On Turning Forty 

Chapter One: Eleven O’clock Tick-Tock

Two memories. The first: A stoop. The one into our back yard in Cincinnati, if I haven’t reconstructed the memory too much over the years. Dad and me. Imagine it shot like an after school special showing you the “good years” before a tragedy. Cute, skinny little kid a little small for his age but a helluva baseball player. A man handsome in a Charles Grodin kinda way, brown hair just beginning to show streaks of gray; oval glasses like one of his heroes, John Lennon. The year? 1986. Atop the brown, three step stoop they sit on the landing in front of the kitchen door. The boy has heard his Dad talking about turning forty, or as he calls it, “the big four-oh.” The boy can’t imagine such a big number because he is struggling with his own. This is the end of single digits, like forever, he thinks in the words of a nine year old. I can never go back. 

The father notices his son pensively staring to the house next to them. Not the Staples’ place, which is on the other side, separated by Priscilla Lane, or as Dad jokes, “the less successful sister of Penny.” The neighborhood is an uncomfortable mix of working class and affluent people. The family’s move from the house will be part of a larger transformation of the neighborhood. It is the end of an era. So the boy stares at another one of the houses that will later be fixed up and flipped to make people never connected with the area lots of money as those trying to hang on in the middle class either continue their slow climb or go sliding back into the poverty from which they came. The boy is staring. The house that got rabbits stuck in the walls and from where a woman known only as “Grandma” comes out in a housecoats and slippers to yell at her son who is always drunk or looking to get that way; cars line their driveway from the garage to the sidewalk, enough room to fit four cars. The boy has heard neighbors talk about the family with hushed tones and shaking heads. He stared at a Nova that had remained in the same spot for the eight years they lived there.

“What’s up, son?

“It’s a big deal.”

“What is?”

“Turning the big one-oh.” The boy looks up at his father who, despite his best efforts, bursts into laughter. Loud,wall shaking laughter. Laughter that still echoes three decades later.

The boy’s response, as will be the wont of upcoming years,is to have his feelings hurt. To feel shame. But the father throws his arm around the boy’s shoulder. Imagine he toussled the boy’s hair. Maybe not. No, yes; let’s imagine a playful rub of the spot that once was a fontenell. Toussle, toussle. That is all.

“Wanna play catch?”

“Is the Pope Polish?”

Second memory. Same year, but earlier I think. Either fall or spring. Soccer season. I had been obsessively listening to U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky, a live album from Red Rocks. I had been introduced to U2 in 1983 and was hooked. I listened obsessively to their albums, but I was only allowed to do that when Stephen, my brother, was home. He would punch me in the nuts if I touched his stereo. So the only thing I had was a tape with the live album on one side and The Unforgettable Fire, without question my favorite U2 album, on the other. I had a self contained tape player, in which one half is the speaker and the other is the cassette carriage. A handle makes it portable. See it? I carried that thing around with me so much, I actually convinced myself that I had sung along so many times that the tape was imprinted with my voice, which I heard as Edge’s falsetto.

Yeah, from a young age I have been kinda strange.
While I loved playing soccer as a kid, and did so in high school, I was not good. Not really; I wasn’t awful, but all I was good for was slide tackling other players and passing the ball. I rarely played varsity, mainly because YS dominates at soccer and has for decades; there are incredible players and coaches around here, and I never put in the time. But part of the issue was that I have always played defense because I’m physically incapable of anything more than a brisk walk. I fear what you think is, “Okay; I’m kinda slow, too. No biggie.” This will not do. Allow me to remonstrate: I once had to run the 100 yard dash at a track meet because I was a shot putter and we were two runners short for being able to meet the meet quota, or something like that; all I remember is, coach told me I had to run so I did. With one other kid who had once encircled me with his and his friends’ bikes to tell me that my father had given him permission to kick my ass. Of course, I believed it. But that’s another story. On this day, no fighting. Just running. We were the only two in the blocks when the pistol sounded. And he was not as challenged as was I in the arena of foot speed. Ten yards into it, I was 10 yards behind, and kids in the bleachers were openly laughing at me. One kid said, “I can run faster than that backwards!” So, I did what any self-respecting chunky kid would do: I faked a hamstring pull, came up lame, and limped the rest of the way so that we would both fulfill the requirement and so that the kids laughing at an apparently injured runner might get in trouble. 

