reviewing holy terror

Mel White has written a compelling book — one that should give us all nightmares.  He writes to expose the long-term goals of the fundamentalist christian religious right, seeing part of the same evil story that Jeff Sharlet tells in The Family but through a different lens.

Sharlet focused on the quiet but insidious rise of political power won by the religious right from an espionage perspective, both literally (he was embedded with The Family at C-Street and had access to their inner circle) and allegorically (his work of non-fiction offers as much tension as any top-selling spy story).

Like Sharlet, White compares the fundamentalist christian right with Nazi strategies.  Also like Sharlet, White writes with an insider’s perspective.  But unlike Sharlet’s infiltration tactic, White’s insight goes deeper and is much more personal.  As a gay pastor who worked directly with the likes of Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham and Pat Robertson, helping to put their thoughts into print, and who spent years trying NOT to be gay in all kinds of extreme ways (including electric shock therapy), one might say that White is all the way inside this part of the christian story.

The title Holy Terror refers to the sacred duty that White says the religious right believes is theirs to wage war on the LGBTQ community.

This knowledge — that there is a faction in the United States of people who believe that their god has commanded them to wage war on the LGBTQ community — is what most of my friends and family who are uncomfortable with my passion about this issue don’t understand.  These people — yes, admittedly fringe, extremist, and not the majority, but with an influence that reaches into almost every church community, into media, into the national political sphere — believe that America as a nation will be punished by their god if homosexuality is not eradicated.  And they believe that there will be collateral damage from that punishment, much as there was in the story of Lot.  Their god will strike down not just the sinners, but those who failed at stopping them from sinning, as well as those who are just nearby.

They key idea here for me is not just that such extremist thinking exists, but that so many unsuspecting people feel the influence — indirect, but real — of it.  The ultimate goal of this extremist thinking is for the sexual morality of fundamentalist christians to be enforced on everyone by law.  If you think I’m exaggerating, you need to read this book.

White does an amazing job of laying out the history of a deliberate, strategic effort to influence the political and social fabric in this country.  Most of us have no idea of that influence, of the historical arc, of the deliberate injection of terms and concepts, all as manipulative as the best ad men on Madison Ave.  When you read this history, and then realize that (as a small example) Ralph Reed has again become a national figure… again…!  well, it really should give us all nightmares!

White says: “It is not my right to judge.  But it is my responsibility to point out that my old friends… are willing to take huge risks to accumulate the resources they need to “reclaim America for Christ.”  It is a fatal mistake to see Falwell, Robertson, and the others as “kooks” and “crazies” when in fact they have recruited, trained, equipped, financed, and mobilized millions of Americans who are also willing to take great risks to get the job done.”

Any conspiracy theorist who can stomach a book filled with scripture quotes would appreciate White’s work.  This is the book I might recommend to those who are detachedly on the fence regarding religion’s influence on politics and society (the issue of sexuality being only one piece); certainly I would suggest it for those who don’t understand the damage that’s being inflicted.  I daresay Jeff Sharlet would agree.

Disclosure: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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We are sitting out back on the deck
in the dark
looking up at the sky
where the clouds faintly glow
fullout racing.

storm cloudsWe have ringside seats.

North Carolina pinetrees… 4 stories tall… dancing,
reaching towards us and again away
shaking pinecones loose.

I am enthralled, entranced
thrilled to witness so closely this drama
to imagine rising on the wind.

I am also poised
ready to block any falling branches
before they hit my Sandy
or me.

The sound of the air
and of the pinetrees dancing
rises and roars
from the near horizon
racing towards us
like the clouds
louder still and almost howling.

It’s hard to remember a calm day when the trees stood still
and we had no fear sitting
on the deck under the trees.

The air is lifting around us
both heavy and effortlessly
our skin takes notice of the drop in temperature.

And it is time
to go inside, safe under roof
from debris and noise
to say goodbye.

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starting a conversation


My friend Jane stars in a movie!

My partner Sandy and I watched the entire 2012 GOP race–through the primaries, every debate, to the RNC and beyond.  It was like a soap opera.  Or a train wreck.  We couldn’t take our eyes off of it, through ALL the wincing moments (of the candidates, the campaign staff, and ours!).

So when Jane–from my high school days–reached out to me to let me know that she was about to unveil a project she and Grace Lee (of American Zombie fame) had been working on, related to the GOP race, I was intrigued.  It was a film called “Janeane from Des Moines.”


I did what I could to help make a screening happen in my local area, and sure enough, we pulled it off!  This was last October.  Jane and Grace came out and stayed with us (celebrities in the house!).  We got to see this remarkable film on the big screen, and they led a remarkable conversation with the audience afterwards.

spoiler alert!

