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Snow on My Radishes

snow-flowers

The weather’s been bad this week over much of the U.S. from Fargo to Savannah, so I don’t have any right to complain. When did that ever stop me?

I’m a little plucked to see snow on my radishes. Of course, they don’t mind cold weather, which proves that radishes aren’t very bright. But still, I don’t like snow around my garden.

Just yesterday I was thrilled and delighted to find a row of little green leaves outside my back door, the radishes’ first sprouts. My attempt last year to sow radishes and scallions in that bed went for nought, and I didn’t know why; not enough sun, or old seeds? Now I know it was the seeds, not the location. The sprouts this year took awhile, so I’d brushed away the pine bark mulch in case it was too heavy for them; no signs of life on Friday, but by Saturday I had a little row of green. Sound the trumpets! The scallions are lollygagging, but who knows, maybe they’re right on time. If the snow doesn’t get ’em.

Mostly this is a lesson in gardener anxiety; there’s so much to learn in the first few years, so many things that can go wrong, it’s as bad as cooking. One little mistake and your masterpiece turns into an embarassment. It’s a good thing God made me Gay because I could never manage parenthood. Does Johnny have the colic, does he not like bananas or is he just mad at me? Do I call the doctor or jump off a bridge?

And forget it when people say there’s so much gardening advice on the internet. Most of it’s generic bullshit, not nearly specific enough.

But Johnny and radishes have a way of surviving our best attempts to screw them up, and Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. A little snow on the radishes is no big deal.

But gardening really is like parenting, except the scallions never talk back. You wait and wait and wait for the kids to grow up, you try and protect them from every predator you can think of; you build fences, you get them shots, you feed and water, but as soon as you turn your back here comes another thing to worry about.

This weekend I started bell peppers from seeds sent by my friend Peter in Amsterdam. If these things survive they’ll become red and yellow, purple and orange; no common green ones for the Dutch, no sir, not sophisticated enough for ’em. The Dutch think they’re highly advanced in all conceivable ways, which is why they invented wooden shoes and went manic over tulips awhile ago. As a Hoosier I’m highly skeptical of Dutchery; they send “farmers” over here to build animal concentration camps and ruin the environment, because they haven’t enough land over there to ruin their own. At any rate, I planted Peter’s pepper seeds in little plastic containers saved from last year. They’re now in a flat pan next to the kitchen window. This morning I lifted up the pan to show them the snow and told them they’d better be happy they’re indoors; peppers like warmth the way radishes like cold. Peppers are smarter than radishes.

But I planted the pepper seeds in potting soil because that’s all I had; not the right thing to do according to the online advicers. I should have used soilless dirt (?) made of Canadian peat moss and vermiculite and… if I bought a $10 bag of that stuff, how exactly do I save money growing my own peppers? What did gardeners do before there was an internet and university extension service?

I’ll tell ya, somehow they muddled through. So fuck my Dutch pepper seeds if they can’t take a joke.

The other thing I don’t get is planting seeds close to each other, then thinning them out once they sprout. Why not just plant them farther apart? I’m starting to think that gardening advice is one giant conspiracy to drive me crazy. (Or maybe I’m just inclined on my own.)

This I know: I love pulling up a radish, washing it off and slicing it into a salad. I don’t even like radishes that much (my Grandma grew these white icicles that would burn your tongue off), but when you grow your own, by God you love ’em.

I suspect it’s the same way with parents and kids. Forget the parenting instinct, there’s no such thing; kids are work, but after you’ve invested that much time, money and effort into ’em, you want ’em to grow big and strong, if only so they don’t make a fool out of you.

Now tomatoes, they’re a whole different story. Spare no expense with tomatoes; if they want soilless dirt, run to Wally World and buy it for ’em. Run speakers out to the garden so they can hear Mozart. Read ’em poetry, tell them they’re gorgeous; put off your vacation in case there’s a drought. Enroll them in Montessori school, buy them tutoring, save up for Harvard, it’ll all be worth it.

And once they’re finally ready to graduate, take your shirt off, get out the garden hose, grab a salt shaker and march straight for the garden with a gleam in your eye. Bite into that sucker till the juice runs off your chin.

Then you know you’ve been a good parent, your child has fulfilled its destiny. It’s food—and children exist for parents, not the other way around. Yumbo!++

A Gay Christian Memoir

stjohnslaf

The other day I got a notion that I might write a memoir of my faith. I don’t imagine anyone will beat down the bookstore door to read it, but here’s a possible Chapter 1. See if it’s worth your time, and feel free to comment pro or con.

The picture above is my parish church, where I was confirmed, became an acolyte and then director, and served for innumerable weddings, masses and funerals, before going off to New York and the National Institute for Lay Training at General Seminary. Two years later the Bishop of Indianapolis commisioned me an evangelist with a national preaching license in this same church. It looks like an old gray lady but it acts like a vital community.

—–

This may be one of the most presumptuous books you will ever read—but don’t give up on me yet.

The presumption comes, first, from my lacking certain traditional credentials. I am not an ordained priest or minister. (I am a commissioned layman.) I do not have degrees in theology and I’m not an academic. So who am I to speak for God?

That answer plainly is nobody.

But I’ve learned some things over the years that may be useful to people; and even more, I’ve been given a fairly amazing relationship with the Holy One. At least I think so; you may not.

The good news is that you get to decide. I’m an Episcopalian; we don’t tell people what to think or believe, we let you decide for yourselves.

