Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's NOT the end of the world as we know it

David Bawden

Meet David Bawden. He lives about 20 miles outside of Topeka, Kansas and calls himself Pope Michael I. He was elected to the papacy by a conclave of six people (one of whom was his father) in the early 1990s.

Bawden is a traditional Catholic who believes the Roman Catholic Church strayed into heresy and error during its Vatican II sessions in the 1960s. Because it has "embraced heresy," it is no longer the Catholic Church, or so the traditional Catholic believes.

You may think all of this is perfectly ridiculous (and it is), but Bawden is not the only "pope in exile" wandering around the planet. There is Pope Linus II in Hertfordshire, England, Pius XIII in Montana (now deceased) (and not to be confused with the new movie starring Jude Law), Pope Krav I in Croatia and Alexander IX in Argentina, among others. This Wikipedia entry is a good place to start your own research.

Since I grew up in the traditional Catholic world, I know about these things.

We believed:
  • That the end was near and we lived in the End Times.
  • That the Roman Catholic Church had been destroyed from the inside out by heresy and error.
  • That the pope, by embracing heresy, was no longer pope. 
  • That the mass, because it had been changed and was now said in the vernacular rather than Latin, was no longer valid.
  • That all Catholics (from the pope and cardinals on down) who were part of the "New Church" with its "bastard rites and bastard sacraments" were in heresy and would therefore go to hell.
  • That we alone - traditional Catholics - were "true Catholics."  
There are many flavors of traditional Catholicism. The brand I followed featured a bishop (Francis Schuckardt) who stockpiled weapons and was extremely anti-Semitic and who had a painting of Adolf Hitler overlooking his bed. We passed around a pamphlet called The Six Million Swindle about how the Holocaust never happened. We attended John Birch Society meetings and waited for society to collapse.

Francis Schuckardt

You can read the official version of Schuckardt's life here, but you might also want to have a look at this article as well as this article.

Glenn Beck
I read an article recently in The Atlantic about Glenn Beck, that perennial purveyor of doom and gloom who found his voice by comparing Obama to Hitler. If you thought Beck would be happy to see Trump become president of the United States, you thought wrong. Beck has now turned his guns on Trump and is convinced, yet again, that the END IS NEAR and that the US Constitution "hangs by a thread" and the Ship of Liberty is about the founder on the rocks and ... you know the drill. Same same but different.

I was reminded that people like Beck - and Pope Michael I and traditional Catholics and all the other doom and gloomers among us - have always been around, and will always be around, and that it's not the issue of the day that concerns them. It's the outrage. The feeling of outrage. The feeling of moral superiority - that they know something the rest of us don't. That they "get it" while the rest of us are clueless.

I could easily populate this post with an endless list of examples of hysteria and fear-mongering going back to Jesus himself, who seemed to believe the end was indeed near.

None of this is new.

It's been more than fifty years since the Second Vatican Council closed in Rome in 1965 and there are still traditional Catholics who are utterly convinced the Roman Catholic Church has been destroyed and is no more, despite the fact that it is still very much alive and actually prospering.

As we head into 2017 and whatever a Trump presidency will bring, there is a sense of doom and gloom among many of my friends, some of whom have been talking in rather apocalyptic language. My message is simple: It's not the end of the world as we know it. There is cause for concern and renewed vigilance, but the world is not about to collapse around us.

I've heard all of this before. In fact, I've heard it over and over and I wasted too many years engaging with the doomsayers, trying to reason with them, trying to comprehend what the fuss was all about. I've come to realize that some people enjoy a sense of impending catastrophe and that if there wasn't something awful on the horizon, they would invent it just so they could have something to rail against.

To each his own.

As for me and my house,  we're going to go about our business and enjoy whatever time we have together in the quiet confidence that this too shall pass and all shall be well.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Trump is an abuser. Believe me ....

This presidential election is disturbing - so disturbing I've actually stopped watching coverage on the television, For a political junkie who has watched coverage of every election going back to Ronald Reagan, that's saying something.

Each prior election, I watched, I enjoyed, I fervently hoped my candidate would win. I cared about the issues, I followed every poll and trend. But this year, not so much.

What's going on?

It's a nasty election, of course, and both candidates are intensely disliked for various reasons. But it's not that. There's something deeper and more personal going on here.

I grew up in an abusive environment. Abuse is like pornography: I know it when I see it. Early on, I noticed that Donald Trump was abusive. I thought it was equally obvious to others, but apparently it's not.

What I realize now, with about forty-five days to go before the election, is that Donald Trump has been yanking on my abuse triggers and I've gotten so increasingly dismayed and upset that I can't even bear to watch.

Here's a list of some of the common traits of abusive people:
  • Humiliates you in front of others.
  • Blames you for his/her violent outbursts.
  • Often blow up in anger at small incidents. He or she is often easily insulted, claiming hurt feelings when he or she is really very angry.
  • Blame others for their own problems.
  • Blame others for their own feelings and are very manipulative. An abusive person will often say "you make me mad", "you’re hurting me by not doing what I ask", or "I can’t help being angry".
  • May be cruel to animals and/or children. 
  • May have a fascination with weapons.
  • May think it is okay to solve conflicts with violence.
  • Often make threats of violence, breaking or striking objects.
  • May hold rigid stereotypical views of the roles of men and women. The abuser may see women as inferior to men, stupid, and unable to be a whole person without a relationship.
  • May say things that are intentionally cruel and hurtful in order to degrade, humiliate, or run down the victim’s accomplishments.
  • Tend to be moody and unpredictable. They may be nice one minute and the next minute explosive. Explosiveness and mood swings are typical of men who beat their partners.
Remind you of anyone?

