July 31, 2008

Overheard: Married Life

Abe: “You’re just being difficult.”

Me: “I’m not difficult. I’m…complex.”

Abe: “Like a carbohydrate.”

Me: “Yes! Eventually, I turn into sugar.”

July 30, 2008

Blue Ridge Blog, part two

Saturday was spent lazing around. Ben was glued to the TV and I and my parents read and visited the library. A perfectly slow day.

Sunday was considerably busier. Ben and I rose early to drive him down to his camp in Zirconia (population: 40? plus campers). It was an easy drive through the mountains, and the camp’s registration process was so quick that Ben was gone in a flash. Well. I was done earlier than I thought.

At the last minute before we left Indiana I had made very quick arrangements with Java to see if she could meet me in nearby Hendersonville, about an hour from where she lives. We exchanged emails and phone numbers and agreed to meet “somewhere” around noon. I had an hour or so to kill, so I looked—of course—for someplace that had free WiFi. The chain restaurants in the area did not have it, so I went into a hotel lobby and asked if I could use my computer while I waited for my friend to meet me. The man at the desk was quite gracious and said, “Sure.”

With a few phone calls for directions, Java found me in the hotel lobby. We sat to chat before leaving for lunch. We realized at 4:00 that we still hadn’t left the lobby. At 5:00, common sense and hunger intervened and we left for dinner.

I had a great time with Java. Who wouldn’t? She’s smart, funny and compassionate. She tells a great tale, too; she had me laughing the whole afternoon. We confirmed that we had a great deal in common, too. Each of us has hit that “second wind” period of our lives, looking for something more, some way to make a difference. We have found it in trying to gain equality for the gay community, each in our own way. I am lucky to have found a friend in her.

Our talk was circuituous, one topic branching to another and back again. We debriefed on the latest blog entries and our favorite bloggers (that’s you). It was so great to be able to talk face-to-face about events happening in the blogosphere.

I’d forgotten how time has a different role as we communicate online; it weaves in and out as bloggers post and comment. Bloggers are connected in a fluid fashion, responding when time and mood permits. I think that’s one of the unintentional illusions of which we must be aware: in real life, there are times when we are rushed or tense and still we must interact, unedited. We see this in our friends and know them as complex individuals. That complexity is compromised by the editing we do in presenting ourselves online. And I include myself, of course. You haven’t seen the deleted sentences that show I’m sarcastic or impatient or self-centered or judgemental or—well, you get the idea. At the same time, I can express myself here in a way I find quite difficult face-to-face, so a depth is present that might otherwise be hidden. But another blogger once commented, “If you know only my words, you do not yet know me.” Wise words for all of us.

After dinner I had to hurry to pick up Abe from the Asheville airport. He and I drove back to Highlands, and Java returned to her home in South Carolina. Busy day! But I had met another blogger friend. The two times I’ve managed to meet fellow bloggers have cemented in brief visits the friendships begun online. If you have the chance to get together with someone whose blog you’ve read and admired, I highly recommend it. Take it from this genuine introvert: risk reaching out and expand your circle of friends in the real world.

July 29, 2008

Blue Ridge Blog

It was time to take Ben to the whitewater kayaking camp in the foothills of North Carolina. He was ambivalent; he wanted to spend every minute with his friends, but he acquiesced. (Acquiesced. I would kill to go to this camp! Zen, Birdie, zen.)

He and I drove down to Knoxville for the night. Ben “claimed” the hotel room TV and I spent the evening with my online blogger friends. Nice night. We were heading for a stop with my parents at their rental house in Highlands, NC. They’ve been doing this every July for twenty years, inviting all of the kids to join them. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

The next day we drove through Pigeon Forge, Tennessee before going through Smoky Mountain National Park. Pigeon Forge is a commercial tribute to the blue collar Christian; not being completely a part of that particular demographic, I felt like an outsider there. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but notice how happy everyone was to be there. They were having a good time.

Our family has had a tradition the past several years of hitting a go-kart track as we pass through Pigeon Forge. We tried a woodie—a wide wooden track that goes in spirals, curves, and hills—years ago and had a great time. But Abe, being the World’s Most Careful Man, decided that it was safer to go on the asphalt tracks and insisted we do that the past couple of years. *Yawn*

But Abe wasn’t here this time. At Ben’s suggestion, I called Abe and told him Ben was eying the slingshot ride that flings its victims into the air, screaming while strapped to a flimsy frame on large bungee cords. Abe practically begged me not to let him do that. So I said, “Well, then we’ll go go-karting instead.” It’s all about perspective.

He said, “Promise me you won’t go on a woodie.”

I said, “Let’s see. You’re there. I’m here. I’ll think about that and get back to you.”

