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2200 Miles Later, My Magnum Opus Is Done; Now What?

Tom of Finland

After ten years of following my fictional characters Jamie and Kent around, taking down their every thought, word and deed – looking in on their sex lives, picking over corpses’ bones with them, being lobbied to omit Jamie’s occasional culinary failures – I am at last coming to the end of my latest and best novel.

The final rewrite of The Gospel According to Gay Guys is done. I’ve transferred the text from a blog to document format, and now have only two more steps to go before it’s published as an e-book: downloading a word processing program and formatting correctly, then uploading it to the publisher.

I feel like a hiker who’s traversed the entire length of the Appalachian Trail; it’s exhilarating to climb the final mountain and look over my tiny, magnificent triumph. But soon it’s time to descend again and go home, wondering what to do with the rest of my life.

I’m glad I hiked. My head is full of memories; not just magnificent views, but delightful or frightening wildlife, hunger, thirst, illness, danger, confusion. Why did I go on such a lengthy quest? Just to say afterward, “I did it”?

Was it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? I think once is enough.

How did it change me? And how do I know which changes came from hiking and which from living an extra decade?

I woke up this morning with one question on my mind: should I keep the explicit sex in a book that calls itself the Gospel? Sex no longer interests me the way it once did. I seldom look at porn anymore; this is a very recent change and it comes as quite a surprise. I’ve devoted my entire adult life to the liberation of oppressed Gay people, as if I were Elizabeth Cady Stanton – so “sex” has been at the center of my work. I’m immensely proud of what I’ve done; not just in politics, community organizing, religion or even writing. I think I’ve come up with rare or even original ideas about Gay men and sex.

But I’m starting to think that my waning interest is like a lot of other former hobbies I’ve had; is it gone for good?

It’s very odd, watching obsessions gradually disperse. I was 34 when I quit dancing in Gay bars, because Jack didn’t dance and I was in love with Jack. So one day I just stopped. Then over the years I quit watching TV, going to movies, wearing leather, even following Purdue basketball. This spring for the first time I didn’t watch the NCAA Tournament. And now even sex leaves me shrugging. I’m not bored or burned out, I’m just refining mind, body and soul perhaps.

Mind you, I’ve slept with “Kent Kessler” every night since 1994. I doubt I stop that, but I didn’t think I’d ever stop being turned on sexually, even though I’ve pretty much given up the act.

I can tell how I’ve changed by the clothes in my closet; all my leather gear is shoved in the back. I don’t like wearing the Wrangler jeans I bought five years ago on my trip out West; those jeans are too tight now. I bought them to be tight (and I haven’t gotten bigger), but now I don’t want tight anymore. I no longer buy anything from International Male.

Some of this is just being 60, but some of it may represent spiritual growth, too.

If so, should I keep the explicit sex?

If it’s true that I have some sexual insights in the book, they should stay – even if my potential fans are turned off. Mrs. Cady Stanton caused an uproar in 1906 when she published The Women’s Bible; it was so controversial the National American Women’s Suffrage Association repudiated her, though she was their founder! The thing is, now we know she was right. If her book was published today it wouldn’t be the huge bestseller it was a century ago. It would still be denounced by fundamentalists, but it wouldn’t have the same cultural impact today. Millions of Christians address God as female now; I do too, including on my prayer sites with their 2 million hits. Yesterday’s revolution is today’s wisdom.

So what insights do I think I have?

• Monogamy, for one; it isn’t the most important issue in sexual relating, but Gay guys shouldn’t reject it out of hand, no matter what pressure we get from peers, pornographers and queer theorists. Some guys have always believed in it, because monogamy can lead to greater intimacy. Do I think it should be enforced? No. Do I think it should be respected? Very much.

• Masculinity is at the heart of Gay male sexuality. I didn’t write a single bitchy queen in any of my thousand chapters, or even a queen with a heart of gold, simply because I don’t write queens at all. I’m not against them; I just don’t really understand them. (They’re born that way, so I don’t oppress them either.) I attempt to illustrate a “new masculinity,” though it’s very familiar to every Gay guy; it isn’t Straight masculinity, but it’s definitely active, decisive, courageous, tender sometimes, aggressive at others. Masculine is what most of us are.

It’s morally wrong to oppress Gay guys who aren’t masculine or don’t identify with the term, but even they want a lover who’s very butch. Quentin Crisp was right in saying we all want “a big dark man,” but he was completely wrong in saying that man doesn’t exist. Crisp was profoundly homophobic, which was only natural given his era, but that homophobia is why he became unpopular again at the end of his life, at the very time he was celebrated for his longevity and courage. If the only desirable man is a Straight one – and that’s exactly what he believed, and what many of us still believe – we’re doomed.

I say we’re not doomed, and that Gay men are more desirable partners for us in every way.

“Homosexuals” exist on a spectrum that probably corresponds to biological differences within our group. We’re all a bit different. But we do cluster – almost unanimously – in our turnons, so a Gay author’s job is to illustrate that and to celebrate it. My character Kent is an athlete, a cop and a hunter; he also cries when he’s overwhelmed with grief. My character Jamie is terrified of bugs and other critters who “invade” his house, but he’s clearly an outstanding leader.

If anything I’ve overdone my descriptions of them as butch guys to overcome the stereotypes. But I like lifting up positive images of our masculinity. Most Gay guys are not so much “Straight-acting” as male-acting. I think our books should say so.

• I have aimed to lift up the sexualizing of power, which is very desirable (it’s what that whole macho-turnon thing is about), but stop short of sadomasochism, which I’m increasingly convinced is an abuse of power – less physically abusive than emotionally so. We’re only two generations past Stonewall, and we still have a lot of internalized shame about sucking dick. SM, I’ve come to believe, acts out that secret shame and is destructive.