That’s what I mean by being slow. With the running.
But back to the action. I spent most of my soccer years in the backfield, which can be exciting when you get to the level of players approximating something like soccer, but this day was not host to such a level of playing. Kids were hacking at each other’s shins, kicking balls downfield only to run after, gather around the ball, hack at one another’s shins some more,, until someone else cleared the ball the other way and the whole thing started over. I spent a lot of time that day wandering around in circles, getting yelled at by the goalie, who was clearly more serious about this than I was, I think because he had already scored an own goal that he tried to blame on me. I don’t quite remember, but I know I was zoning out. There was a clock tower that broke over the canopy of the trees, and  I was looking at it when its bells started to ring out the hour of eleven. I can’t swear that I was singing out loud, or at least not any louder than DJ’s friend Elijah, but this was my main focus, not the soccer  game:

I think I was getting to the part in which Edge and Bono start singing off of one anothe; I was trying to do both parts and I like to believe that there was an air guitar in the mix but I can’t be sure,  when I heard the goalie screaming at me. I looked up to see a kid with the ball go right past me. He easily tricked the goalie, who was still more interested in yelling at me than in defending the goal face, and sent the ball into the back of the net

I hadn’t thought of this memory in a long, long time. As I drove to get the tattoo featured in the image above, I decided to drive with the windows down and Under a Blood Red Sky blasting on my sensible Prius speakers.

Tomorrow I turn the big four-oh.

Am I Still a Reader?

I have been blessed to have multiple relationships with endeavors that result in an increased proficiency and even mastery: playing stringed instruments, guitar in the main; singing (I had absolutely no voice or tone recognition when I started at 13 and while I’m not wild about my voice now, other people seem to think I can sing); biblical knowledge; writing; and, I’m told, preaching. But the longest has been reading. I have a hard time remembering a time in my life in which I have not been actively working on a book. In my early twenties I began the habit of reading  a wide variety of materials, mainly novels and critical texts; by the time I was thirty I had  obsessive reading habits regarding history, especially World War II, the history of Ireland, the history of the Jewish people, the history of the church, and most of all, FDR. It’s kinda hard to see, but the bottom-most photo with the instruments shows just a bit of the (badly organized) shelves that by and large contains our  200 volumes concerning the events of 1918-1945. We have the complete works (speeches, letters, everything) of Churchill in five clothbound volumes. And I have always been a reader of novels; my father is a PhD in English and taught literature (incredibly well, I must say; my father has changed the lives of hundreds of students; I am incredibly proud to be his son); my mother holds an MA in English, also taught, was a professional writer for over twenty years, and reads mystery novels by the truckload. Dad averages a novel a day. He reads while he brushes his teeth. When I say that we are readers, I mean that we are readers. We don’t have a house. We have a bookcase inside of which we live. 

But I hafta confess something. Earning an MA in English kinda killed my love. Except for Harry Potter, Hunger Games, John Grisham, and the occasional odd serious author, I read almost exclusively nonfiction. That’s okay; no biggie.  I know lots of people who read only fiction and are contented with that sort of relationship to books. But here’s the thing. I have stopped reading a lot of. history. I now watch documentaries, sometimes 5-6 times; I get my fix for stories through Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now. There are some phenomenal television shows and films. I feel plenty intellectually engaged and entertained.

That means the only reading I am doing is work related. Pastors reading this will laugh because they know what is coming next: “work related” can mean anything from a biography of a Crusades–era mystic or a text on leadership within a Presbyterian system. I read lots of biblical commentaries; I sometimes translate Greek or read texts on exegetical hermeneutics; I might happen upon a part of a biblical story that reminds me of something from a Thomas Hardy novel (for those under thirty, not that Thomas Hardy, but this one:   

) and go to Jude the Obscure (because, honestly, for me it is always about Jude) and thumb through it. But I don’t often reach for the fiction shelf anymore. And my reading almost exclusively revolves around my work and my interests in social justice. I have beem thinking that it might be time to reread the Asher Lev series by Chaim Potok (for those who don’t know, he is my all-time favorite author, and this cat right here:

) or the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, the greatest novel series ever in the history of ever, case closed #noyourewrongitis.

But all of this to say I don’t know if I’d call myself a reader anymore. You see, books were about pleasure for me. Discovery. Magic. Entering into worlds that comforted me, excited me, made me feel more included than I sometimes felt in my life communities. Reading was how my parents instructed me in living; it was how we began our relationship when they taught me the importance of understanding different perspectives and thinking, and it continues today as we share a house with four book people and we talk about what we read. But my joy is gone. That’s not right. Joy is there, but it’s not the same. The relationship with books has changed. I’m not diving into a world of fiction and consuming it at a frenetic pace like I once did. I used to keep track of the number of books (along with titles and reviews) of every book I read and some years I would have to buy an additional notebook because it got so filled.  That sense of reading is gone for me. Books don’t excite me the way they once did; I don’t really browse bookstores any more. I happily read blogs, articles, well-managed discussion threads, and other mainly online sources, but I’m not reading. Not the way I used to, anyway.  Not the way my father does, or other voracious readers I know. And to call oneself a reader, at least in my estimation, means an almost obsessive consumption of the written word, sometimes to the exclusion of other things. Perhaps this is my bipolar talking and my own unique, and somewhat extreme definition of the term, but that’s what’s on my mind. And as writing is part of my therapy, here we are.  