We had a blast on a huge wooden track (above), made bumpy over the years by karts careening around the spirals and taking air at the top. Whoo-hoo! I was sore from holding the steering wheel steady as I took the downward spiral without spinning out. I managed to pass the only kart in front of me; but it would have been more fun to have a few more karts to wrangle with. Ben complained that he had a “slow kart,” but he admitted it was great anyway.

Ben drove our car up the mountain in the national park and I drove down. We stopped, as always, at the top of Newfound Gap for the view. Smoky mountains, indeed, layered in varying shades of blue-gray haze fading in the distance. The undergrowth in the park is mostly rhododendrens, in full flower right now. This is when I regret having no photography skills. The scenery was spectacular and I found it impossible to catch it adequately in a frame.

We pulled into Highlands, a tiny upscale town 4,000 ft. up, in time for dinner. The only place to pull in a WiFi signal in the evening is an ice cream parlor, so we went there for dessert while I checked in online with work and friends. I was forced to get chocolate ice cream with Butterfinger mix-ins in order to get online. I suffer for my Internet.

July 28, 2008

A Major Award

Well, I’ve been hit. Not by a weapon but by an award! Greg over at Midnight Garden has seen fit to give me this honor, and I’m kinda stunned.

This, from a guy whose blog is a pastoral retreat each day, giving me lessons in nature, peace, music, laughter and beauty. Tough act to follow, so I won’t try. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my brief tenure online it’s that each of us has his own voice. Add mine to the crowd that enjoys and celebrates Midnight Garden’s generous gifts. Thank you, Greg.

July 24, 2008


I suspect that most of the readers of this blog already know what’s going on with Nicky Cooper’s blog. If not, read this and this first and come back here. I’ll wait.

My first response, before knowing the full story, was the same response I have now, assuming I will never know the whole story. It doesn’t matter. I know enough. After the gut reaction of a sense of betrayal, all I can feel now is sorrow. But not for me. This isn’t about me. I’m fine; I have not changed. And my basic good hope for people has not changed.

Now that I know that Nicky Cooper is a fiction, I am sad that I’ve lost a friend. Some are quite angry, having been far more emotionally invested in their friendship. It is as though Nicky has been ripped from our lives. She stole words and with them our hearts. The greatest treasure she stole was our trust: valuable, intangible, easily lost and so difficult to regain. Others may pay a price for that, having a wall of protection put between them and their Internet friends.

I have been mulling over the basis for all of this: the need for attention. Nicky’s need is extreme, given that this is the latest in a series of deceptions, and perhaps not the last. If Nicky has created a new persona, a new lie to cover her creation of Cooper, then the deception continues. I pray that she finds a counselor and medication to deal with this difficult obsession.

We all want attention. If you’re honest with yourself, it’s why you have a blog. I know that, while I write to please myself, I do want feedback from readers—whether it is supportive, disagreeing, whatever. I need to write, but I could do so without an audience if that was all it was. I want conversation and connection. I want to reach out to teach, learn, move and be moved.

I am grateful for being able to do so with the Internet; and the connections I’ve made I feel to be the start of genuine friendships. Yes, genuine. What I felt for Nicky was real, whether he was or not. That hasn’t changed. And think about what all of us gained: each other. Nicky’s bloglist was the single greatest source for my bookmarks. The people who came and stayed were all bound by the world created by Nicky. It’s what we have in common. And that hasn’t changed, either. We still have each other, and that friendship and commonality are still there.

What does the future hold for Nicky? I hope that she seeks healing. Those grandsons of hers need her present in their lives. If she can explore the reasons behind what she has done, she can use her experience to give them the love they need—and receive it in turn.

What about our future, bound as we are by Nicky? I would hope fervently that it includes forgiveness. There is great freedom in forgiveness, for us and for Nicky, regardless of whatever happens next. Nicky wants to be loved. I told her that I know absolutely that God loves her exactly as she is, unchanged. When each of us can accept that, it makes forgiveness so much easier. We can forgive ourselves for failing to be the person we hope; and we can forgive others for failing to be the person we want. It really is that simple, not to say that it is easy. But let me tell you about the difference it can bring to you: the deep peace you seek, that Nicky seeks, is attainable through forgiveness, mercy and love.

July 21, 2008

Lunch at Ivy's

Last year I began volunteering one day a week at the city’s AIDS support center. I am a receptionist for the testing and counseling departments. I leave hungry at 2:00, so one week I asked a regular client to recommend a local eatery. (I don’t know downtown very well at all.) He highly recommended Ivy’s, a small restaurant/bar that is owned by a gay couple. I went to check it out.

