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Finding Out What It Is to Be Truly Human

Kind of a hot guy, actually. (Auguste Rodin)

Kind of a hot guy, actually. (Auguste Rodin)

This post will probably be a bit ragged, because I haven’t thought the subject all the way through. But it’s been stirring inside me long enough that it’s time for me to try to get some notes down and hope that they mean something to you. In the past people often called my writing stream-of-consciousness, which I’ve never thought was correct, but maybe this entry will be an example of what they meant.

Here’s a lesson appointed for Morning Prayer tomorrow. I’ll reprint the whole thing so you can see the context. St. Paul, whose writing is always wise and eloquent, claims that he put these gifts aside when evangelizing in Corinth, so that instead he could give “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” If he did that, he was surely a master teacher, but in this letter he will now eloquently explain his wisdom! (I’m convinced he knew that every word he wrote was holy scripture.)

1 Corinthians 2:1-13 (NRSV)

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him” –

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

Learning what is truly human, seems to me, is our task in life.

And I can’t say I’ve arrived at the point of knowing; it’s more that I feel like I’m getting there, and also that I feel like I’ve always known. I want to ask, Don’t we all really know what it is to be truly human?

We may not live up to it – most people don’t, the world doesn’t – but that’s because we prevent ourselves from knowing.

We do, all of us, know what it means to be human. But we push that knowledge-awareness down deep inside; we seem to find it painful to know what’s human and not, so we keep ourselves from thinking about any of it.

As Leonardo Ricardo would say, we’re all about “pretend.” When I was a kid our adolescent term was having a “false front.” (Teenagers are experts on this subject, with built-in bullshit detectors.)

I never really lost mine and I bet you didn’t either. I’m not sure anybody does, but boy, does this world have massive incentives to give in to the BS.

Corporate life requires it – any large organization, for-profit or not. Bureaucracy demands we all worship the bullshit.

the-organization-man

Family life demands it in most families – at least the ones we grow up in. I suppose we think we don’t impose it in the families we ourselves create, but then again we probably do.

Commercial life – politics and television – are all about the bullshit. A TV show may make comedy or drama about rebelling against the BS (“The Daily Show,” “Breaking Bad,” “Downton Abbey”) but every eight minutes it’s “brought to you by the bullshit.”

There’s nowhere you can go (including church) and not be knee-deep in bullshit. That’s all the Church of England puts out anymore, and the rest of them are usually even worse. I don’t really follow the CofE anymore, and even if I did I wouldn’t want to go into this, but the latest thing is some kind of yes-and-no from the House of Bishops about same-sex marriage; “Gay people are welcome, and marriages are legal now, but of course we can’t conduct them, and we don’t let clergy officiate, and they ought not even get one privately themselves, but of course we can’t prevent them, and though it might be possible to offer some prayers after people get the civil rite, prayers aren’t the same things as blessings, you see,” which makes no theological sense at all and therefore is pure bullshit, the Anglican kind, you get the idea, it’s all who-fucking-cares.

June Butler cares, Mark Harris cares, Alan Wilson does, Leonardo perhaps and Louie (Crew) Clay almost certainly. But me, I long since don’t care. Leonardo knows his vocation, to tell the world and church “Let’s quit pretend.” But that’s his vocation and not, thankyouJesus, mine, not where the CofE’s concerned. I don’t fucking care, it’s not human there anymore.

What does it mean to be truly human? One of God’s names is Reality. (h/t Bill Coulter, late great.)

Here in the Episcopal Church we mostly think our places are getting more human all the time; I think that about my own congregation online, and I hope you think it about yours, too – that you’re right to think so. Even the Methodists got human yesterday, though only in New York and we’ll see how long it lasts. The retired dean of Yale Divinity School officiated at his kid’s wedding awhile ago, so two bigotbrains put him up on charges, which were set to kick off Monday till the conference bishop called the whole thing off. Good for him; good for the dean and his wife and his kid and his son-in-law. The dean is quoted in today’s paper thanking God for such a great son-in-law. That was nice; truly human.

But it takes a lot more than being for Gay rights to make us human; have you seen any Gay porn blogs lately? They’re all for Gay rights, at least I presume, but good grief, they’re inhuman.

Or they were until yesterday, when somebody Tumbld this:

catchotd:

We need to quit it with all the “cumdump whore” and “slave faggot” bullshit, you know? We’re willingly throwing ourselves into an identification that’s demeaning and dehumanizing, and that’s so dumb. Like, damn, love yourself; if you wanna scarf down three dicks and swim in a veritable pool of cum, then more power to ya man, you’ve got my respect.

Amen brother

Interesting that the reblogger said Amen.

