what happened was…

Sunlogo_narrow_73pxWhat happened was, I went to the mountains.  I went to a Sun weekend retreat, something I’ve wanted to do for as many years, I think, as I’ve been a reader of the magazine.

What happened was that I got to see the founding editor of The Sun in person, in the flesh (so to speak), to be in the same room as him and to simply smile good morning, leaving him perhaps to wonder if I knew who he was.  Or maybe hopefully to leave him with the impression that I was too cool to be starstruck.

What happened was, I received the gifts of some truly helpful tools and insights for writing.  I went to three different session leaders, all of whom were completely different, and all of which felt right.

What happened was that I wrote.  I shared some of it.  Two different pieces, two different sessions.  I felt removed from the other participants both times.  I shared about being pregnant and about having an affair.  Unrelated stories, by the way.  What happened was I felt shame.  I felt judged.  I know enough to know that such feelings resided in me alone, or at least mostly, and were not necessarily felt by anyone else in the room.

What happened was it rained.  Just lightly the first day.  Not enough to stop us from a short hike around the grounds.  Umbrellas were needed only to save us from being damp and cold and shivering in the next session.  It rained harder, and harder still, the last morning, enough to pool several inches deep across the stone path and to seep through my tennis shoes to my socks.  Enough to be legitimately nervous about driving down the mountain home.  Legitimate as opposed to being wimpy scared.

What happened was that two days were not enough.  We had only just begun to unwind, to decompress, to soften and slow.  And it was already time to start summarizing our time together.

What happened was, the air was thin and I huffed and puffed while on a short hike, and while walking from the truck, and every time walking up the stairs to our room.

With any luck, what happened was that I was leaving some of the weight of shame behind.

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another’s shoes


A friend of mine, who describes herself as progressive christian, a minister, and queer (among other things), recently entered into relationship with another woman.  This other woman was a pastor who was rejected by her christian denomination when she came out honestly to them about her sexual orientation being other-than-heterosexual.

My partner and I spent time with them one recent Sunday.  Their intent had been to attend a church service before arriving to meet us for brunch.  They were on a quest to find a community that aligned with their spiritual journey and that also accepted them as a couple.  They seemed bruised and disappointed with the fruits — so far — of that search.

They are both somewhat seasoned members of various christian communities.  And they both had long been aware of their own respective sexualities and of the largely polarized rulings in christian communities on other-than-one-man-one woman-heterosexuality.  Yet, they were surprised, almost a little shell-shocked, at the difficulty they were experiencing in finding a community in which they didn’t feel like they were in fishbowl.

It was heartbreaking.

It also gave me something to think about.  I’d had countless conversations with one of the women in particular about my partner’s and my story of rejection from our former church and friends, and our journey since.  I’m pretty sure she knew of other stories like ours.  But the experience she was having now still surprised her, gave her insights she perhaps didn’t even realize she didn’t have.

It’s not until we truly stand in another’s shoes that we understand fully.

I would like to say that this gives me understanding and compassion for those who don’t understand the damage that christian rules can inflict.  But in the interest of honesty, I will instead say that I wish all those who have rejected my partner and me, or refused to understand the intensity of our pain and anger, could walk for real in our shoes.

photo credit: F.Porkka

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bbq 2Yesterday was our first BBQ day of the season.

We’ve been gradually spending more time out back on the deck, under fewer layers each week.  No blankets at all yesterday, and warm enough to break out Sandy’s Weber!

Today I’m at work, indoors.  I just finished my lunch of left-over BBQ chicken.  I don’t even need to close my eyes to hear the birds and feel the sway of the pines and the warmth of the sun.

Summer is coming!

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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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