It's not just Donald Trump, mind you. Have you seen his army of surrogates out there on the television screens every single day, defending him, participating in his abusive behavior and trying to convince you that everything Trump does is perfectly fine, that if you don't get on the Trump Train, you're a loser?

At the end of the first presidential debate the other night, Trump did something very odd: He told Hillary Clinton that he had planned on bringing up her husband's infidelities and throwing them in her face, but he had decided not to. Then he wanted credit for being a nice guy and not hurting her in this fashion. He said he was doing this out of respect for her daughter Chelsea.

Think about that for a minute ...

Trump and his surrogates routinely lie, but if you call them on the lies, they turn the tables and claim "liberal media bias." In other words, you're the bad person for calling them on their lies.

This is a favorite tactic of abusers. When you call them on their behavior, they turn it around and make you the bad guy. They refuse to take responsibility for what they've done. Instead, they blame others and try to make you feel like you're wrong.

Day after day in this election, Trump and his surrogates are out there using racist, coded language, but again: If you call them on it, you're the bad guy for "playing the race card."

In a way, Trump's entire campaign is like an abusive spouse -- and we're the ones being bruised and battered.

Look at the premise of that campaign: Trump wants to make America great "again." As though we're not great. As though we're all losers because we're not doing things his way. He uses the word "loser" liberally and often. He has accused just about everyone in government of being losers. He says our military is "disgusting." He says our elected officials are "stupid." In his outreach to African Americans, he tells them their communities are crime-ridden hell holes, their schools are terrible, their lives are hell - so "what the hell do they have to lose" by supporting him?

I don't think we've ever had a candidate like this, a man who insults and bullies and denigrates everyone and everything. A man who mocked a reporter with a disability. A man who calls a woman a "fat pig." A man who attacks a Gold Star family. A man who lies so often and with such gusto that the fact checkers simply can't keep up. A man who insults voters by refusing to release his tax returns or be transparent about his own business dealings. An unbelievably arrogant man who stood in front of his national convention and claimed he was the only person who could fix America's problems. A man who told a religious audience he has nothing to ask forgiveness for. A man who refuses to apologize for the horrid things he says.

Jesus said it best: "By their fruits, you shall know them."

What are the "fruits" of Donald Trump? Have you seen what goes on at his rallies? Have you seen the hateful, ugly things his supporters say on social media? Have you seen the number of endorsements he has picked up from groups like the KKK?

It's telling: Not one former (or current) president of the United States has endorsed Donald Trump. Not one plans to vote for him. Not even the former presidents in his own party. If a former president doesn't know what's best for this country, who does? There was also a story recently about how not one of the Fortune 100 CEOs have contributed a dime to Trump's campaign. Again, very telling. If he's such a fantastic business guy, why won't his fellow CEOs get behind him? Or so they know things about him that we don't know?

For more than a year now, the media have been fawning over Donald Trump. They have his surrogates sitting there on the set for each and every discussion, surrogates who have been given endless amounts of time to spin away each and every terrible thing Trump has said and done. We are told this is to ensure fairness and balance, but actually all they've done is serve as enablers for an abusive man.


Let me try to be clear.

I grew up in an abusive environment. I watched my parents scream at each other. I watched physical violence with guns and knives. I watched my mother get battered. I got battered myself. One night it was so bad my older sister carried me and my brother outside, in the middle of winter, and hid in a ditch to make sure our drunken, enraged father didn't kill us.

I know abuse when I see it. I know abusers. I know how they make you feel. They hold the cards, they're in a position of power, and all you can do is cower before them. The police are supposed to be on your side, but often they're not. They don't want to get involved. They're like the media today: They don't want to tell it like it is. They don't want to risk anything on your behalf.

Is Donald Trump as bad as all that? You tell me. Pardon me if I don't want a man like that with his finger on the nuclear trigger.

I realize now that I've had to stop watching election coverage because it reminds me of too many bad things - things I've seen way too much of. This entire election cycle has been massively dysfunctional and unhealthy on so many levels. The phrase "national embarrassment" just doesn't cover it. If we are truly a great country, we deserve so much better.

There's something else I know about abuse: Eventually the truth will reveal itself. People get sick of being gaslighted, abused, made to feel they're stupid losers. People catch on and begin to see the abuser for what he is.

For all of our sakes, let's hope this happens before election day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Jacob Wetterling and the Problem of Evil

On October 22, 1989, an eleven-year-old boy named Jacob Wetterling was abducted at gunpoint and taken to a rock quarry where he was raped and murdered. For twenty-seven years, his death was a mystery. This week, his murderer finally confessed to the crime.

It's the sort of thing that hurts your heart.