Ivy’s is a little establishment situated in the middle of a renewed urban district, a very nice area. Inside, the small bar is separated from the cozy dining room with a half wall and paned glass. I sat in the restaurant side and had a terrific “special” for a good price. This place was great: low key, homey, very friendly staff, good Midwestern "comfort" food.

I returned there a few more times, reading or paying bills while I enjoyed the food. Sometimes the TV would be tuned to a soap opera or a sports channel. The bar had a huge plasma screen visible from many seats in the dining room.

One visit put me in the dining room with a view of the bar. The only other customers eating were a couple of women in a booth. A couple of guys were at the bar. I ordered the special and got out my bills.

After I had written a few checks, I heard a distant chorus singing a show tune. I looked up and saw that the big screen in the bar had a stage show on. I watched what looked like the opening number with great interest. My server brought my lunch and I had to ask him, “What are we watching? I’m pretty sure I don’t get that channel.”

“Oh, that?” He smiled. “That’s a DVD the bartender brought in. It’s an off-Broadway show called ‘Naked Boys Singing.’”

And, by golly, it was. Lots of boys. Very fit. Singing, dancing, kicking, twirling, leaping, and smiling. I was smiling too. This lunch was not quite what I expected.

When my server came by to refill my drink, I asked, “Is there a plot?”

He said, “Does it need one?”

Guess not. I finally remembered I still had a few bills left to pay. I finished lunch, paid bills, and got up with more songs yet to be sung. I thanked the server for a great lunch and told him my world had expanded a little bit that day.

I’ve used up one Ivy League frequent diner card and I’m nearly done with the next.

P.S. The song "Enormous Penis," featured on my playlist samples, is not part of the show. But it should be.

July 17, 2008

Sultan of Swing

My neighbor Dee and I had an excellent adventure Wednesday night: we drove to Dayton, Ohio to see Mark Knopfler in concert. It was a sultry evening in the outdoor venue, but after Knopfler started, no one cared. What a consummate guitarist. He plays fingerstyle on an electric guitar, not using a pick. While he is famous for his red Stratocaster, he used four different guitars during the evening.

The concert was over two hours long, but it seemed half that. Listening to those pure notes come out of his guitar was transcendant. His rich baritone voice makes me melt. It wasn’t until the second half of the show when the lighting caught up with the quality of music being produced; then the staging really enhanced the experience. He alternated the energy level, ramping up to my favorite of the night, “Telegraph Road.” When my voice gave out, I resorted to loud whistles of approval. (The kid next to me said, "Show me how you do that.") Knopfler concluded the evening with “Going Home;” a version of that piece is "Wild Theme," featured on my playlist.

Knopfler helmed Dire Straits long ago, and he composed the music for several movies. I really enjoyed the quirky comedy "Local Hero." He agreed to write the music for "Princess Bride" with one codicil: the director Rob Reiner had to feature prominently in a scene the hat he wore in "This Is Spinal Tap." (Look for it when Grandpa is reading to his grandson.) Knopfler also has the distinction of having a dinosaur named for him. An article about that led me to his music.

Dee and I still had plenty of energy to burn off when the concert ended at 11:00, so we asked the hotel concierge to recommend a place nearby. We walked to the Dublin Pub where we heard Celtic Punk at a literally ear-ringing volume. The violinist in this group could start a fire with his bow. Whoa! I was easily twice the age of just about everybody there, but who cares? We had a great time and closed the place.

I envy these musicians their easy familiarity with their instruments, so much so that they seem to be a part of their bodies. As a student I played an instrument—violin, then cello—for nine years and never felt that much at ease.

I’m strictly right-brained when it comes to music. I cannot sight-read, and keys and time signatures mean nothing to me. But play it for me and hand me the sheet music, and I’ll play it right back. Music is a visceral experience for me, and as such reaches me like nothing else can. It isn’t just the memories associated—although I think that is the primary reason we love our “oldies”—but something inside us cannot be touched in any other way except through music.

July 13, 2008

Amazing Grace: Epilogue

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five

It took seventeen hours for Abe and me to get to Boise for Ben’s graduation from camp. I won’t bore you with a litany of woes—you’ve seen it all before. But watching Abe deal with testy airline employees to get what he wanted was an educational experience. He never stopped smiling and complimenting them on their hard work on his behalf. No wonder he’s so good in his job; people can’t wait to meet his expectations. We arrived with our luggage intact and two vouchers for future travel. And it was early evening, so we could get a good night’s sleep.

We drove down the next morning in a caravan of parents to the base camp, where once again we dressed for the desert. The parents were trucked to the meadow camp and we set up folding chairs in the fire pit to talk while we awaited our children’s arrival. Someone pointed to the distance and said, “There they are!” The kids were hiking in across the meadow from base camp. We all jumped up and started toward them. This wasn’t the slow-motion meeting in the meadow you always see in the movies; we slammed into the kids, laughing and hugging and chattering.