MEANWHILE, back here at the farm, I try to make sense of my life and keep up with how much I’ve changed these last ten years. It’s really astonishing to me; I can’t make sense of it. I’m 62, my body is starting to wear out and my soul is cleaner than ever. (Should I have written “purer”? That’s what it feels like, even though nothing can be crazier than to proclaim to myself or anyone else “I feel like I’m being purified.”)

That is what I feel, though, and it’s damn weird.

So what was it Paul said again? The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?

I sense, more than know, what that means. Has something to do with a spark of life inside. Some bit of honesty is surely part of it; and increasing [crotchety] impatience with everything that isn’t real.

You know when people get old, they get crotchety; men especially. I’m only 62, which I’m sure to some of you is death warmed over. And only 62, to others.

I want to ask all the old people, “Did something like this happen to you? Is this normal? Is this like the reward we get for living this long?”

I do not know; I’m living this by myself, and no one can ever be sure of what’s going on with them. Our human capacity for self-deception is too great. Every discovery has to be tested; we’re too involved with ourselves to observe objectively.

Mind you I don’t claim one bit of better-than-you; I am after all still looking at porn sites. And on some level I don’t mind that at all – or I wouldn’t if could find any humane ones. The internet was made for porn, so there’s more of it than ever, but very very few where people treat each other decently.

I worry about what young Gay men are looking at these days. The internalized homophobia is just thick – except it isn’t all internalized, it’s disseminated, it’s broadcast, it’s enforced.

Here we thought, those of us who are now veteran activists, that we were rooting out societal homophobia and the psychic kind with it, but it seems like kids are killing themselves as much as ever.

I’d show you graphic examples or provide links, but you don’t want to see it. I don’t want to post them.

Instead here’s a nice thing; my Straight friend Tim found it yesterday.

Now I’ll start to wind this up. When I bought this house ten years ago my sexuality was on a certain trajectory. What turned me on at 20 still turned me on at 50, while my interests got much narrower and more focused – like “I want what I want exactly this way.” I felt some concern about that, like the world stopped containing 3 billion men and now had only 300,000, but I felt I was refining my desires too. Then a couple of years ago, I finally finished the 1000th draft of my third/ultimate novel, and quickly, my sexuality changed.

This wasn’t just my aging body, but the satisfaction/destruction of a gestalt. “The Gospel According to Gay Guys” is (or so I hope) the world’s ultimate love story with the world’s hottest sex.

And then I was done, and I’m not into that stuff anymore. Or I am, but not in the same way. I said it already, I got it out of my system, so it’s out with the leather and in with the sweat pants and pajama bottoms. (I suppose I should sell that stuff on Ebay.)

“Refining” sexuality sounds similar to “purifying” one’s soul. Meanwhile there’s this other thing going on.

I have said the Daily Office twice a day now for almost ten years, and posted it online. I was in love with God at 20 and I’m certainly in love with God even more now.

I think the repetition, as well as aging, is what does it.

I’ve told people on my sites, “Daily Office, twice a day for 30 days, and you’re bound to get closer to God.” Pray twice a day in an organized, disciplined way, and you won’t be able to stay away from God – even if getting closer is the very thing that scares you. (We want to get close, but typically not too close. Getting noticeably close causes most people to panic and back away; sure did me for awhile.)

I think probably nuns and monks, and Wesley with his Method, got this right a long time ago, even though I’m not sure they fully grasped it or anyone can.

Never my idea of a Gay role model…

Never my idea of a Gay role model…

But here is what I’ve learned: the soul’s desire is union with God; reunion, from before all time, and communion, here and always.

The soul’s desire is that all of life is worship, no matter what we’re doing at the time.

We can’t just will this attitude in ourselves as if it’s a decision we can make. Try that and you’ll forget it completely in 15 minutes.

Instead it works like this. “7 a.m., time to get up for the webcast. 12 noon, time to post the next services. 12 midnight, time to post again.” And the same tomorrow and tomorrow, day after day, month and year until it’s a habit that becomes a way of life.

I can tell you for sure that if I am getting closer to God these days, and I am getting refined and purified, it isn’t any doing of mine. None, zero, at most I just cooperate. At most I’ve just let go of my fear. God is no one to be afraid of; you won’t lose your personality (what makes you human), you’ll gain it more than ever before.

So you won’t be able to stand some things you used to be into. You’ll click off “House of Cards” because it simply got too dark. (The British original was both more humorous and more disturbing; I don’t like disturbing anymore. I don’t want those people in my house.)

Maybe you’ll end up selling all your sexgear, I dunno. (I do know it is better to have started getting it when you were 20-30-40 than to have waited until you were 50-60 to finally let yourself be who you are.) Whatever happens as you age, you really can welcome it, assuming you got on the right path in the beginning.