Confronted with such terrible ugliness and brutality, we turn to religion for answers, and we ask the following questions:

  • Why is there evil in the world? What purpose does it serve? Where does it come from? 
  • If God is omnipotent - if he can do anything he chooses - why does he sit back in silence and allow such horrific things to happen to the most innocent and vulnerable among us? 
  • If God loves us, why does he allow such terrible things to happen to us?

When we try to answer such questions, we encounter what theologians call the problem of evil. Each believer, no matter the denomination or creed or religious tradition, will encounter this thorny problem - and it's the one problem that uniquely demonstrates the poverty of our religious ideas.

Fact is, religion has no good answers. We go round and round in circles.

We are told that God is omnipotent and almighty and can do as he pleases. So we are forced to ask: Why doesn't he intervene when a child falls into the clutches of a monster? How can he sit back in silence and do nothing? How can someone who supposedly loves you be so indifferent to your suffering?

We are told:

  • He allows such things so that a greater good might arise
  • He allows such things so that a greater evil will not occur
  • He has given mankind free will and must respect our free will, even when we use it to do evil, terrible things
  • Or, we fall back on the old standard: God's ways are not our ways. We are too small and too limited to understand his purposes and intentions. These, of course, are not answers at all.

Those of us who have experienced tragic things in our lives inevitably find ourselves one day pondering the problem of evil. We ask God: Why did you allow this to happen? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Why didn't you help me? I thought you loved me ... if you loved me, you would have helped me.

God, of course, does not respond.

Well-meaning souls assure us that "God's ways are not our ways" or that God always brings "something good" out of the evil we experience.

Any serious believer will eventually explore this problem, as I have and so many others have. Numerous books and papers have been written about it.

Explore the Bible, if you want. Dig into the Quran, or the Gita, or the Vedas, or any sacred scripture. You will not find a satisfactory answer.

There are times, though, when we need answers, when silence and sophistry are simply not good enough. 

The death of a child at the hands of a monster is one such time. 

Yet religion cannot comfort us. It cannot explain what happened to this little boy. It can conjecture and speculate and guess, but it can't answer the questions we ask. No amount of theological hair-splitting will comfort this boy's parents, his family, his friends.  No amount of well-intentioned claptrap can hide the fact that religion has no genuine answers. 

All it can do is what it does best, which is offer hope when there is no hope. The religious person will say Jacob Wetterling is in a better place. We certainly hope so. The religious person will say that his murderer will be judged by God and most likely spend eternity in hell. We certainly hope so.

But ... whether those things are true is anyone's guess.

At the end of the day, the problem of evil confronts us with the fact that God, although he is all powerful, chooses silence and indifference no matter how horrific the crime or how innocent the victim. God sits back, allows it to happen, updates his scorecard. Apparently he has his reasons, Needless to say, these are not the actions of what we understand to be a loving person. 

If God does not answer the cries of a child being raped and murdered, what cries will he answer? If he is not moved by such a horrific scene, what will move him, if anything at all? 

If he - or she - won't protect the most vulnerable among us, who will he/she protect? 

If this entity is not interested in children like Jacob, what makes us believe he has any interest in any of us at all? 

What is the purpose of titles like "Savior" and "Deliverer" and "King of Kings"? 

We are told that "God so loved the world" that he allowed his only child to be viciously  murdered. What are we to make of such statements?

Jacob Wetterling is only one child, but there are many Jacobs all over the world, so many boys and girls who, even today, are being raped and murdered. In fact, history is littered with dead bodies - a holocaust of innocents who paid the price for others exercising their free will. If God knew we would abuse free will in such a horrendous fashion, why give it to us? We are assured that the good that comes from free will outweighs the bad - but try telling that to Jacob's mother. 

We are left with the question: 


Perhaps the answer has less to do with God and more with us and what we allow. Perhaps it is our own silence and indifference that allows monsters to roam so freely. Perhaps, at the end of the day, these children are victims of the world we created, a world filled with violence, hatred, endless self-seeking and self-absorption, and more weapons than we know what to do with. 

Perhaps someday we'll learn how to create a world where life truly is sacred.

Monday, July 4, 2016

What's Up with Mississippi?

In the realms of chutzpah, it was a bona fide keeper. Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said he was disappointed that a judge had ruled against House Bill 1523, which would have allowed discrimination against LGBT folks under the guise of religious liberty. Federal judge Carlton Reeves put a stay on the bill, which was to take effect on July 1, 2016.

Gunn said, "We felt like it was a good bill, protecting religious beliefs and the rights of LGBT community."

He did not explain how giving religious people a free pass to discriminate against the gay community would "protect the rights of LGBT community." He also did not explain his aversion to the use of a definite article.

Perhaps he was trying to one-up his boss, Governor Phil Bryant, who received the Samuel Adams Religious Freedom Award from the Family Research Council (categorized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), for signing the bill in the first place. During the award ceremony, held in Washington, D.C., Bryant said, "They don't know that Christians have been persecuted throughout the ages. They don't know that if it takes crucifixion, we will stand in line before abandoning our faith and our belief in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So if we are going to stand, now is the time and this is the place."

As Judge Reeves noted in his dissent, the bill was clearly a reaction to last year's marriage equality ruling that made gay marriage legal throughout the United States. Bryant and his friends in the Mississippi legislature thought they had come up with an end run around the ruling with a so-called "religious liberty" bill. After all, who doesn't want to protect "religious liberty"? 