Back to the meadow

Families were sorted out to sleep in tents or the field. The usual desert lunch was offered—pita bread with peanut butter, apricots, honey and spices—but this time there were extras. Chips! Cookies! Powdered drink mixes! The kids went nuts. Ben had a pita with the following piled on top: peanut butter, honey, hot sauce, crumbled chocolate chip cookies, and curry powder. Yeah, you read right. And he was moaning in gastronomic delight with every bite. This is the kid who two months ago wouldn’t eat any two items combined unless one of them was bread. And spices? Forget it.

In response to my slackjawed stare, Ben extended his pita to me with a smile. “Want a bite?”

“Thank you, no. But finish it yourself, by all means. Please.”

He laughed and wolfed it down, chased with chips and fruit punch.

After lunch, the families separated for a talk with their individual field therapists. Abe, Ben and I grabbed some folding chairs and walked through the sage to some trees and shade. (It was over 100°.) During the final three weeks, Ben’s emotional growth was so rapid that the therapist’s recommendations for aftercare changed three times. We talked about the changes he’d been through and how that might translate to activities at home. The therapist pointed out that the number one threat for relapse was the peer group at home. We would need to talk at home about Ben’s strategies for avoiding a backslide in the face of temptation and peer pressure.

Ben would need a break from the home environment to assess his strategies and progress, so the therapist arranged with another camp’s director for him to enroll in a whitewater kayaking program in the North Carolina mountains. It was felt that he could adapt and prosper in this less restrictive atmosphere that would take him away from his peer group for a couple of weeks.

We finished up our talk and walked back to the meadow, feeling a sense of purpose tinged with a bit of hopeful anticipation for what will happen in the future. We were brought back “in the moment” by the director, who told us it was time for the “Eagle’s Perch” ceremony. The entire group went back to base, where the ropes course beckoned.

This activity called for a victim to be harnessed to slack belaying ropes and climb a 25-foot wood pole and stand on the top. Then said victim must take a “leap of faith” from the top, shouting out a word that represents what he wants to take from this experience. All of the students were told to step up and be fitted with harnesses and helmets. Parents were invited to participate as well. Ben turned to me with expectation; he and I share a taste for adventure. But this?

All the excuses flowed through my mind: I’m old, I’m not at all flexible; etc. I hemmed and hawed. But to share this with Ben outweighed all of it. “Okay, I’m in.” Ben smiled.

Now let’s get this clear: this wasn’t just a pole. At the top was a small disk of plywood held by a long bolt driven into the pole. But the disk had washers above and below that made it wobble and turn. We were to step from large steel staples on the pole to this tiny unstable platform, turn with itty-bitty steps as the pole swayed to face the opposite direction, and jump (“In a swan dive!” said the director), trusting those ropes to catch you before you hit the ground. Right.

We split into two groups to handle two of the belaying lines. The director called for his first victimteer. After everyone looked at each other for a minute, the director pointed to one of the students and said, “You’re up.” The next couple of students were pulled from the crowd; one of the mothers did it. Few were volunteering yet.

I looked at Ben while we held a rope. Maybe he needed a push.

“I’ll go right after you do.”

His hand shot up. “I’ll go!” he shouted. Then he grinned at my bug-eyed face. Nice.

Ben (in white) and I (in red) climb the Eagle's Perch

Ben does not like heights, but he did it, calling out, “Overcome!” as he dropped and bounced (off the ropes, not the ground). The director had to remind me to “Breathe!” when I was contemplating that first step from the staple to the disk. When I was shaking and trying to balance on that tiny thing I had a few other choice words in mind besides the one I had selected; but I jumped and shouted, “Trust!”

We concluded our stay the next morning with showers for the kids (yes!) and graduation, an exchange of handshakes with diplomas. Ben was asked by his therapist to consider returning as a mentor in the future; what a declaration of trust and confidence that was for him.

We hugged the staff and the parents whom we knew from Family Camp. When I hugged Ben’s therapist, the man who guided his experiences in the desert, I whispered, “Thank you for giving me back my son.”

It was time to leave. We drove down the gravel roads, slowly moving toward civilization again. We would wrap up our stay in Idaho by visiting Sun Valley that afternoon and the Birds of Prey Center in Boise the next morning. We had a quiet and uneventful flight home.

I think about all the things that happened to bring us to this point, and I must conclude that God’s hand was in this. Being the oblivious person that I can be, it usually takes hindsight to see the “coincidences” that had to be more. This time, in asking for help wherever we turned, it was easy to see the grace, truly amazing grace, that we found in places we did not expect. Strangers ended up being the key to our son’s future, and they stepped up gladly with outstretched hands.

