A Lutheran 7th Step prayer

O God,
your hands created a world filled
with your majesty and delight, wonder and joy.
As stewards of that perfect creation,
you made us in your own image,
perfect in every way.
But we were led astray, and you gave us freedom.
We developed habits and characteristics
in order to survive a world
where death ruled,
defects that caused us to harm each other and ourselves
and further separate us from you.
We cling to these wrongs even today,
and cannot free ourselves.
We implore you now, before you,
and aware of our assets and faults,
take these shortcomings away from us,
that we may better love one another,
heal our wounds,
and glorify your name.
Let us be your perfect image once more.
In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever,
Amen.

Where fools tread in the bible

A long time ago I had a boyfriend who had grown up Seventh-Day Adventist. One time I responded to something he said in a playful jest: “oh you silly fool.” He got very angry with me and told me I must never call anyone a “fool”, lest I be subject to the fires of hell.  I don’t remember exactly how I responded to that, but 21-year old me, with no self-regulation, probably told him he was being silly, that if Jesus said something like that I’d know about it, but he assured me it was in the bible and I should watch myself.  He was right: the end of Matthew 5:22 reads, “[If] you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Why hadn’t I know about that little rule? While I had grown up in the church, my denomination, the Lutheran Church in America, had been one of the more formal protestant ones, more inclined toward conservativism in worship but liberality and inclusivity in social life.  Women had been pastors in our church for over fifteen years and marriage, far from being a sacrament, could end in divorce should it be what was best for the two parties. We had events with dancing in the Community Hall and wine for communion and beer was a staple at any nighttime potluck.  The bible I was had been raised with and taught in Sunday school was one in which God wanted people to be happy, rather than trapped in miserable lives. Everyone sinned and everyone who asked for forgiveness received it, regardless of what the sin entailed. The unpleasant bits of the Gospels (except, of course, the crucifixion) were generally glossed over. We were not biblical literalists.

The Food: Rider-Waite Tarot

But my boyfriend had grown up in a literalist denomination.  In fact, one which was so literal that they took Saturday as the 7th day of the week to mean that was the Sabbath and not Sunday (never minding that in Europe, Monday is the first day of the week and Sunday is the 7th…but I digress.) And there it was, staring me in the face, in Matthew 5:22.  Jesus himself said it. Don’t say to anyone ‘you fool’ because hell was waiting. And as oddly specific as that seemed to me, I couldn’t deny the evidence laid before me. The word of God… and not that God from the Old Testament who sent rains to flood the earth and fire to rain down on Sodom and Gomorrah… but Jesus Christ himself. I asked God for forgiveness and apologized to him and never called him or anyone else a fool again.

But eventually we broke up, and I, becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Christian faith, with its weird little specific rules like “don’t call someone a fool,” stopped trying to reconcile my sexual attraction to men with what I read in scripture. Why bother with church at all, even gay-affirming churches like MCC? The bible said what it said. I’m sure I could find faith somewhere else that didn’t rely on such a faulty narrative.  

Some twenty years later, after my time in the wilderness, I gave the church another chance, and with that, I gained a more mature understanding of scripture.  And doing a little research, I’ve found that this very verse itself is an example of the pitfalls of conventional modern biblical literalism.

A fool? Or a fool?

Words evolve.  The word “fool” has several different meanings:

  1.  a person who acts unwisely or imprudently; a silly person
  2.  a jester or clown, especially one retained in a noble household.
  3.  a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding
  4.  a person devoted to a particular activity:  “a fool for love”

Most dictionaries will list meanings in order of use as they have researched it. While several dictionaries online have different orders and include other archaic meanings, they all have the same 1st definition here: “a person who acts unwisely or imprudently; a silly person” or “a person lacking in judgment or prudence.” This was the definition that 21 year old me would have been using, while playfully mocking my boyfriend. My personal definition probably would have been (and still be) “carelessly unaware.”

However, as recently as the start of the 20th century, the primary definition of “fool” was similar to definition 3 above. As Webster’s 1913 dictionary reads for the first definition: “One destitute of reason, or of the common powers of understanding; an idiot; a natural.” The second definition, while approaching our modern understanding, is still somewhat bad: “A person deficient in intellect; one who acts absurdly, or pursues a course contrary to the dictates of wisdom; one without judgment; a simpleton; a dolt.”

Very few people would describe a “fool” under definition 3 above today. The word has mostly lost that abrasive and ableist connotation. Yet, as recently as 2021, the NRSVUE (New Revised Standard Version-Updated Edition) translates the passage from Matthew 5:21 as “’You fool,’” using the same English word as in the King James Version over 400 years ago.

Language matters

Of course, the Gospels weren’t even written in English, but instead, Greek. In fact, the word translated as “fool” in that passage is the Greek word, μωρέ (mōre), an adjective meaning dull, stupid, or sluggish. It is specifically understood as a characteristic deficiency of intelligence that is related to birth defect or injury. It is the root word for “moron”, which a few lesser known modern translations use instead.  It is a definition which does not quite jibe with the common understanding of the word “fool” today, but does make sense in the context of what Jesus’s words were. Μωρέ can be found additionally in Mt. 7:26; 23:17; 25:2,3,8; 1 Cor 1:25,27; 3:18; 4:10; 2 Tim 2:23; and Titus 3:9.

