. All God ever asks of me is to be Josh; a better Josh than I am, but “Josh” is good enough. When you love someone, you don’t repeal their very nature; I can’t say “God loves you” unless that applies to me too.

God is infinitely respectful of our unique personalities. The same God who loves me loves you – and the banker, the tailor, the candlestick maker.

I wish I were a better vicar, but I’m not going to beat myself up. We’re all doing the best we can here.

So as I reflect on the burdens and joys of being Episcopalian, someone Catholic and Protestant both, this is the best I can come up with for now: if God loves him and her and him, then I have to learn how, too.

“How” is another matter; I couldn’t begin to tell you how, unless it’s by listening, and respecting, and allowing, and forgiving. Wide latitude is what my Church preaches, even if I sometimes wish it wouldn’t.

I’ve lately declared that dailyoffice.org is a Safe Place for GLBT people; no homophobic comments allowed. (Very few were offered, but there are trolls in this internet universe). My particular gift, I think, or mission or calling, is inviting Gay people back to church. That’s what I want, for Gay-Les-Bi-Trans people to feel safe enough to meet the Living God.

In a way that’s all I want. Just meet him-or-her, and be safe. She can take it from there. (And she doesn’t depend on me to issue the invitation.)

But I also have to be open to people who are in a different place. We don’t all get hit with the Gay Lib Bolt of Lightning; it comes and goes.

I had a chance recently to engage with the mother of a Gay son; she’s come a long way and favors same-sex marriage, although she can’t get past her interpretation of the hammer verses.

We ended up deciding that we could take Communion together, which is the sine qua non of Christian life.

God doesn’t require us to agree; we can be both Protestant and Catholic. We can be neither or both or whatever we want; that’s just theology, which is really not uppermost in God’s mind.

Who eats together? That’s what she cares about.

Because that’s where the healing happens, where love can start to flower; I see you, and you see me, and we can be at peace with one another. That’s what God cares about.

Because she knows that when people eat together, we come away feeling satisfied. We’re at peace; we don’t fight.

The whole of the Christian religion is there in the meal; that’s why the Catholics are right. Jesus said, “Do this,” and he didn’t say, “Once a month, or once a quarter, or once a year, or once a lifetime, or if you feel like it, or if you don’t.” He said, “Do this.” I take that as a commandment.

If you get bread and wine you’re good to go.

So help me, Lord, I don’t know how to deal with these insurance people! Republicans! Capitalists! They’re everywhere! Some of them are even Gay-bashers, which really ticks me off! At least they vote for people who are!

God does not approve of bashers. Beyond that, we need to learn to get along.++

God damns Leviticus. Again.

The Morning Prayer service tomorrow of The Episcopal Church calls for the public reading of this bit of happy talk from the Hebrew Bible:

If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness. (Leviticus 25:39-46, NRSV)

It makes me furious to have to impose this garbage on unsuspecting faithful people who come to my Daily Office websites looking for solace and strength, only to find bad, bad news.

So I posted this picture and caption to go with it:

Scars of slavery in the United States, 1850′s. These shameful, immoral atrocities are why humanity abolished slavery, no matter what it says in Leviticus. Jesus Christ is the only Word of God.

I could have said a lot more, but I saved that for you. 🙂

A table of lessons appointed for each day, called the Lectionary, is printed in the back of The Book of Common Prayer; every church and website in 18 nations that offers Morning Prayer tomorrow has to print this crap. Every priest and deacon (I’m a layman) has to say it privately if they don’t offer it as public worship. If they’re on an airplane to Timbuctu, they are obligated to read this junk from Levicitus.

Obviously we need a new lectionary. But don’t get me started on that or my head will explode.

Having to post this passage made me so angry this time that I walked away from my computer and decided to go to the grocery store instead – only to find that my car has a dead battery. This did not make me Happy Josh.

The worst of this is that I have thousands of people relying on me to give them some spiritual sustenance; 900 in my Facebook group, almost as many e-mail subscribers, and 2000 more who click on my sites from their smartphones, tablets and desktops. They aren’t an audience of millions like TV, but nevertheless I have a serious responsibility here. And the last thing I want to give them is 5000-year-old rules for ancient Hebrews about who they can buy and sell.

I’m not going to stop posting the Office but it does get discouraging at times – mostly because passages like Leviticus 25 drive people away from God instead of bringing them to her.

It’s hard to be a shepherd with one hand tied behind your back.

If we ever get lectionary reform this passage will be dropped like a hot potato. We won’t be “editing the Bible” to take out the nasty bits; lectionaries are always selective, God’s Greatest Hits. But this isn’t one of them. Hasn’t been for centuries. So what is it doing in our churches today?

God damns Leviticus. You read it here.

(Danny Hellman – and with a name like that, you can figure he knows what he’s talking about)

The existence of the passage can be rationalized; God’s actually putting limits on slavery, which was universally practiced when Leviticus was written. But that doesn’t do us much good now, when it’s universally abolished (though not, of course, eradicated). Google “tortured slaves” and you’ll get the most awful pornography – almost all of it heterosexual, with women as victims (of course).

The real issue isn’t the original text of the Bible, or even the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s failure to update the lectionary; we’re talking about words from antiquity here, and nobody’s promoting the Code of Hammurabi and the worship of Marduk these days.

No, the real issue is our understanding of the text – and the callous, wrongheaded, damnable promotion of Biblical infallibility by fundamentalist Protestants all over the world. You know, brain surgeons like this guy:

(unfairlybalanced.com)

“Possibly a meteor?” Only if it falls on your head, Pat.

The issue is fundamentalism, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian; not every last word in their holy scriptures.

The issue isn’t conservative vs. liberal, or or modernity vs. the Middle Ages, or science vs. faith; it only masquerades as these things. Fundamentalism is a method by which some people gain money and power over others, exploiting them and eventually trying to destroy them.

In that way fundamentalism is exactly like the human nature described in holy scriptures: Evil. Selfish. Violent. Deadly.

That’s why we need redemption, and the bibles are right about that. You can’t trust humanity at all.

Christian fundamentalism was invented as a vehicle of power in 1910, with the publication of The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.

