Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Tonight, a small group from my church gathered via Zoom to discuss more of the book, How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. To start, our priest asked everyone to offer one word for how we felt. I wasn't ready and she asked me to go first. The only word that came to mind was "everywhere."

I feel everywhere today. All over the place.

Maybe that suggests something more panicky or anxious. I'm not really there, but I find myself cycling through a few emotions daily. Angry. Amused. Hopeful. Sad. Puzzled. And maybe a little anxious, though I don't think I ever quite rise to the level of panic.

I do wipe down groceries with a disinfectant wipe when I bring them into my apartment. Tonight I went on a walk and I carried one those wipes with me. I have to go out a gate to leave my complex and I used the wipe to turn the doorknob on the gate. Then I used it to come back in. I used it to touch the crosswalk button at an intersection.

I never thought I'd see the day that I'd be the type of person to not touch things. In fact, I'm realizing how tactile I am. I do like to touch objects, to feel textures. I also have a tendency to shoulder my way through doors, almost full body contact to get into a room. I think I knew that, but I feel it much more urgently now. I'm not doing those things. It feels a little bit like it's not me moving through the world.

I meant to note two emails in my last blog entry. On Friday afternoon, within 2 hours of each other, I first got an email from the apartment complex stating that someone in the complex has tested positive for covid-19. Then I got an email from the president of the university where I work, stating someone in the university community had contracted it. I had never assumed it was far away, but it did feel extra close to get both of those emails so close together.

The tree pollen is terrible in Houston right now. My eyes have been watering and itching all week. I'm about out of eye drops. I'm a wee bit phlegmy from the pollen, and I remind myself all day that the symptom to watch for is a dry cough. Phlegmy is the opposite of a dry cough.

I think too much about the pandemic, but it's hard not to think about it when you haven't been to your office in over a week but you're still working. It's hard not to think about it when you go for a walk but are vigilant to not let anyone get too close to you. It's hard not to think about it when everything  about the current moment is a little bit off due to it. It. It is everywhere.

Like my emotions.

It's not terrible. I'm good alone for long periods of time. I'm okay working unsupervised But as I've sometimes said, I'm an introvert, not a misanthrope. I actually enjoy sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant, alone at my table, surrounded by people. I don't need to interact with them, but I enjoy them.

My Facebook feed is also everywhere. I have my atheist friends who occasionally ridicule religion of the sort that claims the power of God over the caronavirus. This, followed by someone posting a call to prayer. I'm always surround by God and reminders of God. I spend all day surrounded by my library, filled with God-books. I see challenges to trust God in this crisis. I see someone post about Psalm 91 as reason to not be afraid and keep living life as normal. I responded to one, "you mean the same Psalm that the devil uses to temp Jesus to do something foolish?" Trust in God, trust that God is present, a comfort and  hope, but also doing my best not to put God to the test.

That's where I am in the "God and coronavirus" conversation. I'm willing to stay indoors or carry a disinfectant wipe when I go out, because I'm not interested in putting God to the test.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Pandemic Dispatch from a One-Bedroom Apartment

There are moments you remember all your life. Or so sang Yentl.

This past week is one to remember. Some of us will. I think this is the week that a lot of us really caught on how long this Covid-19 pandemic might last, how long it will disrupt our lives. I worry that not enough people have caught on. Right now, I hear neighbors having a party. I don't know how many people, but more than could possibly keep 6 feet distance from each other. I hope they're sure of their status.

They closed the play I was performing in. We only got in 2 of our scheduled 9 performances. It was a blow to all of us, even if we knew it to be the right decision. I knew it to be the right decision. Still, I shed a few tears over it. It was a fun show with a great cast and age appropriate for some young friends who don't often get to see me perform. I was looking forward to them seeing it. I wanted a lot more people to see it. If I'd come to believe that we were in for a long haul with this virus, this made it concrete for me.

I went into work on Monday, but they sent us home in the afternoon. We would be working at home for the next two weeks. I think that's now expanded, but I can't remember right now if they've given an estimated end date for this. I don't particularly like working at home. I like to keep a separation between that life and my home life, but it's actually been okay so far. Some big events with work have been postponed, which will make some things easier at this moment. Other things remain hard. A lot of my work can be done from here, not all of it can. Some just won't be done for now.

