Friday, December 16, 2011

Making the Story Real

I walked the grounds of the Washington DC LDS Temple this evening with my husband. He noted that the lights were quite beautiful. I responded, "I think it looks like a Disneyland Nativity Theme Park." Bah humbug and so forth.

The scene unfolds. Happy people pour into the Visitors Center and onto the grounds, delighted and entranced by the spectacle. Elder Santa Missionary greets them coming up the sidewalk, "Merry Christmas! Welcome! Thank you for coming!" He means it. He's happy we came.

Colored lights shine everywhere, green, blue, red, and purple. Glittery strings drape every tree and shrub on the temple grounds, a million twinkly points of light to conjure up an ancient scene transpiring in the parking lot, complete with Mary, Joseph, the Babe, shepherds, and angelic voices singing hymns of praise while a loud, omnipresent narrator's voice tells the story.

I don't believe Jesus was born in a parking lot in Bethlehem. I don't believe it was a happy time for Mary and Joseph. I don't believe the ancient scene was adorned with a million colored lights. I don't believe the missionaries were there in Bethlehem. I don't believe that an announcer was giving bystanders the instant play-by-play action. I don't believe that hundreds of people were milling about watching it all happen in the stable. Bethlehem was a holy birth not a light show.

The scene at the temple is beautiful, but it's far removed from Bethlehem. Enjoy the lights, but remember, it's a production. It's not the real thing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why I Came Back to the Church

I started attending the LDS church again on November 20, 2011 after a 30-year absence. I am doing this knowing that I will not be able to be rebaptized in the church. I am also doing this knowing that I do not believe in many of the doctrines of the LDS church. I'm still pretty much the same apostate gay atheist excommunicated person that I was on November 19. I did not go back to church without a lot of thought and prayer(!) (yes, this atheist prays regularly). It's an uncomfortable fit right now, but you will see me on Sundays in the Kensington Ward of the Washington, DC Stake. Here's ten reasons why I'm back in the pew.

10. I need the love and support of my faith community.

Shortly after I was excommunicated by the LDS church, I started attending the Episcopal church. When I moved from Kennewick, Washington back here to Washington, DC, I quickly found St. Margaret's Parish, and attended it for many years. I love the Episcopal church, and I love its liturgy. It spoke to my heart and I felt the Holy Mystery of the eucharist every Sunday.

But belief eluded me. I felt like an interloper, like I was outside looking in – seeing the miracle wrought in the lives of other parishioners, but not feeling it in my own spiritual life. I wanted to believe in God and Jesus; certainly in my heart I wanted to believe. But my head just couldn't lead me there, and I couldn't bring myself to stay in the in the heart of St. Margaret's. So after more than five years, I quit going.

Even though I am skeptical about God, a Higher Being, a Universal Force, I have a spiritual life, and I missed not being in a faith community. Twenty-five years was a long desert to cross. So I'm returning to the faith community that touched me and made me its own. Because of who you are and what you call yourselves, I expect you to love me. I'm here. I'm yours.

9. I want to reconnect with my family.

When the LDS church and I parted ways, my already strained marriage pretty much fell apart. I lost my family, and I left it. I saw my children twice when they were growing up. All of my children have married in the temple, and all have remained in the church.

Coming back to church is a small way of coming back to my family. They may not be with me in the pew, but I'm sharing with them every Sunday in thought and deed the motions, habits, and reflections of their Sabbath. I remember them. My sitting in the pew is a token of my faith that the God in whom I do not believe can work on the messy details of my family. I do not believe that I'm an accident or a victim diverted from exaltation by a mistake in the Plan of Salvation. The God that I imagine in my heart is bigger than that. So I sit in the pew and wait (and pray).

8. I want to grow in an unconditional love for my faith community.

Just because I'm a skeptic doesn't mean that I don't believe in something. I believe in the all-encompassing love of Jesus. I believe in his example and devotion. While I may doubt the miracles and the stories, I don't doubt the teachings about love and sacrifice.

Being Mormon is part of my DNA. Just as I expect my community to take me in, I want to take it in as well. I want to love these people, and love them in their shoes, and not offer them up a version of my shoes. I want to listen, to share burdens, to walk beside them, to comfort them, to love them because that's what people who are in love do. I seriously wonder if I can do it. But that's a big part of why I came back. I want my heart to grow again.

7. I need to examine seriously my (lack of) Mormon faith.

I am examining in my life what I mean when I call myself “Mormon.” Some members may make the claim that I'm not even that, because I'm not a member of the LDS church, and I live a life that precludes me from ever returning to full fellowship in the LDS church. Some of my non-LDS friends think that I have a weird case of Stockholm Syndrome, that after I escaped from church thirty years ago, I have a need to go back.

The Mormon Myth is astonishing. The Restoration is astonishing. Set inside the ancient Christian narrative, our Restored collective notion of God has a much larger story. In my saner moments, I ask myself how can Christianity possibly be true. Mormonism confronts my skepticism with a much more problematic improbability. How can I reconcile the mythic restoration with the historic facts? Why did God restore The Church in historic time? Is this another cosmic joke? If I am to walk in faith within the LDS church, it will have to be a walk in spite of the facts, but I do need to know and understand the history of the Myth.

And my identity: why do I still call myself Mormon? Why is it in my bones? I cannot examine that outside the church doors. So I'm going to church. It doesn't fit very well. I'm not comfortable in my Mormon identity. I want to know what that discomfort is all about. I want to experience the discomfort, because I think it's in my distress and distrust that I shall truly discover my Mormon identity.

6. Someday, I'll be reconciled within the LDS church.

My relationship with the LDS church is quite simple: I'm not a member. But the truth goes deeper than that. My kids and grandkids are in the LDS church. I've gone around the last thirty years telling people that I'm a former Mormon. I've dropped the former. I was wistful in my former days. Now, I just bite my tongue a lot in Sunday School. Every Sunday I am confronted by ten dozen Mormon Stories, most of which aren't told, and I want to know them. What makes these people tick? Why is it such an itch under my skin?

I have another relationship with the LDS church. It has an expansive theology that has the capacity to embrace me and the realities of my life, if only it will. If I am not in the pew, I will never experience that. Someday, the Mormons will reconcile their families and embrace their same-gender loving daughters and sons. I'm not holding my breath for it to happen, but it will, and maybe I'll be sitting in the pew to see it. What a glory day for Zion it will be, don't you think?

5. I claim my Mormon® identity within the LDS church.

It may be an urban legend, but I heard once that the LDS church tried to trademark the term Mormon®.

My church, my faith community kicked me out, tried to rob me of my spiritual integrity (and my sexual orientation), then blamed me for it. My pitfall was thinking and asking questions. Somehow the Mormon didn't get kicked out of me. I really am a Mormon, and I go to the LDS church on Sundays.

4. I felt strongly moved to get back in the pew.

After I discovered Mormon Stories on Facebook, I attended two of their conferences, the DC Regional conference and the “Circling the Wagons” (LGBTQ) conference. At both gatherings, speakers challenged their listeners to remain in the pews. I felt strongly after each conference that I needed to go back to church. I did not go back without praying about it. I consulted with church members, with family, and with members of Mormon Stories. People offered encouragement, love, and support, which confirmed my feelings and my resolve.

The trip back has been good. The members of the Kensington Ward are gracious and warm. I talked with the bishop, and he was very welcoming. So the possibility confirms my feelings, too. So far, I've avoided all public introductions. I think by now that most people in the ward recognize that I belong there, even if they don't know my name. When people privately ask me questions, I answer them truthfully. No one has been unfriendly or put off by my presence.

All that being said, being excommunicated carries a stigma, so I've not mentioned it except when asked. Being excommunicated also carries restrictions, such as not speaking publicly in meetings, not receiving the sacrament, and not praying in meetings or classes. Those restrictions impede my path to being fully integrated in the ward life. At some point, I'm going to have to talk with the bishop, or the high priest group leader and ask for some clarification about how I fit in.

3. Members in the LDS church need love and succor from those of us beyond the reach of the LDS church.

I have a unique vantage point in my ward. I'm very much on the outside looking in, and I'll always be on the outside. Some of our ward members are in great pain whether it be grief, illness, or crisis of faith. I can share that burden with them. I don't have to believe what they believe, I only have to love them. That's all I'm called to do, and that may be the only calling I'll ever have. I think that's a pretty good calling.

2. My faith community needs to see my witness.

The LDS church needs my witness. It needs to know the truth about my life, and the truth about my life needs to be seen in my ward. The truth is this: my life has worth. Just because I'm gay or I struggle with my own unbelief doesn't mean I don't belong here. Because the LDS church cannot find an institutional means to have me back, I'll sit in the pew, waiting, bearing witness to the truth I know about my life, and the lives of other LGBT-SGL people. I'm not going away anytime soon.