We know, with the rise of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, when Muslim fundamentalism was invented; we know, too, when the Jewish Haredi version appeared, about 1830. All these forms of fundamentalism, which cause so much trouble (and death) in the world, are defensive in nature, trying to protect “the old religion” (or their claims about it) from reason, scholarship, changing times, improving ethics – and the ongoing revelation of God.

Never put a period where God has placed a comma.

 

The slave atrocity photo I embedded in tomorrow morning’s prayers is an example of improving ethics. Americans fought a Civil War over whether people could own each other; hundreds of thousands of men died saying yes or no. The answer was no; people came to the moral conclusion that no matter what Leviticus says, you may not own another human being. Full stop.

No matter what Leviticus says.

So here came these American fundamentalists to say, “No no no! The Bible is perfect, it’s infallible, it’s inerrant! You must live this way or go to hell!”

And they still say it. Bi, Trans, Gays and Lesbians are the current targets of their murderous ferocity.

Make no mistake, their philosophy is violent, just like the Taliban, just like the ultra-orthodox Jews. They want power and money and they’ll do anything to get it; people are sinners.

And this philosophy has largely captured the Republican Party. Wealth is now God, and war is how they get rich.

They all swore that George W. Bush was appointed by God, and in 2008 they decided Obama was the antichrist. The latest one, anyway; they’re forever declaring antichrists.

We can certainly expect a knockdown-dragout campaign this year. Ironically, one of the targets of The Fundamentals was Mormonism, a new religion which was becoming more and more popular.

Now they’ve got Mitt Romney, a Mormon one-percenter and high school bully, as their Republican nominee.

But since they don’t care about the actual Christian faith, which was only a means to an end anyway, they’re free to hail the Mormon as their new savior. Any port in a storm, I guess.

I’m sure Mitt’s better than John Rushdoony, the ultimate Christian fundamentalist, who hated democracy, promoted home-schooling and wrote that America should enact Leviticus as its moral law, including putting homosexuals to death, along with women who lie about their virginity. (Men apparently are free to lie about theirs.)

Rushdoony wanted his brand of Christians to control the government and every other aspect of life; this is not much different from Pat Robertson or ultra-orthodox Jews.

But God damns Leviticus; you can see why. If Leviticus was the final word, there was no need for Jesus Christ.

I would like The Episcopal Church to stop thinking it has to promote these foul excerpts of Leviticus to satisfy its fundamentalist critics.

But more than that, I think we all need to understand that God does give us the comfort of ongoing revelation; that God hated slavery so much he slew Mississippi to get rid of it; that male ownership of women is as wrong as wrong can get; that capitalism is the unleashing of human depravity; and that, at the very least, we need to treat others as we’d like to be treated.

President Obama cited the Golden Rule and the Crucifixion of Christ last week in endorsing same-sex marriage.++

Who wants to be the first to stone these boys to death?

 

One Minute I’m Maria von Trapp, the Next I’m Baby Jane

Well, let’s start with the pretty one first!

Only a junior nun anyway, with those bangs peeking out.

Today I’m thinking about the role tension involved in being The Vicar to some people and to others the devil incarnate. Or an avenging angel.

It’s not only strange, since I’m one person and not two; it makes me re-examine my responsibilities. Am I doing my job correctly?

Maybe not; maybe I should be all Maria all the time, and keep quiet about the abuse of Gay people in church and society. I haven’t decided yet.

Because of that prayer site I run, maybe I have a public image I ought to protect. Twice a day I put up Bible lessons and prayers, accompanied by art and a bit of commentary. If I would leave well enough alone, I’d never face a controversy. People could come – millions already have – and receive comfort, instruction and strength to get through their day, trying to be as good, and feel as good, as they can.

This isn’t an unworthy goal. I like giving people encouragement and support. I like helping them relate to God and find their place in the cosmos.

The really nice thing about religion and all forms of spirituality is that we benefit from the questions, struggles and answers other people have come up with about what it means to be human.

The great thing about Christianity is that it offers a loving, noble and heroic role model in Jesus Christ.

I like heroes, don’t you? I’ve known a few, male and female, and they’re people I want to emulate.

As a Gay guy I love male heroes. And as a Gay guy I love women who are strong and good.

But heroes are made because they fight Evil. From Jesus Christ and Desmond Tutu to John Wayne and Superman, heroism becomes clear to the rest of us by the protagonist’s courage, skill and compassion as fighters.

Yes, Sojourner Truth, you’se a woman all right! Can’t nobody say you ain’t a woman!

Myself I don’t feel heroic much (and certainly not by playing The Vicar). I’ve done some things I’m proud of and lots I’m ashamed of too. I don’t think Jesus is enlisting the rest of us to be heroes, so much as showing us what to do if and when evil confronts us. “No greater love hath a man than this, that he give up his life for his friends.”

Then there’s the other side of my personality and value system: the mouthy one who’s verbally aggressive with Gay-haters. I’m not really Baby Jane, but I must look that way to them.

Don't forget, Blanche knew all along she was to blame.

I don’t care how they see me, I care that current and future generations of LGBTs not be persecuted by self-proclaimed Christians and the politicians who suck up to them.

I’ve been a Gay activist since I was 22, marching in New York’s 4th Pride Day, when no one else from my seminary dared to show up.

I know that the best way to win fairness for persecuted people is to stand up and speak back to the haters. To call them out; to fight back.

Times have changed and my roles have too; I’m not the activist I used to be, but I still engage the fight sometimes. Today I’m involved in a flame war online, resulting from Indiana politicians’ efforts to abolish a license plate for the Indiana Youth Group. (I’m trying not to keep running back and forth to The Indianapolis Star website to see the homophobes’ latest replies. I mean really, we should all have better things to do.)

Plus I have an essay, right on my prayer site, suggesting that all Christians should pray about whether God loves or hates Gay people. It’s one essay, on a different page, away from the prayers; a reader has to click to see it.

This essay has garnered more comments, pro and con, than any other entry on the site.

What I’ve learned is that there are opponents of LGBT people who spend their time trolling websites like mine, searching for sites where they can expound their arguments. (Note: my commenters are by and large respectful, not hate-filled. They disagree with me but maintain a basic recognition that LGBTs are human beings, at least.) People like that need to get a life – which is why I’m not on The Star’s website right now.