I guess I’m try to ask my small, but much appreciated readership this: have any of you experienced this phenomenon? Do you read differently? Has your relationship with reading changed? If so, how? Is there any lament for you, as there is with me? I’m interested to know. 


Why Crazy Eyes is Here: Mental Illness and OITNB

Warning: Spoilers of Season 4, Orange is the New Black

If you’re reading then you know. You know that this season of OITNB has taken the world of Litchfield to another, sometimes deeply disturbing level. I am not going to weigh in on the discussions regarding the lack of POC in the writing room, nor am I going to opine about the possible appropriations of the BLM movement or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because it is not my place to do so. The links above are good starting points to enter into such discussions as led by POC, women, and others qualified to speak with more authority than could (or should) I. What I want to want to write about is the narrative arc of Suzanne, derisively called Crazy Eyes. Without question, she is and has always been my favorite character. 

I haven’t written about Suzanne in the past because it seemed that more separated us than united us, at least in terms of me appropriately writing about her without appropriating her experience. She is a woman of color who, as far as the writers have allowed us to see, is interested in women and not in men or gender fluid/ gender-queer persons. Again, that’s only what we’ve been shown. But with that much info, there would not seem to be any connection between such a character and someone like me. This season, though, we also have been shown more painful situations in which her mental illnesses cause her to suffer devastating consequences. We see that she is serving time for (we can surmise) kidnapping, imprisonment, and some form of homocide, perhaps manslaughter. We don’t see her trial, nor do we know her sentence. A logical question arises: Why isn’t she in a hospital or institution? She’s not in a psychiatric hospital because of the policies Ronald Reagan pushed into hyperdrive in the 1980s, resulting in a sharp increase in homelessness, and which directly contributed to the present reality: there are more mentally ill persons incarcerated than there are in proper care facilities. 

Of course, not all mental illnesses are the same, so we cannot expect a character to somehow represent an entire community. I am also sympathetic to the challenges of being a writer, and I know that someone is always going to complain. I have no interest in doing that; I don’t need to know if any of the writers have mental illnesses or have experience being in psychosis. I know that mental illness is messy and uncomfortable and scary and heartbreaking and violent, and that those are potent ingredients with which to work; without question, Uzo Abuda is a mistressful actor and delivers a powerful, nuanced, and gut-wrenching performance. Together, they produce a well-drawn character who embodies the contradictions of mental illness: we can be loving, gentle, considerate people, but we can also be raging, unpredictable, even violent.  

Where OITNB provides the most potent commentary, at least for me, is connecting the failures of our society to invest money, resources, and human capital into decreasing recidivism through rehabilitation; the ways in which retributive justice have now fed into a for profit prison model that prioritizes dollars over lives; and how the corporatization of prisons prevents well-meaning (if heavily flawed) people like Healy and Caputo from making changes that will actually improve the lives of inmates and enable them to turn their lives around. Story after story comes out each year about the dangers of private, for-profit prisons, there is consistent evidence about the bribing of judges to keep people incarcerated, and it is well-established that nearly 70% of for-profit prisons have “lockup quotas” that require prisons to be at full capacity. Prison is now about profit, so there is little to no motivation to promote rehabilitation programs, to deescalate (and stop) the asinine war on drugs, or to change the sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug offenders because they are a cash cow. Addicted people do what they have to in order to get a fix; mentally ill, especially unmedicated, do what they have to do in order to feel safe, and I know from my own experiences that can feature unsettling behavior that seems threatening to those unfamiliar with the characteristics of mental illness. And, finally, prison guards in private prisons are more likely to engage in activities such as pitting two mentally ill inmates against each other for the purposes of betting

So in the wake of potent and necessary criticism of OITNB, I wanted to lift up into the light an aspect of the show that is well done, at least for this viewer, that hopefully galvanizes more people to pay attention to the ways in which mass incarceration, for profit prisons, sentencing guidelines, and the lack of proper resources being directed toward mental health care have systemic, detrimental impacts on individuals, families, communities, and our nation. 

It is not Suzanne who is crazy; it is the system that keeps her from being well that is sick.  


Negotiating Space

I write frequently about actively deconstructing ego, unpacking privilege, and living into the fullness of who I believe God has made me to be; I also try to be very mindful of cultural appropriation and of inserting myself into spaces that are not authentically mine or to which I have not been properly invited. Sometimes I fail, but I hope that more often than not I succeed. 

Recently, I have had two (minor, in the scheme of things) interactions that have made me uncomfortable–which is absolutely not a problem; discomfort can be a great catalyst for personal development–and resulted in my examining where my lines are drawn. 