1. My brokeness, openess, and presence can work for change in the body of Christ.

So I'm back in the church building sitting in the pew. It's not an easy place for me to be. I'm not sure what kind of a Mormon I am. I have a lot of anxiety.

When I left the LDS church thirty years ago, I felt beaten up. I felt robbed. I was angry and bitter. I was shunned. I lost my family. I had a big empty hole in my soul. Thirty years heals a lot. Sometimes, I still feel the pain of leaving, but the bitterness is gone. I used to believe that I was broken because I was homosexual. Now I realize I'm broken because I'm human. We're all broken. We all fall short of God's glory. Every single one of us falls short.

Sometimes we're shepherds. Sometimes we're sheep. The wisdom is in knowing the difference. When I'm a sheep in the Kensington Ward, I trust that a wise shepherd will set me right. When I see a sheep in distress, I hope I will have the shepherd's instinct and love for his sheep.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why I Left the Church

I recently listened to a podcast on Mormon Expression that detailed the “Top 10 Reasons to Leave the Church.” It got me to thinking what my own reasons were to leave the LDS church. I've written the reasons below. I'm writing from thirty years ago. So the recollections may be pure fabrication. It's through a haze of memories, some of which were full of pain.

10. The congregational music was awful.

I was a convert to the LDS church. I was used to loud, rousing music from the pews. As a Methodist, I learned to sing forcefully the praises of my Lord. That just didn't cut it in the LDS wards in which I worshipped. It was really a shock to me that this church put so little stock into the singing of its music. Mormons don't even stand up when they sing! Over the years, this minor irritation became much larger. I would try to salve it by always singing in the choir. It seemed I was always the backup priesthood chorister. I could never convince the brethren to sing with any feeling at all. It gnawed at me the whole time I was a member in the LDS church.

9. The Sacrament Meeting liturgy was a joke.

The LDS church has a liturgy, but it is an overstatement to say that it is “low church.” Although the LDS church celebrates the sacrament every Sunday, it is not like the eucharist in the Roman Catholic or Anglican traditions. It is not even like Methodist Communion. The whole sacrament part of Sunday worship consists of two young men (usually) saying a prayer over the bread and the water(!), and passing the elements to the congregation. The whole thing seemed so prosaic. It took me years to learn to focus on the prayers and on the experience of the sacrament. And I have come to realize that the very ordinariness of the sacrament is its strength. We can find the body and blood of Jesus in the very midst of our lives. Thirty years ago, though, the sacrament was sometimes very difficult for me to get through.

8. LDS Church Standards often have nothing to do with morality.

The LDS Church has standards, some of which do concern morality, but many which do not. I did not have a lot of problem with standards relating to honesty, chastity, etc., but I had real issues with standards that related to appearance. I did not then, nor now, believe that wearing a white shirt, tie, and jacket improves my relationship with Heavenly Father. I have difficulty supporting modesty standards that punish women because of the way their dress affects the male sex (a better standard would be to inculcate the priesthood with its own modesty standard about how to relate to women appropriately).

A larger issue for me in the church was its orthopraxy, with its emphasis on right conduct. Although I kept the Word of Wisdom as a church member, I do not believe that God cares at all about alcohol, hot drinks, and tobacco. These were the only parts of the Word of Wisdom that seem to have traction with members. The rest of the advice (and it was advice) seems to be ignored. I guess the heart of this issue is I didn't believe that many of the practices of the LDS church had anything to do with enhancing or elevating my relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

7. The LDS church revises its history.

This is beginning to get to the meat of my disaffection with the LDS church. This church continually re-invents itself, and recasts its history. I don't object to the principle of continuing revelation. I do object to the erasing of history, the changing of “facts,” and the reinterpretation of the past that is at odds with contemporary historical records.

When I started studying the historical record around the First Vision, the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's business activities, (this list could go on and on), it shook my testimony. Ultimately, I stayed in the LDS church for many years despite this knowledge because I realized that the mythic story of the founding of the Mormon religion happened in historic time. The fiddling, blemishes, embarrassments, and apologetics are simply part of the landscape of this religion. Still, I felt each new “discovery” I made was assaulting my integrity. Becoming a Mormon is not for the faint of heart.

6. Some doctrines of the LDS church are weird.

When I joined the LDS church, I knew that many of its doctrines were different than the Methodism I grew up with, but I was unprepared for the sheer sweep and amount of that difference. I was brought up in a Protestantism that provided a corrective to Catholic theology. The Mormons weren't out to correct Christianity. They were out to replace and reinvent it.

There is much in LDS theology that is familiar to converts from Christian denominations. There is also a steep learning curve. The LDS church doesn't talk much about blood atonement anymore. It disavows the Adam-God theory. It accepts men of African descent in its priesthood. Admittedly, these doctrines may be called outliers. The Mormon faith has mainstream doctrines that seem alien to outsiders, including an anthropomorphic God, a pre-existence of the soul before this life, what appears to outsiders as a conditional salvation, and a heaven with three separate kingdoms.

Practices that took some getting used to included doing baptisms and sealings for dead people so that the dead could have the same opportunities for salvation as the living. The notion of celestial marriage and exaltation, that is making the family links between the generations eternal in heaven was a little mind-blowing, which isn't to say that it's not beautiful or untrue. There's just nothing like it in other Christian denominations, and scant support for such a view of heaven in the traditional Christian scriptural canon.

Of course, in addition to the traditional canon of scripture, members of the LDS church believe the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are also divine scripture from Heavenly Father. Twice each year, the LDS church leadership provides counsel at the church General Conference, and that counsel is regarded by most members as scripture. If you are a True Believing Mormon, you accept all of this. If you are the least bit skeptical, you will experience profound cognitive dissonance.

5. The members were burdened with guilt.

After I got over the initial flush of conversion (this took at least a couple of years), I noticed how guilt-ridden many saints seemed to be. This really depressed me. Many LDS church members are striving to be perfect, to live every law of the Gospel, to honor covenants that they have made at baptism and when they have gone through the rites in the temples. When members fall short, they are deeply and spiritually pained. There is a reason that the lectern on the stand in the front of the chapel has a box of Kleenex®.

Most members appear to have a very strong personal holiness code that they've developed and personalized over the years. The code is nuanced and tweaked every Sunday in every meeting. Members are always being exhorted to be obedient: to God, to the Holy Spirit, to the Prophet, to the Apostles, to their bishop, to their priesthood leaders. The road to perfection and exaltation is long, narrow, and difficult. The road to failure is much shorter and much wider. The pain Mormons feel from the guilt is real. Suffering runs deep.

4. The LDS church often pays lip service to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

When I was growing up, I heard a lot about Jesus at home. Jesus was a Methodist. Jesus loved us, and through grace he covered our shortcomings so that we could have joy in fulfilling God's will. I don't ever remember that religious duty was heavy. I didn't know about the “rules.” The only rules taught us kids were the Golden Rule and to love our God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.

LDS church members talk about Jesus and his atonement, and the grace born out of his atonement, but it's a very different grace than what I had learned as a child. Mormon kids learn another scripture about grace, 2 Nephi 25:23.

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

That grace, to me, seemed like low-octane fuel.

In their meetings, members often quote their prophets, but they aren't as likely to preach from the New Testament gospels. I think some LDS church members distrust the Bible, because they are always reminding themselves of their Eighth Article of Faith

We believe the Bible to the the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

It is my perception that church members regard the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants to be more trustworthy than the Bible because of this caveated correctness. Members can never be sure what parts of the Bible are translated correctly, with the express exception of those portions translated by the prophet, Joseph Smith. So the real story of New Testament grace is suspect. It doesn't get told in the same way. It gets trumped by other Mormon scriptures.

3. I'm gay, and I'm not broken.

Long before I joined the LDS church, I realized I was gay. I did not realize what an issue that would become in the LDS church. While I was attending college, I met another LDS student, and he and I became involved with each other. We talked to our bishops and stake presidents, and I got a phone call from the then-President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Spencer W. Kimball. To this day, I remember his gravelly voice, and him telling me that he had scheduled an interview for me with one of the church's general authorities. I talked with Elder Henry D. Taylor, and he promised me that if I got married, “it will solve your problem.”