Instead, we affirm what we do believe. And this is my little stab at telling what I’ve come to believe, based on that incredible relationship.

My thesis is fairly simple, then I’ll expand it from here. Gay and Lesbian people raised as Christians, or brought by God to the Church in later life, belong with Jesus.

And no one else; not wicca, not astrology, not Unitarianism or “We Are the World” feel-good sentiment.

We do not belong with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, anti-abortion wingnuts or the pope. We belong with Jesus, unmediated by TV cameras.

It’s not only possible but fairly easy to have a direct relationship with the Man from Nazareth. It’s he who makes this easy by way of his great Helper and our dear Comforter.

Jesus completely approves of Gay people and always has. He aches for you to know that, because he knows how much it costs you to be so thoroughly slandered and libeled, maimed and slaughtered by politicians and preachers the world over.

Jesus doesn’t need your approval; he wants to give you his, so you know what God is really like.

I’m not going to spend much time in this book debunking the lies told about God by TV preachers and megachurch hucksters. I figure you’re smart enough to know they’re not telling the truth. If you need the debunking because of your religious programming, there are other books out there; they’ll take you Bible verse by verse. That work has largely been done. My contribution is different; I describe one Gay disciple’s relationship.

This is not a book for committed atheists and their puerile denunciations of the Big White Man in the Sky, based on superficial scans of Scripture, television and the internet. I like Bill Maher, the comedian, but he has nothing insightful to say about God or faith. His entire knowledge base comes from pop culture and he uses it in his act.

Nor am I impressed with the angry rants of various scientists who really don’t know their material.

It is possible to explain the known physical world without God, and possible to explain it with God. The explanation one chooses depends on having “eyes to see and ears to hear.”

One thing Jesus was quite certain of is the difficulty of believing in a One we cannot see. He spoke of that many times as a principal stumbling block. In his humanness he wondered how to overcome it; so he went about performing signs and wonders that people of faith call miracles. He seems to have operated on the notion that providing physical evidence is the best way to overcome skepticism and introduce people to the Invisible.

But of course people can be skeptical about that too. So he only reached a slice of market share.

It’s since grown a lot since then, but still. We live in a doubting and skeptical age. The Church itself is responsible for much of that, along with every other failing institution in society. Now in the midst of a global depression, it feels like no one can be trusted.

I do not fool myself that my paltry words will be sufficient to overcome institutional collapse. Instead I hope to speak to people, LGBT folk especially, who do know “there’s something out there.”

Here’s my first insight: God’s not “out there.” S/he’s in here.

Inside our bodies; in the depths of our soul, in the uniqueness of our personality. God lives and loves inside your body.

What follows is my halting and fumbling account of a homosexual’s discovery of one true God inside his body, and all our bodies. If you’re Gay, so’s he; if you’re female, so’s she. Straight? God invented it—and knows all the dirty things you get into. Filipino, Potawatomi, Dutch, Nigerian, God knows your skin and wears it with you.

Maybe this isn’t definitive proof, but it’s the best I can do right now, lifting up the example of the heroes of 9/11. Police and firefighters and EMTs rushed to help, and hundreds lost their lives to assist others.

That heroic impulse is direct from God inside their bodies; that willingness to sacrifice comes direct from the Crucifix.

In the weeks and months that followed, all 50 states and scores of countries sent cops, firefighters, nurses, chaplains, Red Cross workers, counselors, first responders—and second and third and fourth!

They showed us what is divine in humanity, that great and undying spark that says, “Right now, you are more important than I am.”

It’s the love of most parents for children, and most children for parents; of teachers for pupils, and students for teachers; of soldiers for victims, and victims for soldiers; of little brothers who donate a kidney to their big brother; of volunteers who hold the hands of dying strangers; of Gay people who come out so that no more Iranians get hanged on YouTube, or Somali AIDS activists get jailed for “promoting Gay marriage” while the government robs everyone blind.

It’s nuns in Boston who run a nursing home in Haiti—and nuns in Haiti who spread great joy in Boston.

We have this model of loving self-sacrifice from one man alone: Jesus son of Mary and Joseph.

The other religions of the world, worthy all of human respect, do not have such a model. The Jews gave us law and ethics and banished human sacrifice; Buddhists seek enlightenment and detachment from the world; Shintoists revere ancestors and tradition and all they have to teach; Muslims have great lessons in charity, art, science and math.

No one else has Father Mychal Judge of FDNY, much less the One he was loyal to.

Astrology? Your life is run by planets and not your own greedy, selfish choices? Tree-hugging, Druidism, earth-worship, the Sun? Puh-lease.

The sky is an interesting place to contemplate, just like mountains and oceans are, anything that reminds us of our own punyness at 6 feet tall and 180. (Or 340, or 5’5″ and 125 like I am. I come from a small gene pool, so sue me.) But these big structures only point to the divine, they don’t contain it.

Your body contains God, but not yours alone, all our bodies do. God plants herself inside your body in hopes you’ll find her there, with eyes that see and ears that hear.

A theologian named John Calvin went off the deep end 500 years ago trying to figure out why “some are called and some are not.” He invented theological explanations called election and pre-destination (with almost no Scriptural justification) to solve the mystery of why Josh perceives God and Bill Maher does not. “We’re just not strict enough,” Calvin decided. “So let’s make the Reformed religion so severe no one can possibly follow it. That way we’ll know we’re all depraved and completely reliant on God’s grace.” He got the grace right but screwed up the depravity.