I appreciate that locks have specific, significant meaning in Caribbean and other non-European cultures. I will never wear anything that resembles Rastafari headwear or colors. I do tend to keep my locks covered because they are quite spiritual to me; I have let them show twice in the pulpit, and both have been incredibly moving services. I am happy to hold in holy tension relationships with people who may want to understand my reasonings, but who don’t necessarily agree with me. In the end, I am comfortable knowing that the locks are authentic to my spiritual life and that I grow them as an external symbol of something internal. What I won’t accept, however, is the idea that Nordic and Celtic use of locks is somehow less culturally significant than they are in other traditions, and that the bigotry of other with my skin tone and their history of prejudice and hatred means that I have less of a legitimate claim on wearing locks. I am now sensitive–as a result of wonderful, yet difficult to hear criticism–to the use of the term “dread head,” and will be very selective how and to whom I use it. Appropriation is real, and it is critical that I be vigilant in listening to the testimony of others and reflecting upon how my own behavior can impact them negatively, down to every possible microaggression.

I have also felt in the past three years of working Pride that my own queerness is scoffed at or dismissed as less significant than others’. Again, I put this in perspective. I am a cisgender, White, Christian man married to a White, cisgender, heterosexual woman. My queerness can be hidden if I desire; I can pass; and my own experience of coming out and negotiating the world has been much, much easier than it has for, I imagine, a majority of the larger LGBTQ+ community. So while I have earnestly fought for bisexual inclusion (and, honestly, I am pansexual, but that’s another entry), I am intentional about deferring to the experiences of others in the community who have had hatred, violence, and discrimination written upon their bodies and lives.  

But what frustrates me is the attitude that I am straight. That my love for a woman negates my queerness, makes me less authentic and less a member of the community, as though my credentials are suspect. I thought part of our whole fight was not to reduce persons to their sex lives, but because I am with a cis female partner people assume I pitch and don’t catch (assumptions can be dangerous things) and therefore I’m an interloper. My interpretation of a criticism of Pride this year–that the event is straight-friendly, but is not set up for gay persons–is that the programming was not queer enough. And that hurts. Again, my pain is not something I am looking for others to assuage or address. There are more important things to do within the community, but bisexual inclusion is still an item on the agenda. 

I’m queer. And I think some of my activism may have been motivated by the desire for others to affirm my queerness, like I was trying to prove that I am not an interloper and that I care about the community. I think I’m done with that; I think I now want to move on to being a strident, respectful, dependable ally to the trans* community. I’m comfortable with my identity, but I’m tired of proving it or feeling like I have failed the litmus test. I do this without anger or hard feelings, but more as an act of self-care. I turn 40 in a few days. It is time for other work. 

So this lock-wearing, Jesus-loving, bisexual, chubby, bearded pastor is entering into a new phase that is driven not by insecurity, but rather empowerment. Empowerment for others through using my privilege until I don’t have it; empowerment for my spiritual self, so that I may live a life of compassion, justice, love, and purpose.  

Be well, do good works, and love one another. I’ll try to do the same. 




Reflecting Pride

On Friday, I was blessed to keynote a gathering of Christians and Muslims commemorating  the Orlando victims, holding them in light and love while pledging to work together to better relationships between Christans and LGBT persons, between Christians and Muslims, and between Muslims and LGBT persons.

What I did not expect was work between Christians and Christians.

Those who know me are very familiar with my public and consistent work for and in the GLBT+ community. I don’t need or want to detail it, but suffice it to say I am a committed, stalwart voice for love and equality. I do this largely because of my faith, not in spite of it. And this, for much of my Christian life, has caused strife between me and Christians who vehemently disagree. Some have been openly hostile to me and questioned the authenticity of my Christianity. This happens kinda regularly on the blog, too. But most Christians I know have not attacked me. It is not surprising that I was considered very Progressive in the seminary I attended (and still attend as a doctoral student), but this is an incomplete metric. I would most likely have been considered on the more conservative side had I attended San Francisco Theological Seminary, where some of my dear, Progressive Christian and Unitarian-Universalist (UU) colleagues matriculated. But at United Theological Seminary, I made wonderful, dear friends who are more conservative than me on most political issues, and on some doctrinal ones as well. Yet we love each other. Deeply. Fully. Without reservation. We don’t just say it and then bitch about each other behind one another’s backs. We hold some issues in tension and return to them, again and again, because we care about hearing and being heard.  To some in the Progressive movement, this makes me a traitor. It makes me inauthentic and untrustworthy.  Lately, I have been attacked more from the Left than I am from the Right, which again makes me suspect, even though I identify as a Socialist (before there was Marx and Engels there was Jesus Christ), but I digress.