Gay men should not get married to cure their homosexuality. And, to its credit, the LDS church no longer advises gay men to do that. However, because many such men have a well-developed personal holiness code from their church upbringing, and a desire to achieve exaltation in the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom, they go ahead and get married. In my own marriage my homosexuality was not as big an issue as my skepticism about the church doctrines. But I know that it was a tremendous strain on my wife, and I'm quite sure had we remained married long enough, the issue would have become magnified, especially if I had developed a relationship with another man.

My bishops knew that I was gay. My wife knew that I was gay. Some of my priesthood leaders knew that I was gay. Eventually it became a burden. They wanted me to change, and I refused. I did not believe I needed to be fixed.

2. I couldn't look an investigator in the eye and say, “Now do you understand why the church had to be restored?”

I was struggling with my lack of testimony, my skepticism. I really wanted to believe but my testimony simply wasn't there. I remember fasting and praying. It seemed to me like I was always fasting and praying, and still no testimony. My wife, my home teachers, my bishops would tell me that I simply wasn't fasting and praying hard enough. But years into the project, I realized, it was never going to happen. I resolved not to worry about it, to trust that God would take care of my lack of testimony. I would do my callings, exercise my priesthood, be a good father, a caring home teacher, a loving husband. I would get through it!

Then, I got called on a stake mission. I remember memorizing the discussions. I remember tracting. And I remember asking an investigator, “Now do you understand why the church had to be restored?” and not being able to look the investigator in the eye because I knew I had no testimony, that I would never have a testimony, and that I felt the LDS church was not true in the way that members believe it to be true. I was devastated. I immediately asked to be released.

1. God's love was completely conditional, and Christ's sacrifice ultimately didn't matter.

The “after all we can do” finally wore me down. I didn't have a testimony of the LDS church or its doctrines. I didn't feel God's love at all. The grace of Jesus seemed out of reach, even though I had experienced it, and knew that it was real. My life was outside Christ's atonement. No matter how much I fasted and prayed, I was gay and a skeptic without a testimony. I wanted the fullness of the gospel, and I knew I could never have it. I couldn't stay in the LDS church. I had to leave. Within a few weeks, I was excommunicated for apostasy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do You Desire to Surpise Your Female Partner at Night?

How do I answer this question that I found in my spam folder? I was raised to believe that, really, no one likes surprises. So I guess I do not desire to surprise my female partner at night. I'm afraid the surprise would be on me to find out that I had a female partner at night, and it would be a surprise that I am sure I would neither desire nor like.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why I Went to Salt Lake City Last Weekend

I attended the Mormon Stories - Circling the Wagons conference this last weekend. I've tried to gather my thoughts and make some sense of what happened there. Please understand that these are my reflections and interpretations of the conference. I was deeply moved by it. I apologize if I have put words in the mouths of people that I have mentioned in this posting. I've tried to be faithful to what I observed, but of course, I may have gotten it wrong.

First off, thank you Joseph Broom for getting the ball rolling for this conference. A special thanks to the Open Stories Foundation, to John Dehlin, and to Anne Peffer for their efforts. Thank you to the women and men who gave of their time, talents, and resources to make this conference happen. Also, a shoutout to all of the presenters who told their stories, to all the sisters and brothers who told their stories at the testimony session, to the speakers at the interfaith service for reminding us of the overpowering love of our heavenly parents and for the prophetic messages that we can take back to our wards and stakes. I am grateful for this weekend.

I came away from Circling the Wagons hopeful for LGBTQ-SSA individuals, their families, and allies. Although the road is still very long, the distance that has already been traveled is great, too. The message for me goes something like this: the LDS church is at a crossroads with its policies and practices regarding LGBTQ-SSA Mormons. Some stakes and wards are reaching out to LGBTQ members, but the support given to us varies dramatically from stake to stake and ward to ward. Homosexuality as a social construct and as a scientific fact is a divisive issue within the LDS church. Church leaders, therapists, support groups, and LGBTQ members and their families need appropriate therapeutic models and tools that reflect the nuanced journey that LDS church members often find themselves on when they address or are affected by these issues. Church members affected by the issues of homosexuality and gender identity have to develop strategic and tactical approaches within their wards and stakes that promote understanding and support for LGBTQ-SSA members, and that bear prophetic witness to God's love for all of God's children.

The LDS church is in difficult straits. What worked in the past isn't working today. As LGBTQ-SSA members continue to come out and navigate the very difficult course for them within (and without) the LDS church, many families recognize and share the pain and suffering of their sons and daughters. As LGBTQ members suffer, or request to be removed from the LDS church rolls, or are disciplined by priesthood leaders, their families increasingly follow them out of the LDS church. After all, this is the church that taught all of us that love of family trumps all. When faced with the double-bind of supporting their children, their wives or husbands, their brothers or sisters or maintaining ties with an organization and priesthood leadership that does not understand or does not have the tools to help its members, increasingly those families choose their loved ones over the LDS church.

During the course of the conference, Carol Lynn Pearson, and other attendees described some of the outreach being made in some stakes and wards. Carol Lynn spoke several times about the affirming work that has been done in the Oakland stake, and how that could be used to model similar programs elsewhere. The South Jordan stake presents a monthly fireside for LGBTQ-SSA members, their families, and allies. Mention was made of various wards that have also reached out specifically to LGBTQ members. The key to these programs is that members in the pews have to approach their leaders and press them to help develop the information and resources. Because this isn't coming out of the Church Office Building, it has to come from and bubble up from the branches, wards, and stakes. It's risky. It requires a lot of discretion, patience, and prayer, but it is being done, and it has to be done. Some of this reaching out to local priesthood leaders is best done by allies, but those of us who are directly affected by the LDS church's understanding of homosexuality also have to play a role in breaking down the prejudice, discrimination, and misunderstanding that has often characterized relations between our priesthood leaders and us.

We are not all on the same journey. We have to recognize that fact among ourselves. We have to realize that we can't all use the same approaches in our personal journeys, and in our dealings with church leaders on all levels. Whether one agrees or disagrees with leadership pronouncements about homosexuality or same-sex attraction, we have to recognize the reality that the issues are described and dealt with in many different ways, some of which are harmful and dangerous, and others that can be supportive and personally successful, but still may lead members to leave the LDS church. To be a member of the LDS church, and to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual, to be transgendered, or to experience same-sex attraction is a difficult route to navigate. Members who are LGBTQ-SSA often experience an internalized stigma because they fail to live up to a personal holiness code. These same members can face anguish, pain, and ostracism if their situation becomes known in their branches and wards. Most other members in their wards know little or nothing about homosexuality, except that it's just plain awful.

Dr. Lee Beckstead suggested that we need therapeutic approaches and models that support the needs of the LGBTQ-SSA members and their families. Members need assistance that will help them and their families reach a place of congruence about who they innately are, how they behave, and how they experience their spiritual life. This therapeutic assistance is a highly personal choice, but it should be focused on the needs and welfare of the member, and reflect that member's needs and autonomy. Therapies should not ultimately be harmful to the client.

Dr. Bill Bradshaw reported on research that he and others have done that explores in part therapeutic approaches and their effectiveness and potential harm. This research focused specifically on LGBTQ-SSA individuals who identify as being currently or formerly members of the LDS church. Bill reported preliminary results, and more results and analysis will be reported as it becomes available. Research like this that can provide guidance about the relative effectiveness and harm of various therapeutic approaches needs to be available to local LDS church leaders as well as to members.

Bishops and stake presidents need education, training, and sensitivity around the issues of homosexuality. Church discipline is applied differently throughout the LDS church. Too often, priesthood leaders simply don't know what to do when counseling members about these issues. I believe that if the church leadership in Salt Lake City can't provide solid information to bishops and stake presidents, perhaps LGBTQ members and their allies need to approach local leaders with resources to help them be more effective in their leadership and counseling roles.

Carol Lynn Pearson gave a talk that described the heroic journeys that LGBTQ-SSA members take, how we leave our tribe, go into the wilderness in search of something of great value, and at great personal risk, and finally how we may return to the tribe as heroes. Her talk was beautiful in its scope and message. We have a valuable and prophetic place in the LDS church. The LDS church, ultimately, needs our voices calling for repentance and healing. The institution may not yet know that, but the women and men in the LDS church are waiting for their hearts to be changed by our lives and our stories. The LDS church needs us.

Jimmy Creech, a Methodist Minister removed from his ministry because he celebrated commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples within his church, offered this advice: God shouldn't be confused with the institution. On these issues of homosexuality, remember, we are right. God and justice are on our side. We are part of God's creation, and finally our loving heavenly parents will hold us up and bear our burdens. God moves through history, and as Carol Lynn Pearson said, "History happens because you and I do something." Reverend Creech asked at the Interfaith service on Sunday, what does it mean to be whole children of God. Love is the very presence of God. God is a lover, and created us to be lovers. We are whole people.