Proponents argued that unless the bill was signed, pastors in the state of Mississippi would be forced to marry gay couples whether they wanted to or not. They provided no evidence for this claim, and were apparently unaware that not one pastor or priest or anyone else wearing a funny hat in this country has ever been forced to marry a gay couple against their will. 

Not to be outdone, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer posted this on his Facebook page:

He also said the "homosexual agenda is the greatest threat to religious liberty in our nation's history."

Fischer's overheated and over the top rhetoric is one of the reasons why the American Family Association was also categorized as a hate group  by the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The only sensible statement from a public official in Mississippi on this matter came from Attorney General Jim Hood, who said, "The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB1523 protected religious freedoms. Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies. No court case has ever said a pastor did not have discretion to refuse to marry any couple for any reason. I hate to see politicians continue to prey on people who pray, go to church, follow the law and help their fellow man."

The challenges faced by Mississippi are many and well known. How its opposition to gay marriage and gay rights in general will help the state with these challenges is a complete mystery. HB1523 has actually hurt the state. Many main street groups and chambers of commerce asked the governor not to sign the bill, as did major corporations like Nissan, Toyota, Levis, Tyson Foods and many others. The governor ignored all these folks and signed the bill anyway. 

Now that a stay has been issued against it, there is talk of an appeal. 

Why, Mississippi? What's up with that?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Letter to an unknown son or daughter

Hi there.

You don't know me yet, but someday you will (or so I hope). Right now you're "in care" - perhaps a foster home or a group home or some other setting which is temporary and not your final destination. Most likely your parents messed up. Drugs. Drinking. Crime. Some form of abuse took place. Or perhaps your parents died or were, for reasons perhaps unknown to you, unable to care for you. Somehow or other, you were let down, and you wound up "in care."

You're probably wondering what the future could possibly hold. Must be rather scary. And also lonely.

There's no getting around it: It hurts when your parents let you down. It's like sailing along in the sea of life and suddenly you find yourself thrust into a life raft and left to fend for yourself while the ship that was your family sails off into the sunset without you.


Then a giant cargo ship comes along, plucks you from the cold waters, installs you in some tiny room while folks fill out paperwork and try to figure out what to do with you. You become part of a giant machine, a cog among a gazillion cogs, shuffled here and there as the cold, impersonal machine makes decisions on your ultimate fate. The people tending the machine try to do the best they can, but they face budget shortages, staff shortages, lack resources, money, time, and so you find yourself shuffled about as folks scramble to come up with something more substantial. You may wind up in situations that are not ideal but are the best that can be achieved given the circumstances.

Not very fair, but there it is.

You probably lay in bed at night and stare up at the ceiling and wonder if someone is thinking about you, if somebody wants to be your mom or dad, whether you'll have new brothers and sisters or perhaps be an only child, whether you'll have a new family -- and whether you'll like that family.

Each time the door opens, you probably wonder who will be standing there - and what they want from you. Will it be a mom and a dad? Or maybe just a mom? Or just a dad? Or will it be a social worker saying it's time for you to move on to the next thing - the next foster family, the next group home, the next destination that the giant machine has decided for you.

Perhaps you think no one will ever come for you at all.

And then, one day, out of the blue, the door will open and I'll be standing there.

I should tell you up front that I know all about that giant machine taking care of you because I'm caught up in it too. See, the only way for someone like me to find someone like you is to crawl into the belly of that beast and do battle.

The very first thing the machine did to me was fingerprint me. Then they sent my fingerprints out to see what would happen. Would I show up on any criminal reports? Perhaps the sex offender database? Perhaps on some police report somewhere?

And on it went, one thing after the next. I can' t tell you how many forms I filled out, how many questions I answered, how many background checks I went through. Then I took a bunch of parenting classes and training sessions. Then the machine visited my home several times and had a good look around, wanting to be sure that it would be good enough for someone like you. Did I have running water? A nice bed and a nice room for you? Were the floors clean? Did the toilet flush properly? Did I have fire alarms and fire extinguishers in case there was a fire? Did I have an emergency plan in place in case there was a tornado or some other disaster? Did I understand that a child should never be spanked for any reason? Did I have friends willing to write letters of recommendation on my behalf, willing to verify that I would make a good parent?

They talked to everyone in my life. Even my boss was asked to weigh in.

All of this was done to make sure you would be placed in a safe, good home and that you'd have an adult in your life determined to make sure that nothing bad happened to you ever again. Because the machine knows - and I know, too -- that something bad has happened to you. Someone, somewhere, let you down. Life, circumstances, fate, karma -- somehow or other, you got the short end of the stick. It's the machine's job to pick you up, carry you a while, then drop you off at a place where you can live again, a place that you can call home, in the care of someone, or perhaps several someones, who want to be your family.

So ... on that day, when I'm standing there in your doorway -- when we're looking at each other and sizing each other up and wondering what it all means -- on that day both you and I will step off the machine. The social workers will still visit and there will still be forms to fill out, but when we disembark from the machine and go to the parking lot and get into my vehicle, an entirely new chapter in your life -- and my life -- will unfold.

If it all goes according to plan, it will be a very nice chapter.