Calvin’s follower John Knox was chased in the streets of Scotland by old women wielding sticks. If this was Good News, no one wanted it.

Now the United States is afflicted by the legacy of Puritans, to whom nothing was ever pure enough. Candles on the altar, a scandal! Ministers wearing robes!

But Jesus was a man of mercy. He forgave people without a second thought. True, he said, “Go and sin no more,” but he knew they wouldn’t do it; how could they, they were mortal. Expecting a mortal not to sin is like telling a lightning bug not to glow. They can’t help it, it’s what they do.

And God knows that, which is why he is infinitely forgiving. Infinitely; imagine that.

The truly graceful thing, which Calvin entirely missed, is that human beings are very willing to sacrifice for each other in times of stress. Suppose you’re a parent and your house catches fire; your job is to save your babies.

We don’t even have to be taught this, it’s “instinct,” that is, God inside us telling us what to do.

I hope to show in this presumptuous book that God takes a special delight in Gay people; that she knowingly created us for a couple of reasons (missed by evolutionary biologists); that she gave us extra gifts of empathy, intelligence and self-sacrifice, as well as an acute spiritual insight; that it’s precisely because we’re less likely to have children that we’re more likely to be caregivers for communities.

Who conquered the Disease of the last Century? It wasn’t Straight people, although it’s largely their disease. Who greened the planet, and helped save the whales, and takes care of millions of dogs and cats, some of God’s favorites?

Who invented the computer, and won the Purple Heart, and rushed to the World Trade Center to be its chaplain?

God gives Gay people special gifts to go along with our special burdens. These gifts don’t make us better than others, but they are gifts nevertheless. One gift that’s particularly gracious is a greater openness to sexuality and even human intimacy, though we often misuse this. I have no doubt that God will continue to reveal himself to Gay men and to lift up higher standards for ethical behavior, at the same time God says to the Mugabes and ayatollahs, bishops and preachers, Bushes and Dobsons, “Let my people go!”

My call is to my own people, Gay American men. We should follow Jesus and join the Episcopal Church. (My own limitations, lack of wisdom and understanding, make a similar call to Lesbians, Transgenders, Bi and Straight folks less compelling. They need their own theologians and I’m probably not the guy. Ditto for international Gay men; I hope you find something useful here but if not, I can only do my best.)

Why the Episcopal Church? Many, even all faith traditions have their insights and graces. My spiritual director is a Presbyterian woman, a follower of Knox and Calvin. She was recommended to me by a Catholic nun. My best friend is a Lutheran Gay guy who has done fabulous work after being denied ordination, even an M.Div. he earned, because of his queerness. I am in touch with non-Christian thinkers and post-Christian ones.

But the Episcopal Church has wrestled more honestly and deeply with the alleged paradox of people who are Christian, Gay and Lesbian than any other faith body in the world.

So given that I believe that Jesus Christ is it, fully man, fully divine, the Savior of the world, the best possible role model who reveals to us ourselves, the divine that lives inside our bodies: the Catholic Religion of England is the way to go, even if England is too backwards now to waste thought on.

The American Version of the Catholic Religion of England makes my heart spin. Have I mentioned yet the stunning beauty of midnight mass on Christmas Eve with a string quartet in my home parish in Bumcluck, Indiana? Where the rector now mentions Gay people in his sermon on the busiest night of the year?

Gay people are art-lovers, a love God implanted in us and in Episcopalians. Christian worship, as we understand it, should lift up the highest music and graphic arts and dance, because humans should produce their very best work in approaching the throne of heaven. All music and liturgical arts are good, but we excel, because we must. As St. John the Divine describes heaven in Revelation, “they all fell on their faces and worshiped.”

Gay men, who spend a fair amount of life on their knees, can understand the importance of physical position.

One more thing is essential: cock is not God. Your lover is not God. Pornography is not God. No one is God but God.

If you have eyes for reading and ears for hearing, come with me into my little book, and I’ll try to describe a few things learned by a Christian homosexual and sinner loved. It won’t be Scripture, I can’t write that; but I’ll tell what I know in hopes that it makes your spine vibrate in recognition.

That’s how God lets me know I’m headed in the right direction. The two revelations, the times of hearing God’s voice in my own, were extra. God almost never talks, but when he does it’s jaw-dropping.

Most of the time God just activates our nervous system. Typically I lower my head, smile and say thanks. Then I find the crucifix on my wall to know who I belong to. He isn’t my sexual ideal, he’s my Savior.

Mychal Judge was just one more disciple, a fire department chaplain who knew where to report to, knew whom to help, and got killed for it.

But that was only the start of his journey.++

frmychaljudge911

Obama & Warren: Way Too Cute

warrenobamanyt

I’ve found myself since Friday posting a lot of comments on newspapers’ websites concerning the incoming President’s selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural.

I’ve used phrases like “megachurch huckster,” so you know where I’m coming from. I’ve also posted my displeasure on Obama’s “transition” website, change.gov.

This is not just an accidental mistake on Obama’s part, but deliberate strategy: “evangelical” votes are more important than Gay ones. Here’s how The New York Times put it:

Mr. Obama’s forceful defense of Mr. Warren, the author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” has signaled an intent to continue his campaign’s effort to woo even theologically conservative Christians. As his advisers field scores of calls from Democrats angry because Mr. Warren is an outspoken opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, Mr. Obama has insisted that a range of viewpoints be expressed at the inauguration festivities next month in Washington.