What’s the right path? The one that commits to being human, to expecting that out of yourself. The one that doesn’t mind wandering away without feeling guilty. The one that’s authentic for you, so you can be authentic with others. This “right path” doesn’t prevent you from hurting, making mistakes, loving and losing; going through dreadful things sometimes. Jesus could have done without some of those wilderness times – but he wouldn’t have been himself if he hadn’t had them.

My life still isn’t all put together, and I doubt it ever will be. Still, I’m almost shockingly happy.

That “human spirit within” is the only way to go. And I pity the fool who doesn’t go there.++

Two Dream Warnings

SigningWill

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the wise men left for their own country by another road.

— Matthew 2:12 (NRSV)

The past two evenings, in late afternoon naps, I have received warnings in my dreams of my death. The second one was five minutes ago.

In the first, I was in a hospital, about to undergo one of those death by injection treatments which hospice nurses use on some people with terminal illness. (My mother died that way at home.) They administer painkillers, supposedly at a physician’s direction. I received mine, but I talked all the way through it, including afterward, which made me want to know why I wasn’t dead yet. Then the nurse left and closed a big old heavy wooden door – to shut death in with me, I guess; to make sure I couldn’t escape. Finally I asked, “Does this mean I’m going to keel over?” She paused, then cracked open a wooden vertical slot half an inch, and answered, “Yes.”

So I climbed back onto the gurney, made the sign of the Cross quite profoundly – and woke up.

A few minutes ago, I dreamed I was riding in a car with several middle-aged women as we headed to a political meeting; something to do with a fight over development in Clifton, a Cincinnati neighborhood where I once lived. I could picture the street in the business district they were all concerned about; they were fighting this development, and about to meet with a heavyweight donor in the northeastern suburbs. Then we’d all have lunch at a restaurant, and when the drama started we were already discussing how we would pay our collective food bill; a woman we picked up along the way would get the tab, then we’d all reimburse her. We were headed up north along the interstate – maybe from I-75 to the Norwood Lateral – when we rounded a curve and plunged into deep water that was flooding the roadway. I saw it coming, but the driver plowed through it, and in seconds we were all right. Then we rounded another curve with a much deeper wall of water, deep enough that no one would ever attempt to drive through it. At the crucial moment she glanced away to her left, and the car not only plunged in, it rapidly filled with water.

No one spoke. I could tell we would drown, and I headed my nose to the roof of the car. I clawed at it, managed to rip through the (old-fashioned) cloth, filled myself with oxygen and started giving directions, “Get your noses above water, there’s a little space here.” I tried the door, we were able to clamber out (which was odd, since I was sitting in the middle, and logically the door wouldn’t have opened so easily). I made it to the dry left side of the road, the driver somehow was able to drive a few feet ahead and park on the median, and when she got out she said, “I didn’t see it coming.”

Well, I did. That’s what dreams are for.

My spiritual director Marcia recently did an experimental painting, “Wake up to your dreams. They are unopened letters from God.” She’d gotten spiritually blocked about even trying this thing that wanted to come out of her, which I accidentally discovered while we had an e-mail discussion about an earlier work of hers, a pastel drawing of a young woman, which I own and she wanted to borrow back for an upcoming gallery event. She made arrangements to pick it up on a certain day, I took it down from my wall and Windexed the glass so it would be clean for her, and took it downstairs so she wouldn’t have to wait while I retrieved it. The day came and went and she never picked it up.

A couple of weeks later I wrote to her again, asking about it. And I somehow intuited her fear, though she hadn’t mentioned it. So I encouraged her in that e-mail, as best I could in my ignorance, that whatever was going on with her she should paint through it. “Just try, even if it turns out ugly or shameful or scandalous or wrong.” I didn’t know what I was saying, and yet I wrote this with confidence to her. She is quite a spiritual director, who has shared many things with me as I have with her, and the one thing I knew was that if my advice was off-base, she’d be strong enough to ignore it.

Two weeks later she finished the painting, took a picture of it, and sent me the photo by e-mail. Here it is.

Marcia Smith-Wood, 2013: Wake up to your dreams. They are unopened letters from God."

Marcia Smith-Wood, 2013: Wake up to your dreams. They are unopened letters from God.

It’s a self-portrait, but I’m not going to discuss it as art so I don’t intrude on her privacy. It was the title that got to me; such a clear expression of her insights. I thought it might even be helpful to my Daily Office congregation, so I posted it shortly thereafter for Morning Prayer.

No one commented on it, but its message stayed with me.

I can’t say, like the driver of the car, that I didn’t see it coming. My dreams, two afternoons in a row, told me death is coming.