I'm writing this letter because I know what it's like to lie in bad at night and wonder if someone is thinking about you. Fact is, when I was your age, someone let me down too, and I have a pretty good idea of how you must feel.

So I wanted you to know that yes, someone is indeed thinking about you, and planning for your future, and waiting for the day they can meet you and start being your mom, or your dad, or your family. Someone has spent a lot of time inside the belly of that beast doing battle, getting ready, buying furniture for your new room, getting everything ready. Someone's been thinking about you every single day.

Before I close this letter, I'll tell you a secret. You might be scared, but that someone thinking about you is probably scared too. Probably scared a lot. You might be wondering if they're going to like you. But they're going to be wondering whether you like them.

You see, they want the best for you. They know some bad things have happened to you, and they don't want you to be hurt anymore. They want you to have a good life, a safe life, a life filled with the love and care that you deserve. Of course, it's easy to talk about such things, but doing it is far more difficult. Takes work. A lot of work. You both have to work at it. You both have to be on board and ready to roll up your sleeves and make it work.

Me, my sleeves are rolled up and I'm ready to give it my all. And what I know is this: If you're willing to do the same, we're going to be a huge success.

Right now, as I write this, I don't know who you are. I don't know if you're a boy or a girl. I don't know your name. I don't know anything about you. Yet I'm thinking about you.

It makes me sad that there are so many kids like you. I wish I could help all of you. I can't. What I can do -- and what I will do, if the machine allows me -- is help one of you.

And I'll tell you another secret: There's a lot of people like me in the belly of that beast.

So ... chin up, okay? Someone's waiting for you. Someone's thinking about you. And, someday soon, someone will be standing there at your door. When that day comes, here's some advice: Give it your all. They say a fool will waste his tomorrows by looking back at yesterdays. Don't look back. Give it your all.

Nick Wilgus is the best-selling author of SHAKING THE SUGAR TREE and many other novels. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

I want to hold your hand

As an openly gay man in his early fifties who wants to adopt, I've certainly received my share of looks and pointed questions, the most frequent of which is why.


I often receive a tilting of the head and a raising of the eyebrows when this plaintive plea is issued.


From the moment I attended my first parenting class last summer, that question has followed me. And while I initially felt the need for some fantastic, utterly compelling reason, I've since come to understand it's a rather simple matter.

I like to love and be loved.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Besides, it's not really about me. It's about children who need to be loved. Who need homes. Who need someone in their corner.

So ... why not me?

I'm already the proud father of a son who is now in his twenties and has just finished college. I know all about the joys and pains of fatherhood. I know what I'm getting into.

The matter was clarified for me last year when a friend announced he and his wife were expecting their third child. This news was greeted by the usual oohs and aahs, the normal excitement, the happy expectation of the imminent arrival of another member of the tribe.

My friend was not asked why.  He already has two kids, yet he was not asked to justify the addition of a third. He was not asked to provide some compelling reason about wanting to help a needy child, or how so many children sit in foster care from Boston to San Diego waiting for a forever home. He did not face a barrage of social workers with endless forms to fill out and endlessly embarrassing personal questions to answer.

And he most certainly did not face a bevy of friends and acquaintances with tilted heads and raised eyebrows, all of them saying, Why?

Why does anyone have a child? We all know it's a difficult, time-consuming, sometimes frustrating, irritating and certainly very expensive endeavor. Why do we do it?


Do we feel the need to strengthen the tribe, add to our numbers? Are we looking for companionship, friendship, love? Are we looking for someone who will remember us long after we're gone? To help us in our old age?


Folks seem to be suggesting that gay men (and lesbians and other non-traditional sorts of folks) shouldn't want to have kids, that perhaps we're too busy with our "gay lifestyles" to be bothered, that we're not cut out for it, that it's not our territory, that we don't know what we're doing.


I hate to be the one to tell you, but queer folks are multi-dimensional people and what we do between the sheets is a very small part of who we are. We have jobs, careers, friends, interests, hobbies, passions, and yes, some of us want to be parents too. We pay bills and taxes. We obey the laws. We are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. We go to church and book clubs and some of us even go camping.

Many of us lead full, rich lives and are not adverse to the idea of sharing our homes and hearts with a child or two left behind.

If I had to provide a compelling reason, I might point out that I know what it's like when your parents let you down, when you wander through life alone, when you're ostracized, shunned, shamed for being different, when you're disconnected and face all of life's challenges and hurdles alone with no one in your corner. I know what it's like to have parents who have failed and how painful it is to come to that realization and to forgive them for not being able to do things they simply could not do.

These are all things children in foster care deal with, and will continue to deal with long into their adult lives - and I believe I am well-equipped to help them climb this mountain and emerge on the other side. I want to hold their hands and help them become strong, emotionally and spiritually healthy adults.

I remember how, as a child, I used to daydream that someone would come along and save me. Someone would walk through the door and we'd discover there had been some mix-up at my birth and I'd been sent to the wrong family. This person would waltz in, would be the parent I had always wanted, would take me away, would give me a normal, happy life far away from fights and alcohol and ashtrays and trailer parks. I'd be in a home where I was wanted and loved, where I wouldn't be yelled or humiliated or beaten.