Today Warren’s gone on a charm offensive, visiting a Gay-run thrift shop in West Hollywood and being photographed with his arm around one of the inmates at the zoo—you know, one of those Gay ones.

I’m not buying a minute of it. This means you too, Melissa Etheridge, who wrote a pro-Warren piece of fluff on The Huffington Post.

Part of Warren’s defense is that he does so much about AIDS in Africa, as if that helps even one person with AIDS in the United States.

It’s easy to pick “AIDS in Africa” as your charity; it’s a Straight person’s disease there, and it’s been woefully mismanaged by Straight people running the governments. Africans need the help. Most can’t afford the pricy drugs Westerners get.

So yes, it’s a good thing to work on AIDS in Africa—but it’s not the same thing as working on AIDS in your own community. Does Warren think Orange County, California, where his megachurch is located, doesn’t have an AIDS problem? That he has to go slumming?

His congregation can always go next door to Los Angeles County, where there’s a great big huge AIDS problem, especially among Blacks and Hispanics as well as Gay men. But I guess they don’t want to get their hands dirty; they think they can buy off their responsibility by sending money to a distant place.

I once criticized a Gay motorcycle club in Columbus, Ohio for making its big holiday project Toys for AIDS Babies. Babies are the easy choice too; who doesn’t have sympathy for them? Meanwhile Gay men with AIDS were sick, lonely, suffering and shunned. So I let the club have it.

They were quite offended. I didn’t give a damn. Anyone—a frigging PTA or garden club—could raise money for sick babies at Children’s Hospital; Gay people ought to take care of their own.

It’s not a question of doing a “good” thing, but of doing the right thing; doing the best thing. And that’s where Obama’s screwed up royally by inviting an anti-Gay bigot like Warren to give the nation’s prayer at the dawning of the new civil rights era.

Facing criticism of his choice, Obama says he’ll be a “fierce defender” of LGBT rights—though, of course, he still expects us to pay more taxes to subsidize people who are legally married.

I don’t believe him. We’ve just heard the first lie right out of his own mouth.

People who are married get tax breaks from the city, county, state and federal governments. Not married? You pay more.

Stay-at-home mom? No Social Security for you, honey, no matter how much your partner pours into the system. Barack Obama thinks that’s just fine.

“Kept boy,” partnered with a rich lawyer while you study or work on your art? You better hope he doesn’t get sick, because without him you might end up with nothing. Obama says that’s good too. He and Warren agree, no marriage for Gay people. They want to keep the tax breaks for themselves!

I worked my ass off to elect this man; I was the county coordinator. Our efforts made a difference in one of the most closely contested states. Obama got a 4% higher vote total in my county than the two nearest comparables. I told my team we wouldn’t win this county, but every vote mattered, because voting is done by states, not individuals. Obama carried my state with its 11 Electoral College votes by 26,000 ballots, 50%-49%. A full 10% of his winning margin came from my county, 2600 votes, a record turnout for local Democrats.

We did it by making it safe to vote for the Black man. This place is 99.8% White, and Republicans were saying he was Muslim, or the anti-Christ, or there’d be a race war if he won—every scare tactic they could think of.

So what’s my reward? Rick Warren to give the nation’s prayer. Rick Warren, who says if you let Gay people get married, pretty soon you get incest and child molesting.

That son of a bitch. And I don’t mean Warren, I mean Obama.

He isn’t even in office yet, but I’m done with him.

I’m proud I helped elect the first African-American president. But do I believe in him? No. As far as I’m concerned, the picture on the top of this post is identical to the one on the bottom.

mccainfalwell

Dirk Vanden’s Remarkable Novel “All Is Well”

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I’ve just finished reading Dirk Vanden’s magnum opus, “All Is Well.”

This guy started out writing stroke books for money, but ended up authoring real novels—all the more remarkable because they first appeared just two years after Stonewall. Gone were the sissy stereotypes, the internalized homophobia, the clueless guesses by Straight pornographers of what motivates Gay men. “All Is Well” finishes a story begun two books earlier, as a morally upright and uptight Mormon discovers, after terrifying pain, who he really is.

Due to Proposition 8, massively funded by upright, uptight Mormons, this story couldn’t be more timely. It’s a product of its times, 1971, complete with flower power and hallucinogens, but it’s fresh for today’s readers too.

A heterosexually married man is forced to confront his own desires. That’s the basic plot. He goes through hell—as men who live a lie still do. You don’t have to be Mormon to recognize the gut-chewing conflict. You could be Baptist or Catholic or Jew.

There is much to respect in the Mormon religion, and much that’s corrupt to its core. At its best it produces a sweetness in its adherents, a sincerity and genuineness the whole world could want. But then there’s a dark side, intolerant and vicious, sex-crazed and just plain crazy. They actually think that if they just fuck enough and make more babies (see polygamy), they’ll end up as gods on other planets. It’s the wackiest damn religion there ever was.

So what do you do if you’re Mormon and Gay? So much kindness, so little tolerance of those who don’t reproduce. Mormons ideologically oppose Gay people; we don’t fit their salvation idea that the way to heaven is to max out the baby-making, the more women you use the better. “Be fruitful and multiply,” the only ordinance of God mankind has ever obeyed, is the only rule that matters to these men. Why else do they maintain the world’s largest geneaological database? Why else do they baptize long-dead Jews?

It’s male-dominated religion run amok.

They think they’ll become gods on R-596. They portray themselves in public as circumspect (if you knew their secrets you’d see how rotten they are), but in their heads they’re wannabe fuck-machines, because babies are how they become gods. Joseph Smith was a world-class pervert.