The film is kind of a “mockumentary.”  It follows what we suppose to be a conservative Iowa housewife named Janeane–actually Jane undercover–whose life is falling apart.  Janeane turns to the GOP candidates, who champion her values, for answers.  The film crew captured some truly amazing footage of Janeane with most of the candidates, including Santorum, Gingrich, Bachmann and Romney.  One encounter with Romney was so powerful that it was picked up and broadcast by ABC national news.

The “story line” gets into many of the hot button issues in the GOP/Tea Party, including anti-gay and anti-abortion religious rhetoric.  Janeane’s husband turns out to be gay, and when he loses his job and thus their healthcare, she ends up having to go to Planned Parenthood (oh no! pffft) for help with a lump she’s found in her breast.  It’s quite a painful moment for her.  And it opens up–as the filmmakers hope–a space for real conversation about these issues that crosses the party (and belief/secular) lines.

end of spoiler alert!

The film appeals to all kinds of groups–faith, civic, social justice & equality, worker rights, healthcare rights etc.  Their ideal audience includes folks from all sides of the aisles.  Yes, I do think they wanted to make a particular difference in the election results, but they also genuinely wanted to generate the kind of discussion that could maybe break through the growing polarity in political and social rights discussion in our society.

If what I observed of the audience and after-screening discussion in Durham, North Carolina on October 15th was typical, I think they may have succeeded with at least part of their goal.  But more telling yet was the care I felt for the character that Jane created.  As a liberal, gay, ex-Christian myself, finding myself for a few hours in the shoes–and the life–of an annoying, fundamentalist, yet wholly empathetic human being, was a thought-provoking experience.

Janeane From Des Moines — available on iTunes.  Watch it with your liberal and conservative friends, secular or religious.  Talk about it afterwards.  Who knows what wonders might ensue?

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a letter in the mail
what chapter could it close?
or birth?

a dear one hurting
and just like the butterfly
I cannot assist

layers and memories
how to embrace them safely
unscathed by burning tears
to mine their treasure?

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Leonard Cohen whines in the late afternoon light
A few reds and golds cling
to the grey branches outside
Enough color to fill the senses,
at nature’s generous heart.

Rich aromas push out from the kitchen
in widening circles
My love is working her magic
with onions and squash
An afternoon “dinner” so luxurious
but for our current shelter,
a week of rest.

It takes three days
(they say) to slow down…
And we are in day 3.

Awake to no alarm, just
movies and
walks and
planning for dinner
Unrealistic to think we
could always
Live a life with this
gentle cycle.

Like fall, the season
where dying begins,
Such thoughts carry both
promise and heartache.

But I am grateful and full.

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A friend of mine shared this clip today, of an interview about Kerry Washington’s speech at the DNC.  My friend shared the clip along with her pretty harsh opinion.  Her takeaway: that the woman being interviewed by Laura Ingraham is saying that sometimes you have to put fear into people, even if you have to lie, in order to keep Obama in office.

If you didn’t see Kerry Washington’s speech at the DNC, I encourage you to watch.  A brief clip of it is included in Laura Ingraham’s interview (link above); here’s the full speech.  I applauded her speech when I watched it live and again when I watched the clip shared by my friend.  The woman being interviewed by Ingraham, however — politics and race commentator, Jasmyne Cannick — gave a pretty bad interview, I must say.  It was painful to watch.  Ingraham was right to say at one point that Cannick was better than that, that we need a substantive conversation and not sloppy language.

My friend went on to say that Kerry Washington made it appear as though women would lose their rights — to vote, to use contraception and to have an abortion — under a Romney administration.  That is a blatant misrepresentation, she said.

You’re right, I said.  Neither you nor I (we are both financially stable) will lose our right to vote.  But the GOP efforts nationwide to implement additional voting regs add a burden for many folks that will reduce their ability to vote.  If Romney is elected these efforts will undoubtedly grow.

Is it a stretch to say people will lose their right to vote?  Perhaps.

I won’t lose my right to use contraception (not that I need it!).  I’m not sure what coverage you have, I said to my friend.  If not part of a catholic health system you are probably safe too.  For those employed by or covered by a religious organization, there’s a good chance that if Romney is elected, their health insurance coverage of contraception will be rescinded.  In addition, Romney has clearly stated that eliminating Planned Parenthood is a priority of his if he is elected.  For many, the full out of pocket price of contraception will make the purchase prohibitive.

Is it a stretch to say they will have lost their right to use contraceptives?  Perhaps, but for them what you call it will be just a matter of semantics.

And the right to have an abortion?  If Romney is elected, he and the GOP will do everything in their power to add folks to the Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade.  That is not a matter of semantics.