Maybe I have a chance to repent and radically change my ways (I’m an alcoholic, sometimes in recovery and sometimes not, and I smoke). But I’m not entirely concerned with that right now. I am not for the most part horribly frightened of death. I hope when it comes it’s not painful, but my number one concern is my spiritual response to it. My first dream, in the hospital with the old heavy door, satisfies me; what to do when our death is at hand is to make the sign of the Cross. We don’t even have to say anything, for God will know. (It’s funny that in that moment of great physical weakness, I imagined my hand traveling all the way from my forehead to my waist, then one shoulder to the other. Liturgically impeccable, a death seen only in the movies.)

Last night just before I went to bed for the last time, I had a heart-to-heart with God about this. I asked him or her to make provision for my prayer site’s succession; it will need someone to outlive me. It is too big, after 2.5 million hits and another million e-mails to subscribers, and too successful simply to die with me. We are doing too well right now, with a pending grant application for $50,000 to church headquarters in New York, and brand new live webcasts five mornings a week. The technology is very exciting; a few people are trying it. We can see each other by webcam, hear each other by VoIP, and their computer screens (iPad or phone) display what’s on my screen: the website with its liturgy, art and videos. When I hit Play on the videos, everyone sees and hears them simultaneously. It really is like being in church together, though we’re physically located throughout the country.

None of my competitors even attempts such a thing – and indeed, one basis of our grant app is that we offer live curated services twice a day. (I’m the “curator,” because the term sounds grandiose enough to impress New York.) The two or three competing sites (why anyone would compete over this work is beyond me) are simply databases, where the user clicks enough times to put together the elements they want. No art – Fr. Richard Helmer recently trumpeted that he’s now added some, nine years after my innovation – and certainly no videos.

The pride I take in my site is the making of community; this is what online church should be, not praying to a database. If we do get selected for the grant, I’ve got another trick up my sleeve to grow this community. Don’t know whether it will work, but we’re big enough to try.

We get more visitors per year than the National Cathedral in Washington. They’re going to start charging tourists $10 a head, to raise $3 million for their overhead; with 50 grand I can take care of our techno expansion, pay myself a salary – which is key to my succession plan, because another minister will want that paying job – and start up a Spanish language version in cooperation with Padré Mickey.

Best $50,000 New York will ever spend, or so I hope. I prayed to God last night, “Give me that succession and I can go in peace.”

S/he gave me a loving response this morning, enveloping me in warmth, her favorite way, because I can receive it and know it’s her. She probably waited until this morning because I was headed straight to bed after our talk.

Then to have this death-by-drowning dream a few minutes ago, well – my fingers drum on the desktop – I clearly will have to completely change my ways. That’s what “repentance” means, an up-and-down transformation. Quit the behavior, no more self-destructiveness. Booze and smoking kill. That’s actually how my mother died; she smoked until she got lung cancer, and eventually drowned in the fluid that filled her lungs. I guess the morphine shots were a blessing – though the hospice agency was really dishonest about it. Nurse-assisted homicide takes place all over the country, and though that sounds shocking, people who’ve been there all know it.

Repentance is difficult, and for most people it’s very gradual, though fundamentalists would have you believe they’re all “born again” in a flash. This 180-degree turn is something they tell each other about constantly and take pride in, though they cloak that pride in describing how wicked they once were. (We’re supposed to think they’re not anymore!) It makes them feel better about themselves. And I don’t know that it doesn’t happen, so while I gladly satirize them, I don’t judge a one of them. May it all be just as they claim.

For 99% of Episcopalians it doesn’t work that way. We seldom have the same depravities they describe, and we seldom go through such a quick turnaround. I’m 62, and I’ve been working at social justice (while smoking and drinking, quitting and going back to it) all my life. They never get to that part, so fuck ’em. They deserve Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard and Fox News.

I don’t drink 24/7/365 anymore, but I do jump on and off the wagon, and lately I’ve been off in left field for two weeks.

So I just poured out my last vodka, to make sure I don’t go through withdrawal. I’ve been tapering again, and I’m pretty sure I’m physically in the clear; withdrawal is life-threatening. (If I should die tomorrow, notify Maria L. Evans of the Diocese of Missouri at once. The site will belong to her until she makes other arrangements. This is my legal wish.) Alcohol is the more immediately dangerous substance for me, and since New York is taking its own sweet time to decide our application, maybe I’ll stay sober long enough to keep the site going awhile.

My strategy to quit smoking is a week or so away: never buy menthol cigarettes again. (Europe’s about to ban them, and they’re right.) The “regular flavor” tastes so damn nasty I won’t want to keep smoking. I’ll set a quit date, taper down and be done with this stuff. If I still can’t manage it I’ll seek every kind of medical help there is. I can’t afford cigarettes, physically, spiritually or financially. If I have to take a prescription drug instead, I’ll buy it until I find one that works.

As you have decided by now, my story does not offer immense moral uplift with a pop soundtrack; only honesty amidst struggle and dream warnings. (Masturbation doesn’t kill anybody, or I’d have been dead at 16. Apparently my fantasies will continue until five minutes before I croak.) I thank God for my dreams.