"I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?"

I can hear in my head all the reasons why it’s okay for me as a Christian to speak out sometimes; prophetic witness is a calling of a saint. And I don’t really intend to cut back on what I say; in the secular world no one knows me, so I’m not doing any harm. Maybe I do a little good, though probably not much; public shouting matches aren’t very entertaining.

I know I will continue to defend Christianity from its fundamentalist highjackers. That’s one thing that gets my goat, when fundamentalists presume to speak for God, when all they’ve got is their interpretation of some sayings from antiquity. Mainline Christians have done a miserable job of protesting Pat Robertson’s pronouncements, and someone’s got to speak up.

I don’t feel I have to protect the Daily Office crowd from my views on this issue; a few people come there because I express my views, and I want to make them welcome. My biggest evangelical impulse is to tell GLBT Christians to come home; the churches are better now and mine in particular is learning to be their suffering servant.

But I probably yap too much, and that can be bad too. The last thing I want is to drive a soul away from the prayers.

Ministers have to do a balancing act, and it isn’t easy. I feel for the bishops, priests and deacons who have greater responsibilities than mine. Churches need to offer comfort to hurting people, as well as to afflict the comfortable. If ministers lean too much one direction or the other they tip over. (They need to Stand Firm!)

What I’ve decided to do is to withdraw from certain other minor controversies in the Church, because people don’t need to hear from me about everything. An example: a priest-friend posted recently on Facebook about St. Joseph, Mary’s husband and Christ’s Dad. I was a little troubled by the suggestion that Joseph was his adoptive father (Mary was a virgin, of course), so I piped up. Another priest called Joseph “the patron saint of stepfathers,” and I don’t think that’s right either. God bless adoptive fathers and stepfathers, but I wouldn’t put Joseph in those categories, and I said so. Pissed off my friend the priest.

I need to learn when to speak up and when to keep quiet. Joseph doesn’t need me to defend him, even if I think those priests were going overboard.

Queers, though, do need defenders, so I’ll confine myself to them. I don’t have to enter into every church controversy there ever was or will be. No, I don’t think the Anglican Covenant is going anywhere (it was DOA the day it was released). No, I don’t think the Anglican Communion is something we must save at all costs. Yes, I’m opposed to spending millions of American laypeople’s money on a useless Lambeth Conference. No, I don’t think we should canonize the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” even if she popularized Thanksgiving.

But so what? Nobody died and made me Mr. Opinion.

Could we have a song now?++

Online Ministry: Do’s and Dont’s

I am a “lay vicar” who runs a successful Episcopal Church website and blog called The Daily Office with 1.3 million visitors so far. Assuming this gives me some expertise to tell everybody else what to do (churches are good at that!), let me start by picking on a parish website that’s actually better than most, from Christ Church, Hamilton, Massachusetts:

(Click to enlarge)

What do we see? Name at the top; that’s always a smart idea. Navigation tabs across the top: Home, Worship, Christian Ed, Ministries, About Us, Parish Life Notes. A Flash banner of changing images; here we’ve got a little blonde girl and other kids. Directly underneath is a crawl containing events of immediate interest. On the left, Quick Links; an e-mail subscription and a Facebook signup. But after that, we start to find problems. The lead story is a Shrove Tuesday event that came and went three weeks ago; dead news. The next story, “Lenten Discipline,” begins, “Lent is rapidly approaching.” No, kids, it’s already here.

And what is “Lent,” anyway? For that matter, what might “Shrove Tuesday” refer to?

The obvious problem is the church doesn’t update its website often enough. Why not? Nobody on the staff or in the church is assigned to keep it current. Why not? Takes too much time, “we’re too busy.” Why? “We have other priorities.” Why? “Our website never has paid off for us that much.” Why? “We don’t keep it updated.”

That’s circular reasoning. If you’re going to have a website, do it right. Don’t just have a website because every other church has a website and you’ve heard it’s the thing to do.

Christ Church Hamilton offers a feature I’ve never seen anyone else make available, and it’s right on the front page: Music by the organ scholar, which you can play and download anywhere in the world. That’s excellent! Music is a priority in churches, which is why there’s always a staff person assigned to music. (I’m going to steal his podcasts and put them on dailyoffice.org.)

This church has spent some time and money on its website. It’s not a very big church but it’s sophisticated. At first glance its content is fairly comprehensive; remember those navigation tabs up top. If you know what you’re doing, and if you already speak their language, you can easily find out a lot of information with just one click. However, the website is also a failure, because it does not immediately answer the most basic questions a visitor wants to know. These are:

• Where is this place?
• What time is church?
• What’s the preacher like?

To find Christ Church Hamilton, you have to scroll to the bottom of a rather long page to find the address. It’s in tiny type, so I hope you have 20-20 vision and you’re not older than 40. You can find the location, and even a link to a map, AFTER you’ve run past the organist’s podcasts, a paragraph and two photos of the Annual Meeting, news of a death in January, something about a “kegger” before that, helpful news of Community Groups, a Note from Eileen Thomas (as if you care), a blurb for All Saints’ Day five months ago, surprising and welcome information that the church serves a substantial lunch right after the main 11:15 service every Sunday—and then, only then, do you learn where all this wonderfulness is happening.

I guess the graphic designer thought s/he was doing business letterhead, with the name of the company at the top and the address in 6-point type at the bottom. (They’re on Asbury Street in South Hamilton.)

I would like to see every Episcopal congregation answer the key questions at the top of its website: where are we, when is church and who runs the place. For the latter, run a mug shot at the top of the page. I don’t care whether he or she is young or old, male or female, Black or White or Hispanic or Asian, pretty or not; run a photo of the main minister so that I, a web visitor, can judge whether or not this church looks promising.

(In my own parish the priest, who’s just retired, had a thing about not wanting his picture taken. And we allowed his neurosis to interfere with our mission. He has a kindly face; he is a kindly man. But no-o-o, he’s secretly vain and doesn’t think he’s pretty enough to be in pictures where other people can see him, because he doesn’t like seeing himself. Tough luck, buster!)