Get this, I’m a former member of the Windy City Bondage Club; I will always wish leathermen well. I’ve been impressed many times by their intelligence and sensitivity, and I believe organized BDSM clubs provide a real public service for the sexually adventurous by emphasizing safety, responsibility and accountability.

But the bottom line is that sadism isn’t worthy of respect, and neither is masochism. They both sound, look and smell like internalized homophobia; look at all the degradation in fetish porn. Considering SM’s popularity, you’d think the Stonewall generation didn’t accomplish much at all; we’re still punishing ourselves and each other for being cocksuckers.

That’s not healthy. That’s not being liberated in the least.

Of course there’s a difference between fantasy and reality; it is good to recognize and express sexual fantasies in safe ways. But as I’ve explored these questions with real leather tops and bottoms – intelligent, mature men who know what they’re doing and are careful to stay physically and emotionally safe – what I’ve found is that the sadistic impulse in tops is real; they like the idea of hurting someone, and I don’t respect that. The masochist feels deeply unworthy, deserving of punishment. He may act out only symbolically, but his feelings are real and so are those bruises; I find it tragic, because in truth he’s as worthy as anyone else to walk this earth, and often more so. Masochists are very good boys.

So the sexual turnon I give Kent and Jamie is dominance and submission. I make them be explicit about turning on to power. One gives sexual orders and the other is happy to take them. But I also wrote a scene in which too much is too much, so they are forced by their mutual love to rebalance. Sometimes the only way to learn is by making mistakes.

Power’s a very masculine thing (and of course women have it too). But it has to be controlled, and it should never be Gay-hating at its core, or we’re simply parodies of Straight guys (many of whom are smarter than their stereotypes). One of my favorite lines in the book is Kent’s to Jamie: “What you Gay guys have going here’s a cult of masculinity.”

That elevates Gay guys; abuse does not. Gay men have been abused for thousands of years all over the world, and still are abused in many, many places, so I don’t think we ought to be re-enacting it, much less calling it love.

In order to illustrate these things I think I know, I’ve laid them out explicitly in the book. Will this help or hurt sales? I don’t know. At least I’m expressing my truths, whether right or wrong, well-expressed or not.

• My overarching belief about Gay men’s liberation is that we can only achieve it psychologically by achieving it sexually; that sex is the way to get to wholeness. Maybe that sounds simple enough, but it’s difficult to do, considering it involves one or more flawed human beings.

As long as we are acting out the scripts of other people – pornographers, Gay politicians, scientists and doctors and therapists, leather theorists, bar owners, writers and the entire array of homophobes and ignoramuses, religious and otherwise – we are failing to be true to ourselves.

The journey is personal. The healing is sexual. This book is me on the Appalachian Trail.

I have tried to describe an ideal relationship, and the personal qualities a man must bring to it to be fulfilled and fully human. My characters are young, handsome and rich, but those qualities aren’t necessary; they’re also honest, and that quality is.

A lot of times I see my people being dishonest, sexually and in other ways. It doesn’t help, fellas. We can’t be lovers if we’re not honest friends.

But love is more than friendship; it is a state, a condition, an ongoing reality, a decision that I will put you first. And I can’t do it for a lifetime if you’re not also putting me first.

This is why monogamy really helps.

Love doesn’t require continuous self-sacrifice; a lot of times it’s mutually beneficial. I like you, you like me, let’s have a party!

The chief thing we have to learn, I think, is the difference between sex and making love. During sex a man is primarily concerned with his own orgasm. In making love he’s primarily concerned with his partner’s. It’s a fundamental difference. Tricking with a stranger may be good or bad, but lovemaking is clearly the best.

A lovemaker turns on by turning his partner on, until they both can’t help but come. (Yippee!)

Orgasm is the result of losing control, which is why a dominant/submissive relationship, which is about control in its structure, can be such a hot idea between two men. It fits our fantasies to a T: Gay guys like dick. We like having one and we like getting one. The percent of times we give and/or get will vary, but sexually it’s all about the dick.

Where Religion Comes In

As a Christian I have two additional beliefs; one, that sex is sacramental, that it reveals God to us. Two, that our lover isn’t and never will be God, but God is and always will be our lover.

I cannot stress enough that God loves us as Gay guys in our fucking; he delights in our lovemaking. That’s when we are closest to him, when he’s excited with us and feeling close. (Of course this means doing it right, and Dr. Pittenger said there is good, better and best.)

Learning to do it right, unlike my young fictional characters, takes every step and footfall on that 2200-mile trail through the mountains. By the time we get to “right,” we may be 60 freaking years old. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, all our fur’s rubbed off; we’ve lost an eye and our nose has been sewn back on a dozen times. We never will be new again, but that’s okay, it’s great.

If we’re lucky we live so long that we learn from love what God is like. He gave us sex to teach us how to love each other.

God is love; we all know and agree on that. Where preachers quote Bible verses, I’ve tried to draw a picture in words. I’ve tried to tell a story worth reading; I’ve tried to say what I have learned.

And if the telling of sex galore now means I’m pretty much done with the doing of it, I think I’m all right with that. I think it might mean, in my post-Trail world, that I’m starting to be ready for the life of the spirit.

There isn’t a contradiction between the life of the body and the spirit, far from it, but almost all of us choose the life of the body first. Fewer of us get to the life of the spirit afterward, or ever.

I don’t presume that I will never love a man again, but I may be more ready to love God than ever from having walked this trail for so long.

I hope I’ve written it well; I hope I give my readers food for thought, love and prayer. The sex is staying in the book, despite my second thoughts.

This is what I’m convinced of: God is an irresistible magnet, because of his perfection. He draws us to him in a way that’s inexorable, yet joyful and full of personality – ours! Mine. Yours, just the way you are.