Finally, a word to Bishop Kevin Kloosterman. Thank you for your heartfelt presence at the conference. Thank you for beginning your own personal journey of truth and justice. Thank you for wrestling with angels. With you, Carol Lynn, Jimmy, and 10,000 other allies of faith, we're going to change the plight of those at the edge of the LDS faith. Change always occurs at the edge.

I want to end this posting by suggesting that all of us can take some concrete steps to improve the situations of LGBTQ-SSA members, families, and allies within the LDS church. Many of you are already doing these things.

  1. Write letters to local leaders and to the general authorities about what you believe the church needs to do to better support LGBTQ-SSA members and their families. Write from your heart and your experience. Be thoughtful, prayerful, and respectful, but be quite clear with your message. Leaders need to hear from us. If you feel that you can write them, consider doing so.
  2. If you can, be a resource for your priesthood leaders. Approach local leaders and offer to help develop educational and support presentations, programs, and resources to increase the understanding that LDS church members have about issues surrounding homosexuality.
  3. Educate yourself about different therapeutic approaches. If you have had therapy, was it useful? Was it harmful? Did it produce the results you wanted or expected? Use the internet to help disseminate information about therapies. Information was shared at the conference that would be very useful for local church leaders and for church members who are therapists. Dr. Lee Beckstead mentioned resources in his presentation, and possibly his presentation along with the research that Dr. Bill Bradshaw reported on can be used as a springboard to developing guidance on what is useful, helpful, and healing.
  4. Let bishops and stake presidents know that information and resources are available that can help them navigate issues of homosexuality with members that they counsel. Communicate with general authorities that bishops and stake presidents need training on these issues.
  5. Use the enthusiasm, resources, and contacts from this conference as a basis for continued action. Get connected through the Mormon Stories LGBTQ and Allies Facebook page. Start developing your own lists of resources, then disseminate them using Mormon Stories and other social media. If we can raise visibility through Mormon Stories, we can more easily disseminate information throughout the wards and stakes in the church. Use social media to end our isolation, to provide resources and information, and to respond quickly to what is happening in the LDS church with regard to our issues.
  6. All of us have been on difficult spiritual journeys, in and outside of the LDS church. We need to be witnesses about our own journeys within our wards and stakes. This is a big risk for many of us. For some of us, it means being open and honest about who we are, and about our struggles with conflicting LDS church teachings about family, exaltation, and moral purity. For some of us it means coming back to a place that deeply wounded us and cast us aside. We have to stop the spiritual violence that has been perpetrated upon us. We need to learn skills to deflect the shame and pain that is often inflicted, sometimes quite cluelessly by leaders, other members, and even our loved ones. We don't have to be in any member's face: we need but witness in love to their hearts. For that to happen we need to be in the pews with them on Sunday.

So I'm hopeful. No clear answers came from this conference. No clarion calls were sounded. But we made history this last weekend. History is on a march, is on our side. I heard that many times throughout the weekend. This gay apostate atheist Mormon is feeling a strong spirit-filled call to get back to the pew.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Moscow, Idaho

Mary's Favorite Butterbug

This is my last day in Moscow for a while. I get a little nostalgic knocking around town. It is always the same, but changes around the edges. The accretions happen slowly but relentlessly, and it's a very different town from what I left 34 years ago. I guess I feel 34 years older, too. (Not!)

I've had a nice trip out west. I spent an evening in Salt Lake City with friends, then last weekend in Rexburg, Idaho with my daughter and her family. I had a wonderful visit with them. She has a six-week old baby girl, and it was a pleasure to see the littlest one and all her brothers and sisters. I had forgotten what rambunctious kids were all about. It's pretty wonderful.

Josie at six weeks

Mary and I continue to get acquainted. We stayed up late talking about family, our lives, and everything else, too. I love her very much, and felt her love. She's married to Joe, and Joe is a peach. He's a loving, involved father and husband. They have seven children, and I'm grateful to get to know each one. I had a very special visit.

On Monday, I flew into Seattle, then drove over to Moscow. Mom and I have been having a good visit. She's getting much weaker, but other than her breathing is in pretty good health. This trip has a wistful air about it. I think we both know that we won't be having many more. I'm glad that we've had many years together. I'm grateful for the life she shared with Dad. I feel privileged that she chose to come into our family and be our step Mom. It was a difficult thing to do, and she did it very well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

More Odds 'n' Ends

Every time I turn on the radio or read a newspaper, I quietly smolder. The inane ramblings of Ron Paul. The irresponsible, dangerous campaigning of Michele Bachmann, the timidity of the Democratic leadership, the dishonesty of the Perry campaign, the intransigence of John Boehner, the list just goes on and on. Our political leadership is off in la-la land, and trying its best to drive America over a political cliff. Just when one thinks it can't get any worse, something else goes horribly wrong. How do we get ourselves out of this mess?

On a lighter note.... I have a new pizza pan. I tried it last night. I still need to work on my technique, but I promise to bring America the best pizza that a home kitchen can deliver. Ron (my champion pizza taster) and I are constantly developing methods that we believe will deliver a breakthrough in the quest for perfect home pizza. If you would like to join this conversation, provide comments, inject hot air, add toppings, or test pizza products, please respond, and we'll add you to one of our exclusive taste panels. (Or not....) We are interested in suggestions, crust recipes, methods, and the like. Really.

Oh, I know this is now old news, but the office and the bedroom are now usable spaces in our home. I was getting depressed about them. I would walk upstairs and feel bad about the state of those rooms. It was like I didn't have control over parts of my own home, almost like (space) aliens were occupying the bedroom. The whole situation was really on my mind. Last Friday, we had lunch with Rick and Richie (try Richie's stir fry; it's really good), and I was talking about the out-of-control clutter. Richie offered to help, and showed up on my doorstep on Monday morning.

Clutter is my inner shame. I've never been able to keep a clean room. I'm horizontally organized. I've never learned how to file. I can't throw away stuff, because I might need it someday. I really couldn't ask Ron to help, because he and I are so close to each other that I didn't want him to draw conclusions about my character based on the mess. It doesn't matter that he doesn't make those judgments; I just didn't want to hear and see him there, and react to an unintentional comment or gesture. I guess I didn't want to feel stupid for keeping a receipt from 1989 (yep, I found one). I needed someone to help who had no stake in me or my mess, and Richie filled the bill.

Richie just basically asked me, repeatedly, "What do you want to do with this? Do you want to keep this? Donate this or trash?" He never questioned my decisions, but immediately executed them. Wow. We took on clothes closets, drawers, horizontal surfaces, under the bed, and bookshelves. The work went pretty fast, too. We took fifteen boxes of books to the Friends of the Library bookstore. Before we got all the boxes in the door, the store manager was already unloading them onto the shelves. An equal number of boxes went to a thrift store in Richie's neighborhood. The second day we delivered more boxes, we walked through the store and saw remnants of my closets hanging on racks, and perched (jauntily) on store shelves. I was very happy to see my stuff being recycled to other people who might appreciate it. We also set out eight or ten bags of trash, and several sacks of recycled paper.

I feel such a great relief to have all that stuff out of the house. I feel freed up from a burden. I donated about two-thirds of the clothes in my closets and drawers. Somebody out there will soon be wearing my old 70s shirts. I still have some things to sort through - family pictures, and some papers, but it's all contained in a single shoebox, which is a far cry from what I started with.

I couldn't have done this without Ron's support and Richie's help. Thank you both. It means a lot to me.

Keshawn and his Aunt Lyn

And finally, I went to visit my sister in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. She and I usually get together once or twice a year, and the visits are always wonderful family affairs. This year included "the Family Dinner" at Harrison's house. I helped Grace with the spaghetti (her contribution), and walked into the kitchen that was full of older Black women. None of them knew me, and I didn't know any of them. But I had food, and that was enough. Harrison's soon-to-be mother-in-law offered, "the menfolk are all downstairs." But I told her that I was scoping out the food. Another woman said, "You men!" and she and I became buds. She offered me a taste of her brownies and asked me what I thought. I said that I need two or three more brownies before I could decide. I tell ya, White people don't know how to cook! These family dinners are in a culinary experience all of their own. I did not recognize my grandnephew Keshawn. He's grown up so much (he's fifteen). I talked some with Joshua, Joe, Karen Ann, and Lyn. I said hi to a lot of people who I didn't know at all. I reconnected with Harrison's sister, whom I hadn't seen since 1976. She was three back then. It was all grand!