The deficiency of English becomes apparent because another, more frequently used Greek word, ἄφρων (áphrōn), also gets translated as “foolish” or “fool”.  While both μωρέ and ἄφρων both get translated the same into English, the words are not at all the same.  ἄφρων is a word meaning lacking perspective to act prudently, or short-sighted. It is derived from the prefix α- (without) and -φρεν (inner perspective to regulate behavior).  This definition is much closer to the more common understanding of “fool,” and can be found at the end of the parable of the rich farmer, in Luke 12:20, where God tells him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Ἄφρων can also be found in Lk 11:40; Rom 2:20; 1 Cor 15:36; 2 Cor 11:16 (2); 2 Cor 11:19; 2 Cor 12:6; 12:11; Eph 5:17;  and 1 Peter 2:15. 

But because of the choices by English translators, we have Luke’s Jesus having God saying the very same thing that Matthew’s Jesus tells us will make someone “liable to the hell of fire.” The two words are not the same at all.

Both words are also found considerable times in the Septuagint, the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek from the time of Jesus, with ἄφρων a bit more than twice as common as μωρέ.  They don’t seem to be distributed evenly, with the vast majority of μωρέ are in the deuterocanonical book of Sirach, while other books opt for the use of ἄφρων. However, Psalm 94:8 (93:8) of the Septuagint uses both: “Understand, O dullest of the people; fools, when will you be wise?”  There are a far greater variety of Hebrew words that are found as either μωρέ or ἄφρων, but it appears in nearly all the cases (excepting Sirach) there was an intentional choice to use ἄφρων over μωρέ. And generally there were different Hebrew words that became translated as either Greek word.

Mr. T gets it.

What did Jesus actually mean?

Besides, Jesus isn’t just talking about calling someone a fool.  Matthew 5:21-22 in the Common English Bible (CEB) reads as follows:

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell.

This isn’t simply a passage about calling someone a bad name. It’s about casting insults about their intelligence in anger. And what’s interesting is that while the original text is in Greek, the word translated as “You idiot” is  Ῥακά (Rhaka), which is not Greek at all but Aramaic (Syriac: ܪܝܩܐ ;Hebrew: רֵיקָא). What does the word mean? As a noun it designates “a vain or worthless person” but in its usage in rabbinic writing it differs very little from “fool”. Therefore the Greek here has Jesus repeating the same word in both Aramaic and Greek. 

But Jesus didn’t speak Greek, but instead, Aramaic. So if this is an authentic saying of Jesus, it’s very likely that he said “Ῥακά” and, having been familiar with the Greek word, “μωρέ”, said that afterwards for emphasis. He was making a very specific point about calling people names in anger. That either name spat in anger would subject the person saying them to eschatological judgment.

Who’s fooling who here?

But why delve so deeply into this?  I discovered the difference while doing a text study for the Luke text above, and couldn’t stop thinking about it. And this is just one of many examples where translators decided to make a choice that created an ambiguity in translation. 

Scripture should always be more deeply assessed before people decide certain meanings of things, and one should never assume the English is perfectly representative of the underlying Greek. Words like “fool”, which has multiple meanings can make such a difference in context, that unless you study the Greek, you lose the actual meaning of something Jesus said.

It underscores the flimsy platform that biblical literalists stand on when making statements about “what’s in the bible.” Is it willful ignorance?

I’d call it foolish! 🤡

A Matter of Right

I have now been published again. This is actually a bit old news because the anthology came out in February, but I’m just getting around to announcing it. So you’re getting the news when the year is half over.

The graphic anthology is called “A Matter of Right: Futures of Justice” and it is:

a speculative fiction anthology inspired by the murder of George Floyd in the spring of 2020. It explores how the American criminal justice system has abused the nation’s citizenry and ways that it can improve. The team of creators, ranging experience from an animation legend to a high school junior, answers the questions facing America with more than cynicism and anger, but with much-needed optimism.

Amazon description

The story I wrote “The Chaos Artist” is one of two illustrated prose stories. I think it’s kind of Cyber Punk (tell me if I’m wrong. The rest are in comic panel format.

I wrote the story two years ago, and it’s under my real name rather than my pen name “Cary Michael Bass.” There are also a couple of things that got missed by editorial. Still, it’s a good story.

Award-winning comic book writer Keiron Gillen is also in there. In fact, all of the stories are good. Now go buy this book: A Matter of Right: Futures of Justice.

Here’s a sample of my story:

I was groomed

In my post entitled ‘The libel of “gay grooming”’ I wrote about my personal experiences in my adolescence with regard to “age appropriate” sexual encounters. Yes, the implications by omission are there, I had a series of sexual encounters that weren’t age appropriate.

When I was 16 years old, and after my first sexual encounter with another boy, on the last day of summer school between what was supposed to be my Junior year and my Senior Year, I was hitchhiking, and a man picked me up in his car. As he was dropping me off, he propositioned me. I barely registered what he had said and that he had actually said it, but I had hormones raging and I was looking for more sexual encounters, he was fairly young (28) and attractive; so, I said “yes”.

After we were done, he had me give him my number, telling me he’d love to get together with him again and to make sure to answer the phone. I was besotted and couldn’t stop obsessing over him but it was several months before he called me. This began a number of encounters over the next couple years until my 18th birthday.  Shortly after that I came out and the encounters stopped. 

I was in my forties and learning about online grooming when I finally took a hard look at what had happened to me.  Our relationship had telltale signs of grooming.  Secrecy. Undue influence. Over-interest in my life. Timing his contacts with me to be spaced out enough where I was most easily emotionally manipulatable. He kept tabs on me, but insisted I not contact him lest it cause problems in his relationship. Most telling of all, he withheld information on resources and organizations that he knew could help orient me in finally coming out, despite the fact that I asked him about them.