Marcia, I opened the letters.

Otherwise I’m quite content with my spiritual life. The site is going great guns, and yesterday’s big sign of the Cross ending leaves me at peace. I’m thankful for the Spirit’s embrace this morning; God hasn’t left me, no matter how much danger I put myself in. Even today’s nap had me making my way to the grass, not perishing in the water.

Otherwise, here’s hoping I can consolidate my afternoon naps and my nighttime sleeping. I’m a plenty dramatic fella, but I’d rather not go through this three afternoons in a row.++

Josh Thomas
Kentland, Indiana
owner and founder, dailyoffice.org
November 29, 2013

Last Will Cartoon

A Cathedral in the Cornfields of Beaverville, Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organ loft and rose window (Josh Thomas)

Organ loft and rose window (Josh Thomas)

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

That’s a very worthy project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good work, Sister Holy Cross. (Josh Thomas)

Good work, Sister Holy Cross. (Josh Thomas)

Special Post: YHWH Parts Red Sea for Gay People

Reposted from dailyoffice.org:

StonewallInn

THE LESSON
Exodus 13:21-22 (NRSV)

The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light; so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, left its place in front of the people.

THE PRAYERS

The Gay Lord’s Prayer
© 2013 Josh Thomas – All Rights Reserved

Our Lover in heaven,
your name is holy.
Your kingdom come, your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today the bread we need.
And forgive us our many destructions,
as we forgive those who seek to destroy us.
Save us from our wrong temptations
and preserve us from violence and hate.
Yours alone are the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever.
In the Name of Jesus, let it be so.

Let us bless the Lord. Alleluia, alleluia.
Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.++

With this added illustration, just for Gay Spirit Diary readers:

50 years ago this month - before the Stonewall Riots, before we'd even adopted the word Gay!

Fifty years ago this month – before the Stonewall Riots, before we’d even adopted the word Gay! The male authors didn’t believe we’d ever get actual legal marriage; they were promoting commitment and long-term relationships within their underground subculture. This “Gay rights” thing you’ve heard about? It’s *always* been about love.

Retired RC Bishop Calls for Complete Re-examination of Teachings on Sex & Gender

Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia. (Graham Crouch/Daily Telegraph)

Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia. (Graham Crouch/Daily Telegraph)

I posted a photo and notice about this yesterday on my Daily Office sites, but it deserves wider attention: a retired Roman Catholic bishop, Geoffrey Robinson, has emerged as a thoughtful, constructive critic of Vatican policies in light of the worldwide sexual abuse of children by priests and some religious.

He knows what he’s talking about, because he was the Church’s lead investigator when the scandal hit Down Under. That has led him to question the Church’s entire approach to sex and gender issues.

To me he speaks with the voice of an insider who loves his Church. It’s lost its way, he knows it and he says so publcly.

The Vatican, including this new Pope, who’s been yammering lately about a “Gay lobby” inside the hierarchy, will probably dismiss him as just another publicity-seeking turncoat. That’s their first response to all criticism; the real pressure comes later.

An absolute monarchy is the same thing as a dictatorship. But Jesus of Nazareth never ruled with a pope’s iron fist; Christ left people free to choose, because that’s God’s way.

Joshua J. McElfee of the National Catholic Reporter had a great article on Robinson last year, reprinted on The Huffington Post. Read it here.

McElfee wrote:

Among the other aspects of Catholic culture Robinson said contributed to the abuse crisis are mandatory celibacy for priests, a “mystique” some attach to the priests as being “above other human beings,” and a “creeping infallibility” of papal decrees, which is used to protect “all teachings … in which a significant amount of papal energy and prestige have been invested.”

The application of the church’s teaching on infallibility is a “major force in preventing a pope from making admissions that there have been serious failures in the handling of abuse,” Robinson said.

I took particular interest in Robinson’s critique of homophobic and simplistic “natural law” theory, which states that since human reproduction occurs due to sexual intercourse, Gay people are “outside of nature” and “intrinsically disordered.” These concepts, endlessly repeated by popes and prelates, have led to murders and suicides all over the world.

I think God made Gay people expressly because we’re less likely to reproduce. But the Roman Church has made a total fetish out of the Stone Age line, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Heterosexuals multiply too well; that’s their problem. They need some birth control!

On Easter Island in the South Pacific, the heterosexuals reproduced so well they went extinct. The island can't support human life anymore, no matter how many gods they made for themselves.

On Easter Island in the South Pacific, heterosexuals reproduced so well they went extinct; no matter how many gods they made for themselves, the population dropped from 15,000 to 111. (It’s rebounded in modern times.)