My Grandniece, Jasmine

Of course, the most wonderful time was spent with the new lady in my life, Jasmine. She's a cutie-pie. She's Grace's former husband's granddaughter. Grace is her foster parent, and she really knows her grandma. She coos, squirms, and giggles all at the same time. She warmed up to her Uncle John, as well. I loved being around her. She's a very good and beautiful baby, so much joy.

Grace and I did two things other than baby. We worked on some genealogy that she has been working on, and we square danced at the Chicago Crossfire weekend. We also cooked and ate a lot. Grace is a wonderful sister, and I'm really happy that she and I could spend a long weekend together.

Oh, and the ride back home.... I'm really going to have to get passed the lowest price ticket. It took me eleven hours to fly from Chicago to Washington, DC. I could have almost driven it in that time. I flew from Chicago to Detroit, and had a flight delay there; from Detroit do JFK, and had a major delay there, then from JFK to DCA. I was not a happy camper. But, I got home okay, and Ron gave me a big hug when I got in the door.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Would Jesus Do?

Jonathan Dudley says it much better than I ever could. He wrote an interesting piece on CNN's Belief Blog about the Bible and Gay Marriage. Historical context is everything, and our collective memory is very short when it comes to "traditional values."

Sometimes on this blog, it's just so much easier, and better, to let someone else do the writing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A New Day

Don't you believe it! How do you like the new pic? It's very controversial in some circles. Some of my readers (all five of you) think that it looks like on old doddering fool getting ready to drool. I like to think that it makes me look surprised, excited, and energized. You tell me what you think. I really, really want to know. And, in fact, this blog has a comment facility such that you can add your reasoned comments and intellectual critiques of my new pic! I'm looking forward to a rewarding and lively interchange of ideas.

So, it's been ages since I have added anything of any import to this blog. That isn't to say that I've been dead, or anything like that. And it doesn't imply, although you might think so, that I have a boring, insular, and somewhat pathetic life. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have talked with intellectual giants (well, I consider her a giant) since my last blog entry. I have eaten the nectar of ancient civilizations. I have been challenged by the real and theoretical artistic post-contemporary vision of modern Catalan art. Finally, I'm discovering a bridge to the gulf of a difficult past. There was life before Happy. And my post-apocalyptic view still remains intact, knowing that over the next 40 billion years, I'll be, well, Happy.

2011 has been the year of the Cosmic Road Trip. It started with a stint in Ft. Lauderdale with Ron, ramped up with a trip to the Pacific Northwest, recycled on a bicycle trip down the Great Allegheny Passage with Jerry and Rick, went full-throttle with a square dance convention, gay cruise and Catalonian vacation with Ron, and now will play out a trajectory of a visit to my sister, then off to Rexburg, Idaho to see my daughter and my newest grandchild and Moscow, Idaho to see my Mom, and I'll end it up with a weekend in York, Pennsylvania square dancing with Tim. But that travel is also insinuating its way into my life on Bucknell Terrace, too with some examining and rethinking. It starts out with butterflies beating their wings, but perhaps some real growth and change can result. In any case, my heart is full and very happy. I'm grateful for the experiences, and for being able to have a Cosmic Road Trip.

I may be Pollyana's stepbrother, but examining the context of the road trip would also reveal how profoundly moving this whole experience has been for me. I find myself turning over small (and large) parts of my life and looking at them from a different perspective. I feel alive, restless, scary, and awkward all at the same time. The road trip within has been dramatically shaped by the Cosmic Road Trip without. While I don't believe that I've seen this year anything that has been radically different than in other years, it seems to be facing me with a clarity, saturation, and brightness that I've not experienced before.

In 1976, I had a born-again experience. I woke up one morning, and the world had changed. It was the deepest experience of my life. I remember it like it happened yesterday. My life this year is approaching in its multiplicity the profundity of that moment in 1976. That's why I'm dancing. It's also why I'm writing these feelings down, before they fade and become shaped again by other events. I feel caught up in something greater than myself.

Traveling has the capacity to broaden horizons and change circumstances. I love being wide-eyed somewhere other than Wheaton (although I love Wheaton, too!). It was hilarious to be in Florida in February and hear a young, drunk, sexy-looking, blonde guy discourse on Floridiots. I've never been quite so entertained in a hot tub. It also cast a light on my own fears and prejudices about growing older (he would have called me ancient, but thankfully, the ambient light did not betray me), and about what it means to me to be gay. Oh, you bet, I do have a gay identity. And I wish they would send me the homo card to go with it. I'm definitely not a Floridiot, either, although I think I could enjoy becoming one.

April saw me zipping off to Seattle and Moscow. Moscow means Mom. It also means the University of Idaho, and it means hometown. My feelings about Moscow are mixed. Part of it is the distance I have put between me and my hometown. Part of it is that when I go there, I go there to visit my step-Mom, and not much else, except for at least one stroll on the University of Idaho campus, my Alma Mater, and a school deeply tied up with my adult life and career. I see in my Mom a woman growing very old, more infirm every time I visit. She's full of life, with a great laugh and sense of humor, and she knows that she's about walked to the end of the path. I'm ambivalent about her approaching death. I'm grateful that she and my father chose to spend a life together so that she could be my Mom. In her, I see me in the next quarter century. Her journey will some day be my journey, and I'm glad to see it close-up a couple of times a year. I'm always surprised by our mortality.

Bob lives in Seattle, and I try to see him whenever I get to the Northwest. Bob and I go back 30 years. He's pretty much retained his hardline left-wing radicalism. I've retreated into a comfortable leftish centrism, which doesn't always please Bob. Our friendship is one of shared experience over the course of a couple of years in the early 80s. We both survived Washington State's Nuclear Desert and came out fast friends. Our lives went in very different directions, but at heart, we're small town gay boys looking to get laid every now and then, but never by Republicans.

My CRT continued with a jaunt down the Great Allegheny Passage with Rick and Jerry in early June. Over the course of a week, we pedaled about 225 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland. Both guys are far more doctrinaire (my word...) than I about environmental issues, and also (I think) about personal responsibility. I heard quite a bit over the week about the environment, global warming, fracking, and consumerism. I hope that at least a little of the dialogue has rubbed off on me. The real discovery on this beautiful trip down a rail trail is how free I feel on my bike, how my bike and I are this entity hurtling down a path, carefree, sweaty, sometimes rainsoaked. It's a complete marvel to me how a man and his machine blend into a wonderful pumping organism speeding (or not) down the trail to a new sight, a new place, an ahhh vista, or a heart-stopping moment. I was thrilled by the trip, and happy to share it with two intrepid cyclists. Does it really get better than this?

Also this summer a friend, Steev, turned me on to Mormon Stories. I checked it out, joined the Facebook group, and have begun to rethink my relationship with the Mormon tradition. In the meantime, my youngest daughter invited me to come visit her. I love her very much. I think her kids are angels. This invitation has sparked some introspection (oh yes, I'm capable of that...), and I feel humble, fearful, happy, tentative, gay, and grateful all rolled into one emotional point. I've purchased the plane ticket for a September visit. When I found the Facebook group, it felt like I was returning home. I felt a tremendous loss on leaving the LDS church, but I realize that the tradition extends far beyond the institution. I just want to connect my current life to the life I left behind. I want to reknit a connection. I want to acknowledge to the people I love within and without the LDS church, and Mormonism that I need to reclaim a spiritual community that evicted me. This is part of my Cosmic Road Trip. I'm not asking to be re-baptized. I'm telling people that I'm Mormon, and gay, and atheist. And that's not a contradiction. It's me.

Okay, let's get away from this heavy stuff! For a few days in June and July, I was at the gay square dance convention in Atlanta, Georgia, Gone with the Windmill. I danced a lot of Advanced, and on the last day, way too much Challenge 1. My gray matter was spilling on the floor. Tonight is the first night that I'll have danced C-1 since Atlanta, and I'll have to post a status on Facebook chronicling the result. The Fun Badge Tour was one of the best. I was impressed.

It's really time that I ended this blog entry. Two days after returning from Atlanta, Ron and I flew off to Barcelona, and spent a week on the cruise ship, Nieuw Amsterdam, with 1700 other gay guys and 30 lesbians. Ah, RSVP, thank you! We had a blast. Well, what did you expect? So, the first port of call was Tunis. To put it mildly, it was not one of the favorite ports of call among the men (and probably the women). Tunis is dusty, hot, and second-world. But it's also strikingly different than any other port we were in. I've never had a trader right in my face trying to make a sale (okay, I ran into something like it in the Yucatan). I saw camels up close. I walked through the Roman baths in Carthage. I had a wonderful lunch of Tunisian specialties made for tourists, just like me. What isn't there to love in an experience like this? I don't know if I'd like to spend three weeks in Tunis, but 5-1/2 hours was spectacular. Sure, I'd do it again!