Although I was old enough to be sexually active, I was emotionally immature at 16, and had low self-esteem, so I was a prime target for it. It left me with an even lower sense of value, for although he would flatter me and tell me that he loved me, he would leave me for months without any contact whatsoever. And for most of that time I had no other outlet.

So I have a strong opinion on grooming. The harm that this relationship caused me affected my relationships for decades. What should have been a time for exploring my sexuality among my peers was replaced by my needing to be with and constantly waiting for the affections of someone much older than me.

I didn’t write about this in the previous entry because talking about my experience distracts from the core issues of that entry, and my experience is too long and involved to talk about it there. Yes, there are gay groomers, and here is my experience with one. However, what happened to me happens to way more teenage girls than boys.  

The abuse of 16 and 17 year olds is often left unreported mostly because we, the adolescents, believe we are making a choice about our bodies and don’t consider ourselves victims in any way. Despite the fact that we know that the adults responsible for us wouldn’t understand it, we manage to keep it secret.  

Because even though we are sexual beings at that age, our brains haven’t quite caught up to us. Kids these age should know about sex, and should be allowed to make their own decisions about having it. But they should also be taught to be wary of older people who are only out for their own interest.


I ran into Sandy one more time at a bar when I was 19 and we got together for old times sake. He had stopped keeping tabs on me, but he admitted to me that he intentionally didn’t tell me about gay life in Columbia, because he didn’t want me getting wrapped up in certain places. He wore a condom that time, because I’d already been sexually active and he didn’t trust I hadn’t gotten the AIDS virus (it was 1986). The sex was mediocre, and not at all like I was expecting or remembered. But by then I wasn’t depending on him for my entire sexual existence. I was free to make choices, and my choice wasn’t him. We never saw each other again.  

The libel of “gay grooming”

What is the gay grooming libel?

Recently, a wave of attacks, propaganda and legislation attacking LGBTQ people has washed over the United States using a very specific buzzword: grooming.  These attacks have targeted politicians, schools and teachers, non-profit organizations as well as companies with pro-LGBTQ stances, using the implication that allowing children to be exposed to queer identities or relationships is equal to “grooming” them. The word itself is at present a right-wing buzzword used to encourage state Republicans to propose and enact anti-LGBTQ legislation and to motivate an electorate to support those politicians in doing so.

But while this degrading stereotype about LGBTQ people is presently prominent in the public dialogue, the false perception that LGBTQ people, and in particular gay men are predators of children is not new. It is rooted in 1) a specifically religious concept that LGBTQ people are inherently evil because of a handful of biblical interpretations related to sexual activity among same-sex partners. And 2) because two people of the same assigned sex at birth cannot produce children, that same-sex attraction is somehow contrary to natural law and/or evolution. Therefore 3) in order for specifically lesbians and gay men to “make more” of ourselves we must “recruit” children at a young age.

There are faithful Christian and Jewish responses to counter 1) and a wealth of science that disprove 2). It is the current manifestation of 3), the grooming libel, that is fanning the flames of the harmful legislation, violent threats and disruptive protests that we are increasingly hearing about today.

What is Grooming?

The term “grooming” is thrown about deliberately to create horror. Make no mistake, actual child grooming is an appalling and heinous activity that has severe and lifetime emotional and mental consequences on the victim’s mind.  The well-cited lead paragraph on Wikipedia is as follows:

Child grooming is befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse. Child grooming is also regularly used to lure minors into various illicit businesses such as child trafficking, child prostitution, cybersex trafficking, or the production of child pornography.

Child grooming, Wikipedia

“Child” in this definition, may include anyone up to the age of majority of 18, which is an important distinction, because the vast majority of reported victims are adolescents.

The statistics of child grooming in the United States are difficult to determine because many cases go unreported. However, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that there were more than 19,000 cases of child sexual exploitation reported to their CyberTipline in 2018, representing a 36% increase from the year before. The majority of victims were between the ages of 12 and 17, although almost 1,000 were under the age of 12.

In 2021, there were over 44,000 reported instances of Online Enticement of Children for Sexual Acts. While the increase may be a result of better reporting and more widespread knowledge of the CyberTipline, the total number is nevertheless a reminder that children still remain at risk of sexual predators.

That’s what makes the current propaganda against LGBTQ people so harmful, not only to the target population, but also to actual victims of child grooming; because it waters down the definition of grooming and makes it harder for actual victims of child grooming to come forward, as they may fear they will not be taken seriously.

Where does the Gay Grooming Libel come from?

While different myths about “homosexual behavior” have existed throughout history, modern negative stereotypes of gay people found root in the early part of the 20th century, about the time when advancements in psychology and modern brought the first glimmers of public visibility of LGBTQ people in America. During the sixties and the sexual revolution, in the midst of the civil rights movement, gay people began to be more visible while police raids on bars and popular outdoor cruise areas are regularly featured in the newspaper blotters; providing fuel to the stereotype of the perverse, predatory gay man.

As gays and lesbians began to see some protections against discrimination in the 70s, moral outrage from self-designated “family organizations” such as Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign were quick to depict gay people as molesters and predators in order to fight against anti-discriminatory victories. Notable in California was the (thankfully failed) 1978 ballot initiative to take gay teachers out of education and prevent them, as the initiative’s promoter Senator John Briggs said, “from influencing and teaching our young.”