The Roman Church isn’t the only group to make this mistake; evolutionary biologists do it too. But bee-keepers don’t; they know that asexual drones keep a queen bee’s colony going.

I call GLBTs “caregivers for communities.” That’s why there are so many Gay guys among Roman Catholic clergy—and so many Lesbians leading those churches that allow women to function.

But patriarchy dies hard, especially in dictatorships.

I have little hope that Pope Francis is going to change much. But he would do well to listen to Geoffrey Robinson. So would you. Patriarchy is killing the Church – it’s killing all religion everywhere. Sexism is patently unjust. It breeds violence and therefore cannot be of God.

Geoffrey Robinson doesn’t come across to me as a partisan. He comes off to me as a thinker. Go now, click the link and see what he says.++

Jason Collins & the Triumph of Gay Men

The Washington wizard. (Jim Young/Reuters)

The Washington wizard. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Jason Collins is no Charles Barkley or Kobe Bryant. He is a journeyman center in the NBA, not a superstar – but he was a first-round draft pick coming out of Stanford, and has lasted 13 years as a banger in the world’s toughest basketball league. Now he has come out, and commentators are scrambling to tell us what this means. But you can save yourself the trouble and just ask me.

Whenever you’re in doubt on any subject, you can just ask me.

It doesn’t mean “he has changed the NBA forever.” He has, but so what? It doesn’t just mean he has “changed sports.” It sure doesn’t mean the Supreme Court will throw out DOMA and endorse same-sex marriage, or Congress will now pass ENDA out of sheer unadulterated admiration for the man. Would that it did.

It doesn’t even mean he’ll play next year – although as a career ploy for a free agent who’s 34, this was brilliant. If no team picks him up, people will say, “See, the players wouldn’t accept a Gay teammate.” No, it will mean he’s 34, doesn’t score and doesn’t rebound.

His job is to come off the bench “with six hard fouls to give,” just as he describes it. If he gets another contract, he’ll play the same way next year as he did this year and the previous dozen. 

I bet he does get a contract, actually. The NBA owners know they’re in the popularity business, and Jason Collins has just become a star. He got more publicity for coming out than he ever did for playing – in a league where the average player lasts five years. Joe Wertheim, an editor at Sports Illustrated, was on MSNBC’s “Hardball” last night predicting Collins will be the most popular player wherever he goes, not just for having the courage to come out and be the first, but for his intelligence and character as well as his play. 

So what does his coming out really mean? (Drum roll for my big reveal.)

He just proved Gay men are men.

Jason isn't Nathan. Jason isn't The Nance.

Jason isn’t Nathan. Jason isn’t The Nance. The Nance is a man too, but he’s not Jason.

I mean no disrespect whatever to the great Nathan Lane, or to nances in general. Some Gay men are naturally effeminate, that’s how God made ’em and how God loves ’em. Me too.

But the stereotype of Gay guys is that we’re all sissies, and Jason Collins has just destroyed that stereotype, once and for all.

That’s what his coming-out means. Straight men can no longer protect themselves by oppressing us, as if they’re better than we are. They’re not; Jason Collins has 13 years and a ring, while Joe Sixpack ain’t got nothin’.

The entire edifice of socially-constructed, brutally-enforced Masculinity has now come crashing down. That’s what Jason has given the world.

His first beneficiaries will be Straight men, who have been horribly oppressed, in their own minds, bodies, jobs and social roles, by the whole stereotype that tells them they’ve got to out-butch each other 24/7 for their whole entire lives or they’re worthless.

As Leonardo Ricardo would say, “No more pretend!” (I bet he’s said it incessantly since Jason’s news broke – considering Leonardo’s been saying it incessantly these last many years, and rightly so.)

No more pretend. Think about that. No more bullshitting your way through life, trying to be what you’re not.

No more having to live that lie. What a relief to billions of Straight guys! Now they can be their whole selves; incorrigibly Straight, weepy or emotionally constipated, whatever they turn out to be.

This makes me think of my brothers, Dick especially. Rather by accident he’s taught me a lot about what Straight guys go through. They’re trapped, most of them; prisoners in a concentration camp, run by a tyrant existing only in their minds.

Dick once said he thinks men are more emotional than women. They accuse women of being “emotional” all the time, but men feel their emotions more strongly than women do, and have a very hard time handling them.

Dick is an honest man, with enough insight and intelligence to call ’em as he sees ’em. He’s also the first person I came out to in my family.

As soon as he said men are more emotional, I knew he was right; I brought up our brother Steve, the best athlete of the three of us. Steve could never handle his feelings, and is dead now because of it (alcoholism). Dick had the best athletic mind of the three of us, Steve got the best athletic body, and I’m the one who played sports the longest. I was never any good but I enjoyed it.

After we talked I started checking with the women I knew, and they all agreed, men are the emotional ones.