This overwhelming attraction of divine love is what I see in Leonardo Ricardo’s art; he paints and builds within cultural frameworks, yet his work is madly exuberant. You can’t take your eyes off it. I see the same divine spark in pictures of his dogs, his garden and when he writes about his friends. This man loves what he’s doing! He just explodes with it like a volcano.

That’s what happens to every soul in love with God. Our final destination is a place of ecstasy, such that orgasm is a foretaste.

Heaven is where, when you finally arrive at the top of the mountain after all that time and work, all those steps over 2200 miles, a miracle happens; you don’t have to climb down and go home. Your new mountaintop becomes your home. You get to stay and enjoy all the scenery that teems with life.

I think it’s time to get The Gay Man’s Bible into print.++

Mt. Katahdin, Baxter State Park, Maine, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Anglican Covenant Defeated; Time for Something New

This is what killed the Anglican Covenant: Elton John and David Furnish got married in 2005 and the world didn't come to an end, even for English church ladies and closeted curates.

Several of my Episcopalian friends are celebrating today the defeat in England of a proposed Anglican Covenant, a power arrangement that would have punished Episkies and Canadian Anglicans for not beating up Gay, Lesbian, Trans and Bi people.

To me today’s vote is an anti-climax, so I wonder what all the shouting was about. The Anglican Covenant was dead on arrival, and I said so two days after it was introduced.

I take my friends seriously; they’re some of the leading progressives in the Church, people like Louie Crew, Leonardo Ricardo, Grandmère Mimi, Tobias Haller and others. Mimi has obsessed about this for months, hanging on every vote, diocese by diocese, reporting the numbers as if Romney and Santorum were slugging it out in the Ohio primary for future world domination.

Mimi’s happy now and I’m happy for her. Let the good times roll and all that.

Can we all get back to real life now?

FWiW, I told you so. (H/t JimB, whose handy little acronym I rather like.)

Did anyone think that English people would go for legalized ecclesiastical homophobia, seven years after Elton John married David Furnish in the royal village of Windsor?

How little respect these Americans have shown for basic English decency. For heaven’s sake, even the Tory government’s now proposing that Gay weddings be performed in churches, if the couple want.

To paraphrase Jesus, the bigots are always with you, but they’re not a majority anymore, they haven’t been for years, and it’s time we stopped acting as if they are. England isn’t America, where Rick Santorum can still hope to be president. English fundamentalists are loud, but not numerous; not in the Church of England and not in other churches either.

U.S. Episcopalians have been unduly worried – ridiculously alarmed, in fact – about this foolish Anglican Covenant. It would have created first class and second class status among member Churches, with pro-Gay North Americans stuck in the back of the bus. But the bus didn’t have a transmission, so it never could go anywhere.

I struggle to understand my friends’ paranoia, though now it’s moot. I hope it’s the last gasp of Episcopalian Anglophilia.

The Episcopal Church is not now and never has been the Church of England, even though our roots go back there. Really, all this was decided when Washington defeated Cornwallis in 1781.

We do not swear allegiance to the English crown. No English bishop has jurisdiction in the USA, including that bearded old man in Canterbury.

My friends know all this, but still they’ve run around like Chicken Little.

Let them celebrate today, the right outcome has been achieved. But honestly, people, why did you think English Anglicans would turn their backs on us? How ever much they tease us, they’re deeply affected by the “special relationship” – and they’ll never cut themselves off from Canada.

So okay, the CofE spent a million pounds and half a dozen years debating this corpse of a Covenant – Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, staked his entire episcopacy on it – and now it’s over. Done. Dead as a doornail. If the Church of England doesn’t want this Covenant, there isn’t going to be one.

Williams resigned a couple of weeks ago, knowing this thing was going down. The vote wasn’t a direct referendum on him, but it might as well have been, and so he lost. Bye bye, Rowan, enjoy that new job at Cambridge you’ve got lined up. Feel free to convert to Rome if that’s what you want. It doesn’t matter anymore.

Mind you, I’m glad that Episcopalians care about the Anglican Communion; we’ve made that loud and clear. I’m proud of my friends for taking that stand.

But as long as Rowan was head of the Communion, and doing his best to steer it towards homophobia instead of inclusion, the U.S. Church was better off without the Communion.

That’s what gets people so terrified. “Independence? How could we? Unthinkable!”

Pardon me, I thought of it. But as sometimes happens, I turn out to be more radical – and more conservative – than even my best comrades-in-arms.

They cannot conceive of continuing relationships outside the stifling confines of the Communion. I can. To me, relationships would continue better than ever between the U.S. Church and our friends in other continents.

I don’t think those relationships depend on a seal of approval from Lambeth Palace. But my friends evidently do.

They bitch and complain, some of them, about how much money we pour into the Communion, but they never decide to quit paying.

In 2008 the American Church spent over a million dollars to send bishops from all 110 dioceses to a two-week tea party called the Lambeth Conference – all but one, that is; the Bishop of New Hampshire wasn’t allowed to attend because he’s Gay. Rowan didn’t invite him.

But rather than tell Rowan to go fuck himself, all the other Americans packed up their finery and went a-teaing.

They said “the relationships are too important for us to stay home.”

I was ashamed. But there wasn’t any big outcry over their decision, so the die was cast.

Plenty of Americans complained about Gene Robinson’s exclusion, but nobody told the rest of the bishops to stay home.

Every year since, every U.S. diocese continues to appropriate laypeople’s money to pay for the next Lambeth Conference.

Some church bloggers pointed out, “This is an abusive, dysfunctional relationship,” but we keep going back like battered women.

I still say it’s better for domestic mission – that is, serving Americans, delivering the Gospel to Americans and attracting Americans to our churches – if we don’t haul around England’s baggage, much less the African baggage all this is related to.

African Anglicans are Gay-hating in the extreme. They’re the ones Rowan Williams kept giving blowjobs to.