Anyway, I went to this event expecting to see Episcoplian, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ (UCC), and UU persons, which I did; we were gathering in a UCC church. I assumed it would be the usual Progressive fare. But I was shocked–and even taken aback–to see a listed on the program a representative from a local mega church that I have, in the main, disagreed with on a vast majority of issues. To be clear, I had never met the pastor before, but I quickly surmised what he was likely to say so I braced myself and prepared to, if necessary, refute damaging things said from the pulpit.

Let’s pause here and call this by the proper name: I judged. I had never reached out to any pastor of the mega churches and asked to speak with them; I had drawn conclusions based upon evidence filtrated through media, anecdotes, and upon the ways many mega church pastors conduct themselves on the national and local stages. I was flummoxed by why such a voice was being lifted up during this time.

Can you feel the moral superiority poring out of me? Even the Rock could smell what I was cooking.

And then Pastor John, as I will call him, spoke. He confessed that his church had not publicly addressed the issue of GLBTQ+ rights, one way or another, and that the elephant in the room was getting bigger. I could see the earnestness and honesty in his eyes, and feel the passion in his words. He said that the congregation needs to process, to go through intentional conversation; I  realized that he was asking for help to do the work that so many of us in the UCC, PC (USA), Episcoplal Church, and the UU have done over the past decades. Pastor John elucidated two major points about what can be learned from Orlando; I’ll admit that I can’t remember the second one because I felt his words hit me like a sledgehammer: he spoke about identity. Who are we and who do we perceive others to be? What are the lies we are believing, the assumptions we are making? I felt God smacking me on the back of the head. “Pick out the oak tree in your own eye before pointing out the splinter in your neighbor’s.”

At the reception, I had a great conversation with Pastor John and I hope to be an asset in any way I can as he and his community undertake an intentional walk toward shaping their identity and responding to who God calls them to be; and regardless of what they decide, I am inspired by their desire to undertake the work. And the next time I see him, I am going to look him in the eye and thank him for pastoring to me Friday night.  He taught me something very, very important.

But I must admit another sin. I told Pastor John a lie. As we were walking out I said that I was so glad to see someone from his church on the program. That was true, but only because he had lovingingly and unknowingly put me in my place. I was only glad when I allowed myself to listen to him instead of assuming I knew his story or how Christ moved in his heart.

God clearly did not think that I had adequately gotten the point, because on Saturday I had the opposite experience. I have been volunteering with YS Pride for the past three years.  As an organization,  just celebrated our 5th year; the current crew, by and large, picked it up from the original crew after year two, so I have been feeling pretty strongly that it is time for me to step down and pass the torch to people with fresh vision, new ideas, and various approaches to serve the community. As I have largely been responsible for the programming for the day, the last three years have featured a very heavy spiritual bent, with every attempt to be made to be as ecumenical and inclusive as possible. Yesterday, I read out the names and told the stories of every trans* person killed so far in 2016, something that was only possible because of this fabulously maintained Wikipedia page. Representatives from various trans* organizations were present, along with PFLAG, GLSEN, BRAVO, and a whole host of other wonderful groups.  Many spoke. We read the names of the victims of Orlando, heard a recitation of the mourner’s Kaddish from a Jewish lesbian laywoman; we were held in sacred silence as befits the Quaker tradition by a member of the local Friends Meeting; and people from a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions gathered together to sing and support one another. It was beautiful.

Before signing off, I put out the call for queer and ally persons of color and trans* persons to volunteer and help shape YS Pride in the coming years. I then handed over the microphone to an individual who had previously been very critical of me (not by name) online for speaking to our local police department about safety and security after Orlando, and claimed that I have an “elite, white” perspective, apparently because I invited the Chief of Police to make some opening remarks, which he did. I was filled with gratitude when the next person who followed the Chief, a trans* man, thanked the Orlando Police Department for their work and support of and for the largely  Latinx community of victims in the tragedy. But the final individual who spoke, who I know identifies with plural pronouns, criticized the Pride organizers for saying pretty words, but not doing anything to be authentically invitational to communities of color, specifically because the police chief spoke. They drew a distinct line between being in solidarity with various  communities and supporting police presence or participation in Pride. And while they did make important points about the challenges facing the most vulnerable communities–queer and trans* persons of color, especially returning citizens–their assumption was that we on the committee had no education or knowledge of this. They spoke about the “older generation” needing to be pulled to the Left by Millennials, so that we can be a more inviting and inclusive community. As long as we are not police or military, apparently, I thought at the time. And I’m too exhausted to give a point-by-point refutation of the other arguments because it is not necessary. Their words are not what is at issue here. My immediate internal response is the issue:  I wanted to shout, “I’ve been to the national White Privieldge Conference; I was at Ecumenical Advocacy Days in DC when the topic was mass incarceration and its impact on communities of color; I have worked with trans* persons in a wide variety of contexts; I visit people in prison; I am the only Caucasian in my doctoral cohort; do you know how much education I have, both institutional and experiential??! Dammit, how dare you judge me or others without ever having talked to us one ti…”

Oh. Right. Well, shit.