Newsflash: men are not gods. Men are the exact opposite of gods. God transcends the flesh and rises above it; Mormons revel in it, and never get where they’re wanting to go.

Gay men represent a complete threat to this Mormon-god economy. We fuck for the fun of it, as sex-crazed as they are, without making new babies. They can’t stand the thought of all that seed spilled for naught. Fucking without becoming gods? Who do those fags think they are?

Vanden’s novel is both confused and confusing at first, but it does make you turn the page. And then you arrive at Robert’s grand awakening. He must be who he really is, before toxic religion drives him crazy.

He accidentally takes some mescaline, thinking it’s something else.

And the world is suddenly beautiful in ways he never saw before. The most mundane details he always ignored become spectacular. Vanden eloquently describes a drug-induced hallucination that makes the whole world gorgeous. It moves Robert beyond his boundaries and helps him connect with his son. Vanden sings with complete brilliance; you don’t have to have taken a drug to follow and appreciate. Dad encounters the world anew, and is flabbergasted. The writing is a tour de force, the best mind-expanding trip I’ve ever read.

The boy tries to tell his Dad there’s a new thing coming, but the novel takes off once Dad finds out for himself. Vanden’s description of the father’s trip is both ’70s-dated and timeless; the book holds up even now. Dad sees a sunset; Dad glimpses a thousand possibilities. Dad might be you or me, seeing the world for the first time.

I did not care for the rape and incest between Robert and his brother; the taboo-crossing scenes are violent and cruel. Vanden’s brothers who fuck are forgiving and finally respectful, but jeez, I don’t want to know. Vanden pushes boundaries, and it takes some strength for the reader to keep going. Gay sex is not about dad or brother hangups, but man-to-man sex here and now. Fantasies are allowed, but Vanden seems to say that rape is the logical extension of Mormonism. It’s also the crime the latest Fundamentalist Mormons are charged with; Texas authorities found rape rooms on the top floor of the Fundamentalist temple.

And they think God has anything to do with this? It’s a theology?

Joseph Smith was a ripoff artist, but it’s the fastest-growing religion in the world.

“All Is Well” is a journey book, where a man from Salt Lake City winds up in San Francisco; in keeping with his mental evolution, he grows up along the drive in an old VW bug.

The genuine ethic of this novel comes in the final chapter; Robert, liberated and Gay, takes responsibility and addresses his son, even as he’s leaving him. Dad admits everything and apologizes, and points to a better life. Always with a Vanden novel, hope arrives. We know the kid’s going to turn out okay. Now, in this era when Gay and Lesbian marriage and parenting are hotly debated, we have an example from 35 years ago of a Gay dad being a true father. In a way it’s the most Mormon moment in the book; it’s also the Gayest.

When you have children out of duty, and not from the free-flowing effulgence of your innate sexuality, maybe you think a little harder about the impact of your actions on your kids. Or maybe it’s just that Gay people are a little bit smarter, a little more thoughtful; heterosexual dads don’t even have to get licensed. But this father thinks about what he’s doing, reaches out to his child and makes a friend for life.

Yeah. Them’s my kind.

It’s amazing that Vanden came up with all this in 1971. He’s a genius, a visionary, an artist. He loves Gay men, and knows our troubles, and brings us into a positive sexual place. He thought drugs were how to get there, though at best they’re just a way-station. The important thing is to come to self-acceptance, and if that included an ecstatic experience once upon a time, then bully for you.

If not, stay sweet. Be true to yourself. Be honest. If you want dick, then find yourself a stud and have fun. Suck that big thing, fuck that little ass, don’t be ashamed. Love what is good in your religion, and be Gay. If it takes mescaline to get there, “the Lord won’t mind.” If it means telling your family and your best friends who you really are, then do it. If it means telling the truth to your son, then be honest. “Times are changing, Dad, a new thing’s coming.”

And now it’s here, it’s coming on strong in the Age of Obama, just as Dirk Vanden imagined. “All Is Well” may be ’70s-trippy, but it’s also ’00s real, because Robert learns to suck cock. He likes it, a truth that overrides everything. I wouldn’t give you two bits for stupid chemicals, but personal integrity is a pearl of great price.

And wouldn’t it be nice, just once in our lives, to hear a father who actually tells the truth. Most heterosexual dads are incapable of it; they’re wannabe fuck-machines, hoping to be gods, and they lie through their teeth. The homo dads save their lives by telling the truth. Maybe we wouldn’t if our lives didn’t depend on it, but they do.

You needn’t ask, but we have to tell, or else we die.++

Reading Genesis

christopher

Part of my Advent discipline (an opportunity I’ve freely taken, not a duty) is to begin reading the Old Testament in something like chronological order—by which I mean not when it was composed (which often took centuries), but when it purports to tell of events. This must, of course, begin in Genesis—which puts me right smack into the two Creation stories, a Garden of Eden tended by a naked man and wo-man.

(The Hebrew manuscripts are full of puns and wordplay.)

Fundamentalists taught to believe in the inerrancy of the King James Bible do not understand that Genesis contains two Creation stories, from different times and author-sets with very different purposes. Even the words used to name God are different in the two accounts. Bam, let that rock your world.

Fortunately I first learned about this as a 22-year-old at General Seminary in New York, where I enrolled in a fabulous training program for lay ministers run by Howard Galley and Brooke Bushong.