He understood his job as keeping the Communion together at all costs. He assumed correctly that the North Americans would stay regardless, so he bent over and took African dick doggy-style.

You won’t read it anywhere else but here.

Today Rowan has lost his Church. All that butt-fucking did him no good. A majority of English diocesan synods voted him down. Mimi has now declared victory. (She’s even posted a Cajun Jig video – and claimed she doesn’t feel triumphant, which is either a lie or a joke. It’s a cool video, see it here.)

I don’t expect to sway anyone’s opinion with this post. Episcopalians are going to continue to suck off the English Church for the foreseeable future. I don’t mind, if that’s what they want to do. I don’t blame the English for hustling American dollars.

But I will assert again and again that our mission starts here, in our own country, with our own people, who need to know that there is one catholic and apostolic Church where Lesbigay and Trans people and our friends are more than welcome – half the time we’re running the place.

This fact gets lost in the din of American fundamentalism.

Episcopalians have a lifegiving message but we don’t broadcast it. We hide it under a bushel. We hope people will come to us – though in fact most Americans today have never heard of us.

We’re the most important church in U.S. history, but those days are gone. Now nobody’s ever heard of us, and if they have they get us confused with someone else.

We used to be rich and powerful. Now we’re not. All the rich and powerful people left us, because we decided that Black folk should be full members, and women can be priests, and Gay people can be good, and Lesbians are smart, and Transgenders are at the very least interesting, and sometimes gifted, and always oppressed, which Jesus doesn’t want us to do to people! So hello, have a seat, nice to see you.

That’s The Episcopal Church today. It’s a great place for Lesbians and Gay men, and for young adults who have friends who are Gay; who want to raise their kids as part of a diverse community.

Growth-wise we are ideally positioned for this very moment in time. But as long as we’re still caught up in all the doings in the Diocese of Bradford – as long as we care about Lambeth tea parties – we’ll miss our chance to heal and reconcile LGBT Americans.

That’s the real tragedy of this, not what Mimi gets obsessed about; God bless her, she did it because she cares.

She can’t hear right now that what happens on these shores, not in England, is what matters. Apparently no one in the Episcopal Church can hear that, not even Louie Crew. He values those overseas relationships too much to hear it.

He said a few years ago, “It will be even worse for LGBTs in Nigeria and the rest of Africa if we walk away from the Anglican Communion. We must maintain our relationships, if only for them.”

But we’ve done so little for them, and we’re so far away, that I don’t buy it anymore. The kill-the-Gays bill is back on the table in Uganda, and taking tea at Lambeth Palace hasn’t changed a thing.

My calling, though I don’t do it well, is to American Gay people. The more we rise, the better off African LGBTs will be. They depend on us, not for direct aid but for role-modeling, for courage, for an example. Their liberation must be indigenous, though outsiders can help.

My concern is for Tyler Clementi and Matt Shepherd, and all those kids who’ve killed themselves in the Hennepin County, Minnesota School District.

It may seem old hat by now, but my concern is for people with AIDS.

What I think ought to happen is something positive; let’s organize a Queer Episkie Roadshow to every major city in the country, starring Louie Crew, Mary Glasspool, Gene Robinson, Barbara Harris, Susan Russell, Sandye Wilson, Mimi and Leonardo, dancing bishops, musicians and artists, young and old, Straight and Gay, multi-lingual and full of passion. Make it fun – make it real. We know how to put on a show! Gather a crowd in whatever church will let us in, and then just preach Jesus Christ for 2012.

Yes, have a special outreach to LGBTs, but that won’t change the message; it’s still what it always was, Jesus loves you.

If we focused on that, instead of the internal workings of Anglican Land, we could change this country, change our Church and change lives.

This is the last generation of American LGBTs we can still reach on a mass scale, where some at least were raised in Christian churches before they walked out in disgust. If we wait much longer, the entire Lesbian/Gay community will be atheist or pagan. No one will remember the old hymns anymore.

Unfortunately my friends find it easier to worry about Lambeth. I think we’ll be judged for it, though I hope we are spared.

“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” (Matthew 25:42-43)

That passage is a warning to people inside the righteous group, not outside of it. Progressive Episcopalians think we’re “in” when we may be out.

But a Good News Roadshow could light a fire in this Church. I bet Grandmère Mimi would be a smash hit.++

Taiko Project Drummers at the 2010 consecration of Mary D. Glasspool and Diane Jardine Bruce as Suffragan Bishops of Los Angeles. (Elizabeth Kaeton)

What Most Liberates Gay Men?

Evan Wolfson and Cheng He. They had a lovely celebration. (The New York Times)

New York State legalized same-sex marriage in late July, and since then I’ve entertained myself by reading Gay and Lesbian wedding notices in The New York Times. Some are them are touching – “Old Man Marries His Old Man after Shacking Up for 40 Years.” Some are mostly remarkable for the social status of the couple – “Ms. Williams, Goldman Sachs V.P., Weds CBS Treasurer Ms. Padrara.” And some are just filling up newsprint – “Steelworker’s Son Says Vows with Obscure Performance Artist You Never Heard Of and Don’t Want to See.”

I’m a little shocked at how many people become Universal Life ministers to preside at these occasions; online, ten bucks? People who obviously have no discernible faith, but go ahead and buy the piece of paper, which the state doesn’t know from an Episcopal priest. “Minister? Aisle 2. Thank you; next?”

I read these vignettes because they can be warm and fuzzy – “Ms. Vanderwhipple has a degree in Phonics from Shippensburg State” – and because I’ve got somebody in mind for broom-jumping someday. They’re nice fantasies, and if you get behind The Times’ paywall, they’re free. I enjoy them. The ones with bylines are well-written, and who doesn’t enjoy reading about someone else’s happiness?