I know there are kids today, perhaps kids in the state of Mississippi where I live, who are -- as you read this -- sitting somewhere and dreaming the same dream. Sitting and waiting and hoping that someone will come along ...

I've got compelling reasons, if you need them, but I believe the simplest answer is the best.

I want to love and be loved. Like everyone else. More than that, I want to help with homework and attend baseball games and wipe noses and kiss boo boos and watch them grow up. I want to be the answer to someone's prayer.

I am fully aware that I may not succeed. After all, I live in a state whose governor just signed a bill making it legal to discriminate against gay people. Among other things, SB 1523 specifically gives those involved in the areas of foster care and adoption the right to turn away gay applicants. So I realize my chances, never very good to start with, are probably just about zero at this point.

While Mississippi does have its hateful legislation, it also has something else: It's home to the most gay couples raising children in America.

Whatever the outcome, I will at least be able to look at myself in the mirror and say I tried. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

My first suicide

Like too many other gay kids, I too once thought suicide was the only way out. 

I came of age during the late 1970s and early 1980s when we had a president (Reagan) who couldn't bring himself to say the word AIDS despite the alarming number of gay men dying from it. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority were gaining steam and a tiny group from the Westboro Baptist Church began to protest at funerals for victims of AIDS by carrying signs that read GOD HATES FAGS and FAGS DIE/GOD LAUGHS.

I had learned what every child learns: It's okay to be yourself just as long as you're like everybody else.

The child of a broken home, I faced the terrors of being gay alone with no support from family or church. It was a confusing, frightening time, and one evening, when I could stand it no longer, I decided it was time to end it.

I was a cutter. That was another word one didn't hear at the time. It was a strange, mysterious thing to cut yourself with razor blades, to watch yourself bleed. Surely no sane person would do such a thing and the idea that one engaged in cutting as a way to take control of one's own body was quite unheard of. 

I dabbled in suicide too. Half-hearted attempts. 

But that night ... 

I had purchased three boxes of sleeping pills. I popped them two and three at a time until I could swallow no more. I managed about 40 pills in all. Then I lay down on my back on the bed and waited. 

After ten or fifteen minutes, I realized that if I was going to save myself, I was going to have to get up, call someone, go the emergency room, do something.

But I did not. I had made my decision and was sticking with it. So I lay there, thinking I would simply fall asleep and that would be it. I was not afraid of going to hell. My life was already hell. What difference would it make?

Why did I want to die?

It wasn't just being gay, although that was part of it, especially the intense shaming I received at the hands of the Catholics. I felt ashamed of myself, humiliated and certainly not loved by God. I felt like a moral failure. 

But it wasn't just the whole problem of being gay. It was the broken home, being let down by parents, the childhood abuse, the violence, the neglect, the agony of trying to parent yourself and survive when you have no idea what's going on inside you and all around you.

But a funny thing happened on the way to my doom. I had apparently watched too many television movies. I didn't realize that over the counter sleeping pills could not kill you. You needed prescription-strength stuff for that. Barbiturates, they were called. 

Not only did I not fall asleep, I could not sleep at all. I was completely wide awake. I felt a weird sensation in my chest. Later, I would discover that by lying there for so long on my back, the pills had gotten stuck and burned a hole in my esophagus. I still have trouble eating spicy foods.

At some point, I got up and played records. The next morning I went to work and never told a soul about it. 

In fact, I've never told anyone about that little escapade ever. 

Until now.

I'm glad I failed at both that attempt and several subsequent attempts. My life would have much different if I hadn't. 

Which brings me to the point of this post, which is tell you a little bit about Bilal Abu, the young Muslim boy in BILAL'S BREAD. Bilal's story of intense homophobia at the hands of fundamentalist brother isn't my story. But then again, it is. Bilal is a cutter. The victim of sexual abuse, he somehow cottoned on to the fact that by punishing his body, he could exert control over it, control that was denied by his abuser. By hurting himself, he could make the decision about when the pain would end. 

Bilal also faces the problem of coming to terms with his sexuality. A quiet boy, he finds it hard to speak up for himself, to make himself heard. And how can he? The voices in his household are so loud and so strong, he is easily overpowered. (And what was a young gay man like myself to do when confronted with Rev. Fred Phelps and his protesters screaming that GOD HATES FAGS?  What do you do when your church thinks you're a pervert who's not much different from someone who likes to have sex with dead bodies? How do you make yourself heard when no one is listening?)

Eventually Bilal finds his voice. It happens when his school participates in a poetry hoe-down sponsored by the school district. He decides to get up and read a poem. 

I want to share that poem with you. It was written a long time ago, but it still rings true. 

If you've ever thought suicide was the way out, I want to assure you it's not. What needs to die is "homophobia" and bigotry and the lies we tell ourselves about who we are and what God thinks of us.