Meanwhile the Episcopal Church on a national level is forever running articles bemoaning declining attendance at church. They seem to think A) this is unique to us, when it’s happening to all American denominations; and B) we should moan and groan about it instead of coming up with solutions.

For these and other reasons I find myself owning the biggest Episcopal megachurch in the country. It’s only virtual, not bricks and mortar; we don’t have a soup kitchen or an organ scholar; we can’t baptize babies, marry or bury you; we have no sacraments at all. These are very big drawbacks, but we’re more popular than anybody. And it’s not because I’m brilliant or handsome, but because I work on my website every day. Those 1.3 million visitors tell me I must be doing something right.

All we offer is prayer. That’s it; you can’t even get a hug out of the deal.

Major advantage of a real church.

On the other hand, by offering prayer and nothing else, we don’t have a light bill to pay.

Major disadvantage of a real church.

No cynic can accuse me of being “in it for the money.” I’m not; I’m in it for the prayers—because they are how we make contact with God no matter where or when.

I am all in favor of this next photo: Jesus said “Do this” and he wasn’t kidding.

Holy Communion, the Mass, Eucharist is the other major way we make contact with God. The only problem is you have to be in the right place at the right time.

Therefore, church webmasters, tell me where and when! Don’t make me search, don’t make me wonder, don’t make me click.

We always do this with bricks and mortars, but we make it tough to find out online.

Still, these Do’s and Don’ts are only technical; I’m not saying anything that isn’t taught in Advertising 101. And advertising isn’t the real point of a religious presence on the internet; we haven’t figured out how to do ministry online yet.

Or actually, I have and you haven’t. 🙂

If church webmastering were understood as ministry, it would become a priority. We wouldn’t find leftover blurbs for a service in November still running at the end of March.

The fact I find odd about all this is that it really doesn’t take much time to run a church website correctly. Every congregation of more than 25 people has somebody who can do this—someone with a few leftover minutes per day or per week, who already knows or can easily learn the technology. (I don’t write internet code and I’ve still got a million visitors.) At this very minute in every church in the world, an idle member is watching TV and telling herself, “There’s nothing on.”

You get 10 bonus points if you can tell me which actress played the mother.

Church websites aren’t advertising, they’re ministry. Find a need and go meet it. Your church could be getting my million visitors if I hadn’t beat you to it. Copy me if you have to, don’t reinvent the wheel! Link your site to mine, your members and visitors will appreciate it: “Prayers for Right Now.”

And please, purge your site of every bit of churchtalk you can. If I’m a stranger, the person you want to meet, the possible new member of the church, don’t fill your website with jargon that only the in-crowd understands.

The Episcopal Church is terrible about this. We’ve got a churchy word for everything. Our buildings are full of places called the narthex, the nave, the undercroft, the vestry; where’s the freakin’ front door? (Or the back one, lemme outta here.) I’ve seen parish websites that think they have to explain what the Worldwide Anglican Communion might be, or apologize for Henry VIII. I don’t want to meet that old fat gasbag, I want to meet Jesus Christ.

Don’t tell me about the Collect of the Day; help me pray.

Most of all we are failing to make our sites interactive. All the information we publish is from the in-crowd to the out-crowd. No wonder our websites don’t draw people in.

It’s fine to show people that “we had a great time at the parish picnic,” but that’s just somebody sayin’. Show me pictures or video of the parish picnic and let me comment: “I had a blast at Lake Shafer, let’s do it again!”

Don’t tell me you have a Sunday School and nursery; show me the pictures, let me see the space, introduce me to the teachers, tell me their qualifications and all the things you do to keep my kids safe: “Anna Jones, our preschool teacher, is certified in First Aid, has passed a criminal background check and graduated from the KidSafe training program.” Plus a video of a typical activity would be nice.

Minister to people online. Know what their questions are. Provide visual examples of what you do. Got a praise band? Let me hear them. Show me what it’s like to sit in your pew. Show me the kinds of people who already go to your church. Help me decide whether I want to try you out.

This may seem pretty basic, but show me what people wear.

No, I do not care to visit your blog discussing the 39 Articles of Religion. (Sorry, Scott Gunn.) Nor do I want to listen for 20 minutes to an old sermon—though a 3 minute video of what you try to accomplish when you preach would be nice.

If the church is ritualistic/liturgical, show me it’s easy to learn so I don’t feel embarrassed if I make a mistake. A video of a layperson would help; “We always stand up to sing. We sit to hear the Bible readings and sermons. We kneel on these little cushions to pray—but you don’t have to. At communion time we walk up to the altar, ushers show us where to go, we fold our hands to get bread, [we drink from a common cup but they wipe it off,] then we go back to our place. It’s easy, but it helps to know what to expect.”

If you don’t care whether I’m rich or poor, say so. Spell it out. Make it clear—and mean it.

On the other hand, if you’re rich and powerful, don’t apologize; it’s a selling point. Maybe I like being around educated people who know what they’re doing. (This was the Episcopal Church’s strength for centuries, until about 1970 when we started feeling guilty about it.)

If you’re progressive and you believe in social action, show me. If you’re (also) conservative, show me that. If you bless cats and dogs on St. Francis’ Day, I’ve got a dog, can he come too? If you have special services to bless firefighters, cops and EMTs, I want to come.

If I have to believe exactly what the preacher does, tell me. If I’m allowed to think for myself and that’s okay with you, please, God, let me know.

I wasn’t born an Episcopalian; is that okay? Show me a video of an ex-Catholic or Baptist or Pentecostal.

It’s all about who’s in and who’s out. I might want to be in, but don’t push me out. Is it okay if I never learn where the “narthex” is?

Finally, this is important and problematical in most Episcopal churches: Do I have to juggle books to keep up? The more I have to turn to page 502, the harder it gets.

Either announce loud and clear where to go next, or print it out in a booklet. I know it takes time and costs money, and small churches may think they can’t afford it. BUT the more I have to locate the right book and turn to the right page, the easier it is to forget why I’m even there. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes more important than saying Hi to God.

Dailyoffice.org got those 1.3 million hits by abolishing book-juggling. We are Your Online Chapel of Ease™. We juggle the Bible and Prayer Book so the congregation doesn’t have to. Simple as that.