There’s that damn oak tree again.

The congregation and I just finished our walk through 2 Corinthians this week; it was the longest study of one book that we’ve done, in worship, since I assumed the pulpit. God so very clearly, so very powerfully, led us to the Narrative Lectionary and the selection of 2 Corinthians because we needed to study it together. And today, I needed to admit my sins. My failures. The ways that I was wanting to boast in myself rather than boasting in the Lord. The ways that I judged others and then became righteously indignant when someone did it to me.

Alright, God. Alright. I get it. Sheesh. You don’t have to hit me over the head wi…

Oh. Right. Well, shit.

Torpor and Acedia 

There’s a great story about Robert Pinosh, a man who left his copywriting job for Hollywood, and crafted one letter that changed the whole of his life. In it he wrote about his love of words, a must for a writer. Words are the only medium that matters to those who write; it is an exhausting, but never exhaustive pursuit to reveal something never before described, to help connect the concept with the reality, and to shape the attenuating emotions, largely because one’s own life seems to be nothing but chaos. Life is indifferent to words, but we writers refuse to be spurned in our advances. We are ever vigilant, ever optimistic, ever hopeful that one day we will be understood. 

Every person with bipolar disorder (BD) is different. I cycle rapidly, even while on meds. It is getting better–though that can be hard to believe sometimes, especially in the midst of a dramatic cycle–but dearly beloved BD is draining. There are times when my skin is on fire from itchiness, my head is filled with noise, and I feel so zapped of energy that making it from the bed to the bathroom takes several hours, a vast majority of that time being spent convincing myself that I can get up.


That’s the word, bird. Because most often writers use the word torpor to creat a contrast. Torpor is a deep apathy, an overwhelming lethargy. Torpor describes a being who is bereft. Torpor makes the opposite highs–exuberance, perhaps?–that much more dizzying; torpor defines the reified air that accompanies the precipice. Torpor. While Pinosh does not use the word in his missive, I like to imagine that if he were alive and deigned to read my scribblings, he would smile at the mention of torpor. Words elicit reactions. That is their ontology. 

And I would smile because it is such a perfect word for where I am right now. For those who know me, it can sometimes be difficult to discern if I am manic or not because I am naturally a passionate and upbeat person. The price, though, are these periods of excruciating madness. Or feeling my body disconnected from my mind, which in turn is impacted by the capricious, arbitrary secretions of my brain. I feel myself a meat bag filled with chemicals brewed in God’s laboratory.   

I have lifted up the tent flap of the big top so that you may peek; the three rings of my mind circus each have a featured attraction. Torpor and acedia are center ring right now. Their’s is a long love affair, a fickle romance that is devoid of commitment to anything except the void. A sucking darkness, dementors of one’s own demented delusions, removes all the joy from the room when they are in center ring. They will show you the where and when of your most vulnerable underbelly, poking disinterestedly but insistently, wearing away any armor or defense until you have a choice: continue to blister, or build up a callous. 

Torpor and acedia: Fickle in their felicity.    

There Are No Words

There are no words to describe what happened last night in Orlando. I cannot imagine the terror and confusion felt by those who were brutally mown down by what appears to be an ideologically-driven gunman. There are no words to console the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who right now are in hospitals or morgues, ICUs or funeral homes. There are no words for the shock. For the sudden sense of loss. For the lack of any discernible reason why the biggest mass shooting in American history happened. Not a political analysis, but a real, comprehensible reason for why.

When the shooting at Mother Emmanuel occurred, I think I was shaken more than at any other time; I was in college for the OKC bombing, and it seemed a distant and foreign event. On 9/11, I had friends in NYC and I tried frantically to get a hold of them. Eventually, after a couple or three days, I had established contact with them all and I grew more afraid of my government than I did of a terrorist attack. Dad and I flew to NYC about a month after the towers fell. The shootings at Columbine shocked me, but Virginia Tech terrified me, as I was teaching at Xavier University and I was so concerned about my students. I prepared myself mentally for the possibility of needing to throw myself at a shooter in order to stop a tragedy. I went to trainings on how to handle a locked down campus. Soon, I grew used to thinking about campus strategically in the event that I would be caught in an outdoor shooting. Fort Hood was frightening, as I live very close to Wright Patterson AFB, and I have friends throughout the world stationed on bases. 