The truth will set you free, but sometimes you will pay dearly. But it's worth it. 


my first suicide
was on an evening in July
and pills were the plan
they were sticky in my hand
as I, in twos and threes
gulped them down with Lipton tea
but death was not to be
not yet
not for me

then came razor blades
as further murder plans were made
to end my misery
to bleed my way to peace
and I, despite my best
created only one more mess
and death was not to be
not yet
not for me

these empty places, empty spaces
all these holes that must be filled
how much better, how much faster
if this body I had killed
instead it’s endless hours
endless days and endless haze
as bit by bit and piece by piece
I make my way to my release
and I, despite my best
long to die and take my rest
but death is not to be

not yet
no, not for me

you see:
you got the ball, I got the chain
you got the sun, I got the rain
you live in light, I live in pain
for me to die would be to gain
I know such words ought not be spoken
just as true things rarely are
and what’s the use of too much hoping
when each day brings yet more scars?
yet hope I do, I can’t resist
I long to know much more than this
I long to know some happiness

a chance is all I’m asking
a chance to do my best
a chance to love somebody
to put my heart to rest

you tell me I’m not normal
you tell me that I’m queer
you tell me that the folks like me
aren’t really wanted here
you tell me it’s a crime
if I should feel the way I feel
you say my love is shameful
there’s no way it could be real
but then, how would you know
when these shoes, you’ve never worn
but still that doesn’t stop you
oh how easy falls the scorn
the hatred and rejection
how they wound and how I bleed
cause love is not to be
it’s not allowed for folks like me

well, where then should I go
back to pills and razor blades?
and what then should I do
to take this pain away?

and would it make you happy
if you put me in the ground
if you silenced me forever
with that silence so profound?

Still I, despite despair
offer up this fervent prayer
that death is not to be
not yet
not for me
the kind that comes from trying
to be what I can’t be

you see:
my first suicide
was on an evening in July
and pills were the plan
they were sticky in my hand
and only now when I look back
do I understand
why life was meant to be
why the truth can set you free
so let truth be spoken here and now for all to hear
let the truth be said
I am queer
Yes, I am queer

And let this be a suicide
a death to lies and my deceit
a death to furtive hiding
a death to dishonesty
cause life is meant to be
both for you ...
but also for me

Friday, January 15, 2016

So you don't like gay marriage?

So you don't like gay marriage.You have religious objections. You think marriage should only be between a man and a woman. You're not alone. The Anglicans recently got mad at the Episcopalians over this.

My question to you is this: If not gay marriage, then what?

Please consider this question. Please go deeply into it. Consider the ramifications. Consider what it is you say you want. If it's important enough to you to disown a family member who might be gay, or to vote for legislation to take away rights from millions of people, then please spend a few minutes considering what it is you are asking for - what it means, how it will affect real lives, the impact it will have on the society you live in.

If gay people are not to get married, then what are they to do?

Older gays and lesbians can tell you exactly what they will do because we've already done it.

Most will escape to the "gay ghetto," which revolves around gay bars, drugs, alcohol, casual sex, bath houses, addictions, pornography, prostitution. They will run off to larger cities where these gay ghettos exist. They will abandon your churches and communities. They will become distant, withdrawn, isolated.

On the other hand, gay marriage provides an alternative. It allows a young man or a young woman to find a partner of their own choosing, with whom they can be happy. They can be open about their commitment to their partner. They can make their wedding promises in full view of family, friends, the community (who will then help them to keep those promises). They can buy a house, settle down, live normal lives.

If my child was gay, I know which option I would prefer. Religion doesn't enter it. Whether I agreed with his choice or not, I would want him close at hand. I would want to meet his partner. I would want to be involved in their lives. I would want them to feel welcomed in my church. I would want society to give them the same chances and opportunities that all couples enjoy.

I would not want my child running off to the big city, slinking around in the shadows in the dead of night, wasting his life on drugs and alcohol. I would not want him marginalized. I would not want him to have relationship troubles and not feel he could ask me for advice.

Opponents of gay marriage need to consider the realities on the ground and the effect their religious beliefs have on others. If gay marriage is not an option, they need to provide an alternative because, like it or not, gay people are going to get together and have relationships.

The tide is turning. Even the First Baptist Church in Memphis has gotten on board. Gay marriage has become the law of the land, religious objections notwithstanding, precisely because it allow gays and lesbians to come out of the shadows and live more normal, fuller lives. In the grand scheme of things, this can only lead to stronger families and communities. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

It's a dad thing

My latest novel is called GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAINS from Dreamspinner Press and will be hitting the shelves later this month or early February. It's the third book in the Sugar Tree series, which follows the antics of Wiley Cantrell, a mouthy gay single dad just trying to make his way in the world best he can.

I've been asked if the books are autobiographical and whether the character of Wiley is based on me. The short answer to both questions is no. I'm not a Southerner though I do live in Tupelo, Mississippi now. I've never been mistaken for someone who was sexy, or opinionated, or who had a sarcastic remark for any occasion. While I'm a father, I'm not the father of a special needs child.

But the long answer? Perhaps.

As I worked on the edits for GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAINS, I realized I was writing about myself.

MOUNTAINS is about Wiley and his partner Jackson adopting two children. This happens six years down the road after they lose Wiley's son Noah, who was never expected to live but held on for thirteen years. His loss, while not completely unexpected, was a painful chapter in their lives. Wiley eventually decides he wants to adopt. This is a way to move on, to start living again, to jump back into the business of living and loving and keeping the faith. But it's not easy.

I'll let readers decide whether Wiley and Jackson are making the right decision or biting off more than they can chew.

When I began the Sugar Tree series a few years ago, adopting a child was very much on my mind. In fact, I've flirted with the idea of adoption for many years but there never seemed to be a right time. Last year, however, I began to attend the necessary parenting classes and begin the application process, which I'm currently in the middle of.