Wednesday night, I had a Zoom meeting with a book group that my church is conducting for lent. How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibrim X. Kendi. We're having good discussion around the book, but I was also surprisingly relieved to see faces on my screen. We didn't have Sunday worship last week and we won't again tomorrow morning and so on for the foreseeable future. There is a group of us that usually goes out to lunch after church on Sunday and based on my reaction to the book group I asked some of that group if they wanted to try having a Zoom liunch meeting tomorrow. We're giving it a go.

I've been thinking a lot about community the last few months, how I'm often on the edge of my communities and yes indisputably a part of them. My introvert ways doesn't make me antsy during this time of voluntary sequestering, but I also know I care about a number of people in my own aloof way. I've noticed a number of people on Facebook that I haven't noticed recently. It's being a place for people to interact. I'm always active on Facebook---its the perfect social interaction for an introvert---but I see more outgoing people seeking the interaction there now. How is this shaping my communities, the edges, the centers? We'll see.

I exchanged emails with my spiritual director today. He and his husband were on a cross-country trip that is getting cut short. He detailed their trip back home, how they had reservations at bed and breakfast stops, where they have arrangements so they never have to meet the owners. I hope they make the journey back home safely and virus-free. I'm impressed with their plan.

Strange days. Of course, I think about God. Pray in my own undisciplined way. I'm reminded of the prayer from Abba Macarius of the desert, the one that got me through my pancreas health scare 7 years ago: O Lord, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me. Help me." I pray it in the plural now. It works for me when I don't know what to pray for. Realistically, I mean. I can pray for all kinds of miracles, but that's not the sort of faith I have. I can pray for the virus to disappear, but I know that won't happen in some biblical story way. Praying for mercy? I can do that.

 This afternoon, spurred by a grad school classmate who mentioned a song that I found online and danced to in my kitchen, I turned on my camera and went live on Facebook for a one-song dance party. That felt good. I don't know for sure if anyone danced along. I had encouraging comments and it seemed to be fun for the viewers so maybe I'll do it again. So many in the dance community right now are offering online classes. I'm just offering a party. I think it might be 4 minutes spent well.

This is not the blogging I expected to do during lent. Nothing is as I expected this lent. I'm looking at weeks ahead without the Eucharist. I'm looking toward an Easter celebration that will be celebrated at a safe distance. For now, I'm good in my one-bedroom apartment with my one cat. Solitude of this sort doesn't worry me, and yet I feel the grief of cancelled plays, of missed Eucharists, of interrupted trips, of postponed celebrations, of news stories, of so much anxiety. There is this grief and there will be more grief before this is over.

It's going to be a lot. We may as well dance some, too. That's all I've got.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Loving You's the Right Thing to Do

But how? Right now? How do you love in the time of social distancing?

Coronavirus is on everyone's mind this moment. I try to stop thinking about it but it sneaks back in. What am I doing? Is it the right thing to do?

Thursday evening, I stopped at a grocery store on my way home from work. Of course, it was packed. I have my annoyances with any crowds, but that was all I thought of it until i got into the checkout line. "What are we doing?" I thought to myself. We've cancelled so many events, but here we are, brushing by each other down crowded aisles. Did we all really need something right then? I was low on a few things, but I could have gone home without absolutely needing anything that evening. And it was a grocery store in the affluent Galleria area of Houston---were any of these people back from recent trips anywhere "hot"?

This very morning, we opened a show, a play. The theater, one of the few who haven't cancelled performances, listed all the predictions they are taking and then left it up to the audience members if they wanted to come see us. I don't know if anyone in the cast had misgivings---we have been having a great deal of fun with the production, and we were ready to share it with an audience. Furthermore, it is nothing but fun, nothing but loud, boisterous silliness that in a way, I'm sure, was a respite to the small audience we had. (And they all responsibly sat with distance between them.) I felt good about offering that respite.

And ever since, I've wondered if we did the right thing. There are moments in the show when we, the cast, are all in very close proximity to one another. At one moment, the thought sneaked in---should we be doing this? 

Where have my cast mates been? Where have I been? Am I incubating anything from my grocery run that I've now passed on to the cast?

How can we know? I suppose if any of us come down with fever and a dry cough. That's when we'll know.