I will never forget Howard’s revealing the purpose and intention of the “Priestly” Creation story with which Genesis now begins. We were spellbound by the beauty of the story and the power of Howard’s performance. He was a magnificent teacher, with a Gay guy’s flair for the dramatic. He envisioned Gen. 1:1—2.4 read aloud as a meditation on a beach at the Mediterranean, with a fire going, maybe at dawn, maybe at dusk: “And there was evening, and there was morning, one day.”

We could all see the sunsets as he spoke.

The purpose of P’s Creation story is to encourage the observance of the Sabbath. That concern didn’t arise until centuries after the Hebrews began to consider themselves a distinctive people, the inventors of monotheism.

May they always be praised for this magnificent accomplishment. God is not a 14-armed Shiva but an animating, physicalizing Spirit.

The text I am reading is the New Revised Standard Version, widely accepted among mainline Protestants as the best Biblical scholarship currently available. The actual book in my hand is The New Oxford Annotated Bible, which does a great job of providing context and alternative readings in its explanatory notes. My copy of the New Oxford Annotated was given to me by a lady in Sun Lakes, Arizona, a visitor/member of my website dailyoffice.org. I’ve never met her, but she responded to a notice I posted in 2006 that my paperback copy of Good News for Modern Man was in tatters and had to be held in place by rubber bands.

In the old days when I first started the website, I typed all the lessons and the Psalms, before I discovered that both the Prayer Book and the NRSV are available in their entirety on the web. Now, even though Good News (Today’s English Version) uses male-exclusive language and no longer fits the ethos of the Episcopal Church in public worship, I’m almost loath to give up those old files, because I typed them myself. I’ve become sentimental about them. What a dedicated, naive dunce I was back then; of course it was all online already—including the Daily Office, but I didn’t realize it. I would never have started the website if I’d known about missionstclare.com.

But then I’d never have gotten all the benefits of my discipline. (And I still think my site’s better.)

All this must change in the new Advent. The Bible doesn’t need sexist language, even if that’s how it was originally written. The apostles and other writers presumed they were being inclusive when they wrote to “my brothers.” But we now know they weren’t inclusive, they were exclusive, ignoring half of God’s created ones, and today’s women don’t like to hear it.

Today I made it through the first four chapters of Genesis, which I read at my dining room table next to the Advent wreath (blue and white this year, not purple and pink) with one candle lit under the chandelier.

Four chapters is plenty to get an earful about sexism and sexuality. It’s hard going for readers in 2008. After Eve and Adam sin by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God decrees that men shall rule over women. Patriarchy is the consequence and the punishment, and God is made responsible for it.

He also gave the putative first man and woman clothes to wear, to signify shame and their acquisition of civilization.

I’m more interested in their Edenic nakedness, which the writers saw as part of God’s good plan. So was their original equality, which we’ve long since abandoned.

It’s as good an explanation for patriarchy as any, I suppose, to blame it on God. But I don’t think God had anything to do with it. I think men did that; they took their superior strength and acted like jerks, creating an entire system of male superiority and privilege which still has relics today.

Much of the Old Testament blames God for things s/he had nothing to do with—including the imputation that a male God created Adam first and “in his own image.” Can men not see, shirtless in a mirror, that they have nipples? We all start out female, every human being ever born. Every fetus grows as female, then 51% of them get infused with androgen—from their mothers. So why wouldn’t Eve have been made first?

I do not blame Hebrews ancient or modern for their Bible; I revere them for it as I love their Scriptures. But I do observe that the idea (still extant today) that God gets pissed off because people disobey him/her is incredibly crude.

When God created mortals, don’t you think she had some notion that we’d be intellectually limited? That we’d rebel and sin and do all kinds of stuff we aren’t supposed to, and wouldn’t do if we were immortals to start with?

Do we think God is so stupid she couldn’t figure out in advance—she couldn’t predict—that we’d cause all manner of havoc?

She decided to go ahead and create us anyway, just to see what we’d do. We’re entertainment for God, a source of joy, and when we’re good (and we sometimes are) she just eats that up.

When we shoot up Mumbai or trample a temp at Wal-Mart, she gets really disgusted; Justice is her middle name.

But as John the Divine wrote, “God is love,” and when we show the least little consideration for each other, God is dearly pleased.

Consider: the big theological problem back in pre-history was a natural disaster, which we call The Flood. It’s a central event in Genesis. The Tigris and the Euphrates overflowed and the devastation was incalculable. The question back then was “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, the same as a 1990s bestseller.

The prehistoric Israelites decided that God must have gotten pissed off, so they blamed themselves for it. Nearly every prehistoric conception of divinity makes the same assumption; Hurricane Katrina was somehow our fault. It was moral, not meteorological.

That’s bullshit. (There aren’t any sea-monsters in the deep, either, nor waters over the vault we call the sky.)

Now if you’re fundamentalist and KJV-inerrant, you can’t stand the notion that one jot or tittle of the Bible might be wrong; what if it means the whole thing’s wrong? They panic.

But all-or-nothing thinking is a psychiatric symptom of an immature mind, associated with paranoia and other types of mental illness. So grow up already. God is a Big Boy; try being one too.

We are slowly developing (slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y) a capacity to understand that God continues to reveal himself to us; that he’s not some pissed-off ninny throwing curses around. As St. John said, the essence of God is love.

Which means that he hurts about The Flood, and Hurricane Katrina, and whatever tragedy you’ve been through lately.

He doesn’t just hurt, he bleeds.

And thus he came to show us his Blood. And even to invite us to “drink this wine” as nourishment to our souls.