I owe a debt to all who supported us and continue to do so. I cannot repay that obligation to all of you, so know that it will be given forward to others to the best of my ability and whenever possible. God bless you all.

The silver sheen of sage made velvet mountains.

July 12, 2008

Baby Steps

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA has voted to revise the language of the Heidelberg Catechism—a series of questions and answers that describe the principles of faith—to its original language, removing the phrase “homosexual perversion” from a list of sinful behaviors. The phrase was inserted by a translator in 1962.

In a 54/46% decision, the General Assembly also approved changing the language of ordination requirements to end discrimination and allow equality for GLBT Presbyterians.

These are two of many steps the church is taking in order to embrace members of the GLBT community, culminating in ordination for those who are called to ministry. However slowly, this is progress.

July 11, 2008


The word “judgement”—with or without the “e”—has gained a reputation as an ugly term, unfairly I think. The problem is it carries a great deal of baggage. Simply put, a judgement is a reasoned decision or opinion; it is a neutral term that does not delineate whether the opinion is supportive or the decision unfavorable.

Therein lies the problem. Like everyone else, I have opinions. To arrive at an opinion, I must use what I hope is sound judgement. I’m certainly willing to listen to more information that might lead to a new conclusion, but that’s using judgement again. Judgement is required in order to decide between two conflicting ideas.

Tempers rise when the term “judgement” is taken to mean “condemnation” instead of “discernment.” The term applies comfortably to either, but obviously not universally; and lately there is an automatic assumption to the negative. I believe judgement is most often a good thing. Of ten definitions in Encarta, only one is negative; but some who are eager to find offense will pounce every time on that word and cry “Unfair!” We are becoming a nation of professional victims, cringing at the supposed sting of opinion. We must use our discernment and judge for ourselves whether offense is merited. Disagreement is not a cause for alarm; it is a call for reasoned and respectful discussion.

July 9, 2008

Amazing Grace: Day Five

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four

Springhouse meadow in Timber Canyon

We slept all night, not a cow in sight. Yessss! Shouts of “Good morning!” came at 5:00 a.m. Nooooo! The students were told to pack their gear “Santa Claus style”—like a gathered sack—and take it to the truck quickly. Parents’ bedding gear was bundled and tossed in the other truck. We were all gathered into a circle in the meadow and had a farewell ceremony in which each of us was given a turn to tell what Family Camp had meant. Like the other parents, Abe and I were near tears as we tried to put voice to the hope we had been given in the transformation of our son. Ben had grown so much that it would take time to adjust to this quietly confident young man. This circle was a difficult moment, as you might guess, because all of us knew that our time together was coming to a close.

Timber Canyon flowers

Although the parents had been warned, we didn’t realize how soon that would be. The moment the circle broke, the field supervisor told the students to give the parents hugs and head to the trucks. As the sun was beginning to rise over the hills, we were saying goodbye with smiles and tears. The parents stood in the field, watching the kids being hustled away. We were silent and at a loss at what to do now. There was so much to process, so many questions to which we would not have answers for a long time.

Springhouse trees in Timber Canyon

The parents were taken to base, where our clothing and luggage awaited us. A breakfast of bagels, English muffins, and juice was offered. (They used to serve eggs, bacon, etc., until they realized that it upset most people’s systems after having such a low-fat high-fiber diet for so long. They recommended we take it easy assimilating back into our regular diets.)

Commissary and showers

The glory of taking a shower took away the pangs of farewell for a moment. Parents took turns in the locker rooms and gathered in our “city” clothes for the last meeting. We bagged our clothing and gear into giant white potato sacks. Instructors told us the airport was quite used to seeing these in their luggage bins.

The parents were sorted into trucks according to their destinations: airport, hotel, etc. Tight hugs all around were accompanied by heartfelt whispers of encouragement and hope. We were on the next step of this journey where each family had its own path, but none of us was alone. All of us were grateful for the shared support.

Abe and I spent the afternoon of quiet downtime in our hotel room. We had dinner in downtown Boise, talking about the week and Ben. We didn’t talk yet about the future, which was coming soon enough. We stayed “in the moment,” as we had learned to do at Family Camp.

Sidewalk cafes

In the time we had remaining in Idaho, Abe and I shared long moments of silence, broken by expressions of thoughts that were racing through our heads. We didn’t have to preface our thoughts since we were both on the same wavelength. (It didn’t occur to me until later how much more that is happening, now that we are intentionally talking over things every day. In a relationship as long as ours, it gets too easy to let that go by. Inertia breeds silence unless you break it with intention.)