Despite the failed initiative, gay people remained unworthy second-class citizens, as evidenced by the Reagan administrations lack of response to the AIDS epidemic, because in conservatives’ eyes, it was only affecting the dregs of society. Major motion pictures such as Cruising and Making Love, furthered the perception of gay men as either sexually consumed or as an active threat to traditional marriage.  Widely circulated pamphlets such as Ethan Persoff’s Homosexuality: Legitimate, Alternative, Deathstyle promoted the idea that gay men are dirty, disease ridden, addicted to sex and out to get children.

The stereotype continued to be publicized through the 90s and 00s, while moral crusaders fought against both the right to adopt and raise children and the right to be married. However, as positive depictions of LGBTQ people in movies and television began to dislodge the negative ones from earlier years, public attitudes toward us began to change for the better, even in conservative circles. Widely visible in the 2016 presidential campaign were signs promoting “GAYS FOR TRUMP,” and that year the GOP candidate for president received an unprecedented 14% support among LGBTQ people.

Along with the election wins of the 2010s and the Supreme Court decision in “Obergefell v. Hodges” there remained an underlying, mostly quiet resentment among the right-wing fundamentalist crowd who felt imposed upon by a rather progressive shift in public policy with regard to LGBTQ rights. This is almost certainly a contributing factor to the shift in the 10s when the moral outrage turned from gay and lesbian people to trans people, and in particular trans women. The same idea that gay men and women were somehow recruiting America’s youth to be new gay men and women, so were trans women seeking out your little boys to transform them into new trans women but also seeking to use women’s bathrooms so they can prey upon your little girls. Note the contradiction inherited in those beliefs, as there nevertheless exist trans men, who were less of a target but were also expected to use women’s rooms while also nevertheless accused of preying upon little girls. This discrepancy in the targeting of trans women verses trans men was a result of sexist attitudes about gender, roles, and the common perception that a masculinized girl is a tomboy but a feminized boy is an abomination.

Since 2019, the anti-trans narrative has expanded to include drag queens.  While the first drag queen story hour began in 2015, it wasn’t widely known outside San Francisco and queer and ally circles, in 2019 the events had spread to other major metropolitan areas, and conservative sources began to report on them, and a white nationalist group called “American Identity Movement” disrupted one in New Orleans.  At the same time a video of a drag queen performing “Baby Shark” for a 2 year old surfaced and went viral, leading to moral outrage. However, along with everything else, the COVID pandemic shut them down in 2020. 

As the world began to open up again, so did Drag Queen Story Hour, along with far-right ideologues pushing the narrative that children are being indoctrinated to become trans people.  Additionally, as drag queens are more often than not, gay men, the grooming narrative is being extended once again to include other LGBTQ people.

The concept of grooming has become so watered down in far-right-wing circles that it includes even affection between two people of the same sex in front of children, as if children are traumatized by even seeing that gay relationships exist.

How are Queer People Made?

But the indoctrination of young people by LGBTQ people is a myth. While people who are gender or sexuality fluid exist, and there are some people who profess to have chosen to be trans or gay, these are a staggering minority.

Full disclosure: my experience with trans identity is limited. While I consider myself non-binary presenting with my sex assigned at birth, I haven’t fully explored what that means, and as I don’t suffer from body dysphoria (except perhaps where my weight is concerned) and for all intents and purposes, I am cis male. My non-binariness is primarily about pronouns and comfort level.  My preferred pronoun is they/them/their but I accept other pronouns as they happen. I also don’t believe any trait is inherently “masculine” or “feminine” and that gender roles are primarily socialized. And while our species has evolved with males having larger and stronger forms than females, these are simply averages, in both assigned birth genders there are a large enough percentage of outliers to dispute any idea that “strength” is male and “roundness” is female and other common assumptions.

However much gender is a social construct, it is nevertheless a construct that exists, and some people are not comfortable with their assigned genders and that some people do feel gender dysphoria. And in my experience, for the huge majority, feelings of discrepancy between one’s self and their assigned gender start long before puberty, much the same way that same-sex attraction does for most of us.

In every study that I’ve come across, there are no family traits more common among men who are primarily attracted to men except for family size. And gay men only tend to come from larger families. A boy in a family of six children is a little bit more likely to become primarily attracted to men than a boy who is an only child. But there are plenty of only children who grew up to be gay men.

Furthermore, this slight advantage is the same no matter whether the child was raised as an only child or not. An boy who grew up as the sole child of adopted parents who came from a family of six is just as likely to be primarily attracted to men as one who grew up with the family of six.

In these studies, no other trait is necessarily more common among gay men. Not single parent versus married parents.  Not birth order. Not number of sisters versus number of brothers.  Not race or ethnicity.  Not urban born versus rural born (although the decision to come out may be impacted).  Some families seem predisposed to having gay children but there’s nothing that seems to be common among them.

Even tribal cultures where there is no gay visibility whatsoever cannot actually claim some kind of immunity to there being same-sex attraction among their males. I researched “homosexuality among the Maasai” a few years ago and found two articles that seemed to contradict each other. One article, which interviewed tribesmen in a Maasai village, when asked about it, said that there was no word for it, same-sex attraction was a concept alien to them. Another article, however, explained that lack of visibility. Gay migrants from Masaai have found their way to Nairobi, where being gay is a difficult life but not unsustainable. The conclusion from this is that yes, gay people emerge from the Maasai and find their way out of an impossible life at home to a reasonable life elsewhere, having left their families of origin unaware of why they’ve left or possible silently expelled by them.

What Turned Me Gay?

Gay children come from straight parents (with some exceptions). While nobody’s account is necessarily typical, I’ve heard similar accounts from many other gay men as to my own. 