We are the biggest online “cathedral” in the Worldwide Anglican Communion.

And we are constantly looking to make the experience better—more timely, more pastorally sensitive, more useful. We have a rich spiritual and artistic culture to draw from and we put it out there.

The vicar isn’t handsome. Isn’t famous. Isn’t even ordained. Doesn’t preach. Doesn’t tell you what to think. Doesn’t care whether you know his name. He just offers what he’s got, come one come all.

Final thought: if you create your church to be a true Christian community, accessible to all or at least to many, people will come from miles around—because true Christian community is rare and very desirable.

If our churches are shrinking it’s our own damn fault. Far more often than we realize (though we’re sensitive on this point), the message we send is in-crowd vs. out-crowd—and this is the opposite of community.

Decide today that you will never hold another meeting in the undercroft; hold it in the basement instead.++

Love,

Josh

Episcopalians might as well be speaking Latin for all the good our jargon does.

A Letter to God: Where from Here?

Started here…

(This is a letter, not a literary device, and you may not find it interesting, but it does concern something real I need to talk to God about. We know that writing and reading sometimes bring catharsis; can they also bring discernment and dialogue?)

O Holy One,

I need your help. It’s about my website, prayer blog, ministry or whatever it is you see me work on every day, The Daily Office.

Today I added a new permanent page on the main site, an Introduction to the Prayer Book sent to me by a priest in Massachusetts. He’s getting ready to teach this on Sunday to his Inquirers’ Class, and he e-mailed it because he commends the Office sites and a few other spiritual helps, including Forward Day by Day. I hear fairly often from Episcopal newbies who find the Prayer Book confusing, and who might be helped by his short paper, so I asked and he gave me permission to reprint it. But that’s just one of the pages I want to add; the others concern the letters I get and the artwork I show. And then there’s my Grand Plan.

Every day for almost seven years now, I’ve found two images that illustrate the faith in some way, or the state of the world; photography, paintings, sculpture, photojournalism, icons. Tomorrow’s saint is Richard Allen, founder and first Bishop of the AME Church; I paired him with Sojourner Truth, whose “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech connects not only with Allen’s story but with my Lenten theme this year on violence and abuse toward women and girls.

To put up those pictures I had to take down the most gorgeous image of St. Joseph and your Son – which I didn’t want to remove. It belongs in an art gallery or museum, where visitors can sit and gaze on it as long as they want. I could make a virtual gallery, Lord; I’ve got 1500 images in my computer and I find more every day. I’d have to organize them by theme – Saints, Architecture and Jesus’s Ministry come to mind – but a web visitor who had the time could drop by anytime to look through these windows into heaven.

I could do the same with videos and podcasts, Lord; with the hymns and anthems I’ve bought. Suppose someone is awake late at night, too troubled to sleep; they could come and put their minds at ease.

I’m not wanting to do the Episcopal Church YouTube or the Cyber Hymnal; I just think there should be an archive, not a discard pile. Remember those suppressed civil rights photos from the Birmingham News, that they finally published 30 years later and I reprinted? Those are valuable, to history and souls; they also made my website grow when I posted them years ago for Lent.

Then there are my podcasts of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations in A Lesson of Love; the Order of Julian wanted to collect them as a treasury, since they’re Father JJ’s translation. But now the Order he founded is going through turmoil, monks and nuns coming and going, and they’re not able to accomplish much in the outside world. Maybe the sister who was going to spearhead this project has flown the coop; at any rate they’re having hard times. Do bless them, Lord, they need you. It’s a monastery with both men and women, which exactly fits the imagery and experiences you gave to Mother Julian 800 years ago.

About the letters: in the past 24 hours I’ve heard from a woman who’s just started dialysis and prays the Office while she’s making her exchanges; she stumbled across the site and now feels like she’s part of a much bigger community. Hallelujah! This morning a man wrote about how having the complete service in one place, and printing it out from our blog, has increased attendance at daily Morning Prayer at his church. Most of their parishioners are elderly, some are disabled, and juggling books doesn’t cut it for them anymore; but when they can see it all on the printed page, they can pray like they want to.

I don’t want a Letters Page so everyone can see the praise and thanks I get, but so that we can read each other’s faith stories. It increases intimacy and community, which are hallmarks of your Church – yet more difficult online without good tools.

And I come back to my Grand Plan, which I dreamed up with John in an amazing phone call a few months ago: social networking, a kind of FaithBook for the Episcopal Church and your friends. So much could be done there, Lord, while keeping worship front and center. It’s the obvious next step, the technology exists today, something better than Facebook, a specialized form of it without all the ads and assumptions (like we only want to talk in 144 characters).

John had said he can’t talk about his faith on Facebook, or anything real or important to him, because most of his friends use it as a kind of social club/pickup joint; the last thing they want to hear is how he really feels. I said, “That’s odd, I have spiritual conversations all the time on Facebook.” It depends on who our friends are, Lord.

But now John’s out of touch, has been for months, traveling the world or something with his broken heart; he’s great at the technology, Lord, he could give me what I want, and is even willing to do the work for free – but where is he? I hope he’s all right; please watch over him. He’s a genius; he started coming to the site when I was featuring Anglican chant, which comforted him. But I’m no music expert, Lord, I’m not trained in it, and lately on the site it’s hit or miss.

So here’s what I think I need to do, or want to do or could do, depending on your vocation for me: apply for a grant from the Lilly Endowment or Trinity Church, Wall Street, and hire a technical expert to turn my little site and blog and Facebook group into a comprehensive Episcopal Church megasite, with one-stop shopping for prayers, blogging, art, music, friendship networks, news, ministries, causes, photos of babies and kids at camp and altar guilds, old men in pointy hats, and that crazy lady in Dubuque who thought for sure she saw an image of the Virgin Mary on a piece of rye toast.

(Of course, if it worked for us it would work for every parish, diocese and denomination in the world.)

That’s what John and I came up with, Lord. I’ve got the liturgical training, he’s a techno wizard, and together we could have done it. But now he’s gone and it’s up to me, if you want it done. Or even just tried.

‘Cause I’ve kinda got a megasite already – 1.3 million visitors – but you know my current webhost is completely inadequate and will never offer what I need; they’re not in business for it. I have to move the site for it to grow, so I can merge it with the blog and work more efficiently.