But Mother Emmanuel? That was tough. Weekly I lead a wonderful Bible study at the church, and I cannot imagine anything more violating to the spirit than gunfire in God’s house. I feel safer in church than anywhere else except my home. The thought of a shooting there is too much to bear. My doctoral mentor taught Rev. Dr. Clemente Pickney, and with that personal connection my sense of fear threatened to change the way I relate to people, something unacceptable for a follower of Jesus. I began to think about what I would do if…

News of Orlando reached me this morning as I was preparing for worship. My eyes scanned over the details and filled with tears. I thought of the dozens of friends I have who have been the victims of gay bashing or threats of violence. I thought of my own nights at at gay clubs, the last thing on my mind being the chance that I might be shot. I thought of all the struggles we in the community have undertaken in the past fifty years, from Stonewall to current resistance to transphobia. Now, part of our history is the largest mass shooting in American history. 

There are no words to bring sense to this. There are no words that will uproot those who see the Second Amendment as more important than human life. There are no words to mitigate the Islamaphobia that will arise in response to Sunday morning’s shootings. If Sandy Hook did not change anything, I hold out very little hope that the needless deaths of our brothers and sisters in the queer and ally communities will strike upon the heart of America. There are no words. Dozens and dozens of Harvey Milks could have been killed last night and nothing would change. No words.

I just know that I’m tired. I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of people gripping onto guns, of people pulling them out when they have road rage, or a woman says no to a proposition, or of the other countless, bullshit reasons that people are shot in cold blood each and every day in this country. I’m tired of having a violence problem no other nation on earth seems to have in this way. We can correct this; we can stop it. But it appears there are no words to get it done.  


Meh (Or, Thoughts on the Election)



I tend to avoid overtly political posts. By that I mean that I try to not write about specific candidates, unless they say something theologically ignorant or profound. The former happens much more frequently than the latter. All of this to say that I try to remember that I am called to be of service to all persons, and I don’t want political disagreements to prevent the possibility of fulfilling that call.

My FB feed is filled with those overjoyed with Hillary Clinton’s presumptive nomination; those who think it is not over and that Bernie still has a chance with superdelegates; those who are resigned to vote for whomever the DNC nominates; those who will not vote for Hillary under any circumstances; and those who simply will not vote. I admit, I have either taken known Trump supporters off my timeline or unfriended them (mostly because of a lack of civility, something I also had to do with a few Bernie supporters). I know it is going to be a long five months, and while I hope to not have to write any more about specific candidates–the likelihood of that, with the walking disaster that is Trump, is low–so I’m weighing in on this now and hope to not post anything on FB about this particular issue again.

I am going to vote for Hillary Clinton. I do so without great enthusiasm, but I don’t do so with reservations, given the system we have and the options presented. In no way, shape, or form do I think Secretary Clinton and Donald Drumpf are one and the same. I understand the myriad concerns people have with Clinton, from her ties to corporate monies to foreign policy positions. I understand that for many of us, the Clintons represent a pulling to the right of the Democratic Party and that her progressivism seems to be opportunistically inconsistent. But let there be no doubt. She is wholly, completely qualified to be president of the United States. Trump is a buffoon. A charlatan. An ego-maniacal, mediocre salesman who was given money and opportunity by the genetic lottery. He has accomplished things, to be sure, but they largely reflect great deficiencies in our culture. His books are read instead of serious treatises from learned economists; his reality show revealed the celebrated duplicity of persons like Omarossa and Gene Simmons. His misogyny, racism, and xenophobia are both casual and aggressive. The support he is garnering from across the Republican Party–even amongst those who are disgusted by him–reveals what is at stake. For the sake of women, ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, Muslims, and the wrong kinds of white people (of whom I am a proud member), I am voting for Hillary Clinton.

I think that the United States made a fundamental error in allowing capitalism to be less an economic system and more a political philosophy dictating policies. Our country is an oligarchy. People much smarter than I have concluded this, and I believe it to be true. As a follower of Jesus Christ, which does not necessarily inform the candidate whom I chose but does impact the issues that are important to me, I cannot support an economic or political system that is based upon the oppression and subjugation of human persons. No government instituted by human beings will ever be perfect (hence why we Christians pray that God’s kin-dom come), and I don’t necessarily know what should replace what we have now, but I think it should be replaced. So my objections to Hillary Clinton are largely based on my fundamental disagreements with capitalism and a two-party system that is intimately tied to corporate money.

I have thought this through for myself. I’m not saying that I am correct and that others should follow my lead. What I am saying, though, is that I will delete off my FB wall anything that attempts to get me to do something other than vote for Hillary Clinton. I will gladly cast my vote for the first female president, and I will do so with a similar pride and appreciation as I did when I voted for President Obama the first time. (I was proud the second time as well, but it was a different experience and came with some mixed emotions because of the Administration’s drone policy.) Until then, I’m just gonna keep on trying to love everybody and do some good in my little slice of the world.

“It’s not RAPE-rape”

Trigger warning. Man writing about rape.