Okay, in Europe, it's easy to get overdone with Madonnas. They are everywhere, and that's because ancient churches are everywhere. And saints are everywhere. And everything is older than dirt. And every place looks like a postcard. I love tour guide history. I think I could almost become a tour guide, just about anywhere, after this cruise. All of them were unrelentingly cheerful, even when it was hot. All of them new the tale that made this place the most beautiful, historical, important place in the Ancient World.

I loved it. I loved every moment of it. I loved every church, every square, every ruin. I loved soaking up the experience in a different place in a different way imagining the histories, the people, the forces, that propelled and animated this place, and finally I'm in it. I'm part of the picture. I'm crossing a bridge across the Tiber, and staring up Il Duomo, and walking in the twisting alleys of a Provencal village. This is not Wheaton.

And I loved the cruise. The porn stars got deported in Tunis (their underwear was worn too provocatively under their cheeks). It was reported that their debarkation was a mutual agreement between them and RSVP. I can't wait to see RSVP's promotional materials for 2012 :-) The ship was very comfortable. The food was grand. The entertainment was fabulous. Amy Armstrong and Freddie Allen, I love you! The entertainment on a gay cruise really is a cut above. Amy is sometimes painful to watch, but only for the poignancy of her performance. She has an astonishing voice. A lot of the comedic talk was about alcohol, self-image, and sexual attraction, and the talk wasn't happy talk. It was the tip of an iceberg of alienation. We see it surface in our lives from time to time, but what's beneath the surface is the real story. Maybe gay men (lesbians?), and the large women who entertain them really are profoundly alienated from each other, and from the world off the cruise ship. How far is the social distance between sexual connection and deep friendship? Just askin'. Thanks, Amy for letting me ask the question after your fifth Cosmopolitan. I couldn't do that!

The lesson of Catalonia is, again, we're not Spain. It's like being gay in a straight world. People around you presume you speak Spanish, but you're really Catalan. I was quite taken by the country, the people, the FOOD, the place. I would go back tomorrow. Spain has a peculiar hold on me, and Catalonia has settled on my mind.

After debarking from the cruise ship, Ron and I rented a car and drove about 145 kilometers northeast of Barcelona to Castelló d'Empúries. It's a small fortified town about 8 km from the Mediterranean and several km east of Figueres. We stayed in a small, family-owned and operated hotel, the Hotel Emporium. The family adopted us, and really wanted us to love our vacation and see everything we could see in that part of Catalonia. We did. The church in the town dates from the 12th century. The outside is plain; the inside is exquisite, and yes, you'll find St. Sebastian bleeding near the door. The old town is a maze of streets and alleys, although after we had been there a week, we were not getting lost so often. And the food. I loved the food. The hotel had a gourmet restaurant that re-created Catalan cuisine in a beautiful way. This was not street food, or some odd tapas. This was an offering from the soul of a Catalan kitchen.

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the street food, or the cafes. Because I did. We had a platter of tapas in Girona that made me happy. I ate anchovies at every opportunity, because I could. A Frenchman served me a sandwich in Prats de Mollo, and I'm sure that it was the authentic sandwich that I'd been waiting six decades to eat. We even ate at our favorite Indian restaurant in Barcelona. Govindas. Check it out! Ron, Brian, and I had eaten there five years ago. It was a hoot to return. I loved the Indian food, Catalan style.

Which brings me to another insight. Ethnic food, no matter where it's prepared somehow absorbs the place that it's in. That is, Indian cuisine in Langley Park, Barcelona, or Amsterdam is Indian cuisine, but parts of Langley Park, Barcelona, or Amsterdam assert themselves in the food. I discovered this with Catalan pizza, too. In fact, McDonald's is not always McDonald's, either. Every culture leaves an imprint, and I was amused and intrigued by it.

Yes, we went to the Dalí Museum in Figueres. We re-visited the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. We visited the Jewish Museum in Girona. For me, the most surprising visit was to MACBA in Barcelona, where a curator took a group of us on a tour of the collection, and in the course of an hour and a half he gave us a cogent, credible, philosophical perspective on contemporary Catalan art. The art would have been completely inaccessible without his fast-paced and penetrating art history lecture. It was a tour de force that had all of our heads spinning, and I think every person on the tour was hanging on to the words that spilled out of his mouth in such complete thoughts and elegant explanations. It was performance in an art space. It was at least an upper-level semester art appreciation course crammed into our time together. I've never seen anything like it.

Okay, I'm going to end this. I'm out of breath, and perhaps you are too. Or maybe you're just bored. I kind of feel like the parent of a first-born child. Such a parent acts like it's the first time it's ever happened. And when I see behavior like that, I remind myself that it is. And that's my Cosmic Road Trip so far. It's still in progress. I'll let you know what happens next.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Not Bad

When I was a kid, mold was a bad thing.
Not a white rind on cheese
Not a blue vein, but a bad thing.
The slab of bacon leans against
the side of the fridge
white and blue flecked with gray
not a bad thing, just mold-covered.
Like cheese. I paid too much for it.
So I'll eat it, risking stomach cancer
rather than throw it out.
Mold is not a bad thing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama, We Hardly Knew You

Osama bin Laden was a person who is hard not to demonize. He may well have deserved to die the way he did. He started a terrorist enterprise that has killed thousands of people, most of them Muslim. For him, the ends always justified the means. He's a great example of the danger of religious belief running amok.

But we hardly knew this man, and we shall never know any more of his story, because he can't tell it. While President Obama can claim that justice has been done, I'm not so sure, because the case has not been proven for this "justice" killing. I hope that the case is made, a speaker for the dead, for bin Laden and the people his actions killed. The pre-meditated killing of Osama bin Laden appears a lot like murder, even though he pretty much deserved what he got.

Rejoicing? Dancing in the streets? Jubilation? I am troubled by that reaction to his death. Bin Laden's death brings none of his victims back to life. It fills no empty space at the dinner table. It fills no lonely arms. His death is not something to celebrate, maybe something to thoughtfully consider, to mull, to tease out details of a life we hardly knew, and the lives of those who are lost to us now. But please, no rejoicing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Taxes and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

I just finished working up my taxes for this year. Every year, I dread reporting my taxes. I want to start my own tea party revolution about taxes, and in the meantime, soothe my churning bowels.

I don't mind paying taxes. In fact, paying taxes is a civic duty, and much good comes from all of us voluntarily paying and reporting our taxes. What gets my goat, though, is the weighty burden that figuring out and reporting taxes entails. Uncle Sam depends on us voluntarily reporting and paying our taxes, but the tax code is so difficult for the average taxpayer, and the forms are so arcane, and the language is so steeped with accounting and legal language that citizens are almost forced to use professional help for fear of mis-reporting their taxes. I deeply resent having to pay a professional to figure out how much I have to pay the government.

The tax code is long overdue for an overhaul. I think such an overhaul should follow a few simple principles:

  • I favor a graduated income tax. I'll let the Congress debate how graduated.
  • The tax code should eliminate all deductions and credits. Deductions and credits are government subsidies, just as much as if the Treasury Department cuts a check. If industries, markets, organizations, or special interest groups need subsidies from the government, let those payments be via appropriations. This might be an effective way to keep discretionary government spending in check!
  • The effort to report my taxes should be painless. The 1040 should basically ask me who I am, how much I earned, how much income tax was withheld, and then with a simple table, tell me how much I tax I owe (or how big a refund I get). I shouldn't need a degree in tax accounting to figure out my taxes.
  • Elminiate the corporate income tax. Let the fat and not-so-fat cats receive more dividend income. Tax 'em. Tax their capital gains.

I'm sure the Republicans will want this proposal to be revenue neutral. Okay. I'm sure the Democrats will want the burden to be equitable. Okay. I just want it to be simple. And I'd like that in time for my 2011 taxes. Meanwhile, my bowels are acting up. Gotta run.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

White Bread on the World Stage

I'm part of a dining group that has potlucks around a theme. I've written about some of those dinners in this blog. The next dinner's theme is German. I have in my head a notion about German food, so I was delighted when the host wanted to sample German culinary culture around the world - including Pennsylvania and East Texas.

My own family has German roots. My Stepmom's father was born in Germany. Until I started thinking about this meal theme, I didn't think that German had too much to do with the way I ate as a child and growing up. I'm changing my mind. My grandfather was a farmer in and Colorado. He always had a large garden and a root cellar. My grandmother raised chickens. I'm pretty sure they raised some pigs, too. Grandpa liked his sauerkraut. Grandma sometimes made him spaetzle, but more often chicken soup with biscuit dumplings.