I’ve got 850 members in my Daily Office group on Facebook, but that site’s bias is toward a mass medium, not a niche like I’m describing. If young adults want to turn it into a giant singles bar, what does Mark Zuckerberg care? The company’s business plan and technical choices sideline small groups like mine, no matter how faithfully I post. If a member hasn’t clicked Like on my posts in the last seven days, I stop appearing in their main News Feed; Facebook goes wherever the action is. Okay, fine.

You know, Lord, I’ve been concerned about my succession plan for years now. I wrote to the Bishop, asking if the diocese wanted to administer those millions of visitors once I’m dead; as currently constituted, it’s mostly a matter of finding seven Daughters of the King to take a day a week. Little work, little income but no financial drain. She was noncommittal. I approached the Forward Movement in Cincinnati, a successful organization since 1932, with a budget over $1 million and a dozen paid staff; the director called my site statistics “astounding,” especially compared to theirs, but otherwise told me not to hold my breath while they go through a strategic planning process. They do printed tracts, known in every parish in the U.S., but their web presence is much smaller; in other words, they’re the old technology with the budget to match.

There were John and Robert and Jim, techno guys willing and able to some extent, but involved in other things. I don’t blame them one bit; this is my baby and I have to figure out how to help her grow up while I still can. Now that I’m not drinking I might last a little longer on this earth.

Lilly and Trinity Wall, the possible funding sources, have stated goals for their grants, and my project doesn’t particularly fit – assuming I could satisfy their grant proposal requirements. They don’t generally fund a one-man shop, and who can blame them? True, if they somehow made an exception, mine might be one worth looking at, but what happens after I’m gone? That’s why they need an organization, evidence of stability, not just a good beginning. I don’t have an organization; what I’ve got is a community. It’s amorphous, literally ether-eal; it’s the internet, for crying out loud. They’re used to buildings, job descriptions, minutes from the Annual Meeting, and pictures of poor children going to school, villagers and their new clean well; not me and my wireless keyboard with a Prayer Book in arm’s reach – in my bedroom, no less.

What should I do, God?

You know, but I’ll write this down anyway, that my biggest stumbling block is that I don’t want to ask for money or profit from this. I’ve posted your services 10,000 times now and never once was it for money. I run the sites to thank you for my house, a roof overhead, a place where I’ve put roots down next to my flowers and tomatoes. And you know too that I’ve benefited from this more than all those 1.3 million visitors combined. You know what I’m like, good and bad, and I know what you’re like, all good. I completely identify with the man Jesus talked about who found a pearl of great price. He sold everything he had, to get that pearl.

It’s all I have now, and you know that too. No job, few friends, no family; no prospects of ever getting them back. No income – and you hear my prayers about that, ’cause it scares me. I’m doing nothing here but operating on faith, like you told us to. And it’s working out so far. I don’t begrudge you any of this; I’m happy for my life. I’m confident that relying on you is sufficient, and you’ve never let me down.

Meanwhile it’s quite clear that I’m boxing myself in; the whole point of this is “Yes, but.” Yes, I want the money but I’m not willing to ask for it; yes, I want the site to grow but that takes money. So help me get out of the trap I’m in; show me the Way.

(I’m thinking of Marcia and spiritual direction now; of Stephen and all my mentors, of Julie with the dialysis, and Clint the “kid” of 60 taking printed Morning Prayer to the old folks at St. Peter’s, of all my letter-writers and commenters, my small donors and other helpers. Next month is the “feast of Matt S.,” whom I barely remember, just enough to know he gave me a helpful idea last year that I was so grateful for I wrote down his name. I’m not alone here and of course I do have friends.

(I’m also thinking of the people I met last weekend at St. John’s, Crawfordsville, who asked me to speak about all this for the first time. They were lively, enthusiastic, and I guess I did okay; I remember telling them, concerning their own website, “There’s no reason this is taking place at my house instead of yours; those 1.3 million visitors I’ve had could have been coming to you. You have to provide people a reason to come. Find a need and go meet it.”)

I’m willing to do whatever work it takes to build this little cathedral of the mind. If that means asking for money I’ll ask; if that means learning a new program I’ll learn it. I’m willing to starve in the streets if it would glorify you, but I really doubt it would.

Meanwhile this much I’m clear on. I do not want to be Rabbi Wolpe, a “public figure” with a following on Facebook (he now advertises himself as “the #1 pulpit rabbi in America,” but who compiled the rankings and what’s a “pulpit rabbi”?), or a televangelist or megapreacher. This isn’t about me. I’m not essential to this operation, which isn’t much more than the Bible, the Prayer Book and keyboarding. The Church, or better yet the Holy Spirit, has given me and given us objective tools, a roadmap of the Way. Anyone who can read a map or a psalm can get to where they need to go. I understand that building up the worship leader as the focal point is the way to grow a TV ministry or a megachurch; those things don’t interest me. (And now that Robert Schuller is 80, his Crystal Cathedral is in receivership while his kids fight it out for his throne. “The Lion in Winter” was interesting, but the Schullers are just banal.) To Episcopalians nothing depends on who the worship leader is, and I’m happy with that. I’m secure in my relationship with you and nothing else matters. Let me be forgotten when I’m dead – but do let the services go on.

As long as I’m here I’ll continue to think up new ways to draw people together and draw them to you. I’ve told you my ideas; please show me better ones. Give me your directions and I’ll do my best. Today I’m close to my limit of knowing what to do; I’ve started a new page and I’ve got those galleries in mind. What next? Say the word.

Thank you for what my life has been these Daily Office years. Even when I’m howling in frustration I’m having fun. You are… what words? Unbelievable, unimaginable, ineffable, pure goodness. I like hanging out with you.

And since I know you never stop working, never stop loving, never quit drawing us to you, here’s what I’m saying: I need more task, because otherwise I’ll just continue this indefinitely. I need more supervision, a little more face-time.

Here I am; send me.

Love,

Josh

Ending here. Maybe.

A Gardener’s Hope Springs Eternal

I bought onion sets today at Murphy's.