Boise town square

We began to process the experience, comparing our hopes and expectations with the reality. We were afraid to hope too much; it seemed so vastly different than the life we were living only a few weeks earlier. But there it was: Ben was changed. Would it last? Would it be enough? He would have to resist so many old patterns that would be pulling at him at home. Abe and I would have to wait and pray that this was the beginning of a happier and more successful life for Ben.

What changes would we see by the time he graduated from camp? It would be two short weeks until we knew.

Next: Epilogue

July 8, 2008

Amazing Grace: Day Four

Day One
Day Two
Day Three

We had a lazy start to our first full day at the Springhouse site in Timber Canyon. The cows had decided to stay where they’d been herded northward, and we sat around the fire—started by hand, of course—and had our accustomed oatmeal. After breakfast, we clustered in groups and got to know each other better.

Breakfast fire

Midmorning we were gathered into the middle of the meadow. Families were asked to pair up, and each team was given a topographic map and a compass. An instructor gave us a ten-minute lesson in how to read and use both. In our group, Ben was paired with Kay, a twelve-year-old girl. She was inclined to sit alone and be silent, but Ben shared the map with her as they tried to figure out where on the map we were.

Timber Gulch and Canyon

Soon enough, they figured out exactly where we were on a map with no markings except landforms. We were assigned to hike to four points on the map, and Ben pointed to the first goal. It was the top of “that hill over there,” pretty much straight up from where we were. Ben examined the map and noted that the back of the hill had a gentler slope, so he led us over the creek and around. As we climbed, he led us in a zigzag pattern so that those of us who hadn’t been hiking for weeks in the desert would have an easier time of it. We left the soft grass of the spring-fed meadow and soon were crunching dry grass and gravel underfoot. The heat wasn’t oppressive yet, but any sweat quickly sublimated in the incredibly dry air.

"Point One"

An instructor followed us silently, basically to keep us out of trouble and to guide the discussions that we would be having at each stopping point. At the top of the hill we could see down the steep slope into the valley.

View of Timber Canyon

The two families split and sat to talk about the metaphors of “true north” and “magnetic north.” Each of us was to talk about our goals—true north—and those things which pulled us away from true north—magnetic north. It was a revealing talk for all of us, and Abe and Ben and I agreed to gently remind each other when we saw magnetic north pulling us away from our true north goals.

"Children of the Sage" shelter

We were called back together, and this time Ben helped Kay read the map to find our next point. She led us across the rocky hilltop to a shelter that had been made by prior students. It had a sign inside that read “Children of the Sage.” We stopped briefly to talk together about our goals, and then it was Ben’s turn to lead us to our third point. See that bluff across the canyon in the previous photo? That was our third point. We had to go down the hill, across the stream and canyon and back up the rocks. Ben led the way.

As we crossed the stream, a number of cows were crossing the other way. One cow felt she needed to be coy as we neared.


At the top we split up to talk again, this time about what the students might expect after camp was over. Abe and I talked to Ben about school—and the fact that he was not going to boarding school, as were so many others—and the kinds of rules he would be living under at home. It was a calm and deliberate discussion, unlike most we’d had before Ben came to camp. I think it gave us all real hope that this was going to work.

We ended our trek at Wind Tunnel, a beautiful, massive carving of stone shaped into mulitple arches and shallow caves open to the elements.

Entering Wind Tunnel

The view from inside

The afternoon was spent in discussion with other parents about what we were planning for after camp. Ours was the only family which was bringing our child back home. (Frankly, boarding school was not an option for us. I’m pretty certain that we were lowest on the economic ladder of this particular group.) All of us were worried about this next step, as we had been for all of our decisions up to this point: was it the right thing to do? How would our children react? Would it lead to the peaceful and successful life we wanted for them? These questions were the silent substrate for our discussion, which led to the agreement to keep in touch by email as events progressed beyond this camp. Drawn together by fear for our children, we were bonding with hope.

After dinner, which was received with shouts by the kids—“Macaroni! Tomato sauce! CHEESE!”—we had a candlelight ceremony in the meadow in which each family came together again in metaphor and in life. First, our wrangler/instructor had to once again herd yet more cows up the canyon to clear the area. But it was a somber crew that walked to the tents with our candles that night, knowing that tomorrow was the last day together.

Next: Day Five

July 6, 2008

Pride, Pain and PostSecret

This postcard appeared on today’s PostSecret:

It reads “I’m ready to lose everything because I’ve found the people worth failing with.”

Am I reading too much into it when I take the rainbow to be a significant part of the message? While the note bespeaks great strength, it also contains an aching pain that cries for acknowledgement.