How totally amazing; we can get married in New York. Kudos to Gov. Cuomo, the state Assembly and Mayor Bloomberg. Politicians did something right for a change.

With sincere congratulations to the couples taking advantage of this new law to get what they deserve and to honor each other, I also think about whether we ought to pin our hopes on legislation. Yes, lawmaking is very important, but will it get us where we need to be? What most liberates Gay men?

(I am in favor of Lesbian rights and everyone else’s, but I don’t write about them, when they write so well themselves.)

What social change would free up Gay men to really understand themselves?

Clearly our lives are better under the law than they used to be; thank you, activists, reporters, judges, pols and voters. Good work; thank you. But I’m not sure how much better off we are, 42 years after the Stonewall Riots. Two generations, but look at us!

Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers, jumped off the George Washington Bridge last year because somebody streamed video of him making out with a guy.

If you’re queer in Iran you’ll probably hang.

Republican presidential candidates are running all over Iowa on God, guns and Gays. How many decades has this been going on? Jerry Falwell’s body is oozing fluids by now, but still these Republicans are running on his old platform.

I don’t think politics is our final answer. Politicians are always behind the times, regardless of liberal or conservative. They react to events, they don’t cause them. They delay a Yes vote – all of them – as long as they can.

Instead I think we need to look inside ourselves; take stock, ‘fess up to our shortcomings, and devise a plan to free ourselves from this miserable apartheid.

The place to start is sex. That’s where liberation is located. Tom of Finland has more answers than the governor of New York.

Aviators

We have terrible attitudes about sex. And we’re as self-destructive now as we ever were in the bad old days.

Alcohol, drugs, smoking, food, materialism, pop culture, celebrity-chasing: they’re all reactions to shame.

That hasn’t changed in 42 years. We still define ourselves in heterosexual terms. If you suck cock – and why wouldn’t you? – you’re a faggot, a pig, a pussy, a cunt.

Because, of course, Straight men who don’t suck cock are automatically more desirable than any fag could possibly be. They’re real men, or so goes the ideology, which hasn’t changed this entire time.

Tyler Clementi, come down from that bridge.

Nobody really cares who you were kissing – or who you were sucking off.

What we really need is a full-blooded embrace of male sexuality.

We like dick; it’s desirable. We need to admit it, and embrace it, while rejecting the old ideology that we aren’t men.

We can never achieve liberation without rejecting heterosexual supremacy. We’re carrying apartheid laws around in our heads.

A man who fucks a man is a real man.

So is the man he fucks, if he opens up and spreads wide and shouts, “Thank you, Daddy, fuck me!”

That’s the world Tom lived in, and he was right.

We need to stop referring to ourselves in heterosexual terms. If you take it up the ass it doesn’t make you a bitch; it makes you a man, because what you’re wanting is that guy’s masculinity.

You’re not a girl. You’re not a pussy; you don’t have one, buddy. You’re not a pig; you’re not a fag.

You’re just a guy who loves men – and why would you not?

Heterosexual terms don’t apply to you; you’re in a different category.

Who wouldn't?

The essential thing is the opening of our minds. That’s why Tom’s art is so good, and lots of others besides him. Tom’s Men are uninhibited; they know what they like and they go for it.

American Gay men, as I perceive us, are still hugely inhibited 42 years later. Dudes, where does that leave Uganda?

We bought the “sissy” trope hook, line and sinker. We think the only real men are Straight – because they defined it that way.

No. The butchest men on earth are Gay.

They combine intellect, sensitivity and a roaring phallus. That’s what you want, so go for it.

Reject porn videos. They’re almost entirely homophobic, all about how you’re a bitch and a pig, just because you like male sex. Who wrote that script, Jerry Falwell?

Love the one you’re with. I’m serious; love that guy and let him love you.

Don’t tolerate abuse.

Admire his masculinity; his courage, his leadership, his ability to thrust. Even if he’s on the bottom now, he can poke it.

Do not disparage Straight men, but notice that their courage and integrity are often lacking. They’re afraid of each other; what if someone decides they’re not macho enough, because they saluted the flag, or kissed a daughter, or failed to vote Republican?

Apartheid is one big conspiracy. Understand it and it falls apart.

Gay liberation is not a product of legislation, but Tom of Finland. If you like getting fucked, then lie back, take it and shout.

You’re still a man; a better one for being honest.++

Just hanging out, hoping for some action and a nice guy to be with.

Fear of Falling

Tom of Finland (excerpt)

A strange attitude problem has taken me over lately regarding my novel in progress. I don’t understand my thoughts, but they’ve persisted for several days now, so I’ll get them out here to see if I can make any sense of them.

After a writing hiatus that lasted seven months since last June, and a marvelous healing experience right around Christmastime, I am composing and posting chapters again on a blog dedicated to that purpose. I’ve written five chapters in the past three weeks. Yippee!

Except I’m also kind of pissed, because no one’s noticed, left a comment, written me an e-mail. How dare these people not give me some encouragement!

(Mind you, the only people this applies to are 3-4 personal friends, not the general public. Any blog that goes dark for three days is given up for dead, so I certainly don’t blame a casual visitor for not stumbling through the door.)

But where are my friends, I wonder? The ones I have in mind all subscribe to the blog, so they know about my recent activity.

And it’s not like I expect them all to pat me on the back for the greatest writing since Tolstoy, or even Keith Olbermann; I’d be as happy for feedback as for praise.

But not to notice, ooh, that’s rough. If you really want to hurt someone, be indifferent to them.

Meanwhile this is what keeps me from whining. The rational part of my brain recognizes that this emotion I’m having, that wants to blame my friends, is really an indirect expression of something else in me. It’s not about my friends at all, but some unknown discomfort I’m having with me.

Forget what Peter might say; do *I* not like what I’ve written lately? Is that why I’m needing reassurance and attention?

