Advice Column Thursday: Leslie Takes on the Fundies

How do you deal with family members whose belief in God is one where they disagree with gay marriage? How do you say to someone who says “my God would not allow that to happen and believes because I am gay or a non believer that I will go to hell and ‘thus they choose to believe.’” On a side note wouldn’t it be ironic if they arrived at God’s gate to be told, “you perpetuated hate in my name when I love all.”

Nutmeg

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

-Maya Angelou

Too many people spend too much time wondering what’s going to happen in their afterlife without opening their eyes to the hell that’s already here. They live in a comfort zone about thisbig, because the fear of going to actual hell keeps them in a very straight and narrow line. I am sure that in some respects, it makes life easier, because there are black and white solutions with clear answers to almost every question if you believe that there is no translation needed between a desert-based nomadic set of tribes two to five thousand years ago (eh, I’m estimating) and modern day. Holy crap. Seriously. Can you imagine what Moses, et al would have thought when they saw, say, New York City? Can you imagine Paul walking through modern-day NoPo?

Reading the Bible this way, though, is comforting. You can take everything at face value. You can trust your preacher that he’s not going to fill your head with conflicting views on anything and say, “make up your own mind.”

Your pastor is supposed to know (so you don’t have to) the basic tenets of the faith. Most lay people don’t know what to even call the tenets of Christianity, like “transubstantiation” and “substitutionary atonement.”

Editor’s Note:

Transubstantiation is a Catholic idea that translates to “when you put the communion wafer into your mouth, it literally becomes the body of Christ. When you lift the communion chalice to your lips, when the wine enters your mouth, it literally becomes Christ’s blood (which to me means that I need to write a book paraphrasing Bertrand Russell- “Why I Am Not a Catholic”).

Substitutionary atonement took place when Jesus died on the cross for all our sins so that we ourselves could die with our sins forgiven. (I really like this part, because for all its flaws, the doctrine says “I accept you for who you really are, because your sins are forgiven… not forgotten.”)

It is astounding to me that people who say they are Christian have not studied the doctrines enough to know what they are actually called. It’s because they don’t have to look up anything. It’s fine the way it is. How literalists can preach without opposing commentary is beyond me, because how do you decide what you believe if you only hear one side of the story? Besides, the Disciples themselves didn’t understand Jesus, even when he spoke slowly and didn’t use big words. How could you possibly work through the jigsaw of everything that happened without wanting to know everything you could get your hands on about the topic? THIS IS YOUR FAITH. YOU DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WITH IT.

You get to choose whether you are the type Christian that believes you have the right to discriminate against others, because “God will back you up.” You know who won’t? Jesus Christ. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so, as Jim Rigby points out, it cannot be essential to his teaching.

According to most mainstream theologians, when “God” (in quotes because the actual writers were human) absolutely damned “homosexuals,” God did not mean to trample on a loving same-sex couple with matching small dogs and stylish glasses. In the Old Testament (Genesis 19:1-25), the literal interpretation is that God destroyed the city of Sodom because of the homos.

The serious-but-not-literal translation is that when the angels appeared, the rest of the people in Sodom wanted to rape them. Abraham was so desperate to protect the angels that he offered up his teenage daughters instead. Then, as now, rape was about control, not sexual orientation. In fact, some scholars say that males raping males was quite common in the day because it was a very effective path to adding a humiliating insult to injury.

As for Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, it has been used as “proof” that God hates gays for so many years that it has hair on it… which is ironic because Christians are not bound to Talmudic law in the first place. If you want to use the Old Testament to damn homosexuals, then you’re also going to have to accept the idea that you can never get a haircut or a tattoo. Ever.

Checkmate.

The last point I’ll make, and believe me, it is not the last point I could have made… I just don’t want your eyes to glaze over before you get to the end… Perhaps this will become a series on “Stories” where I just take all the Fundamentalist ideas about homosexuality and destroy them on international television (which is what I call the Fanagans while I’m waiting to post).