I grew up 3rd of 4 children. Growing up, I didn’t know any adult gay people; in fact, I didn’t know any other gay people at all until I was in high school. I can remember being interested in boys bodies, but not interested in playing with other boys around the age of 7 or 8. My parents separated not long after.

I remember seeing Anita Bryant’s crusade on the news as a child as well, and learned all the myths circulating at time about same-sex attraction, that it was evil, that it was unnatural. Billy Crystal’s character on Soap was the closest thing to a positive adult gay role model that existed, but his character was tragic and sexless.

When puberty hit, my sexual orientation was evident. I dreamed about boys. I thought about boys. I fantasized to boys. I masturbated to the thought of boys. And I kept it all to myself because if anyone knew about it they would hate me and make fun of me and send me away.

There was nothing “luring” me to the “gay lifestyle.” I was bullied for being a “sissy” when I was younger, so I socialized myself to be the opposite of what a “sissy” was.  Any of my classmates in high school that were perceived to be gay were mocked and/or bullied themselves, and the last thing I wanted to do was associate with them.

I was a teenager who had nothing but negative associations with same-sex attractions, but when I closed my eyes, I thought about men. I had sex with girls several times and every time it was a disaster.  At 16, when I had my first appropriately aged sexual encounter with a boy everything was perfect but it only happened once and we had to keep it a secret.  It would be at least a year before I had another appropriately aged sexual encounter with another boy. (There were other encounters, see post entitled “I was groomed“.)

Whatever it is that makes men gay takes place long before our adult hormones begin. The explanation that I find most compelling, is that the drive toward same sex attraction is the combination of one or several “trigger genes” and certain hormones during pregnancy. 

I’m very careful in my language here though.  I refer to men who are primarily attracted to men. Many studies of sexuality have been done, and the Kinsey studies from the early 20th century continue to have value today.  That our sexuality is on a scale, not binary. And while the majority of people fall on one end of the scale or another—Kinsey’s scale is from 0 to 6, 0 being totally attracted to the opposite sex and 6 being totally attracted to the same sex—many people fall in between.

Which is there are people who have had sex with men who have “found Christ” and foresworn their sexuality and have had meaningful sexual relationships with their wives. They haven’t changed anything, the sexual attraction toward the opposite sex, for them, has always been there to some degree. The same reason some of those ex-gay relationships inevitably fail.  Because for them, it’s not there and never has been and no amount of prayer will make it there.

Personally, I am a 5. Both at the end of high school and a couple of years later I had fulfilling sexual encounters with women. However, in both cases, men were present. And in neither case were the women particularly attractive to me physically or otherwise. There are women I’ve been physically attracted to, and I probably could have, at one time, engaged in sex with them, but it’s not something that I’m lacking as I also desire to retain a meaningful connection to my sexual partners, and I’m not romantically inclined toward women at all.

Because relationships are not simply about sexual attraction, they’re about romantic partnership as well. Romance is the first thing we learn as children when we see our parents and other adults in the world. Not sex.

Yes, but isn’t gay all about sex?

Part of the grooming libel is that “exposing children to same-sex relationships is grooming because same-sex relationships are only about sex and therefore it’s exposing children to sex.” That’s not what grooming is. It’s exposing children to sex, people who are incapable of consent, whether it be indecent material or nudity, and it’s the same difference whether the sex they’re exposed to is heterosexual, homosexual or self-gratifying.

Why does difference matter? Because in recent years awareness of child grooming has grown in the media, and it’s an easily accessible touch word with readily established negative connotations. Saying “gay people are exposing children to sex” is much more easily refutable.

Because men or women kissing or holding hands or hugging is not sex. Men dressing up as drag queens is not sex. Trans people are just people who are trying to live their lives in their gender of choice and has nothing to do with sex.

But underscoring this insidious libel of grooming is the idea of indoctrination, which is where the real fear is.  It’s not necessarily a belief that letting children see adult healthy (or unhealthy) gay relationships or trans people in the media or in person is going to traumatize them or turn them gay or trans: because there’s no evidence to support it, that’s just part of the libel. It’s that children will grow up with the idea that gay relationships are acceptable and that trans people are okay. And if they believe that, how can they believe our faith or how can they support our politics or how can they believe anything we tell them?

They’re already losing. Even among evangelicals, a majority of Millennials support same-sex marriage. And more of today’s kids are being raised by Millennials.  And the grooming libel is just the latest volley in what they perceive as a culture battle, and is supplanting the previous moral outrage over Critical Race Theory.  Because conservatives are stuck with the idea of a culture war, and they know the’re losing.  So they have to develop a bad guy, and whether it’s immigrants, black people, LGBTQ people, or whoever the next target to bring people into a state of fear, their goal is to drive votes to increase disproportionate representation to bring us fully out of a Democracy and into a Constitutional Republic.

The grooming narrative is a volley in a broader “culture war” being planned and fought by the far-right. It’s defamation against LGBTQ people, reinventing a libel that has roots deep in American history in times when simply being gay would get you jailed or killed. It is designed to divide and conquer the American left, and is one among several organized efforts by the far-right to secure control of American government, despite a climate of public opinion that is fairly solidly against them.

Title photo credit “Drag Queen Story Hour – August 24, 2019” Flickr: City of West Hollywood, photo credit Jonathan Moore. CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

A prayer for creativity

O God,
You have created the universe,
amazing and astonishing in its infinite size and diverse composition
You have created us in your image,
that we may serve you and do great things in your name.
I offer myself to you to do as you will.
Aid me in my struggles,
Remind me that you have made me for wonderful things,
Fill my heart with your Spirit that I may pour out your glory with my voice and hands,
Encourage me when I feel I have nothing,
Help me believe that it is not too late,
and that I am neither too small or too broken
to be healed.
Help me to love myself and others,
to nurture my heart and gifts and others lives,
to give myself comfort,
and uplift my fellow travelers,
That we may enrich your universe.
Help me create in your name that I may glorify you and all of creation.
Amen.