I used to think that the most disgusting tautology in the English language was Jar-Jar. Now I realize that it is rape-rape. As in, “Well, it’s not like it was rape-rape.” Such seems to be the opinion of Leslie Rasmussen of the band Good English, which I now know will never, ever play the Yellow Springs Street Fair because of her recent letter defending rapist Brock Turner. How? I know people.

But the loss of a potential gig for a band is not why I am choosing to write about a subject that I have little right to be writing about; I’ve had some uncomfortable sexual situations in which my own “no” was not heard as quickly as I would have liked, but nothing like true assault or rape. However, I have been part of a culture that causes many of us to internalize some arbitrary and meaningless distinctions about “degrees” of rape. You know, there’s all manner of inappropriate hijinks, but then there’s RAPE-rape. The dark alley, knife to the throat, perpetrator with a ski mask whispering things about how she likes it. That, we’re told, is rape. The only category that matters. And that is pure bullshit.

And Leslie seems to have internalized it, too. In her letter she insinuates that Turner’s actions were somehow less rapey than what would qualify, in her mind, a crime deserving of 10 years’ worth of punishment. Turner’s father, in his own letter, says that his son should not have his life destroyed by “twenty minutes of action.” Like the victim–whose letter is as potent as it is tear-jerking–somehow consented to being penetrated while passed out next to a dumpster. I dunno, sounds pretty rapey to me.

I write because of the deep frustration I feel that not only men but also women have internalized these standards that deviate from what should be the operating position for us all: all non-consensual sex is rape. There is only one “type” of sex, and that is consensual. Period. It does not matter how many times individuals have had sex, even with one another, all it takes is one non-consensual interaction to constitute assault or rape.

There is no rape-rape. Only Zuul.

I’m In An Open Relationship (With Jesus)

I wrote awhile ago about being in a relationship with JesusIt’s getting serious, I quipped. This declaration has been met in different ways by different people, as one might imagine. My pastor friends smile and nod, understanding the ways in which commitment to ministry ebbs and flows. Sometimes it is done with incredible passion and sense of purpose; other times it is done out of muscle memory and sense of duty. Being in a relationship with Jesus is great, but I understand that he sees other people. He’s not monogamous. Our is very much an open relationship. Sometimes I find myself alone in the flat, drinking wine and eating ice cream, belting out “All By Myself.” Yes, that’s right. When I’m not with Jesus I’m Bridget Jones. Deal with it.


But all this to say that there are times when God seems really far away. There are times when I ask myself what the hell I’ve done? Do I fully understand that I have organized my life around something that ultimately may not be true; that I have made decisions impacting my financial life–and, therefore, the financial life of my wife–and continue to accrue education debt even though I know the church I serve will not be in the financial position to support me full time, perhaps ever? I have purposefully pursued a terminal degree that is not accepted as an adequate credential from certain institutions of higher learning, including the one at which I have taught for nearly a decade. (I trust that soon D.Min. degrees (especially with the concentration I am pursuing) will have universal appreciation, but that may be slow in coming for Catholic universities.) I have made changes to the way I live my life, shifted the sense of responsibility I have for others, and dedicated myself to a continued commitment to follow Jesus Christ. It’s a BFD.


And it is for a multitude of reasons. But one is on my mind: it can be so dangerous when someone becomes really religious. I think about the way that I was raised–with really no attention paid to the spiritual life, but great attention paid to the intellectual one–and I want to be certain that I remain an open-minded, compassionate person who is fully committed to relationships with people without preconditions. In the end, that’s ridiculous. We all have preconditions: we want to be safe and respected, and when those preconditions are broken we make decisions about whether we want to continue that relationship. What I’m talking about is never wanting to be at the place where I begin to judge someone else’s spiritual beliefs, or will not engage in a relationship with someone because their beliefs do not comport with mine. Again, examples could be offered in which someone’s beliefs would cause me to not be in relationship with them (they believe God calls them to molest children), but I am speaking about having a religious belief that makes me think I am better than others. I never want to tread upon that territory. So when I say I’m on fire for Jesus, I get why some people would shrink away and have some serious questions and concerns. I welcome those questions and affirm those concerns.

But for me it is this: I firmly believe that God has led me to this time and this place to witness for Christ. I’ll use my words in bible study, sermons, and writings; but the rest of the time, I want my actions to represent my faith. I have no desire to proselyte and convert, but I do want to model the behavior of Jesus, to love as radically as God loves, and to be a servant for my wider community such that anyone, regardless of faith tradition or condition in life, will feel comfortable coming to me or allowing me to come to them. I want to pull down as many barriers as I can in my personal life and within the society that I inhabit, barriers that keep me out of significant relationships with others. That, to me, is the call on my heart.

I guess I’m just a YS hippy after all.