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Excelling without Recognition

What was it like for Vincent Can Gogh?

Blooming Plum Tree, 1887

Blooming Plum Tree, 1887

The public hated his paintings. Critics abused him, gallery owners threw him out in the street.

At age 37 he killed himself. Today his paintings go for $100 million.

He’s only the most famous example of a common phenomenon, the unrecognized genius – and now, his story has become too easy for us. We pigeonhole him as a tragic figure and tell ourselves he just lived before his time, as if that’s all we need to know.

What we never say is, “If I’d seen his work back then, I’d have hated it too. He was crazy, the poor sot. No one cared when he died. I didn’t either.”

We’re as guilty of rejecting excellence now as people were back then.

Have you noticed that, when the MacArthur Foundation’s genius grants come out, you’ve never heard of any of them? Or do you have Benjamin Warf, Nancy Rabalais and David Finkel on your Friends’ list?

I don’t either. Nor Terry Plank, Junot Diaz or Claire Chase. Wouldn’t know them if they showed up on TV, which they don’t.

It’s a mystery how the MacArthur Foundation finds out about these folks. But I figure they employ specialists to scour the world looking for geniuses.

They’ve sure never knocked on my door, nor of anyone else I know. My friends do tend to excel, though; maybe not geniuses, but they’re all pretty darn good.

Clearly there’s a big gap between doing great work and being well-known. That’s surely true in every field of endeavor.

This guy is suddenly well-known:

Omar Borkan Al Gala has manufactured publicity by claiming he's too sexy for Saudi Arabia. However, he was supposedly one of four men kicked out of the country, and no one's seen the other three.

Omar Borkan Al Gala has manufactured publicity by claiming he’s too sexy for Saudi Arabia. However, he’s supposedly one of three men kicked out of the country, and no one’s seen the other two.

This guy isn’t much known, but should be:

John C. Bogle, father of index investing and founder of The Vanguard Group of mutual funds, has made more "nobodies" rich than anyone in the history of the world. That's an awful lot of grandparents. (Scott S. Hamrick)

John C. Bogle, father of index investing and founder of The Vanguard Group of mutual funds, has made more “nobodies” rich than anyone in the history of the world. That’s an awful lot of grandparents. (Scott S. Hamrick)

I’m sure you can come up with your own examples – a favorite actor or singer who never quite made it, an unknown writer whose sentences take your breath away, a social critic who’s so accurate that no one can hear her, the rabbi who liberated Buchenwald but got shunned in Jerusalem.

Some people are good at the publicity machine and some people aren’t. If Theo Van Gogh had had the internet, Vincent would have died rich at 92.

Mr. Bogle’s a good example; he’s a titan of the mutual fund industry, but Wall Street billionaires won’t even make eye contact with him. He’s onto their game. Fame doesn’t interest him, but investor education does.

For a rich guy, he doesn’t orient his life around greed, but around ethics. Which makes him a worthy subject for the Gay Spirit Diary.

He was interviewed recently for Frontline, the PBS documentary series. Turns out he doesn’t think money is God.

Here’s what prompts my musings: A little while ago I posted tomorrow’s Morning Prayer on my Daily Office site for the Eastern Hemisphere. It’s a fairly ordinary post, the kind of thing I do every day – but it’s great, if I do say so.

Sometimes a person excels quietly, just doing what they do every day, whether people notice or not. There’s a lot to be said for consistency.

This post, if you haven’t seen it yet, celebrates the Saint of the Day, a poet named Christina Rossetti; notices the death of former Congressman Bob Edgar, a Methodist minister and social action leader; features a Song of Creation written by my friend Maria L. Evans, praising God for the landscape and critters of northeast Missouri; asks for prayers for the Diocese of Nevada by showing a photo of a country church on the edge of Lake Tahoe; and ends with a hymn by Charles Wesley, sung at the Anglican cathedral of Portsmouth, which isn’t one of the prestigious cities in England.