The price this person is willing to pay is the great injustice against which we all must fight. The idea that accepting one’s sexuality brings with it the possibility of losing everything makes my blood boil. And it’s not just an idea; it is real and it happens in some fashion every day. That this person has found succor in the community s/he has met gives hope, but it is a crime that this sort of sacrifice must be risked in order to be true to one’s identity.

What can you and I do about it? It doesn’t require making speeches to make change. In simple conversation, use inclusive words: ask about someone’s spouse “or partner” when introduced. When faced with an opportunity to correct someone’s misunderstanding, risk your own discomfort and maybe a little of theirs to gently set them straight with facts. And know your facts; did you know that it most often takes the acquaintance of three gay people for a straight person to act on their behalf by supporting and voting for change?

Silence is no longer an acceptable option. Our silence leads gay teens to commit suicide at a rate three times higher than straight teens. Being silent leads to lives of suffering and secrecy for those who are gay and those who love them. Being silent leads to the sort of behavior we are finding in the headlines: men and women who cannot live the lives they were born to lead are hiding behind heterosexual marriages in their only chance to live a “normal” life. Most would rather just be with good friends and partners or spouses without confrontation or secrecy (the same thing I and my straight friends take for granted like breathing). To give this group of fully-human beings the right to be who God made them to be, we must speak up at every opportunity and be counted.

I await the PostSecret card that reads “I’m ready to gain everything because I’ve found the people worth living for.” You and I can be a part of that group of people. Speak up and speak out.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." — Mahatma Gandhi

July 5, 2008

Amazing Grace: Day Three

Day One
Day Two

We were awakened “late”—7 a.m.—to shouts of “Good morning!” We never knew what to expect, except for the meals, which were the same every day. Being unaware of what was coming next kept us from anticipating or worrying; it kept us in the moment. This is a wonderful tactic for helping those who are planners or worriers. You can’t worry about something if you don’t know about it. The staff was intent on having the families use this time for growth. They did not want us to talk yet about what might happen in the future. By staying in the moment, we were learning new family dynamics.

We were told to have our gear bundled into packs before we ate breakfast. The students were to instruct their parents on proper technique. So Ben began to use his new skills in a position of leadership, a unique dynamic for us. It was great to have him show us the steps, and he was encouraging and helpful. Not once did he express frustration or impatience as we struggled to complete our task.

We quartered our tarps lengthwise and rolled inside it our sleeping bag, blanket, clothing, flashlight and gear kit. While kneeling on the roll, we learned how to strap the pack together with “ribs” of poly cord. A length of 2” wide webbing was rigged through the cord ribs to make straps for our shoulders and waist. We topped the bundle with sleeping pad and jacket; jammed through any shelter sticks; attached cups, bottles, cans and canteens anywhere they fit; and voila! We looked like homeless people.

After breakfast—oatmeal again—we and our packs were trucked up to the top of a small mountain. Everyone who was able would be carrying his own gear to the next camp, about two and a half miles down the mountain to the Springhouse site in Timber Canyon. The only way there was through Timber Gulch, a series of washes, gulleys, and barely-visible trails with boulders, sage, loose rock, and the occasional rattler.

Timber Gulch

Desert flowers

The top half of the trail was steep and rugged, so for the trust exercise the students would be blindfolded first and led down that part of the trail by their parents. The field instructor gathered us at the trailhead.

“Okay,” she called out. “I want all of the students—and Birdie—to put on blindfolds.”

Open mouth. Close mouth. “Okay.” Everyone laughed, and we set about putting on our blindfolds.

Abe led Ben and me, both with packs, while the other parents led their children. Eventually we were the last ones in line, Abe carefully describing the trail as Ben held onto his shoulder and followed. I placed my hand on the back of Ben’s pack but put my weight on a walking stick. I didn’t want to pull Ben over if I lost my balance.

As we listened to Abe’s instructions, we kept quiet and followed. Each of us spoke only a couple of times to ask Abe to wait while we regained contact. There was no conflict at all as we slowly descended the mountain.

Asked about that later in the evening, Ben and I agreed that Abe is the World’s Most Careful Man. We knew without a doubt that he would never put us in danger, so it was pretty easy to trust his directions.

As usual, they never told us why I was the only adult to be blindfolded for that portion of the trek. But we figured out on our own that it was time for me to let Abe take the lead with Ben. I had been the primary parent figure for most of Ben’s life, and he needed his father to take the lead now. This is one example of the many teaching moments they found throughout our stay at the desert camp.