But I digress.

Abomination. (You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.)

Throughout the Old Testament, the word abomination is translated from the Hebrew word toevah– and means something found detestable by God because it is unclean, disloyal, or unjust. The word is used to mean acts committed by both homo- and heterosexual couples because most of the time, it refers to cult prostitution- a Canaanite religious practice.

So that’s it. That’s my Fundamentalist lecture. This is my go-to answer for any question that involves why I am eternally damned just because I wear comfortable shoes. I am giving you all the ammunition you need to start an intelligent debate about why Biblical restrictions on homosexuality are no longer useful to us, just like we decided it was ok to touch pig skin even though the Bible says not to because hey, football.

I don’t see Northeast Texas giving up their religion that damn easily, okay? In fact, let’s solve this problem right now. Say to every Fundamentalist in the nation that starting today, all equipment for all sports is now going to be made from pigskin, so that if you decide to call someone a fag, you’re immediately off the team… because if you believe in one Talmudic law, you have to believe in them all.

And just in case you’re wondering why I started talking about football, it’s because Fundamentalists tend to write me off as an elitist jerk. I can’t use facts to change anyone’s opinion, because it seems that Christian fundamentalists do not get the concept that cultural attitudes change toward myths explained by science. Homosexuality is neither a mental or physical disease. Homosexuality is not the same thing as pedophilia, even though Fundamentalists thrive on telling you that it is. I can’t appeal to Fundamentalists through science, so I just have to ask them a few questions:

  • How would you react if you were a gay kid growing up in a church whose message is a relentless false claim that he or she is a child molester?
  • What if that kid was yours?
  • What if your church isn’t saying that your kid is a pedophile, but you are?
  • What does it feel like to intentionally choose your church over your child?
  • If you have a gay son or lesbian daughter and you are trying to urge them to be straight, at what point do you just give up?
  • At what point do you have to concede that you can either love your kids or you can’t? I know that sounds incredibly harsh, and in a way, it’s meant to sting. But you’re the one that has to look in the mirror every morning and know that you’ve destroyed any chance of relationship with your child beyond Christmas and Mother’s Day. It’s not that gay people hate their parents; it’s that when they visit and the entire stay is filled with what a piece of shit they are, the obligation to spend time with you ceases.

And that’s what the reality of not letting time pass creates. You can’t see a future with no discrimination because you can’t move past what someone said long before it was written down and can’t concede the point that there may have been a little “Lost in Translation” going on so you take it out on the people that love you the most by twisting a knife in their hearts and telling them that they’ll never be worthy of your love but they just keep trying for it, anyway. Say it all in one breath just like I did because by the time you get to decades of this, you can’t breathe all the way down, either.

These are the stories of my gay and lesbian friends who grew up in a fundamentalist environment. They have been kicked in the gut emotionally and, when they realize how much it hurts, they will run to someone else.

How does it feel to have your child sharing life moments with someone else?

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how we do that.

Religion Questionnaire (Nov. 2005)

1. Am I content with who I am becoming?

Some of the time. I love the person that is full of life and deeply engaged in it. I love the person that is generous, thoughtful, and helpful. I love the person that gives a lot to her relationships and lets the people in her life know that they mean a lot to her.

I’m not fond of the person that is scatterbrained, prone to depression and worry, and forgetful when it comes to birthday and anniversary cards.

And I really, really don’t like the part of myself that just doesn’t get it. Marching to the beat of your own drummer sounds romantic, but most of the time it just makes me feel a little isolated, like there is something missing in my thought process that is present for others. People who are nice about it say I’m “lost in my own little world.” I’m not that easy on myself, though.

2. Do my family and friends recognize the authenticity of my Christian spirituality?

I think so. I think they’re surprised at the way I approach it. I’m very C.S. Lewis- I want to know all the academics behind spirituality because I’m so logical that I need a concrete reason to believe. I know that there is and always will be a gap between logic and experiencing the presence of God, but I read so much and listen to such a wide variety of preachers that when I think of the authenticity of my faith, my goal is to make that gap as small as possible.