All in all, the post is kind of ordinary and kind of brilliant. For those who get into that sort of thing, it will satisfy the soul.

I like doing that. I am happy with my life. And I’m good enough at it that my prayer sites have had 2 million visitors; I have almost a thousand members on Facebook.

These things make me a “success” on some level. They don’t make me a MacArthur genius, but I’m doing pretty good. I will die content.

Part of me knows that Vincent Van Gogh didn’t give a solitary crap whether anyone liked his stuff or not. And part of me knows that he really did.

I feel the same way, both sides of that duality. I care, and I don’t. After all, you’re reading this; thank you!

I don’t need anyone to read it but you.

On the other hand, the more the merrier, and I sure would like a few more donations from the people who are getting my fabulous prayers online. Money’s the only thing I worry about – and then I shrug, because you have to; it isn’t God.

This happened to me recently: I found out that someone read my new book, understood it and liked it. Five stars on Amazon – to go with my previous one-star review.

I’d quit looking, frankly; I don’t market my books, I just write them. I don’t know who this woman is, or how she found my book. I do know that she understood it, and that’s very gratifying. “Vincent sold a painting! Yay!”

Of course I don’t compare to him; I only compare to me, though every publisher will tell you that all writers compare to everyone else in their “genre.” Amazon keeps track of these comparisons, it’s all numerical. I’m probably # 2,000,000 today; oh well.

Encouraged, I decided to check if any of my other books have reviews I hadn’t seen. Murder at Willow Slough, my first book which sold the best of the three, has 27 reviews – but look at this list of the headlines on them:

• Thoroughly unreadable
• Beautiful Gay Man meets Straight Cop
• Josh Is THE MAN
• A thrilling read
• Interesting plot, poor writing
• Great Thriller!
• Interesting plot, but could have been better
• Contemporary classic for the Hoosier State
• Stunning
• Compelling!

Keep in mind, Mark Twain gets mixed reviews on Amazon, and Shakespeare’s often called “overrated.” No one gets universal acclaim, and if they start to, there will be a backlash. I spent enough time in the newspaper business to know that the media builds you up one day, only to tear you down the next. Reporters have space to fill; that’s their job. And the public is fickle and mostly apathetic.

So I’ve learned not to expect much, though it does seem odd that I’m so polarizing to people. I get lots of love and a fair amount of hate. For every “thoroughly unreadable,” there will be an “OMG, this writing is perfect.” This is why I go months without reading reviews.

The worst, of course, is no reviews at all. If you want reviews, you have to work the publicity machine. And that takes a value set I just don’t have. (Mindset –> value set).

I look more like John Bogle than Al Gala! Though 30 years ago I was kinda cute. Didn’t take advantage of it; didn’t believe in it.

Recognition is important; it keeps an artist like Vincent alive. But at some point a real artist has to say, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” Do what you do, keep at it, and maybe you’ll get recognized, and maybe you won’t.

Don’t kill yourself if you don’t.

IN CONCLUSION… I don’t really have a conclusion, except to take your comforts where you can. Be thankful for what you have, not regretful for what you don’t. However bad you’ve got it, somebody’s got it much worse; and similar clichés that are completely true. You have to be self-motivated; someday Al Gala will be admitted to Saudi Arabia without a second thought. What goes up must come down.

Make sure that what goes down, you bring back up.++

Luke loves me, whether you do or not!

Luke loves me, whether you do or not.

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.

Say It Ain’t So, Gordon

Hayward and the Bulldogs

I’ve waited three weeks since the end of the NCAA basketball tournament to write this. It’s good sometimes to wait before you say something that’s on your mind; maybe you’ll change that little mind of yours, or obtain new information that alters your opinion. Maybe you’ll find a less hurtful way of telling your boyfriend he’s a stupid, selfish bitch; or maybe not. 🙂

Butler basketball star Gordon Hayward wants to jump to the NBA.