Nameless Gulch

In April of 1860, two cousins left their family home in the tiny town of Fields, Alabama on account of the Gold Rush in California. They traveled together over land and river, through the Rockies to arrive in Carson City, where they stocked up on prospecting supplies and food rations. Ulysses Yates, 19 years old, had argued for making an investment in a map there in Carson City, but Pete Campbell, who was 21, said there was no need to spend the money, he’d already looked at enough maps and had the route in his head of where they needed to go.  As the older cousin, Pete always won out, so the two set out southwest, into the Sierra Nevada, with nothing to go on except Pete’s instincts, a dream of becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams, and a peculiar and highly specific vision.

Way back in Fields, Pete had looked at a map of the west out of a magazine, and saw something strange.  On the map, right there in California, just to the left and down of where it cut an angle on the border of Utah Territory, there was a sparkle shining up. It was bright and clear as day and Pete studied it and memorized its exact position on the map.  So when he saw maps in Carson City, there was nothing where the pinlight had been just space between some mountain lumps.   

And so, unbeknownst to Ulysses, the pair was following something out of Pete’s dreams, and they traveled for 10 days to the mountainous region. But as they hiked around trails and over ranges Ulysses steadily grew more agitated that they might not have been going anywhere at all.

But Pete reassured him that they were heading in the right direction, that he “sensed” the gold, despite not always seeming certain when choices needed to be made. Eventually, they found themselves walking along a perilous perch on a cliff, up to a plateau, across it and then down an equally perilous natural pathway that led to a canyon floor, an area well covered in douglas fir.  Pete looked at his cousin and told him that they’d reach their destination.  They set up camp while there was still daylight, dim as it was, because the sun had already traveled well beyond the top of the western canyon wall.

When daylight came, they explored around the canyon floor. Almost at the very moment the sun appeared over the eastern wall, they came upon a rock face that suddenly glimmered in the sunlight, a thin crack of speckles and glints shining at them like a smile. Ulysses was struck dumb, giggling at the fortune, and ran toward the natural wall, his fingers feeling around for a shiny pebble he could simply pull off. Pete had been utterly convinced of his message, and having now been vindicated of its veracity, walked over the Ulysses, patted him on the back and suggested they get started.

Over the summer months, Pete and Ulysses would mine the vein, and every time it seemed like it was coming to an end, it would fan out again. They’d only had pickaxes, and no way of getting better equipment, so the going had been slow.  Pete assured Ulysses in the Fall they’d head back to Carson City and get more supplies, but for the summer they would work at mining it with their simple tools. 

When the Fall came, the cousins continued to work, but one morning at the end of September, the arrival of a freak early snowfall set Ulysses to panic. He urged his brother to depart for Carson City with haste, telling him that they’d collected more than enough, but Pete assured Ulysses that it was unusual: it would melt and they’d have plenty of time after. Ulysses agreed, and they persisted and the snow was gone in a couple of days.

But three days later, while they were in their tent in the small morning hours, the ground started shaking heavily and continued for nearly a minute. They woke up to the sound of loud cracks as high branches fell to the ground. Ulysses was once again convinced now that it was time to leave. Pete agreed this time, and the two brothers packed up, including a handful of gold rocks, and dug a hole for the remainder.

But they’d never leave the canyon.  With Ulysses in front, Pete behind, they had been traversing the route up the canyon wall, when the ground gave way and both brothers fell to the canyon floor, cracking Ulysses’s skull and breaking Pete’s legs. Ulysses died within hours, while Pete suffered in agony for days, managing to crawl back to camp but unable to allow his legs to heal or properly protect himself from the elements.  He froze to death a week later, lying atop of the stashed gold.

With nobody alive to know the location of the canyon or the mine, nobody sought it out.  And even if they had, they’d find it inaccessible, the path up the mountain and down the canyon wall that Pete had so easily navigated was destroyed. So the canyon and the mine had been left in its condition for year after year, decade after decade, with no witness other than the wildlife: deer, mountain lions, bears.

For survey crews, because of its accessibility, nobody even knew a canyon was there at all for at least a century.  All of California had now been mapped, but where the canyon ought to have been was an empty blank space.  

Time marches on, however, and it would not stay hidden forever. While the canyon was hidden from ground view, it appeared on satellite images. And those images were used to improve maps. In 1985 a cartographer with a sense of humor who had been updating geological survey maps of the region, decided to label it, “Nameless Gulch,” which was how it would be called for the next fifty years. 

It was a tiny little canyon in the middle of some average summits, not notable. And oddly, nobody took interest in it. No government agencies, no corporations looking to tap its resources. It was a footnote, an afterthought, too costly to explore for what, a few acres of green land? Mostly, nobody was interested in it.

But technology would advance.  In 2032, a patent was issued, on a Long Range Precious Metals Detector. Which led to the Gold Rush of 2033, the following year.  Helicopters began to criss-cross the state, with these sensors.

In June, a team of field geologists working for PanCorp were on a helicopter over the area when their sensor went off, a large untapped vein of gold was in the chasm nearby. Dr. Jessup, the leader of the team, declared with excitement, “Our work has finally paid off, folks! Record the coordinates and let’s fly back to figure out how we’re going to access it.”