It’s Monday, after a big weekend of good highs and one horrible low that threatened to leave me depressed all day. But now things are looking up, because I’ve been gardening on the first day of spring. It was 75Âş in Indianapolis this afternoon, tomorrow will also be warm, and I’m just back from the village market with onion sets ready for planting. Onions like cool weather, which will return by the end of the week.

My outdoor activity today consisted mostly of cleaning out the remaining beds I didn’t get to last fall. The vegetable garden is ready, the strawberry plants are putting out green shoots and the perennial herb garden is already producing chives, oregano and the first tarragon. I know there’s a baked potato in my future, and tonight when I make enchiladas the sauce will be enhanced by some baby oregano leaves. Plus my crocus are starting to pop.

Up front, with its northern exposure, the hostas are stirring; no sign of them yet under the big old maple tree in the back yard, but that may be because there are no leaves to shade them from the sun. I’m also hoping my lily of the valley bulbs start to wake up; May will be here in 40 days, my birthday month, and that’s the time for lilies of the valley. The azaleas have new leaves, the tulips are rising, and I even hauled a trunkload to the recycling center. Things are starting to look good at my house.

Two good things happened last weekend; I made a presentation to the adult education class at St. John’s, Crawfordsville about dailyoffice.org, and Luke spent a successful night at the doggie hotel, the first time we were apart since I got him. I accepted the speaking invitation before I realized I’d have to make provisions for him, and that proved surprisingly difficult; my hosts Helen and Marc have cats, so they really didn’t want me to bring him, my vet was full, the county extension agent (any pet sitters in the 4-H club?) didn’t return my call, and kennels in Lafayette wanted me to come in and fill out paperwork two weeks in advance when I was already past their deadline. (I don’t fill out paperwork for the privilege of giving somebody money.) But Helen found a pet boarding place in the country outside Crawfordsville, it was a lot cheaper than anyone else, and the couple who runs it were as nice as could be. Pa took a shining to my dog. Sunday morning he put Luke inside his jacket, went indoors to eat his own breakfast, and fed the boy a few morsels of toast. “They don’t come any better than him,” he told me when I picked Luke up. I was thrilled – because he’s right. He also wished all his dogs were as quiet as Luke, who doesn’t bark indoors.

The people at church were warm and friendly, a responsive audience, and I’d put together a little outline of what I wanted to say about the Daily Office online (Morning and Evening Prayer on a couple of websites I run). Saying the Office regularly is the best way I know to get closer to God, who gets closer to us every time we turn to him/her. The more often we do it, the closer we get; and after 1.3 million site visitors, I’ve learned some things about online community. I’ve come to “know” a lot of people I never would have met without the internet; when I ask them to pray for someone they do it, and they write e-mails and leave comments that fill me with joy. Now here I was with a real congregation (maybe 30 people) who wanted to know about the Church of the future and how the online experience fits with that. It’s no substitute for the sacraments and belonging to an ongoing community, but God wants us to communicate with each other. We looked at parish and diocesan websites on a big screen and watched part of a video of Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir singing his composition “Lux Aurumque.” It’s quite moving and we all wondered, “How’d they do that?”

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/D7o7BrlbaDs?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0

I’ve spoken in public a lot, and I was well-prepared for this gig, but I also felt myself rambling a little as I spoke; it’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to give this presentation, and I could probably have gone twice as long if anyone would listen. Praying the Daily Office has changed my life; I’ve learned an awful lot about the Episcopal Church these past six years, that we’re much stronger and more faithful than anyone thinks, but we do have to make some changes if we’re going to attract more people. Using the internet well is one way to do that.

At any rate Helen said the crowd at St. John’s liked it, so I guess I didn’t do too bad. It was lovely to go to church afterwards, since I don’t get to make my communion all that often, stuck here in the hinterlands.

Crawfordsville is also personally significant – it’s the setting for my next book – and I learn more about the place every time I visit. I have some rewriting to do now on my novel in progress; I’m writing this first, then I’ll break for enchiladas and spend the rest of the evening composing new sentences.

Meanwhile for the first time Luke is sitting quietly on my lap as I type; we’ve never done this before. Usually when he sits in my lap (a little rat terrier, ten pounds) he’s all hyper. Maybe he knows that farmer loved him like I do.

As for the thing that bummed me out, Purdue men’s basketball team lost in the NCAA tournament to a team they should have whipped like heavy cream, the worst performance I’ve seen in decades; it was bad coaching in my view, and it’s too bad because they’re great kids who’ve had a fantastic season. College basketball is my other religion, and it’s hard to watch your team Go to Hell, Go Directly to Hell, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

But it was just a game, and when you’re down, do something constructive instead. Take out the recycling, love your dog, clean out the flowerbeds and the herb garden, ’cause there’s baby oreganos already, yours for the taking. It’s spring, and good eating’s on the way.++

Even with directions on their butts, Purdue lost.

Forgiving the Murderers, Part 2

Leon Bonnat: Jacob Wrestling the Angel, 1876 (Dahesh Museum of Art)

Three weeks ago I had a knockdown dragout fight with God, which naturally God won. Undefeated, that God; see previous post. Undisputed World Champion with the belts and trophies to prove it.

Whew. I feel so much better!

On December 21, 2010, I watched a documentary film on Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she founded a small museum called CANDLES, Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors – a memorial to twins who were subjected to medical torture by Dr. Josef Mengele. Eva and her twin sister Miriam were two of the kids Mengele infected with deadly bacteria.

No one who wasn’t there in Auschwitz can really know what this experience was like; our brains can barely comprehend the evil – and how much worse it was for children of little understanding, ripped from their parents’ arms. It’s the kind of ongoing trauma that scars a kid for life, like being the victim of pedophilia, child abuse, domestic violence.

Forty, fifty, sixty years later, the child keeps wondering, “Why?” “Why did no one stop him? Why does no one want to hear about it today?”

“Why did I survive? What do I do now?”

Mrs. Kor, who’s now quite elderly, has made the most remarkable response imaginable, in the face of unmitigated evil.

She remembers the abuse; in her museum she tells the story she and her sister and hundreds of other children underwent; she speaks to school groups in high schools and universities; she’s written a couple of books; and finally she came to the realization that to truly survive and thrive, she had to forgive her abuser.