Did Kerry Washington use speech methods to add enthusiasm and emphasis, I asked? Absolutely. Did she misrepresent what is cold reality for some? I don’t think so.

In case you are wondering, I have not changed my friend’s mind.  /shrug

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I have learned to stretch as part of my routine at the gym.  I fought it at first, not liking the tight, sort of creaking, tough feel to my limbs and joints.  I finally discarded some of the stretches that took real strength to hold, and that helped.  I resisted less.  Over time I started to enjoy it.  It really did feel good to reach and stretch and bend and stretch, as I was told it would.  It lessened the soreness the next day too.  I don’t exactly sway free like a willow tree, but I am surely more limber.

Are there applications to life in that? Brain limber… acceptance… limber emotions.  Hmmm.

Let us look at this willow tree:

There is something lazy and and easy and lovely about its shape, about the elegant way the branches reach up and then arc over and down to sway, lace-covered, in the slightest breath of wind.  There is something magical about the hiding place inside, nearer the trunk, through the branches that almost gently kiss the ground.  The daylight is more green underneath.  The sense of invisibility, of safety, is far stronger than logic would predict, since of course someone could look through that lace and see what is hiding beneath.

If I were to reach up, as tall as I could stretch, and grasp one of those lacy branches nearer the top of the arc, and pull downward… that branch would not break.  It would bend down, allow itself to be pulled, to be stretched as far as my strength could hold… but it would not crack.  The branches are green and supple inside, not necessarily young — a willow tree for all its delicacy does not strike me as impetuously young — but yes, limber.

And if I were to pull and pull, with my whole weight, until that limb was holding me up against gravity, against the pull of the earth, would it (could it?) then lift me up, fling me up tumbling into the sky?  Weeping willow tree as trampoline?  Or bungee cord?

Or would I give in and give up flight and let go the branch, and would it simply rise back up, shrug a bit and then settle back into place, with a few pieces of lace shaken off to float shimmering down?

~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~

The sun has moved farther toward the horizon as I’ve pondered.  The green beneath the not-young willow tree darkens.  The safe gentle bright afternoon feel slips away and instead there may be slithering things in a space that is no longer a fort but a cave.  The light from the kitchen window is now what beckons warmly.  It is time to leave Old Man Willow to his dreams, and perhaps return tomorrow at midday to see that he is, in fact, just a tree at water’s edge with trunk and roots and a gentle daytime heart.

And, so, what about life applications?

To me, “Limber” says fearless, easy, flexible, sanguine, accepting, go-with-the-flow, think on your feet, be open to surprises, creative, loose.

In many ways those things, all, elude me.  Perhaps they are awaiting me up in the air above the willow tree, if I only have the courage to let that tree limb lift me up.  Or — no — perhaps they are prizes to be won by braving the dark cave underneath the tree some night.

Or perhaps they are all in me more than I realize, and I just need to sit, still for a while, and sway back and forth gently along with the willow branches in the summer breeze.

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My daughter has her father’s eyes.  Every once in a while, an expression will cross her face that carries such a strong echo of his that it takes me by surprise.  It’s most striking when she is making a face like “oh, really?”  One of her eyebrows bends upwards and it’s almost like he is looking out at me.

She hasn’t seen her dad since she was in grade school.  She is now half-way through college and will soon be heading to Germany (as I write this) for this coming fall semester.  She carries the best of him in her — a curiousity, a sharp mind and an easy way with people.  And she also carries the wound of his abandonment.  There was a time that she feared he was dead.  I didn’t know which would be more painful for my sweetpea child — to live with that fear or to know that he lived down the block (which he did at the time as far as I could tell) but wasn’t able to choose being in her life over drinking.  And so I just reassured her as best I could that they would find us and tell us if something ever happened to him, and that he loved her but wasn’t well and wasn’t able to be with her.

There may come a day that she chooses to seek him out.  We are in another state now, so it may not be easy.  (Although odds are good that he is still in that same bar…)  If that ever does happen, I wonder what her eyes will see and what his will see back.  Will they each see a glimpse of themselves, painfully, in each other?  Will he have the courage to look square at her, and own up to his failure?  Will she be freed from the burden of not being good enough to save him?

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the opera

Sandy and I went to the opera last Friday night.  We are neither of us total strangers to such culture, but neither is opera part of our usual activity.

The performance was … quite simply incredible.  We went specifically to hear a rising star named Anthony Roth Costanzo, a rare countertenor native to North Carolina and here for just one “Evening of Arias.”