Organize me now!

I have to get organized. In fact, it’s crucial that I get organized, and it is something that I honestly believe I am capable of doing.  Because not believing in my ability to get organized would sink me into a spiral of depression from which I fear I might not recover.

Why get organized now?

But why, you may wonder, is there such doom and gloom associated with my failure to organize myself? After all, for 55 years, my ADHD has allowed me to fly by the seat of my pants, relying on my brain power to fill in the gaps of appointments I need to make, groceries I need to pick up, bills I need to pay, promises I need to fulfill.  For those executive functions I have lacked, I’ve made up for by putting more work on the functions that I possess well.

The truth is, however, that my brain is aging along with the rest of me. Sometimes my cognitive abilities feel like they’re in decline.  I get distracted…a lot, these days.  It’s as if my ADHD is in overdrive now. Which, may be causing my memory to suffer as well. The internal alarms don’t go off like they once did to warn me about doctor’s appointments (one of which I missed last week), pill taking and bill paying.

Two of my lifelong enemies are the demons know as To-Do List and Daily Schedule. I probably still have in one of my boxes, packed away, a Day Runner organizer, a leather bound, thick, but small notebook, which had all sorts of features, tabs and pockets to make people’s lives easier.  I had some success with using it but eventually I gave up on it because I couldn’t discipline myself enough to open it first thing in the morning, take it everywhere with me and write down ideas, phone numbers, or details from appointments. 

Since life moved more toward my computer, I’ve used many apps and programs, perhaps none more than Microsoft products such as Outlook and Notes, with varying degrees of success.  Outlook manages tasks and to-do lists separately, and there seems no intuitive way to integrate either of those items with the calendar feature to schedule myself. Notes is good for taking notes at meetings, in classes, or studying, but I haven’t figured out how it integrates with the aforementioned calendars, tasks or to-do list. Perhaps the biggest benefit to putting something on one of these lists has been that it solidifies in my brain allowing me to retrieve the information at the appointed time, a process that no longer seems to be working. 

But unlike my mental acuity, which, may or may not be declining, my self-discipline is these days on the rise. I’ve developed a few daily practices which are becoming consistent habits and the kinds of things I do to better myself. So I believe I am ready to add something else to those practices, something which could, in fact, change the quality of my life for the better. That is, firstly, creating a list of tasks which are a mix of things I must do (pay bills, go to appointments), things I should do (call friends more often, clean the kitchen floor), things I need to do (go to the gym regularly, plan healthy meals) and things I’d like to do (write fiction and essays, paint, yoga). And secondly, ranking those tasks by difficulty and planning them into a daily schedule around the rest of my life. 

I prefer the word “planning” over “scheduling” because It just sounds easier to me. Throughout my life I’ve fought with trying to schedule myself so just changing the word gives me less of a desire to escape from it.  Plan. It has a nice ring to it.

So needed an app that would take a to-do list and put items on a schedule seamlessly. And one that is open source. And geared toward personal use. This has turned out to be quite the challenge. 

But I have found a few things that are moving me toward what I want to be doing. This is not a review, clearly, as I’ve been going on and on about my executive function disabilities for 900 words before even getting to the first one of these I tried out. And I didn’t delve deeply into how-tos or the instructions, so perhaps something that isn’t intuitive already is in there.

TaskUnifier

After using some appropriate search terms in Bing, like “open source task scheduler,” I found something called TaskUnifier. It appealed to me because it had a calendar, and I had hoped that it would be everything I wanted.

It was not everything I wanted. 

TaskUnifier window
TaskUnifier browser app

TaskUnifier does, in fact, allow you to set a date for tasks, but I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to set a time to do tasks. There is no item for start time in the task form. The calendar day view does provide a calendar measured out by hours, but there is no determinable way to set an activity on the calendar at any time.  All of the items may be found as “all day” on the agenda view. 

So while you can set an alarm for the item at a specific time. I was saddened by this lack of usability, because I was hoping it would be able to do what I was asking, that is, incorporate tasks into my schedule.

TaskUnifier seems good at creating task lists but not good at planning a day, which is what I was looking for.

Freeplane

I did another search, this time in Google, on the phrase “I need an open source software that takes to-do lists and allows me to schedule items.” This led me to a series of search results.

Freeplane desktop app

I found the program Freeplane.  It was not exactly what I was looking for but the material on the program intrigued me. It’s a software that creates mind mappings, something I’ve heard about but never looked at very strongly.  I downloaded the app on my PC, and looked at it. There are ways to use this to tie together ideas and tasks, plus you can set alarms and look at your alarm list. But ultimately, it still doesn’t do exactly what I currently need for my task/scheduling.

However, I’m going to play with Freeplane some more and see if I can use its mind-mapping capabilities to work on ideas, and maybe help organize my thoughts in other ways.  

Tried and true

When I went back to review the search results for this essay, I found a website whose name I had been trying to remember, because I’d used it before with some other online users: Trello.  It’s quite a powerful project manager, easy for groups to use and available for free.  Sadly, however, the feature I wanted, the ability to schedule tasks, is only available on the Premium version.

I gave up and went back to Microsoft Outlook. I have a fully licensed 2016 edition which I’ve used for email for a long time and which I have integrated with my iPhone calendar. In looking at the “View” menu item in my Calendar, I discovered a “Daily Task List” icon.  I could in fact show my tasks while I was looking at my calendar, in fact, those tasks that are listed as “to be done today” or with no date are under the schedule in the Day and Week view.  And I can drag a task to the schedule to create a new item

It’s not what I would call full integration but it’s more than I’ve had so far, and I’ve already got the software to do it. Maybe the perfect software exists for me, maybe it doesn’t, but I am not going to expend any more of my time in searching for it. 