The film “Forgiving Dr. Mengele” is the result.

A film by Bob Hercules and Cheri Pugh.

My mother, brothers and I were/are survivors of domestic violence. My father wasn’t the same as Dr. Mengele, although we have a few things in common with those twins. We didn’t know there was worse evil in the world, though of course there was. Somehow we got through it. And though my life was horribly twisted for many decades by the experience, I did eventually grow wise enough to forgive my parents.

I thought that would be the end of my need to grieve, and to claim my right to exist. But it wasn’t; I had more forgiving to do, which I only found out once I saw Mrs. Kor’s movie.

I had to forgive the homophobes too – the kids who terrorized me in high school, the criminals who tortured Matthew Shepard, the despicable president Reagan who refused to utter the word AIDS until his friend Rock Hudson came down with it years later; the Falwells and Robertsons and other professional hatemongers who drive GLBT kids to suicide.

I had to forgive them all, so in my boxing with God, I was the one who was knocked down and dragged out.

I waited for several days before I wrote about this in my last post. I was exhausted from the fight. I wasn’t sure my brain could properly understand what I went through in those days just before Christmas; I didn’t know if I could communicate clearly to you.

I also had to wait a couple of weeks to tell my spiritual director Marcia about it. When you need to see your therapist it can be hard to wait for your next appointment. But I did wait and she responded wonderfully. I also lent her my copy of the video, which she showed to her friends, and soon we’re all headed to Terre Haute to visit Mrs. Kor. If the timing works out we’ll take my pal Leonardo with us, and if not, I’ll drive him there myself.

In the meantime, have I been healed? It’s early yet, but the preliminary results are quite striking. I have almost no desire to destroy myself with alcohol.

That is a huge advance, because I’ve been fighting booze for decades. Whether I was drunk or sober or cycling between the two, I have always had a constant impulse toward the slow suicide. Alcoholism killed one of my brothers; our mother died of lung cancer from smoking. I never had much desire to jump off a bridge, but the longer I lived the more entrenched the motive became to show “the world” how damaged I was by my childhood traumas.

Of course, the world pays no attention to such scripty messages and will cheerfully let you jump off a bridge or land on Skid Row if you must, but I was caught up with something to prove. Because of this, a simplistic approach like AA never did me any good, though God bless ’em for all the people they do help.

Instead I had to deal with my version of Dr. Mengele – and ultimately walk away from him, stop fighting and accept that This Is What Homo-Haters Do.

“Father, forgive them for they know not.” I’m quoting Jesus here, people.

Besides being joyfully sober, I am eating up a storm these days; I’ve always been one of those people who doesn’t eat when he drinks, which is a guaranteed way to make yourself pathetically, disgustingly sick. I’d go days without a morsel, then I’d pay and pay and pay.

As I write I’m eating a ham and cheese sandwich. I’ve gained ten glorious pounds just since Christmas and am up to 125!

My sleeping schedule is still screwed up; a drunk doesn’t sleep, he passes out. But I’m paying attention to my body now, sleeping when I feel a need no matter what the hour, not regulating myself with drugs. Eventually I’ll get back to a normal schedule as my body rights itself.

I still have an enormous backlog of postponed work to do; my bedroom office is a huge mess of papers I avoided deciding what to do with. The garage has more recycling in storage than Oscar Winski & Co. I have stacks of books I haven’t started, much less finished.

BUT the dog is doing good; my sidewalks and porches are clear of snow; the dining room positively sparkles, and my Daily Office websites have been up to date no matter what; 1.1 million served!

Best of all for my mental health, I’m back to working on my next novel, a ten-year project almost. I have three new chapters since the first of the year. It’s really hard to create something at the same time you’re destroying yourself.

So I have a bit of a personal miracle to live through in this my 60th year. I have been or am being healed, not from my own act or decision but from being visited by a junior-grade angel from Terre Haute.

Eva Kor doesn’t like it when people praise her; she isn’t a hero, she’s just a survivor of evil, a person who learned, over decades, what healing would actually be like and what it takes to get there.

She says it doesn’t have anything to do with religion. So while mine does (I was writhing on the floor in front of a crucifix), hers doesn’t. Fine with me.

She is still a bit of an angel to me because she has the courage to live her life in public, for others, as well as privately for herself and with her family. She has always understood that she and Miriam weren’t the only ones the monster tried to murder. Therefore her remembrances and her working it out have had to be public too.

When Hercules and Pugh wanted to make a movie, she went along with it, in case it would help someone else.

This hasn’t prevented public criticism or repeated anti-Semitic attacks, but she is stronger than her seeming enemies. The funniest scene in the movie recounts her attempts to get a job as a real estate agent. She went to Realtor school, studied hard, graduated easily, then no one in Terre Haute would hire her; they’d hire less qualified people, but not her. And they’d lie about it; they’d give excuses. She has an Eastern European accent, but really it was more that she was damaged goods, a Holocaust survivor and public about it, which broke the rules about how to be Invisibly Jewish in smalltown Indiana. So all the real estate companies threw up roadblocks—which she took one look at and finally knocked down. “I survived Auschwitz,” she tells her interviewer. “They think I can’t sell real estate?”

You could say she has an iron will, but I think her quest has always been more personal than that; how she can survive, and especially how to honor her twin sister Miriam, who died several years ago of the lingering effects of Mengele’s Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments.

How does a victim of pedophilia, child abuse, rape or domestic violence—or organized racism-for-profit—hang onto life, cope, grow and eventually come to terms with it all, so she can become her own true self?

Mrs. Kor’s answer is that she found a way for herself through forgiveness. She doesn’t say everyone has to (and there are plenty of people who utterly refuse), but she does tell the understanding she came to.

I am the one who hears echoes of Jesus in her gospel: “Love thine enemies. Do good to those who persecute you.”

If you still have an old giant hurt in your soul that you cannot escape, ask yourself a simple question: Who else do I have to forgive?

I thought I’d let go of my big trauma, but it turned out I was wrong, I still had big work to do. Three weeks later, without conscious effort on my part, I happily report that I am becoming free.++

On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts shot and killed all ten girls in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. The chief mourners at his funeral were his Amish neighbors.