I think underneath the food I grew up with was this Germanic theme that emphasized meat, root vegetables, and garden vegetables. We often baked our own bread and desserts. We rarely purchased prepared foods or ate out very much. The food was hearty and perhaps heavy, and often overdone.

So along comes this German-themed dinner. I decided to pick a place that was not Germany, but German-influenced. I also wanted to prepare a homey dish. I settled on a dish from the Alto-Adige region in Italy, Speck Knödel. It's a bread dumpling (as opposed to a biscuit dough or noodle dumpling) that uses Speck, a cured and smoked bacon imported from Alto-Adige.

Speck is hard to find in the greater Washington, DC area. I finally procured a (large) quantity from Antico Mercante in Atlanta, Georgia. It's a slab of bacon, and it has a subtle, smoked taste to it. I've been eating too much of it. It makes the Speck Knödel into a wonderful dish.

Of course, I get to experiment on Ron. I made this dish this weekend, and it tasted really good. I've had bread dumplings before, and they are often heavy. These were not. My Mother made a bread dressing and stuffing when I was growing up, and these dumplings taste a lot like that dressing. I think it's interesting how the form of food changes as it moves from place to place. Do noodles become spaetzle, then bread dumplings, and finally dressing? Maybe not, except that there remains a commonality of taste and ingredients. It's been a lot of fun exploring some (perhaps stretched) cultural culinary connections.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Civil Marriage Protection Act

It's not gay marriage or same-sex marriage. It's marriage. It's not a different kind of marriage. It's not about being lesbian or gay or straight. It's simply about marriage. That's all that it's about. Marriage.

I'm deeply disappointed that the House of Delegates did not pass the Civil Marriage Protection Act, but instead sent the bill back to committee. The delegates took their action because of the religious prejudice of some of the delegates, and because of the religious prejudice that many constituents have about homosexuality. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, "Religious bigotry makes bad public policy."

I resent that this whole topic is even up for discussion. Marriage is a basic human right - a right to form and nurture a family. I am angry that legislators, responding to a religious proscription that is 5,000 years old, would deny me my civil right to marriage. These same legislators wear linen/wool blends, but they certainly don't act on that ancient religious proscription.

Religious bigotry is insidious for several reasons. First of all, it's a useful cover in the United States, because our society has an extremely high regard for "Judeo-Christian" beliefs and practices. Secondly, this kind of bigotry is highly selective in the kinds of proscriptions it professes to be God's will. It used to be that slavery was God's will. Today, it is God's will that gay and lesbian people cannot marry. In America, if you can wrap your rhetoric in the Bible, then wrap it in the flag, you're well on your way.

Okay, I'll calm down some. But I ask the members in the House of Delegates, how would my marriage undermine marriage? If any of those delegates who voted to recommit the bill are divorced, or have committed adultery, I submit they are truly undermining marriage, and maybe they should re-examine their stance on the Civil Marriage Protection Act.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Stanley Kurtz Is Dead

I'll miss Stanley. Oh, he wasn't a close friend, or anything like that, but I'll miss him, nevertheless, much as God misses any of His Creation. I mean, I don't have to know his intimate life (although I do) to appreciate the fact that Stanley, well, Stanley was quite a piece of work, and a hard worker, too.

I've got to keep better track of things. I didn't see it coming, and I should have, because that's my job. I suppose I could have prevented his death, it was untimely. According to my charts, Stanley was supposed to clock in another twenty-two years, four months, and eighteen days. I did not anticipate that flying lunch box. Normally, air resistance would have slowed it down so that it would have dented Stanley's head, but it wouldn't have been fatal. Alas, it contained one too many cans of sardines, and it fell, unimpeded down those eighty-seven stories.

No, I don't take the blame for Stanley's passing. I don't engineer events. I just let them happen. I'm not a personal God, because that would make me a personal servant. I don't make coffee for anyone else. And Stanley was walking when the lunch box impacted his cranium. He was one of my best thinkers: clear sighted, energetic, calling out Obama and the homosexual agenda, defending my values. I adored what he did, although I thought he was a bit stuffy and overly combative.

Stanley was right about one thing. Homosexuals getting married is really going to upset the applecart. It's so sad that he stepped in front of that bus trying to avoid that gay skateboarder bearing down on him. I mean, I knew that the skateboarder was packing fudge, but Stanley only knew that theoretically. Stanley was plastered up against the windshield like a giant locust from Utah. His colleagues at the Hudson Institute (of which Dr. Kurtz was an associate fellow) will miss him terribly. The skateboarder was unhurt, but ticketed for feckless behavior.

If I had hands, I would wring them. I once had hands, and I did wring them, and it caused lots of problems. To put it simply, the unexpected expansion of the universe shortly after The Big Bang was caused by a lot of my hand wringing. Or maybe it was the blink of an eye. I forget. Fifteen billion years doesn't seem like a lot of time, but there is so much to remember, and frankly my memory is not that good. I would wring my hands over the demise of Stanley Kurtz. He was that good.

Yes, he was walking his dog, Swoosie (that was his little joke for being saddled with his last name: he really didn't like it that much), when the dachshund leaped after a squirrel, and Stanley slipped on a banana peel. How life mimics art! His left leg came up over his chest and wrenched his buttocks into an airborne state. The cheery whistle on his lips morphed into a rictus grin of prescient doom. Clearly, Stanley knew that his number was up. Felled by a banana peel. This is an end of Biblical proportions. I didn't plan it this way at all. Stanley crumpled on the street, only to be run over by a charging garbage truck. Because I'm God, I don't believe in luck. Fate is another, different thing, though.

Like Stanley, I don't particularly like homosexuals mocking me. They pretend that when they marry each other, it's all going to settle the matter. I sent them Fred Phelps. I sent them Pat Robertson. I sent them Stanley Kurtz. I even sent them Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith, Jr. I stripped them of their dignity. I had thugs beat and murder them. I turned my back on them, even the ones I loved (Caravaggio's angels come to mind). And what do they do? They want to get married. Can you imagine that? They want to get married!

Stanley would have none of it. He was a great statistician, which is to say, he was no statistician at all. He knew how to make numbers lie so that hateful pols and smarmy media commentators could make blood libel (truly, those Americans really do like to kill homosexuals) about part of my imperfect creation, something that I was a little disturbed about, too. Stanley knew, and I fully agree, because I am God, that homosexuals threaten marriage. I'm not sure why they threaten marriage, that was up to Stanley to figure out. So he lied about it.

My creation started out better than this, and the six thousand years or so (yeah, I know I cooked the fossil record, too) turned out pretty well. The earth had a certain bloody order (if not the universe). But it's gotten out of whack. The Madonna isn't a virgin anymore. Jesus is a Mexican baseball player. And Modern Family is the most popular television show in America. I gave them Sarah Palin, but they are watching Glee. And now, Stanley is gone. I weep, but enough of that. You don't want to see me weep. It messes up the atmosphere.

So Stanley died at his desk. He was reading M.V. Lee Badgett's book, When Gay People Get Married. His hippocampus suffered a proto-molecular quantum wave collapse. He never recovered. Dead as a door nail. Stanley Kurtz is dead.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fort Lauderdale, Days 1 and 2

We arrived here yesterday around 2 p.m. Ron's bag wouldn't fit in an overhead bin, so it got checked, which meant baggage claim. (Fortunately, he was not charged for the checked bag.) This is tourist season, and the shuttle ride to the rental car center was crammed full. It was a harbinger of things to come.

I had reserved a car with Thrifty. When I made the reservation, I had forgotten to change the default pickup and return times. When I went back to the web site to change the times, the cost of the rental went up $80. Ron printed out both confirmation letters and took them with us. We were able to get the original contract price, then when we went to add Ron to the contract, the woman helping us had already printed out the contract, so she just added him gratis. It certainly makes me a loyal Thrifty customer!

We headed out of the airport to our guest house, the Alcazar Resort. The staff here is very friendly. It's clean and neat, and just a little spartan, two pools, and a hot tub. It's very comfortable.

As soon as we got settled in, we headed (walking) for the beach. We found a cafe and had a pizza. I finished it all off with some ice cream. We walked up and down A1A for a couple of hours. There are a lot of us tourists in town, and an abundance of gay men, too. For dinner, we went out to the Casablanca Cafe. We had a great meal, Ron eating about half his entree (I ate an additional quarter), and I had mussels in a cream sauce.

Evening found us in the hot tub back at the Worthington (the Alcazar's sister (brother?) resort. We stayed there for an hour and a half. My backache was gone this morning. My arm felt 100% better. It must be something in the water.