Actually I do rather like these five recent chapters, at least insofar as the plot is concerned. I feel like I’m focusing fairly well. The action is moving along for once. But I’ve rather lost control of where it’s going, and that can be scary. The other day a plot device started writing itself, while I sat here taking dictation.

Any writer will tell you that a story that starts writing itself might turn out to be worth reading; I’ve had that experience myself, especially with the “University” series. It can be a joyful thing when the characters start telling the writer what they’re up to. All the writer can do is grab his hat and take off behind them.

But it’s been years since that happened to me, and now I’m scared. It all started with a two-by-four, a block of wood; now it’s shown up three more times, including this afternoon.

I am thankful, with this novel, for anything that helps me pick up the pace. The story is “about” the making of a Gay Christian marriage, which is a process, not a plot. A couple gets together and has experiences; okay, fine, but what actually happens, and how does that help them be together (or not)?

The characters, a cop and a reporter, are favorites of mine, and I am so interested in seeing them learn to be together that this book has always threatened to turn into the Blob That Ate L.A., an amorphous monster that consumes everything in its meandering path. When it comes to suburban sprawl, I’ve got whole neighborhoods laid out. If this were a toy train set there’d be tracks and trestles, barns and bridges in every room in my house. But where is this train going?

Well, the cop’s going to solve a murder case, and he’s actually getting there faster than I thought he would. This time his buddy, who was so prominent in their debut novel, is forced to take a back seat. He gets the action started, but ends up as a stay-at-home boyfriend most of the time. He thinks he doesn’t like that, but it turns out he does; as an author I have no problem with the two of them taking turns and being versatile. Another thing I like is that by The End, they both end up being people of substance; Ward and June Cleaver they’re not.

For the book to be at all successful, the crime has to be solved as far as possible, and the reader has to believe that these two men belong together, that they have a reasonable chance of making a longterm relationship—including a spiritual basis that grounds them, that they can build on.

“The Centurion’s Boy” is a Josh Thomas book because I can write uniquely on this theme. Getting the book finished, polished and produced is a job God calls me to, part of my vocation.

So I can’t be spending my time getting drunk every night, because then I don’t write—the book sprawls, it eats L.A., the train doesn’t go anywhere. It goes everywhere but nowhere in particular. The temporal, temporary gift of my sobriety means I’m spending a lot of time, in the time I have left, working on this vocation. I don’t want to have to face God and say I didn’t get it done.

In the meantime, five new chapters in three weeks, and I’m scared of it, in the same way I suppose that sobriety is scary, changing old habits is. I feel like a fledgling again. I can fly a little but it sure feels good going back to the nest of my old thoughts.

Peter, Leonardo and Bob are not responsible for what I’m going through; I guess I just need somebody to blame for my panic.

I’m really enjoying being sober, by the way; flying is fun. I don’t obsess about alcohol; I know I’ve done the forgiving I needed to do, to let go of my self-destructive impulse as a mental concentration camp survivor. Alcohol seems really boring these days, and I’ve gotten into cooking (and eating) again. Tomorrow I’m going to a symphony concert with my friends.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years about spirituality, Gay and otherwise, is that we really have to pay attention to where we are now. It’s not enough to be “on a path” if we don’t watch our own steps every day. Our path, which the earliest ones called The Way, may take us through some rough terrain; it will surely be scary at least as often as it’s joyful and easy. We may want to frolic in the meadow all the time, but even that can get tiresome whether we’re guzzling vodka or not. Sooner rather than later it’s time to hit the rocks and start climbing again. And of course it helps not to be alone, but all hikers get separated every now and then before meeting up again. Robert, Lenny and Peter are probably waiting for me just around the bend, and no, they’re not responsible for my little detour. I took that on my own.

I feel good about what I’ve written, even if they don’t say much. I’m not always there for them when they get scared either.

Meanwhile it’s important to me to finish up this book. First draft or twentieth, I want, when the time comes, to hand the Admissions Office a bound volume and say, “This was my vision of what it can be like when guys love each other in Jesus’ name.”

I know this much, my Admissions Committee will not be staffed by literary critics, but by angels who ask, “Is it authentic? Is it real? Is it Joshua? Is it faithful? Could it help someone?”—not “did it,” but “could it.” And “Is it the best he could do at that time?”

As long as you don’t get your foot stuck, like I did for the past seven months, climbing rocks can be fun, even when you’re all by yourself. What if my friends aren’t ahead of me but behind me, watching where I’m going, making their own decisions about the best way forward, and Ready to Catch Me Should I Fall?++

I've never read Neil Bartlett's novel, but I've never forgotten that wonderful title.

New Art, New Computer, New Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Tobin: Exploded Clay.

Bishop Eddie Goes Down Flaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times again:

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

(snip)

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

From there The Times explores Bishop Eddie’s background.

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

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

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

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

Now back to Bishop Eddie’s ideas about sex:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally there was this, which just made me livid.

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

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

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

(Alan S. Weiner/The New York Times)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Million Prayers: A Letter to a Friend

Psalms, Bible lessons and prayers twice a day for six years.

Dear Leonardo,

Thank you for your Facebook greeting on the news that my Daily Office website and blog have together recorded one million page-views. It feels pretty significant and I’m still reacting to achieving this milestone. Let me tell you and other readers here what it means to me, in ways I would not do on the prayer sites themselves. There the focus is on God, not on Josh – though I can’t help but intrude at times anyway.

It took me awhile to get used to that; I select the artwork and write the captions, and those obviously come out of my faith, values and priorities. I follow the Episcopal Church’s official calendar and lectionary, rules and regulations and try not to deviate. But I do have some discretion at times, such as what saints we celebrate – and don’t. Last week I chose to feature news photos of a pilgrimage held in Alabama to remember the seminarian and civil rights martyr Jonathan Daniels every night; the whole Church celebrated his day on August 14, the same day the pilgrimage was held, and I alone decided he was worth an octave of days. They were good pictures, very moving.