John Wayne was all an act. He had scriptwriters and choreographers and lighting designers that regular guys don’t have.

So yesterday, Jason came out. TA-DA! “I’m a 34 year old center in the NBA. I’m Black. And I’m Gay.”

Perfect. What a smart fellow – and not for the reasons Frank Bruni thought in his column this morning in The Times. (I don’t care for Bruni. He’s an assimilationist. He thinks Gayness is like your appendix, not your appendage.)

The most important thing to any man is his appendage. It’s not the most important thing about him, just to him. Whatever gets him hard is right, it’s true, it’s reality. How relieved Jason must feel today.

For centuries now women have been wanting to smash the patriarchy. But he just did!

Maybe it took a man to do that. Maybe women will become Jason’s ultimate beneficiaries. Wouldn’t that be an achievement! Jason the World-Beater.

BlackSuperman

Meanwhile let’s give him enough space that he can be a human being, not a superhero. He’s just a guy who plays hoops, that’s all. But he’s smart enough to know the huge symbolic importance of what he’s done, coming out in a glamour sport that’s all about masculinity, competition and therefore sex.

There are a few players and commentators who are saying stupid things (including one guy on ESPN, to the network’s shame), but The Reaction From Players is not the important thing going on today, or ever. It’s worth noting that Jason’s managed to take showers with Straight guys for 13 years and nobody noticed him, because he didn’t notice them either.

Another guy on MSNBC last night – part of a panel on “All In with Chris Hayes” – was Hudson Taylor, a very cute guy who used to wrestle in college, and now fronts an organization for “allies” of Gay people in sports. He didn’t say whether he’s Gay or Straight; apparently he didn’t feel the need, which is occasionally refreshing. Anyway he started wrestling when he was six and loved it, so he kept on, despite the homophobic atmosphere in locker rooms that “denigrates, isolates and emasculates” Gay guys. He didn’t like it; now he’s doing something about it.

Dan Savage pointed out, as Jason also did in his article, that it’s been just a few months since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If it’s butchness the world is looking for, try all those Gay Marines. They came out, their fellow troops supported them, The End. Savage reminded us that anti-Gay bigots predicted half a million soldiers would resign; instead there were only two, “both chaplains, who could be spared.”

Watch it yourself here. I especially recommend Hayes’ quote from the boxer Orlando Cruz, who’s also Gay, then stay tuned for the second segment.

Thank God for this current generation, finally getting the human race’s act together about male and female. (This is not “silly,” as William C. Rhoden claimed; it’s momentous. Is racism silly? Not when a cross is burning in your yard.) What a gift to posterity, a watershed moment in human history. Jason Collins crystallizes that, but so do those LGBT soldiers. He just happens to work in the glamour industry, and man, what a difference that makes.

We can finally begin to think of the day when overcompensating men don’t feel like they have to rape a woman to “be somebody.” Maybe next time, a 4-year-old girl in India will be spared, instead of being raped to death.

Maybe we can begin to think of the end of religious fundamentalism – which exists solely to enforce male dominance and gender norms. Whether the fanatics are Christians, Jews, Muslims or Hindus, they’ll kill you if that’s what it takes for a frightened, submissive “man” to feel like a man.

My brother Dick has never not been a man, and neither have I. I’m sissier than some guys and butcher than others – as are we all!

The end of fundamentalism, if and when it ever comes, will allow genuine religion and spirituality to flourish.

Of course it will take decades and centuries for humanity to get to enlightenment (and there will always be flat-earthers), but today the news is Jason’s. Gay men are real men, it’s natural to admire our prowess and uniqueness whether we’re a Collins, a Cruz or a Lane, and sports are mostly about the body you’re born with, just like sex is.

Way to go, Stanford Man, you’ve led us all to the promised land. Enjoy your triumph; the rest of us are.++

Thanks, pioneers.

Thanks, pioneers.

A Problem You Can Help Me With

A Kiss

(UPDATED)

I’m thinking of starting a couple of new photo blogs. Both of them would illustrate same-sex marriage; I think we need to see, to keep a record/archive of, this topic that’s so vitally important today.

Because it isn’t just a topic or a couple of Supreme Court cases, it’s people’s lives; their freedom and their future.

Their children sometimes; their families. It’s Edie Windsor and her beloved Thea; it’s some of you who read this. (It’s Barbi and Debbie, whose anniversary is today!)

And beyond you, it’s Gay and Lesbian students and elders worldwide, who don’t necessarily have access to visions of their dreams and aspirations, because of where they live and who they live with.

I have a computer file, called “Romance,” with about 300 illustrations. Some are culled from online newspapers or social media, and others are more erotic than that.