We do not know in this Advent season how long it will be before the Lord returns to us, but we’re advised to wait and not to “sleep.” It may be that in the next 6000 years (the Earth should live so long) that God will reveal more and more of her loving self, so that no one thinks a translation by a Protestant committee in 1602 was inerrant; no one blames her for floods and hurricanes, as if her default emotion is anger; and more and more people live a simple, gentle, peaceful, sustainable life.

To me, the pre-eminent story in Genesis and all the Old Testament is the sacrifice of Isaac, in which God banned all notions of human atonement—killing virgins or babies to appease an angry God.

I received this thought as a gift two years ago in Advent, while composing a Service of Lessons and Carols for dailyoffice.org. It was one of the great “Aha!” moments of my life, and my skin shivered for quite some time.

That service of Bible readings and hymns tells the whole story of salvation, from Genesis to the Christ Child and Resurrection.

There is a reason Abraham is revered as the founder of the three great Faiths of the West: by order of God, Abraham prohibited human sacrifice, and with it, the notion that God is pissed off and needs to be appeased by killing babies.

Christians believe that in the fullness of time, Jesus was born so that God himself became the human sacrifice—and then exploded out of it.

All this was foretold, Christians believe, by the later prophets of Israel. Whether that’s so or not, we know that as time went on, the perception grew that anger is a human problem, not a godly one; that God doesn’t get pissed off by our actions, but certainly mourns them; that God is the most magnificent Lover you ever dreamed of, naked on your bed, longing for something deep in your soul and your body.

“There is no greater love than this, that a man pour out his life for his friends.”

(Or a woman, who’s actually more likely to do it.) As early as the 1300s, a Christian woman named Julian of Norwich was describing God as our Mother.

In Christ there is no male or female, so God doesn’t care if you like guys or gals. S/he knew that going in, and has a particular love for those who experience oppression; remember her middle name.

I think God invented Gay people to repeal the ancient dictum, “Be fruitful and multiply, and subdue the earth.” Humans have certainly pursued the former (the only Law of God Straight people have ever universally obeyed), but our record on the latter is entirely mixed. Does this earth look “subdued” to you? How many species must we make extinct to subdue this planet? All but our own, when God filled it up with creeping things?

Lo and behold, Gay people who limit reproduction are one of God’s antidotes to global warming. Now maybe you know how much God loves you; you’ve been part of the plan since the Beginning.++

Tips for Spiritual Health: Toss the TV, Read a Psalm

all-night-store

I went to a store this evening in my hometown. It’s a very small store, the kind where one clerk (the owner’s daughter) sits around watching television as she waits for a customer to show up. I live in a very small town.

So I walked in and was instantly hit with the sound of the TV. It was some kind of cop-reality show, where a questioner with a microphone followed an old, gray man down an institutional hallway accusing him of torturing people. And the owner’s daughter sat there greeting me heartily.

I returned her friendliness, but I instantly wanted to ask, “How can you stand to have this talk about torturing people in your environment?”

I didn’t say it out loud; I have no way to know whether she even heard what the idiot box was spewing out. But maybe she did hear it, and took it as something interesting. After all, she chose the channel.

I don’t want to be a crank; no one needs me walking into their lonely store bitching about the utter assault of television. I did my little customer thing, paid her money and got the hell out—but not before she did a genuinely humane thing, talking up a blues band appearing in town that night at one of the local bars. She said she went to school with one of the players, her parents knew the other guys and “they’re really good.”

She didn’t make any money off this, it was purely an act of friendship, both to the guys in the band and to me. She spoke as if I were a real human being, not just a wallet. I appreciated her enthusiasm.

However, there’s still the old man accused of torturing people, which she accidentally inflicted upon me because I happened to arrive at the wrong time. She chose the station and then I showed up.

I don’t watch television, any of it, ever. Haven’t for 20 years, and not because of some moral superiority; I had a sick lover and a business to run and I just ran out of time for television. Once you drop out of pop culture, you can never drop back in. In five years the stars all change, and the people who are famous now you never heard of, and may not be impressed with. They’re invariably less talented than the ones before; TV cheapens everything.

The tube’s more addictive than ever—more aggressive, more demanding—but if circumstance pulls you away for it, you may not miss it in the least. Your life becomes more peaceful, less violent, less materialistic. You stop being subjected to 500,000 commercials, which vastly improves your quality of life.

Thus walking into a store can be a harrowing experience. Torturing people was the last thing on my mind, and the last thing I wanted on my mind.

TV-watchers become desensitized. Non-TV-watchers become horribly aware of depravity and perversion, violence and inhumanity, that makes money for Mickey D’s.

Did the old man in the jumpsuit torture people? If he did, why would I want him in my house?

I spend a fair amount of time gazing at religious icons because of my website, dailyoffice.org. This makes it very hard to look at torturers. I no longer have a context in which to view violence.

Because of my prayer site, I get e-mails and blog comments from people asking religious questions and looking for spiritual advice. I’ve had to start asking God to bless and guide my replies, as I’ve become more aware that some people think I’m a priest (I’m not) or that I’m some kind of expert who speaks with authority. I don’t know what impact my answers will have, so I’m becoming more circumspect.

My single best advice is this: throw out your TV. Just trash it. Give it away.

My next best: give God five minutes every day. Read a psalm. Open yourself just a little, and God will slowly fill your life.

Sin, and people who torture others, and terrorists who blow up Mumbai, and our own inclination to regress and screw up and go nutty: these are facts of life. I’m not immune. I go stupid on a regular basis.