Anthony’s talent is unmistakable.  He has such control over his voice, which is so pure, and it’s clear that through virtually every measure he has far more power in reserve than he lets out.  But his appeal goes beyond his vocal talent.  He has a way of connecting with the audience that is hard to describe.  His first aria … I tell you this, before he even set free a single note, he had us all breathless.

We’d already received the gift from the chamber orchestra of a beautiful opening piece, as well as the first aria sung by the other woman who was performing that night — a fun, flirty piece by Handel called “Endless Pleasure.”  And then Anthony came out on stage, all grinny and jaunty.  He stood in the middle of the semi-circle created by the chamber orchestra that was seated up on stage.  He folded his hands and looked to the floor, for a long silent pause… And then he THREW his head up, which was the cue for the orchestra to start.  It was several measures before he started singing, and in that time, his face changed, it slowly CRUMPLED in grief before our eyes.

By the end of that aria — another by Handel, a story of despair in love (of course!) — we were all openly weeping (Sandy and me, as well as those around us).

From Sandy (a musician):  He showed such generosity to the audience.  With his talent, he doesn’t have to do that.  He could be a prima donna, nose in the air, deigning to share pearls with the swine seated in the house.  But he isn’t.  He clearly loves what he does and has fun with it and loves us for sharing it with him.  I think it’s where he gets his magic.

photo credit: Dario Acosta

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I have been “tigged!”  What is that you ask?  Basically, it’s a blog version of the old email list of questions you answer and forward to others.  I like the net-community I’m getting to know — both the new blogs I’m following and that folks are following mine!

Thank you, Clare Flourish, for the “tig” — you are like our blog “connector” from Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.  🙂

Here are the rules I am to follow:

  1. Post the rules.
  2. Answer the questions the tagger asked in their post.
  3. Create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged.
  4. Tag eleven people with a link to your post.
  5. Let them know they’ve been tagged!

In the post in which Clare has “tigged” me, she lays out “only three (new) questions.  Rules is rules, but well, sue me, she says.” Ha!

  1. Tell me something I don’t know.
  2. Tell me who you are.
  3. Tell me what you love.

Here are my attempts to answer:

1.  Something you don’t know?  Try this:

Because amoebae reproduce by division, endlessly, passing everything on yet giving up nothing, the first amoebae that ever lived is still alive. Whether four billion years old or merely three hundred, he/she is with us today.


Well, the first amoeba may be floating on his/her back in a luxurious pool in Hollywood, California. The first amoeba may be hiding among the cattail roots and peepers in the muddy shallows of Siwash Lake. The first amoeba may recently have dripped down your leg.  It is pointless to speculate.

The first amoeba, like the last and the one after that, is here, there and everywhere, for its vehicle, its medium, its essence is water.

Water–the ace of elements.  Water dives from the clouds without a parachute, wings or safety net. Water runs over the steepest precipice and blinks not a lash.  Water is buried and rises again; water walks on fire and fire gets the blisters.  Stylishly composed in any situation–solid, gas or liquid–speaking in penetrating dialects understood by all things–animal, vegetable or mineral–water travels intrepidly through four dimensions, sustaining (Kick a lettuce in the field and it will yell “Water!”), destroying (The Dutch boy’s finger remembered the view from Ararat) and creating (It have even been said that human beings were invented by water as a device for transporting itself from one place to another, but that’s another story).  Always in motion, ever-flowing (whether at steam rate or glacier speed), rhythmic, dynamic, ubiquitous, changing and working its changes, a mathematics turned wrong side out, a philosophy in reverse, the ongoing odyssey of water is virtually irresistible.  And wherever water goes, amoebae go along for the ride…

If you do know that quote from Tom Robbins (and forgive me if I allowed you to think, for even a moment, that I wrote it!), let me try again: I always thought I was born in the wrong era, that I should have been coming of age in the 60’s.  Then again, I’m not sure I would have survived.


2.  Who am I?  A girl whose very first crush was on Speed Racer, and who, after much thought, realizes she doesn’t know how to answer this question in brief.  I might point you to here for a brief introduction, or to here for who I am/not.

3.  What do I love?  Music.  Blues, jazz, funk, dreamy, folk, soul, classical.  Always the kind of music with just the right lyrics to sing along.  And especially playing dj.  (I have no rap or rhythm, but I love to find and play just the right song.)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here, in turn, are my questions.  Even though 11 is my favorite number, I too like three:

Fight or flight?  Explain.

Do you believe in aliens?  Why or why not?

What fictional character you’ve “met” most feels like an old friend?

To play, I tig Meghan, Ben, Sandy, Beth, and again Clare.  (There was no rule about tigging back!)  If any of you feel moved to play, the field is open with no expectations!  If anyone else reading this would like to be tigged, consider yourself tigged.

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