I have to use the task list and scheduler and I have to then do the tasks on the task list and their appointed times.

And the first thing I am going to check off of it is finishing this essay.

Late Night on the BART Platform

Shari ran up the escalator to the platform, only to find the doors closing on the next BART train into the city. Frustrated, she let out an audible breath between her clenched teeth as she watched the train gliding forward, out of the station. The train’s distinctive whirr increased in pitch, and then decreased in volume while it sailed into the distance, vanishing in the darkness.

It had been the last direct train of the night, and now she’d have to wait another fifteen minutes—actually, twenty according to the marquee—for the next Berryessa-bound train, from which she’d have to transfer at Macarthur station to get onto a train taking her home.  She was indignant. She didn’t want to be stuck out here in the East Bay, much less El Cerrito, any longer. 

The platform was quiet. At this hour there would be very few people heading southbound—most of the commuters were coming from San Francisco or Oakland or Berkeley and heading home.  In fact, other than the hunched figure seated far up the platform maybe the length of four or five cars away, Shari was alone in her wait. Biting her lip, she looked up at the marquee again.  Sixteen minutes.

She looked up the platform again, and seeing the hunched figure, frozen in place and still a safe distance away, she pulled out her iPhone. Unlocking it with her thumb, she opened her messages. Her eyes alighted on the top one, seeing again the first few words of the false promise that brought her so far from the city, she shook her head, then she swiped up until Pace’s name appeared in the message list. 

“Can u meet at Mission and 16th in about 45 min?” she typed and sent. The tiny word “Delivered” appeared immediately. She briefly wondered if she’d given them enough time to meet her, considered following up with another message, then decided against it. If she was late she would follow up with a text. She stared at the message with intent, silently willing it to change to “Read”.

When the screen went dim she was shaken from the spell, and she put the phone away. Pace was probably in the kitchen, and didn’t have hands for the phone at that moment. Or in the laundry room. Because they usually responded to Shari right away, and something must be occupying them at that moment.  Shari would hear a ping from their message soon enough.

The marquee read eleven minutes.  The hunched figure had still not moved.  The computer voice of the intercom system, which she’d relegated to background noise until then, declared, “Richmond train, now approaching, platform B.” On the opposite track, a train slid into the station, the whirring sound as it approached forming the opposite tones as the earlier departing train. Its doors opened and through its windows Shari watched it empty the lion’s share of its commuters onto the opposite platform. As it pulled away from the platform, she watched the people funneling on to the escalator or pouring down the stairs until the last commuter on the platform slipped into the elevator and disappeared. 

She looked up at the marquee again.  Eight minutes.  She pulled her phone out and checked the message.  Still “Delivered”.  She looked down the platform and found that the hunched figure had vanished. Her eyes darted to every shadow, every hiding place on the platform as she felt a wave of dread wash over her. Where had they gone?

Conversation on a Dream

Lucien and Pascal are at lunch at a crowded outdoor café. The occasional sounds of traffic nearby and the murmur of other patrons’ conversations are part of the tableau of their reunion.

LUCIEN: “Every few days the dream comes.  Maybe twice, maybe three times a week.  I am staring out into a pristine, snowy landscape. Flat at first, but as I try to move forward, the landscape slopes up, the snow a rippling white as in a bowl of marshmallow cream. I cannot see the peak of this slope, and I know I will not achieve the summit, so I search for another way out.”

PASCAL: “So you are feeling trapped?”

LUCIEN: “Ehhh, perhaps, but not in a panicking way. But as I examine the scene in front of me, I notice a path across the slope, ditched into the snow, parallel to where I am, going upwards from left to right.  The start and the end are beyond my field of view, and I have no way to approach it, for between myself and the path is a deep valley. Still, I have not yet lost hope.”

PASCAL: “I see. You are disconnected from a path that begins from and leads to nowhere.”

LUCIEN: “Not for long.  I suddenly realize that two figures are slowly trudging their way up the path.  I believe they are on skis, although the distance makes perception as to how they are traveling difficult. They are so far away that nothing is distinguishable about their features, their style of clothes, nothing.  As I stare at them, and become aware of them, I feel myself moving across the landscape toward them, over the deep valley, moving fast.  As I approach, I am drawn to the second figure whose face is now clear to me.  It is me!”

PASCAL: “A predictable twist.”

LUCIEN: (scoffing) “As soon as I realize that, I now am the second figure.  I find I am not wearing skis at all, but hiking boots. My poles are simply walking sticks.  However, I have no idea who the person ahead of me is, who is also dressed the same way. I want to know.  I have been trying to catch up to them. I need to talk to them. But no matter how fast or hard I try, they remain ahead of me.  I call out, ‘Hello!  Wait!’ to no avail. I push myself harder, I now understand that they have the means to help me escape from this frozen land. I move faster, crying ‘Stop!’ They turn around, their face is masked but their eyes are burning with malice.  They rush toward me and push me. I lose my footing and now I am falling over the side, into the valley.  That’s when I wake up.”

PASCAL: “The second figure, can you tell what they are wearing?”

LUCIEN: “A ski jacket and pants, no doubt. I’m sure I would notice if they were wearing something different.  Black, I think. Is that important?”

PASCAL: “Perhaps the fact that you can’t remember that detail is what’s important.”

LUCIEN: “Why? What do you think it means?”

PASCAL: “I will tell you what I think. But you won’t like it.”