I despise how I'm thinking about this. I'm generally not a germophobe. I wash my hands regularly and otherwise try to practice good hygiene, but I'm usually not this conscious of the possibility of a germ. I'll eat a dropped M&M off the floor but should I be touching this table in a public place?

My church has cancelled services for two weeks. Tomorrow morning, I'll get up pray virtually, online, at a safe social distance with whoever else logs into my church's live stream. It will not be the same. I will miss singing in a congregation, the singing that I always call "breathing together."

Should we be breathing together?

Some of my atheist friends are mocking the notion of prayer and I will admit to not knowing how to pray right now. Other than not in close proximity. I don't belong to a brand of Christianity that wants to say we're protected from a virus "in Jesus' name." I know we're not. The rain falls on the just and unjust. But how then should we pray?

Love is the answer, it's the how of it that is getting to me. It's a question I used to ask in church committee meetings. "How do we love our community right now?"

Lord have mercy, but it is the farthest thing from clear to me right now.

Monday, March 9, 2020

What I'm Talking About When I Talk About Losing My Voice

Racism. I'm talking about Racism.

I'm talking about how I could read James Baldwin and appreciate, accept, believe his point of view and not see my own place in it.

I'm talking about reading Liberation Theology and thinking I was in some way on "their" side while very much ensconced in and benefiting from the legacy of imperialism and colonialism. (I nearly wrote "the colonial past"--as if it were over. Telling.)

I'm talking about hearing Black friends and colleagues talk about their lived experience and believing that they had some how moved on from it. How admirable to see your father stopped and abused by police to rise and to where you are now.

I was concerned, sympathetic, even empathetic to a degree. And I hadn't a clue.

To the extent one can wake up from that place of privileged sympathy, I have started to wake up. I can't say I'm "woke." I can't say I've earned that. But I've started to see, at least a little bit.

I was treating current and ongoing inequities like one might read about a far off land. A tourist's view of India, perhaps--the riches and the poverty--and see it as an interesting place to visit. Except I am living among the riches and poverty of my own nation and seeing myself somehow detached from it all.

It's been paralyzing. What do I have to say about any of this? Maybe I don't. Do I tell my white stories, not too different from other white stories, as if my particular brand of gay (I get to claim one oppressed label!) experience was of any interest among the many gay white stories already in circulation?

I write because I'm a writer. I've continued writing. I don't think I can stop. But I read back on it and it is hollow. Unnecessary. Familiar and without revelation.

That's what I'm talking about when I talk about losing my voice.

Sunday, March 8, 2020


In my 20s, I was certain about so much, particularly God-stuff. I had many declarative sentences about what God wanted and such things. It was the 80s and brand of certainty was "in" thanks to the Reagan era.

Even in my 20s, though, I couldn't commit to that more evangelical/fundamentalist way of thinking. I always held back a little bit, mostly around tactics. I have an example.

I was definitely "pro-life" at the time (a term I dislike now, since I still like to think I'm pro-life, I just don't believe abortion is murder anymore). I had been to a meeting of some sort, some Christian group (that wasn't Lutheran Campus Ministry, where I was very active, even though they seemed a little soft on some issues), and abortion had been the topic. Someone from an organization that presented itself as offering help to women with unwanted pregnancies told us of the tactics used to lure these women into their "clinic" where they then did their best to convince them to carry the pregnancy to term. It was either a "Crisis Pregnancy Center" or something very like it. The advertising for these centers made them sound like they might offer abortions, or at least have information about them. It struck me as very deceptive. I recall writing in my journal something like, "how do you lead someone to the Way, Truth, and Life with lies?"

So that's where my certainty ended. At deceptive tactics. It's happened with more liberal or progressive organizations since. There are talking points to make the argument, and then there are aspects that are true but not mentioned because they aren't helpful to the agenda.

Whichever organizations, left or right politically, I cannot stand deception to sell a point. I'm not keen on bait and switch.

And that makes me a terrible activist. Activists require no little certainty in the cause. It's why I'm terrible at a political campaign. Campaigners have to have certainty that their candidate is the best option.

Twitter is full of certain people, some of them valued friends. The space allowed requires direct speech, blunt words. To get to the point, you need to be pointed. I admit, even when I agree with what's being said. I want to argue because the bluntness invites argument.