As an openly gay single man living in Tupelo, Mississippi, the most religious state in the Union, my chances are not good. Still, the heart wants what it wants. And irony of sitting around and writing about an imaginary gay single dad raising a child has not escaped me. I've been writing about what I wanted to do myself.

At one point during GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAINS, Jackson says, "When you said you wanted a dozen children, I thought you were exaggerating." Wiley, in typical fashion, replies, "I was. I'll settle for six or seven." Wiley then reminds Jackson that he's the sort of guy who "just needs to love my babies," a fact of life he made perfectly clear when they first met.

Wiley is a family man. He loves kids. He loves his family. He's not much for drinking or carousing or hanging out at gay bars (which is good, since there aren't any in Tupelo). He'd much rather play Frisbee in the park with his son than hit up the latest drag show. When loneliness and horniness get the better of him, he will jump in the sack with the first thing that comes along (something for which he has been roundly chastised by many readers). At the end of the day, though, Wiley is not about casual sex or a promiscuous lifestyle. He wants family. Commitment. Permanency. He wants kids and a husband to dote over. He wants to build a future and live a normal, happy life. What he needs are other people to get out of the way and let him do it.

He finds himself deeply in love with a flawed man, but it's okay because Wiley is flawed too, and he knows it.

While I am nothing like Wiley in appearance or manner or station in life, I am very much like him in many other ways.  In what he values, what he wants, what he copes with, what he tries to overcome, even the mistakes he makes.

Like Wiley, there has been trauma in my past that I needed to deal with ... and almost couldn't. Wiley learned to forgive and move on. I have too. Wiley's latest trauma, the loss of his son, has him desperately trying to find the meaning behind it. He wonders why God would take his only child. He's mad. He's angry. He's hurting. He's a little self-destructive.

He eventually concludes that God sent Noah into his life to teach him how to deal with messed up kids. Let's face it: Adorable as he was, Noah was a hot mess, a child born addicted to meth, a child haunted by demons and disabilities and birth defects, a child who was never expected to live.

But Wiley found a way to deal with it, a way to reach him, a way to give him at least a few years of happiness.

Wiley believes adopting a messed up child that no one else wants will somehow give meaning to Noah's life. These is a purely arbitrary decision Wiley has made, based on his own internal beliefs and ideas. We could argue whether it makes sense or whether he's just fooling himself, but that's not the point. Wiley looks at the situation and assigns his own meaning to it, and that's all that matters. Wiley says, "I need to know Noah's life wasn't just some cosmic joke." He needs to know there was some point to it, some higher purpose, some deeper meaning.

We all do the same. We look at terrible things that happen and try to find the reason, try to assign some meaning that will let us sleep at night.

Myself, I look at my childhood, at what people did to me, at what my parents did, and sometimes I am gripped by the feeling that it was all pointless and stupid and cruel. "A cosmic joke." I ask myself: Why do we allow children to grow up in such homes, with such people? Why doesn't someone do something? If God really does love us so much, why does he allow our most vulnerable to endure such agony? Why is he silent? Why doesn't he intervene when children are being hurt?

This business of assigning meaning is something I've struggled with my whole life.

Which takes us back to adoption.

When I first began attending parenting classes and filling out all the endless forms, I was asked over and over: Why do you want to adopt? I thought I had to have some compelling and fantastically altruistic reason. So I gave long answers on how I had an unhappy childhood, how I could help these kids, how I understood what it was like to know you were not wanted by your own parents, how I knew the pain of having parents who let you down and let you fall through the cracks because they were too busy with their own drama to notice. I talked about how being a dad was the best thing I ever did in my colorful life, how I loved being a dad and wanted to do it again. I repeated the story about the man who complained to God about all the horrible things that go on in the world. The man asked, "God, why don't you do something?" And God replied, "Why don't you do something?"

Those are all perfectly good reasons, of course.

The real reason is much simpler: I want to love and be loved. Part of it is altruistic. Another part is perfectly selfish. I don't want to be eighty years old and dripping into my adult diapers and not have at least one person visit me in the nursing home. I'm sorry if that's selfish, but it's the truth. I want to love and be loved. Like everyone else, I want family, people I can count on, people who can count on me. I want to go home and cook dinner and help with homework and kiss the boos boos and attend the football games and help a child grow up.

It's not complicated.

Wiley has a similar thing going on. He struggles to assign meaning, but at the end of the day, it's plain to see: He just wants to love and be loved. He wants to fuss over and love on his babies. That's just how he is. It satisfies some need he has deep down inside. To be useful. To be included. To be part of life. To live and love, to give and receive, to find joy and bliss in others. To be part of the human family.

The child I'm hoping to adopt is a special needs boy who is now ten years old and who has been with his current foster family for two years. They don't have enough money to adopt him. I may never have a chance to be his father. I've resigned myself to that. Still. I needed to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say I tried.

I hope readers enjoy GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAINS. I put a lot of heart and soul into that book and I hope it shows. And while some are going to be mad at me over the loss of Noah, I think, when you reach the end of the book, you'll see that life does indeed go on. And it goes on because it has to.

As always, thanks for reading.