Today we got up late for breakfast. Then I caught up on email this morning, and laid out in the sun for a while. We took a long walk before lunch, walking up on Sunrise Avenue. We ended up eating lunch at The Deck. We had quite a character for a waiter. He made some recommendations that we followed, and we were quite happy with the result, a seafood salad (and I had a side of potato salad). After lunch we walked down to the gay beach. It is exactly one block wide. It's this invisible line in the sand that quite visibly separates gay and straight. I know where I'm going to be tomorrow.

The afternoon saw more time at the pool, then a nap, then dinner. We went to Il Mulino, an old-style Italian restaurant, and another delicious meal. We've decided we're probably not going to lose a lot of weight on this vacation.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


O Spiderman of sticky web
How did you end up in my bed?
I dreamed of this, you know, quite wet
Revealing that you're not quite het.
No Mary Jane could turn your head:
instead a fag in spandex skin,
A circumstance I revel in,
A situation, queer, indeed.

I can't believe your hairless chest
is getting my attention best.
I dreamed of this, a spider's nest
of comfy love togetherness.
A tighty white across my pecs,
You, Spiderman, made quite a mess!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just Walk Away with Your Hands in My Pockets

I heard a disturbing news story about home foreclosures on NPR this morning. In Nevada, one in four of all foreclosures were owners walking away from their mortgage payments. The article reported that the stigma that used to be attached to foreclosure simply isn't what it used to be.

The news story reported that homeowners with a mortgage are frustrated with the bailed-out banks, and that homeowners haven't yet received their bailout. Bankers seem to be pretty unpopular among the indebted set. The government assistance programs to troubled homeowners are too cumbersome, and are not helping to relieve their debt load. So the homeowners take a walk, even those who can afford their mortgage, they take a walk.

Human nature strives mightily to rationalize behavior in ethical or moral ways. When we have moral lapses, we look for excuses to explain why bad behavior isn't so bad. Sometimes, foreclosure is necessary. Sometimes the debt is too much, and circumstances make it impossible for homeowners to pay on their mortgage. Certainly, loss of a job, major illness, divorce may make it impossible to pay the mortgage. Are walkaways, where homeowners have the means to pay their mortgage, justified?

Homeowners sign a contract with a bank when they get a mortgage. What does a contract mean if a person willfully breaches the contract when that person has the means to fulfill the contract? The decision is a moral decision, and I didn't hear much justification in the news story, except that it just didn't make economic sense for the homeowners to continue with their mortgage payments. These are people who can afford the payments, but choose to walk away because their homes will never have the resale value as the mortgage that they are paying.

Here is where the finger pointing begins. Undoubtedly, banks were out to get homeowners to buy as big a mortgage as possible, in some instances to re-finance and pull most of the value out of their homes. Homeowners believed that the value of their homes would never fall. Bankers engaged in predatory practices. Homeowners bought overpriced property with money they didn't have. Now the banks are bailed out and moving toward financial health, and the homeowners are struggling and feeling like they've been screwed over.

Unfortunately, the bubble has burst; the horse has left the barn, and we're closing the barn door. Homeowners who walks away from mortgages that they have the means to pay are devaluing the property of their neighbors who continue to make their payments. While it may be best for the individual homeowner to walk away, such action damages the social contract. It hurts the rest of us. On the face of it, the act is dishonest. It does no good to blame the greedy bankers. Somewhere, sometime, individuals have to be held responsible for their actions. Unless a homeowner was signing that mortgage contract under duress or fraudulent circumstances, that homeowner knowingly and willingly signed the contract and agreed to make regular mortgage payments.

This news story isn't over yet. I'm not sure how the government can (or should) help homeowners who are underwater. I can appreciate the anger and frustration that homeowners feel. I hope they think long and hard before taking a walk when they have the means to pay the mortgage. When they walk, they are taking money out of your back pocket.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

And Now, a Frozen Senate

One of the challenges of living near the epicenter of American politics is that I have developed a certain tone deafness to the nuances of political debate in the hallowed halls of our Nation's Federal City. Part of this is caused, no doubt, by my own tin ear to all things Republican. It hasn't always been that way, only since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980.

NPR announced this morning that the Senate is "frozen." Senator Reid used his authority as Senate Majority Leader to keep the Senate in session such that every day is the Senate's first legislative day all over again. Bill Murray is starring in the movie. The Democrats are keeping the option open to change the Senate debate rules with a simple majority. Senator McConnell opined that the Republicans are happy with the rules as they stand. Meanwhile, Senator Tom Udall declaimed that "... [the American People] are fed up with us." I'm pretty sure that his sentiment is shared by most Americans across the political spectrum, and goes far beyond the issue of the filibuster and the Senate Rules. Amen.

Democrats flirt with the rule changes, but using a simple majority to change the rules on the "first" legislative day of the session could lead to worse consequences. The Republicans may well control the Senate in 2013, and what happens in 2011 could be repeated two years from now. Udall is correct, much of the American public is fed up with the way the Senate operates. The public has a way to change that. It can oust incumbent legislators who obstruct the legislative process. Scorched earth procedural tactics aren't the answer. Talking with the Republicans, and calling McConnell (and others) on their egregious behavior is a better way.

The Tea Party poses a real threat to Republicans. It has tilted the party sharply right (if that is possible!), and has constrained the policy space in which the Republican leadership can move. The Tea Party legislators propose no taxes and wounding spending cuts. While the movement claims to be speaking for the American public, the 2010 campaign was not a public debate about the the deficit, taxes, and spending, rather it was about eviscerating opponents. The public is still in the dark.

Here's the challenge. The tax and budget hearing rooms on Capitol Hill are inhabited by three 800-pound gorillas: the need to raise taxes, the need to cut entitlements, and the need to rationalize defense spending. Unless those three issues are addressed, the politicians are only bloviating, and they aren't serious at all about budget reform. If the Republicans can't compromise on taxes and defense spending, and the Democrats can't compromise on entitlement cuts and cuts to other "discretionary" spending, then it's all just talk. The test of this Congress will be whether it can craft meaningful compromises. The country needs presidential and congressional leadership on these issues. The country needs a factual, meaningful debate.

During this Senate's Longest Day, let's hope our leaders find wisdom....

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cold Fingers

Cold metastasizes on my skin then
moves to my core: I cannot keep warm.
I shiver, rubbing hands stroking arms bedeviled.
Winter rays, gray and low, numb my spirit.
Frost's glistening blanket engulfs me in a shade
through which light creeps diffuse, unfocused.
This is just the long beginning of the season,
a time between times, a time of quiet dread
and dead white color blinding me.
I don't believe the winter promise, the fallow
lie of spring's reward for having made it through
to warmer days.

A Revision

If you've been reading my blog at all, you know that I've started writing poetry here, not particularly good poetry, but trying to work more on craft, trying to experiment with words on a screen. Tim suggested that I take one of my poems and cut out as many words as I could, just as an exercise. So I did. Below is the original poem, and it's followed by the edited version.


An accidental interloper, he
Filled in the empty spaces of one heart.
He moved between their two magnetic poles,
A force, himself, to move the two apart.

At first, he hardly noticed the affair.
His curiosity had seen the pair
Impregnable it seemed to the outside,
The unlatched heart, broke, hidden in its lair.

A spark, impassioned, flew from their cold hearth
and kindled flames of folly in his breast.
Swept up in the idea of hot romance,
Put life's relation to a bitter test.

The pair's polarity reversed, tears shed.
The barreness unspoke acknowledged now.
His heart quite broken in the aftermath
Of ill-considered pleasure in a bed.

Here's the revision:


Accidental, he
filled empty spaces
between two magnetic poles,
a force, himself.

He hardly noticed.
impregnable to the outside,
unlatched, broke, hidden.

A spark flew
kindled folly.
Swept up hot.
Put life to a bitter test.

Polarity reversed,
barreness unspoke
quite broken,
ill-considered pleasure in a bed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


An accidental interloper, he
Filled in the empty spaces of one heart.
He moved between their two magnetic poles,
A force, himself, to move the two apart.

At first, he hardly noticed the affair.
His curiosity had seen the pair
Impregnable it seemed to the outside,
The unlatched heart, broke, hidden in its lair.

A spark, impassioned, flew from their cold hearth
and kindled flames of folly in his breast.
Swept up in the idea of hot romance,
Put life's relation to a bitter test.

The pair's polarity reversed, tears shed.
The barreness unspoke acknowledged now.
His heart quite broken in the aftermath
Of ill-considered pleasure in a bed.