I also envy the certainty. I miss that feeling of being sure. I admire and am even thankful for activists, and still that assured posture is not one I can pull off.

This is confession. I'm not sure (there it is again!) if I need to change my ways or let my failures be signs to step away. I'm definitely not offering myself as a role model.

There are things that I feel strongly about, of course. Racism is sin. Billionaires shouldn't exist. Donald Trump is a terrible president. I don't see a reason to back away from any of these statements.

I'm the guy who finds most truth in ambiguity, even when I have strong feelings about some things. I believe that if racism is bad, then what I want to do is help convert racists to antiracists. Shouting at them doesn't seem a great tactic. If I believe billionaires shouldn't exist, I want a system that requires businesses to pay workers what they earn for the corporations, not pay some figurehead for managing a company of low wage earners. I don't see shaming them for their wealth to be a great agent for change. (Not that shame can't be or has never been an agent for change---but see, there I go again.) These are not easy slogans for the activist signs. They don't make great chants at the rallies.

On my best days, I accept that I am who I am and try to live my life in peace and love with all people. On my worst days, I want that certainty, that assured feeling back. I'm uncertain what to do about any of this.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Humility and Western Culture

Most people know the Desert Fathers and Mothers are spiritual heroes of mine. Outside of the Bible, the collected sayings and stories are my sacred texts.

Central to their teaching was humility. It was the way to God and to service to those around us. Theirs was a sometimes harsh humility. Some of the sayings (not only on humility) need to be tempered with modern psychology and viewed with some slight understanding of the ancient world.

It is hard to practice humility in the modern world, particularly this western world of European descent. There is nothing humble about "exploring" and colonizing much of the world. We inherit this hubris in many forms.

And then try to practice humility while also answering a call to creative endeavors. It's all about self-promotion if you're to get noticed. I'd like to think the work would draw attention, but I've found that to be untrue or at least undependable.

Sometimes, when I'm trying to practice humility, I'm accused of low self-esteem. Sometimes I maybe believe it is low self-esteem. Other times, I'm so full of myself at any little accomplishment that I'm reminded how much I need to practice this virtue. The voices of the culture tell you to believe you're amazing and unconquerable. Humility says to count everyone as better than yourself, not out of self-hate but out of service.

Humility is hard.

Back in college I took an anthropology course in ethnographic film. I had no idea what I was signing up for but needed a class to fill out my schedule and as a theater major, I saw the word "film" in the title and thought it might have something to do with my other studies. I was wrong on that count but one thing has stuck with me all these years. That's a book called The Dobe !Kung by Richard B. Lee. The appendix, "Eating Christmas in the Kalahari," tells the story of the author's parting gift to the !Kung, a large bull to be slaughtered for Christmas feasting. They treat the gift with contempt and derision until the day of the slaughter. Then they all laughed at him and ate their fill. He was puzzled, expecting praise and thanks as he was. He came to find out they were practicing a sort of humility that they practiced among themselves. They taught this sort of nearly ritualized derision of accomplishments as a way to keep themselves from arrogance. The author realized his arrogance and wondered how he'd missed this aspect of their culture until they used it on him. One !Kung man told the anthropologist, "you never asked."

And I recall thinking at the time that it was a way to practice a sort of Christianity without Christianity. It struck me as a terribly moral way to live together, no one bragging on their own traits, no one putting up with bragging in another.

That they were African desert people from the southern part of the continent did not keep me from comparing their way to the African monks of the northern African desert.

And I'm left with these African teachers giving me a hard way to be in this western culture. And because it's hard and I'm often lazy and weak, I have not learned their lessons.

I think of Abba Macarius who encountered a demon in the desert. The demon said, "I can best you in everything you practice, Macarius, save for one thing and it gives me great torment." Macarius asked, "What is that?" The demon replied, "You fast--I don't eat at all. You keep vigil--I never sleep. But the thing I can not best you at is your humility. Because of it, I am not able to overpower you."

And so, I return to trying to understand and practice the simple word, humility. I have demons that overpower me.  If the western culture of my inheritance sees low self-esteem, these demons see the arrogance not two steps away. Expecting praise for a gift is just another kind of economic transaction and no longer a gift.