After a lunch of peanut butter on pita, students led their blindfolded parents—except for me—down the second half of the trail. I got carried away with the landscape and the freedom and wandered off-trail here and there. A bit in front of Ben and Abe, I was approaching a couple of boulders when I heard the sharp buzz of a rattlesnake about three feet away. I hit the brakes, called out “Snake!” and backed up. The instructor approached and stood about six feet away to guide the family teams away from the snake’s hiding place. Afterward, he came to me and said quietly, “Your son can’t lead you if you aren’t behind him.” Yikes. I can be so oblivious sometimes. I quickly jumped into line again, and Ben led the entire group into camp.

A new leader in the family

Springhouse was located in a beautiful canyon filled with tall grass and a cluster of cottonwood trees. A spring bubbled out of the ground in the ruins of an old stone house under one of the trees. Frame tents were spread through the grass, and ours was at the southern end. So were the cows.

Springhouse camp at Timber Canyon

Cows are fine. But fresh cowpies in our site are not. Three times that evening we herded about fifty cows into a side canyon. Each time they returned. As the night wore on, more cattle appeared. Apparently the ranchers were releasing their beef cattle into the canyons for the summer, where they would range higher and higher for the cool air and good grass.

Timber Canyon cows by our tent

By nightfall there were probably a hundred or so in the meadow near our tent. And they talked. Apparently cows don’t just moo. There were bulls too, and they brayed, honked, growled and rumbled as they sorted out the ladies and their calves. It was ridiculous. The mother of one of the campers had to push a cow’s head out of her tent with her bare foot on the cow’s nose. Cow kung fu. At about 3:00 in the morning, one of the instructors had had enough. We watched him running in flipflops after the herd, shouting and waving his hiking stick. He herded them through the camp and up the northern end of the canyon, where the cattle stayed. Apparently there is good grass up there too.

Most of us managed to return to sleep for a couple of more hours. After that long hike, it wasn’t too difficult to get back to sleep. We would awaken for another new experience for the families.

Next: Day Four

July 4, 2008

Five Things Meme

Well, it’s been an incredible couple of days in the Idaho desert. (Temperature Thursday: 106°.) I finally make it back to civilization only to find I’ve got homework: I’ve been tagged by alto with my first-ever meme: the Five Things Meme. Okay, I’m game.

1. What were you doing five years ago?

In 2003, I had just finished writing a five-year curriculum for a new kind of Sunday School for which there was no published work at the time (the Rotation Model). It was the reason I was hired; and having finished, I set to work rewriting the first couple of years’ worth. I celebrated my 50th birthday in October with a trip to NYC and a return to eating chocolate after a 22-year fast. I fell in love with New York—doesn’t everyone?—and my first bite of chocolate was dessert at the Tavern on the Green.

2. Five Things On My To Do List For Today:

1. Finish the next chapter of Amazing Grace
2. Read my favorite blogs and respond intelligently (That second part takes time.)
3. Make four phone calls related to treatment camp and continued aftercare plans
4. Visit the Birds of Prey center in Boise
5. Put away the computer and be present for my family

3. Five Favorite Snacks:

1. May I list chocolate five times? No? Okay, fine.
2. Barbecue chips
3. Hummus on rice crackers
4. Bananas
5. Peanut butter on graham crackers

4. Five Things I Would Do If I Was A Billionaire:

I really thought about this and realized that I would do pretty much what I’m doing now, only with more zeroes behind it. Basically, I’m pretty content.

1. Quit work so I could go to seminary full time
2. Give just enough but not too much to family members
3. Be a silent benefactor for individuals in need, especially AIDS patients
4. Contribute to organizations which promote equality, peaceful cooperation, and children in need
5. Get a decent but not ridiculous home theater system, a convertible, and a place on Siesta Key

5. Five Bad Habits:

1. Escaping into the lovely world of the Internet, where I can reach the entire world of opinion, information, and expression
2. Letting introversion prevent me from reaching out more
3. Reading, reading, reading...instead of cooking, cleaning, etc.
4. Allowing my weaknesses to prevent me from growing
5. Jumping to conclusions

6. Five Places I Have Lived:

1. Sarasota, Florida
2. Tampa, Florida (USF)
3. Presque Isle, Maine for several summers
4. Indianapolis, Indiana
5. ??? (After being gone for 28 years, I miss Sarasota. I want to go home.)

7. Five Jobs I Have Held:

1. McDonald’s crew member (paid for first year of college)
2. Newspaper proofreader, a position which no longer exists. Can you tell?
3. Secondary English teacher
4. Corporate sales trainer
5. Sunday School director

8. Five Favorite Items Of Clothing:

1. Blue jeans, which I’d wear every day of the year if I could
2. White tee shirt, the other half of my “uniform”
3. Birkenstocks, if I have to wear shoes
4. Khaki jumpsuit (over 20 years old, easily the most comfortable thing I own)
5. My Roots Olympic jacket from Canada, a gift to David Letterman which he donated to our church bazaar