So do JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore of Purdue. So do countless throngs of wannabes. I think they’re making a terrible mistake.

These three are all fine college basketball players. With Johnson and Moore, Purdue made it to the Sweet Sixteen last month, without their star running mate Robbie Hummell.

Hayward’s Bulldogs lost the National Championship game by two points to Duke.

What could be more predictable than that these very good college players would want to sign for big dollars with professional teams? If somebody’s offering you money, you take it. There’s big money involved.

But I think it would be a terrible mistake for all three of them. Why? They’re not good enough. They’re not mature enough. They’re not ready.

Hayward averaged 15.5 points per game as a sophomore. That’s a very respectable number for a college boy, but it’s not going to sell a lot of tickets in Miami.

A junior, Johnson averaged the same 15.5 ppg. Moore, also a junior, was slightly better at 16.4.

All three of them have deficiencies in their game, which they could work on if they stayed in school. None of them are so outstanding that businessmen are lining up to make them millionaires.

When you compare them to the best players they’ll be competing with in the draft, guys like John Wall of Louisville and Evan Turner of Ohio State, Johnson, Hayward and Moore look like also-rans; good players, yes, but not that special. Nothing to get excited about.

The league they want to play in, the National Basketball Association, is wealthy and, to some people, glamorous, but it operates on very different assumptions than the college game.

College boys play 30 games a year; NBA’s season goes 82 games. That’s a lot more wear and tear on the body, and on the fans who are far more cynical and demanding. The right to boo comes with every $100 ticket. How many points would Hayward likely average over an 82-game season?

He’s a boy becoming a man; he’s not a man yet. He’s 20 years old. Johnson and Moore are 21—old enough to make their own decisions, yes, but young enough that they cannot know what they’re getting themselves into if they get drafted and turn pro.

I’m not sure any of them will get drafted; if I owned a team I wouldn’t pay them millions. (All of them have reserved the right to remain in college; wise decision.)

Instead of letting themselves get seduced by the possibility of big money, they ought to ask themselves, Where is the best place to use my talents? Where will I grow as a player and a person?

In the NBA’s thug-and-drug culture, or on campus?

Every one of them is a good student; Hayward and Moore are Academic All-Americans, an incredible achievement. Johnson is very articulate; he makes Purdue fans like me proud when he speaks. These are smart kids!

I admit as a Purdue fan I have an interest in keeping Johnson and Moore around for one more run at a National Championship. I don’t have a “vested” interest because my money’s not on the line; I have a rooting interest. My mother, grandfather and I are Purdue alumni; and yes, I would love to have our school (not our team, our school!) finally win it all.

Butler came so close this year; and wow, what an inspiring story their team was. The TV ratings for the championship game were the highest since 1999; a David-and-Goliath story for the ages. (Goliath won, though.)

Butler University has built its basketball team for the last decade and a half using homegrown talent, much as Purdue has, but without Purdue’s fame and money. Butler’s built a winning tradition with no-names like Hayward and Matt Howard, Avery Jukes, Zack Hahn, Shelvin Mack.

For years now Butler’s Bulldogs have slowly built a national reputation for winning, despite a succession of coaching changes. It’s a small school, and as soon as they do well another school comes along and steals Butler’s coach by offering more money.

—Money, the exact thing Hayward’s chasing now.

Sometimes the former Butler coach succeeds brilliantly, like Thad Matta at Ohio State. Sometimes the former Butler coach falls flat on his face, like Todd Lickliter at Iowa. He got fired because he could not reproduce The Butler Way at a school ten times bigger with its own way of doing things.

You have to match who you are and what you can do with the right environment. Are you listening, Gordon? E’twaun, JaJuan?

One of the lessons here is that money distorts a person’s thinking. Todd Lickliter had every intention of exporting The Butler Way to Iowa City. But he should have stayed at home. That million-dollar contract isn’t going to help him come September.