A few years ago during Lent, I featured a trove of old lost photographs of the civil rights days, discovered in a closet at The Birmingham News. Since we were repenting of our sins, let’s show what some of those sins were and are. Page-views skyrocketed, and that’s really what put our sites on the map. We’ve also raised some quick money for tsunami relief in Sri Lanka and South Asia and other natural disasters. Editorially I covered Hurricane Katrina for a solid month, all along the Gulf Coast, with prayers to match. Then there’s the complete destruction of part of Haiti, our biggest diocese. Six months later we’re still using a prayer I wrote for Haiti twice a week. Those are all my choices.

Earlier this year, for the first time (I think) in Anglican history, and certainly the first time in Episcopal history, the 16th century theologian John Calvin had a proposed feast day; in other words, we’re testing whether he gets a saint’s day. I didn’t run it – and I won’t. I was lucky this year because it fell on a Sunday and we never observe saints on a Sunday. But I won’t run John Calvin Monday through Saturday either; this guy is the Protestant crank in the 16th century who tried to turn the capital of Switzerland into a theocracy – which meant killing a lot of people and hounding the rest to prove they believed and behaved “rightly” according to him. The same impulse was behind New England Puritanism and the Salem witch trials.

I’m Gay. I don’t do John Calvin and his ludicrous notion that humanity is “utterly depraved” and alienated from God, who then picks and chooses his friends (“the elect”) to get into heaven anyway, because he’s a nice God after all, if you’re the “right kind” of person. Jesus consorted with the “wrong kind,” including our kind, all the time; he didn’t like the “right kind” that much.

I then sent an official notice to the Church Bigwigs in Charge of Who Our Saints Are that my million-visitor website and blog will never celebrate John Calvin, who constructed his Reformed theology on a belief that the Bible is never wrong. Biblical inerrantists are also anti-Gay.

It’s beyond me why Episcopalians should be asked to cheer for this Presbyterian/Congregationalist fanatic. So I won’t ask them to. I’m the kind of Episcopalian who, if you turn too Catholic on me I’m a Protestant (protester; that’s what it means), and if you turn too Protty on me I’m all Catholic. That’s who Episcopalians are.

The Calvinists of the Episcopal Church are largely schismatics who’ve now left and tried to take our property with them – and their whole schtick is hating Gay people because they think the Bible says so. The proposed feast of John Calvin is homophobic, bigoted and anti-Gay – if his modern adherents can be taken at face value.

The next time General Convention meets, and will decide whether Calvin gets a day, is 2012 in my home diocese, Indianapolis. I plan to be there, and I’ve already started campaigning against him. A million page-views makes my virtual church bigger than any parish and diocese in this Church. I don’t go mad with power but baby, I’ve got some.

So it’s taken me awhile to realize that the personality, background and experience of the Worship Leader in any church or prayer website inevitably influences what goes on. I don’t feel guilty about it or apologize for it. Instead I think about the priests and lay leaders who have influenced me and my faith. I’m eternally grateful for them, even as I know they were just human beings. I’m allowed to be too. “Of course I could be wrong.”

Beyond this issue of how I intrude on and guide the prayers, which is a serious responsibility and about which I am sometimes wrong, there are two other things running around in my head. When I started this operation six years ago tomorrow (August 24, 2004), I was just a guy owing God a big thanksgiving (for a home of my own) and looking for an easier way to pray, instead of all the page-flipping that saying Morning and Evening Prayer requires. I wanted it online – and God immediately answered, “That’s a great idea. I nominate you.” She has a wicked sense of humor.

Often people thank me – you did, Len – for putting in the work. I have a two-part reply; one, sometimes I just hate it, because it can be work. Updating every day (now on three different platforms) seems to impress people the most, but that doesn’t bother me at all. I do want it to go smoothly and when it doesn’t I’m apt to let loose with more curses than all 150 psalms. When a computer stops working or there’s an electrical outage, that’s a major problem; people depend on me, and I like being dependable. I’ll get up in the middle of the night to post if I have to, and I always work a day ahead on the main site; I get visitors from all over the world and I can’t forget the “all-important New Zealand market,” where it’s already tomorrow. (That’s an inside-my-head joke, but clocks in Christchurch, Sydney, Kabul and Baghdad do in fact structure my day.)

My second answer is this: I tell people that if they want to get closer to God, saying the Daily Office is guaranteed to do that. I give that guarantee because I know from personal experience, doing the work every day, rain or shine, no matter where I am. I don’t get to pray the same way as my site visitors do, but the work is my prayer, and God has blessed me a million times with it. I’ll look over a Bible passage and ask out loud, “What the hell does that mean?” And often he’ll show me; maybe not right at first, but as I keep going.

Once I put together an online Festival of Lessons and Carols, which is a big Anglican thing around Christmastime. I spent hours at it, but I was ecstatic, and in the midst of it I finally began to understand the Sacrifice of Isaac. I won’t tell the story now but it’s not what it appears to be, God thirsting for a little boy’s blood; it’s human beings who are bloodthirsty (and don’t we know it today), while God put a stop, once and for all, to child sacrifice. That’s why Abraham, Isaac’s dad, is the father of three major religions and reverenced in all of them. The Jews were the first to get that God doesn’t need appeasing for sin.

Isaac also brings the crucifixion of Jesus, God’s own Son, into his supreme place in the whole history of salvation.

This is not primarily an intellectual exercise for me; I’m not a theologian and I distrust people who are, when they go off the deep end. It’s a spiritual exercise for me, and oh my my, I love everything about our God.