But God is love, and our own lives tell us so in our friends and family. So we need to be about the spreading of love and not torture.

Maybe this sounds simplistic to you, but I highly recommend you ditch the TV.

Fill your viewing with beauty instead. Look at this world we live in! Have you seen a blue heron lately, or a dandelion, or an infant’s fingernail?

We’re no longer what we eat, we’re what we view.

I don’t ever want torturers in my house. I want to fill it up with lovers.

But “our moral health” (what an ancient-sounding phrase) doesn’t just depend on what we look at, it depends on what we think about. Which is why, once the TV’s off, those five minutes a day of opening up to God are the best positive action we can take for our spiritual well-being.

If you’re especially devout you can pray the Daily Office according to the Book of Common Prayer; that’s what my websites are for. It’s a marvelous discipline. It’s speeded me light-years ahead of where I once was; I took on the responsibility of the websites to guarantee I would always open up for a few minutes, especially when I don’t feel like it. I have a responsibility to other people now, people who visit the websites to pray, and that’s how God keeps me in line to soak up more love.

As for my experience at the torture store, I need to harden myself a little. This sort of thing is going to happen, it’s everywhere in media society, and I need to remember that leaving my safe little haven always means taking on a little danger. Get out as fast as you can and go home.

Mourn for the dead in Mumbai and Nigeria and Wal-Mart, where a man was trampled to death for a flat-screen TV. Then give God five minutes every day, and see how your life is transformed.

That is to say, converted. I realize Gay guys aren’t supposed to be for Jesus, but I’m sold on him. Sweet and kind, angry and outspoken, longsuffering and gentle, this is the man I choose to pattern myself after. I’m often a miserable failure at it, but I know the God of love when I see him, and he’s the opposite of that torture guy at the sad little store.++

Thank You, Iowa

anti-war902

Against the War in Iraq, September 2002

Let me be clear when I say “the entire Midwest” voted for Obama. I refer to the Great Lakes states of the Big Ten Conference: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa.

Kansas is not in the Midwest, though it often claims to be. Neither is Missouri. The Dakotas are way the hell away from us in the Great Plains, and Nebraska is halfway to the moon. They’re all lovely places* but they’re not the Midwest. We grow corn; we don’t grow cotton, we don’t raise wheat. It’s corn, not football or basketball, that determines who’s in and who’s out. We sure as hell don’t do cotton; that’s a slave state thing. We are the Midwest, and Barack Obama, a Midwesterner from the self-proclaimed Land of Lincoln, won every one of our states. I am so proud of us; we voted for greatness, even though he’s just That One.

The center of Indianapolis, the public circle on which sits my cathedral, is dominated by an obelisk commemorating the fact that Indiana gave more soldiers per capita to the Civil War than any other state. The numbers are staggering: one-fourth of all able-bodied men volunteered. Whole towns emptied out; whole counties. Indiana was the place that ended African slavery.

My great-great grandfather may have killed people so that Avon and Randy and Eddie and Frankie could be free. Wars are never good, but sometimes they’re necessary. We would either have slaves or we wouldn’t, so Indiana went to war to make sure we don’t have any more slaves.

The Midwest saved democracy. You can’t be the land of the free without being the home of the brave.

I’m proud of us. Indiana has been very backward for a very long time, but when push came to shove, we pushed—just as we did for LBJ and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We don’t reach these peaks very often. Michigan and Minnesota are far likelier to vote Democrat. Even Ohio is, though it’s as regressive a place as you can imagine. I carried a buckeye in my pocket on Election Day, hoping that my homefolks would come through. And they did.

Who do we have to thank for our next President? Iowa. Not Kansas, not Nebraska, not the Dakotas. We have Indiana to thank, and Wisconsin, and (Big Ten/11) Pennsylvania. Yay, team!

Midwesterners did this. But we only voted for our own. Barack and Michelle Obama live 70 miles from my house. They’ve got two little grrlz named Malia and Sasha, in a neighborhood called Hyde Park. It’s a nice place, with a major university (a founding member of the Big Ten, I can even sing their fight song) and a French restaurant.

When Barack went to Springfield to announce, he got me. I resisted for awhile, but then I capitulated. He’s Da Man, as Kyle Orton is Da Quarterback. (He’s a Purdue man, a history major from Iowa and a Democrat.)

No one knows how well Obama will do; we can’t predict the future. But we’re sure hoping for Mt. Rushmore, even though it’s out of space. We have so many problems—a lousy economy, wars, schools in collapse, health care if you can afford it and most cannot—that expectations shouldn’t run high, even with a Midwesterner in the White House. A whole lot of persuasion will have to go on to get even one thing right.

But Barack Hussein Whoever is all about persuasion. Heck, even his grllz are a tough audience.

Still, he’s giving them a dog, it’s a campaign promise, and God willing they’ll get to high school and college.

God willing we all will, even in Indiana, which proudly casts its 11 votes for the next President of the United States, Barack Obama.

* Eastern Kansas is gorgeous; the western two-thirds are for shit. Don’t ever drive I-70 to Denver, there’s nothing there, it’s empty, completely barren. They grow wheat, so what do you expect. Midwesterners don’t do wheat. Here in the true Land of Lincoln, we grow corn.

Iowa, you were magnificent. The people of Indiana thank you. America thanks you. The world thanks you.

I hereby proclaim you honorary Hoosiers. That obelisk is for you.++