A young coach named Brad Stevens took over for him at Butler and took the Bulldogs all the way to the National Championship game. That could have been Lickliter, but it wasn’t. He’s now out of a job.

I don’t want that to happen to JaJuan, Gordon and E’twaun. I want them to play for 20 years, make millions of dollars and retire in glory—when they’re ready.

They’re not yet, and no one’s telling them so. They need to stay in school and use their brains as well as their bodies.

Myself I don’t care for the NBA game, which starts and ends with phony hype. “E’TWAUN… MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!” Puh-lease, he’s averaging 6.2 a game.

Meanwhile he gets exposed to hustlers and gamblers, groupies and ripoffs, when he’s a 21-year-old kid from East Chicago.

I especially don’t want Gordon exposed to all that.

He’s a religious kid from Brownsburg, a Christian kid, an innocent who loves his twin sister, a tennis player at Butler. I don’t want Gordon thrown into the lion’s den by being tempted with money.

He’s going to make lots of money in his life; it shouldn’t be this way. He needs two more years to learn how to face the hustlers and ripoffs.

He ought to stay home with his sister. That’s where he belongs.

With luck he’ll come to that same conclusion. With luck it’ll be Butler against Purdue for the National Championship, and all of them with a Bachelor of Science degree.

Oh, but what if they get hurt like Robbie Hummell did? What if they never get the chance at big bucks?

What if the sky falls down?

Money’s a drug, Gordon. It’s no surprise the pushers are coming after you.

Don’t succumb. That is, don’t die. Please!

NBA or not this year, you’re going to spend the rest of your life talking to your sister, not the hustlers and groupies and addicts and ripoffs.

Invest your emotional capital in her; then you’ll be ready when the time comes to face the lions.

Don’t do it, JaJuan; don’t throw away everything you’ve worked so hard for at the world-class university whose degree will open doors for you the rest of your life. The NBA will still be there a year from now, and you’ll be a better player.

Don’t do it, E’Twaun; please be aware that your intelligence is not the match you think it is against hustlers and criminals and thieves. They’re better at their game than you are at yours.

Make a statement, guys; be a kid. Stay in school.

And I hereby absolve all of you from any requirement that you win a national championship for my sake, or Mom’s or Granddad’s. My hopes are not relevant to your lives. You’ve got to live for yourselves and for God.

Ask God what you should do and be guided by the answer. I could be wrong; but I bet it’s a lot more important to God that you stick around for your total development than that you take off early to chase the bucks.

Whatever you decide I’ll support you; thanks for all the thrills you gave me this past year.++

My Brush with Fame & Scandal

I call this blog a Gay Spirit Diary. My goal is to integrate sex, love and faith in God, ideally through Christian same-sex marriage. I’m (slowly) writing a book about it, and here I explore some ideas — which is all a bit of buildup to telling you about my chat this afternoon with a famous Gay porn star of the ’80s and ’90s, Jim Bentley.

If sex, love and faith can be integrated, Bentley is as good a place to start as any. I have no idea of his religion; he may not have any. But he’s a nice guy, intelligent and cute. He’s retired from the biz now after a prolific 20-year career, living in the 805 and at last report raising figs. How biblical.

Any number of Christian commentators (heterosexuals all) will tell you that pornography is the root of all evil, and sometimes they’re right; sometimes it’s exploitive, maybe most of the time. But I lived through the AIDS crisis, baby, and porn kept a lot of Gay men alive. So it can’t be all bad. Self-love is always better than promiscuous, destructive sex.

If Jesus were around now and living in Southern California, no doubt he’d have a few porn stars as buddies; he always went where the need was greatest and the people were most real.

Jim Bentley, whose real name is James Bending II, is not someone I ever fantasized about. Yet he impressed me the first time I saw him; he’s smart. He gives off a good vibe. He’s someone you’d want to know outside the studio or the dirty bookstore. He’s sexually uninhibited, and that’s sometimes a sign of an integrated personality. He had wonderful grandparents who raised him, and somehow that shows onscreen.