My first decision is that if I go ahead with this, I should separate the two categories – with skin and without. Some of the pictures I’ve collected show public figures – politicians, showbiz people – while others are less public, just couples whose wedding announcements have appeared in the paper. They deserve not to have their faces shown alongside images that are more sexual – even though, if our societies are going to “get” what same-sex marriage is all about, we recognize that there’s an erotic component to every one of these relationships.

Which category does this shot go in?

Walt Whitman and longtime lover Peter Doyle, from the Library of Congress.

Walt Whitman and longtime lover Peter Doyle, from the Library of Congress.

I’d say they’re pretty hot; what about you?

Now the thing is, my proposed new blogs ought to be tied together if I’m to present a full account of this moment in our relationships. Obviously it’s easy to place a link between the two, along the lines of The Slab and Slab’s Special Content. (Both of those show skin; the difference is how much.)

I find I really prefer The Slab to the X-rated stuff, because the author also includes non-Gay content that’s important to him; nature pictures, pithy quotes and political cartoons. I got this one from him:

DefilingASacredInstitution

Now here’s the rub: finding a platform, the right bloghost. I need to stay anonymous if I’m going to be posting pictures of naked guys, even if they’re not just any naked guys. I don’t do pornography; I don’t even like most porn anymore, it strikes me as typically a commodity, when it’s not downright abusive and homophobic.

I operate two very successful Christian prayer sites. I don’t want to do anything to drive people away from those.

But I have this other message, see; marriage is a beautiful thing, and now that we’re dragging the same-sex version out of the closet, let’s take a look at it, as it really is.

I’m kind of “evangelical” about this; it’s related to my vocation as a lay minister and a human being. I have one message for the general public and another, related one for LGBTs; “God is real, and loves you” for the public, and “This means you too, LGBTs.”

I would very much like to bring Gay women and men into the Church – especially those of us who grew up in it, then left in disgust with Christian homophobia.

I’m an Episcopalian; we don’t do homophobia anymore.

These guys could go on my G-rated marriage blog; one of them’s a priest, and he got married in church as well as City Hall. His hubby’s an assistant U.S. Attorney.

Daniel Noble and the Rev. Ryan Fleenor

Daniel Noble and the Rev. Ryan Fleenor

Now the question occurs to me, as I sit here writing “out loud,” why do skin at all, then? I’ve already listed two or three strikes against the idea.

Here’s my answer; it’s the same as why I wrote my most recent book, The Gospel According to Gay Guys: I think, to gain credibility with other Gay men, I have to tell the whole truth about us.

We love sex. It can be destructive to us sometimes (and Straight people find that too; boy, do they). But in the context of a relationship, sex can reveal the face of God to us, in the form of our lover.

(And once you’ve had that, it’s really kind of pointless to go out tricking anymore. Even porn-viewing loses its appeal. You can’t help but see the commerce of it, the very greed. Porn swine are completely willing to exploit your internalized homophobia, the view that Straight guys are butcher than we are, to part you from your cash.)

I just think we need to see the face of God – and it can’t all be done in iconography.

Though some of it can:

(Robert Lentz)

I love this – but see the depiction by another artist below.

I think the place to start in evangelizing Gay men (especially) is acknowledging the very physical side of our nature.

Only then is it possible to draw out our hugely spiritual side, too. To acknowledge and nurture that and celebrate it.

People can make whatever choices they’re going to make. But I don’t want Gay guys not to know they’re welcome in the Church, that we’ve got thousands of safe houses for them. And I don’t want Gay guys not to know that the wrong kind of sex can be very addictive and destructive. I mean, who got burned out faster and more completely than Donnie Russo?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My problem is that I’ve been all over the blog platforms, including Tumblr, Blogspot and here on WordPress, and I don’t know how to set up two new blogs anonymously. Any ideas? (I have only one e-mail address, and all the blogs cross-reference with each other. I’ve never had gmail or yahoo, and don’t trust them. Should I reevaluate that?)

I would like to bring Good News to LGBTs, not by preaching to them but by listening to them, telling them stories and showing them pictures of themselves. How do you think I should go about that, in ways I’m not currently doing?

Even dailyoffice.org has a Gay page, which gets a little praise or criticism every now and then, and last month with the Supreme Court cases and all the Equality signs on Facebook, I added this one to my main prayer page.

ChaliceEquality

But what I really want to do is illustrate our marriages – because for me, that’s where God is, a new and important place where God lives. Any ideas?

Because I really believe – especially for those on the outside of the Church – that this depiction of Saints Bacchus and Sergius by Anthony Gayton contains more Good News in it, for most Gay men, than the other one does.++

The very thing they hate you for - and that you hate yourself for - is your glory. God made your body, knowing that the miracle of loving would show you heaven itself.

The very thing they hate you for – and that you hate yourself for – is your glory. God made your body, knowing that the miracle of loving another person would show you heaven itself.