When, last Sunday, I ran the site counter numbers and realized we’d hit the million mark just two days shy of our sixth anniversary, I surprised myself; yes, I knew we’d get there, but not how I’d react to it. I looked at the number, 1,000,067 as of 12:34 p.m. on August 22, 2010, then I looked up at the crucifix hanging over my desk – and started applauding like Jesus just scored a touchdown or somethin’. I laugh now to think of it, but what I did was cheer him.

It wasn’t me who got to a million, it was the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I’m just the bus driver here, they tell me where to go.

But there’s something else, and this is the intimate part for me, that I can only tell a good friend who knows my story. And you do; you feel it with me, because we’re about the same age and we’re both Gay and we love this Jesus fella completely, and all his saints whether quick or dead:

I feel as if I’ve finally done the one great thing I was put on earth for, but had never accomplished.

True, we believe in faith, not works, but St. James taught that works are good too; and here is the work of my life.

One million views of the work of my life.

So I finally feel like I’ve arrived – not in heaven; but in my own mind, my own expectations of who and what I can be.

I have always, since childhood, expected greatness out of myself. But I’ve never quite achieved it before.

I’ve done many things I’m extremely proud of; I founded the world’s second-oldest AIDS organization, after Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York, in Cincinnati in 1983. They’re still going strong and now have a million-dollar budget, but I turned it over to other good people and went to New York to work at GMHC.

I did very good work there, and spent Christmas Eve making hospital visits; one was pretty important, a middle-aged, friendless closet case with fundamentalist parents who came north from Carolina and cut off all contact with his support system, made up of Gay people in GMHC. He didn’t want to hurt his parents, but when I came to visit that night, he finally sent them out of his hospital room and talked to me, honestly and deeply.

It was an honor. I didn’t even make it to midnight mass that night, though the cathedral wasn’t far away; I felt like I’d already been to midnight mass, so I let it live in my heart.

In later years, back in Ohio, I ran the toughest, most hard-hitting (and journalistically reliable) Gay newspaper in the country. In the early ’90s the Gay and Lesbian Press Association named me the Best Investigative Reporter in North America, for breaking news and followup on a serial murder story, Gay men from Indianapolis murdered and dumped all across the Midwest.

That led to my first novel, which until Sunday and the million visitors milestone, is the thing I’ve been proudest of. It’s a fictionalized retelling of those murders, complete with a message to the killers in Chapter 2: “I know who you are.”

But it went beyond the whodunit genre by introducing the purest, most chaste Gay romance ever. The reporter (who is younger, blonder, smarter and richer than me) meets this cop… and they don’t even get their first kiss until the last chapter.

(I’ve been working on the sequel ever since, about how to build a Gay Christian marriage.)

I’m terribly proud of my second book, which is a Gay comedy. It has a serious point but it still makes me laugh every time, in the exact same spots where I’ve always laughed; where I laughed the day I wrote it, and in every rewrite since.

But however proud I am of them, these books didn’t sell nationwide. The first one sold well in the Midwest (and with heterosexual women) but outside these states no one ever heard of me, and book sales are publicity-driven. I could not say, “Well, I have a right to be on this planet, I’ve changed the world in some way.” I love the books but the world wasn’t changed, only a few readers.

In my definition “greatness” requires something that changes the world.

I’ve always expected something of myself and never done it. Never gone mass market. I’ve been in The New York Times but they didn’t offer me a job. (A commenter once kindly suggested they do so.)

I guess I’ve chosen to define “going mass market” and “changing the world” as a million hits on dailyoffice.org.

One could argue with that choice but I’m comfortable with it. A million prayers! All of them originating from my fingers, in my office, in my bedroom.

Last night, when reality began to sink in, I talked to God about all this; that I finally feel I’ve met my own expectations, much less hers. I mean, she knows what a sinner I am; I was drunk half the time. But I got those prayers and lessons up letter-perfect. (In the early days I typed it all myself. Now there are more resources online and I type less. Much of my job is formatting.)

When I was done talking, God gave me a rather serious but common affirmation for all this – serious so I’d remember it and know it was real, but familiar too, the same physical stirring we’ve shared countless times in six years and 2,190 services. It’s like a pat on the head but nicer! A rub on the spine, head to toe – or just a part of me.

So yes, I feel proud of myself; I feel like I’ve been on this earth for something. I feel like I’ve finally fulfilled my potential, that I had all along but never could channel before, in part because I don’t have much or any personal ambition. I don’t see how a person can have that ambition and get about serving God; those goals seem to clash. So I never made any money – and I couldn’t care less.

You can see why I was so thrilled to finally be able to afford a house! All that wandering, all those years, but now I get to grow marigolds and dill, chives and tomatoes. I can smell the dill from my back door.

Now I’ve got a little fox terrier to love, so I’m not pouring it all out of my fingertips (or the palm of my hand).

Those million visits are “great enough” for me. And that’s a major rearrangement in my psyche.

Y’know, I may never write a bestseller; may never get much credit for anything; may never be on Rachel Maddow or be intimate with a man again. John Calvin may get a feast day out of the Bishops’ Church, when he hated bishops!

I don’t care. Those million prayers – which relied on me but I didn’t originate, my congregation did – resound with the Holy One on whom all life depends. We, you and me, are part of the communion of saints. And no, we don’t understand that or see all the directional arrows, here to here and her to her; but they are part of the life-force that sustains us all.

So man, I’m content. Don’t got no laurels to rest on, and there are six more saints this month, but I can die happy. And that really is what it’s all about to us mortals; we don’t want to die, or get Alzheimer’s and be useless, but since we’re going to die, let us do it happy, knowing we did our part.

God doesn’t require me to be Moses; God requires me to be Joshua. And finally, for the first time, I am.

Love,

Josh

Claudio Cassio: St. Rosa de Lima, whose feast is today.