We talked on the phone today because he’s written a book, which got a very favorable review in the Bay Area Reporter, a San Francisco Gay newspaper. I wanted to order the book, because I want to know more about that personality I’ve seen on video; what makes him a whole human being, when most porn stars are as deep as a sheet of paper?

I suspect he’s that outstanding, although you never know what you’re going to get in any porn clip. Usually it’s the product of a director who has no idea what he’s doing; thus we expect very little of the actors, much less that they actually show some pride in themselves.

Jim Bentley always brought class to his shoots. That’s why I learned his name.

Fact is, “cute” is a dime a dozen in pornland, and so are big dicks; they’re commodities, like soybeans or sorghum. But here was this boy who consistently stood out; he likes sex but there’s more to him, and you can see that onscreen.

He has a website, which is here. To buy the book you call his number, and he answers. He immediately put me at ease. He told me what to do to obtain the book, which is available by PayPal. If you don’t do PayPal (and I don’t), just write him an e-mail. He signs all his books.

I like that, and as an author I do the same thing. Every paying customer deserves a personal thanks.

The odd thing is that I’ve never particularly responded to his body. Never fantasized, “Gee, I want to boink Jim Bentley.” No doubt it would be fun, but I’ve always been more interested in the rest of the story; his background, his history, how he lives now in his young middle age.

His natural hair color is brown, but the day he went blond, he became a star. He’s the ideal smooth boy, with a slim athletic build. I guess he has a big dick, too, but I never really paid that much attention. What I noticed was how much he loves sex, and how open he was with his personality.

You don’t see that in porn; what you see is the closed personality, the fake, the whore who does whatever the director says so he gets paid and rehired, no matter how stupid the director.

Jim Bentley was different; a clip I saw today showed him in a tuxedo, slapping ass with a hunky brunet (J.T. Sloan). Bentley was “elegant,” the director said; in porn terms what does that mean?

More than a tuxedo, I’d say. It meant he was fully there, in the moment, having sex — which is what my fictional characters Jamie and Kent, who love each other, aspire to.

I’ve always been more interested in Bentley the man than Bentley the porn star. Personality outweighs dick size, buds, it’s the biggest turnon of all.

Here’s what I think about Gay marriage and morality. I have to take a breath here before I push on, so that God will guide my fingers and my thoughts.

We have, in the Song of Songs, wonderful imagery of marriage as a glorious gift of God.

O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.

Song of Solomon 2:14

There is nothing wrong with appreciating Jim Bentley’s face — or any of the rest of him.

The big challenge is really simple, whether it is possible that two men or two women who love each other have a moral equivalence with a woman and man who love each other. Is it love that prevails, or heterosexuality?

God is love, after all, so what are we to make of Jim Bentley and his lover?

Well, you can figure out what I think; love prevails over heterosexuality, not in my terms but God’s. This is my belief.

Of course I could be wrong, but God is love, and Jamie falls for Kent, it can’t be helped. He falls head over heels for Kent.

Ought they not to be married?

My point about Jim Bentley is this, he’s someone you could fall in love with, and take home to mother, and stand up in church with, and care for as much 40 years from now as you do today.

That is the value of his open and loving personality.

His book, I’m sure, is full of sexual exploits and nude photos, but what I really want to see is the rest of him, the brain, the heart and soul. I want to know the boy who became a proud man.

I want to know how he did it, and how to replicate that for the rest of Gay men who are living unfulfilled lives.

I think we do pretty well as a people, oppressed and murdered in half the world; but spiritually, we’re still pretty hard up.

We need to know that God loves our love — even if that’s Jim Bentley, a foggy picture on a computer screen. God loves love.

I hope to get Mr. Bending’s book, to find out what makes him tick, and to show something of how a Gay boy who grew up in Fresno, the product of a broken home, still managed to come out unscathed after stardom.

Sex, love and God are all of one piece; that’s the Song of Songs, the Song of Joshua and the Song of Bentley.++

Teaching Children to Lie for TV

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Larimer County, Colorado Sheriff Jim Alderden, announcing charges in the “balloon boy” caper. (Will Powers/Associated Press)

Give the “balloon boy” credit. He managed to spill the beans despite being coached by his parents to lie about the “flying saucer” incident on live TV. Speaking of his parents, six-year-old Falcon Heene told Wolf Blitzer on CNN Thursday night, “You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.”

We did this for the show.

Dad was so desperate to have his own reality TV show he taught Falcon and his two older brothers to lie to the entire nation.

And Mom went along with it. Donna Reed, you’re dead, honey. As a doornail.

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I guess we should all be glad the kid’s alive and well. I feel sorry, though, for the sheriff and other emergency workers who tried to save a child who was never in danger. “We were very worried that the life of a small child, a 6-year-old child may indeed be in jeopardy,” said Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden.

It was all one big stunt for a TV show, complete with corrupting one’s own children.

The New York Times’ coverage includes these details:

Mr. Heene and his wife have been enmeshed for years in the culture of reality television and self-promotional Web postings. The family appeared twice on the ABC show “Wife Swap,” including as recently as last March. Mr. Heene wanted his own show about his family, and he worked with at least one production company on a proposal. On Friday the cable channel TLC said it had turned down the proposal months ago. He has posted YouTube videos claiming to show proof of life on Mars and asking whether Hillary Rodham Clinton was a “reptilian.”

Last month Mr. Heene signed up for an account on RealityWanted.com, a Web site that connects reality television casting agents and aspiring contestants, according to Mark Yawitz, a co-founder of the site. Mr. Heene had made his profile private, making it impossible to view whether he had submitted his information to agents.

I didn’t know there was a “culture of reality television.” I was unaware of websites that “connect reality television casting agents and aspiring contestants.” Heck, I didn’t even know there were casting agents that promote these people. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given what happened to Jamie Oliver recently.

Another Times article on a more serious subject, American obesity, followed Oliver, the young British TV chef, who’s gone to one of the fattest cities in the country, Huntington, West Virginia, to try to teach people that simple cooking for one’s family at home is more nutritious and healthful.

The local delicacies in Huntington include a 15-pound hamburger (10 pounds of meat, 5 pounds of bread) and a 1-pound hot dog called the Home Wrecker, at an eatery called Hillbilly Hot Dogs. Here’s what that burger looks like in the kitchen:

(Mark Peterson/The New York Times)

(Mark Peterson/The New York Times)

Oliver learned how to prepare these things, and also found out about infants nursing on Coca-Cola and toddlers with Kool-Aid in their sippy cups. The results of Huntington’s atrocious diet are, of course, epidemic rates of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Oliver’s apparently a fairly serious food reformer who doesn’t judge people’s current habits, but tries to educate them in a fun way to expand their current repertoire so they can live longer and better. Of course, he needs TV to reach a mass audience with his “good news.”

Along the way he meets people in Huntington who don’t hear that his topic is food, but “reality TV.” The Times reports:

Oliver arrived at City Hall and disappeared backstage. The auditorium was less than half full, and the front rows were filled with local reporters. Mothers brought young children with an eye toward the camera. One even armed her daughter with an oversize school menu as a visual aid. Another woman seemed to have mistaken scratch cooking for “American Idol” — she raced back and forth, trying to persuade someone, anyone, to ask Oliver to listen to her daughter sing.

As a right-wing columnist used to say when I was growing up, “I fear for the future of the Republic.”

What has gotten into people, that the only thing they care about anymore is being on TV?

Do they lead such meaningless lives that the only solution they can fathom is being rich and famous?

We all know now that you don’t have to be accomplished or talented to be on TV; you can be famous just for being famous. But then what? How can Paris Hilton have a second act in life when she never had a first one? Or substitute Perez Hilton for Paris, it’s the same dif.

I once had a co-worker, a schoolteacher by day and (lazy) social worker by night, who spent most of her spare time reading gossip magazines and websites. She could tell all the latest doings by all these people I’d never heard of. I asked her why celebrity gossip matters to her. Her answer: “It’s fun.” She claimed she didn’t buy all the trashy magazines or devote every waking minute to them, anticipating what normal people would think of this, but the evidence was otherwise. She too is “enmeshed in the culture of reality TV.”

I suppose it’s better than heroin, but no less a waste of time and life. What sort of an education do you suppose she teaches her pupils? She’s not a stupid person, but ugliness like beauty is only skin-deep.

She reminded me of old women I’ve heard about who were so hooked on the Home Shopping Network that when they died, their survivors were faced with mountains of unopened merchandise that “Mom thought she wanted.” How many dozen Veg-a-Matics do you need, lady? I can see buying one Salad Spinner, but not 14 of them.

They were hooked on TV.

My spiritual director says, “We’re all addicted to something,” and I’m sure that’s right. She helps me with my addictions, including reminders not to judge others or myself. The cure really is spiritual, which is why God invented AA. (I maintain it was because God was sick of having another hundred thousand drunks bawling at him every day and night. God came up with AA and told Bill W. about it, because the angels were threatening to go on strike.)

I’m lucky; I haven’t watched television since 1986, when Jack got sick. Coping with major illness in the family means you don’t have time for what you used to do. TV was the easiest thing for me to dump, and I’ve never regretted it. I thank my lucky stars for it, including the $600 I save every year in cable bills. I still own a TV, but I’m thinking of putting it out on the curb.

Now here is this self-proclaimed scientist and inventor, this storm-chaser, so hooked on the idea of being on TV that he teaches his kids to lie for him. I mean, why shouldn’t they be famous? Everyone else is, it’s all anyone aspires to anymore.

O Jesus, come and help us!

Suppose the Heenes’ stunt had worked and they’d gotten a show, become rich and famous instead of infamous? I suppose they’d have laughed all the way to the bank; and yet I don’t like thinking about the pressure that would have put on little Falcon.

What’s on him right now is plenty. What happens when he goes to school tomorrow? What will the other kids say? How will he answer them? Will anyone play with him anymore?

How his teacher handles this will be pretty important; he’s six years old. I’m glad he’s not in the classroom of my former co-worker; she’d probably take his picture and try to sell it to People magazine.

We need to ask ourselves what fame is supposed to cure. It doesn’t seem to make movie stars happy; they simultaneously want to be publicly loved and want to be left alone. (“Oh, those dastardly paparazzi! Be sure to get me from my good side!”)

Serial killers want to be famous; if they can’t be famous for something good, then be famous for something bad. Politicians and pundits want to be famous, and they seem not to care whether they speak the truth or lie through their teeth. (Death panels, Chuck Grassley? You voted for them yourself five years ago!) Would Ann Coulter, Greta Van Susteren and Michelle Malkin be famous if they were ugly? A plain face doesn’t stop male gasbags, but it’s death on females.

If we can’t as a society see through these circuses, we’ll never create a just civilization.

I guess I’m losing my optimism, a year after we elected our Last Best Hope. American culture, though it’s still vibrant and diverse, is now dominated by lying, thieving corporations determined to melt the planet – and they all advertise on TV. The oligarchs are hoping they can make their money, then make their getaway before the whole place blows up. Did you hear, Goldman Sachs is giving out billions in bonuses again, thanks to your tax money?

I’m so glad I don’t have TV. As for Huntington, maybe Jamie Oliver can save a few people. If not, Big Pharma is waiting in the wings. Their lobbyists will be happy to hear your child sing for the cameras, as long as you agree to let them tell you why you can’t live without this nice purple pill.++

A diner at Hillbilly Hot Dog. (Mark Peterson/The New York Times)

A diner at Hillbilly Hot Dog. (Mark Peterson/The New York Times)