6. Is my prayer life improving?

Prayer has helped me to know myself better, to organize my thoughts, and has created an outlet so that I am aware and genuine in giving thanks. But I don’t have the same idea of prayer that a lot of people have, which is quiet and meditative. Sometimes I write letters to God. When I lived in Portland, I would sometimes arrive early for church at my cathedral and pray in the children’s chapel before I went to choir practice. There has been at least three instances this year in which I have gone to God in prayer so broken and defeated that all I could do was cry- and not mere tears slipping down my cheeks… the kind of cry that reverberates against the walls and if you see yourself in the mirror, it only makes you cry more because you look so hideous. It’s the sound of grief that comes from deep within, my sound of true sorrow. But I know God heard all my prayers, regardless of what it sounded like.

7. Have I maintained a genuine awe of God?

There are two images in my mind that reflect awe of God for me, and I use them whenever I feel that God isn’t listening. The first is the beauty and majesty of the Columbia River Gorge. It is impossible for me to think of my memories there without adding the phrase, “this is where God lives.” The second is singing with Trinity Choir and Consort during rehearsals of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Specifically, there are several movements in which the chorus is divided up into eight parts, and they are all terrifically intricate. When they come together, awe is the only appropriate word. All of the musicians are physically and emotionally open and together, we are creating this feeling that is so powerful that if we could bottle it, we could end wars and move mountains.

But in my day to day life, awe is mostly limited to the miracle of showing up on time and making sure that my sweater isn’t on inside out. It’s something I need to work on, for sure.

8. Is my lifestyle distinctive?

I would say that it is now, but I had to test a lot of boundaries to see why they were there before I could enforce them for myself… part of it was being logical and demanding a reason for everything. Part of it was just being young and a bit rebellious. But what I’ve learned is that the rules set up for Christians on how life works are not arbitrary and they are not based on ruining your buzz. But I couldn’t just hear that from someone else. I had to find it out on my own.

9. Is my “spiritual feeding” the right diet for me?

Oh, wow. I’ve had to deal with that question a lot this year. As of right now, it’s really not. I’d like to think that I go to church regularly because I listen to the Cathedral of Hope podcast. But listening to a sermon is just the beginning… I don’t have a community of faith that I give to or take from. I don’t support anyone else spiritually and I don’t let others support me. I go to a church once and decide it’s not right and move on. Actually, I did find a church that I liked a lot because it reminded me of my cathedral in Portland… and I have never been back because I cried so much that I was afraid to return. Afraid to tap into the grief of leaving Trinity and Portland behind, because that’s exactly what the church brought up for me. Which, of course, now I’m saying that I should go back because I need to let all that grief out instead of doing what I’ve always done, which is some variation of:

1. Deny
2. Deny
3. Deny
4. Stuff
5. Stuff
6. Stuff
7. Lather
8. Rinse
9. Repeat

I find comfort in my books. I find comfort in listening to sermons online. But I will be very happy when I find the right community of faith.

10. Is obedience in small matters built into my reflexes?

It depends. Who’s giving the order? Do I feel that person has authority over me? Am I looking for their approval? If I want you to like me, I’ll do it even if I think it’s stupid. If I don’t like you, or if I don’t think there’s a very good reason for something, I’ll blow it off. I need to know why. I’m obsessive about “why.” If you can’t tell me, I’m outta there.

On the other hand, there have been lots of times when I didn’t think that something was important and then later on realized it was absolutely vital and wished I’d responded in a different way. I’m much more careful with my responsibilities these days.

11. Is there enough celebration in my life?

When I hear Angela’s laughter, or look into her bright green eyes
When I look at old family pictures- or new ones
When I find God in a place I never thought I would
When I think about my friends
When I think of the life experiences that make me who I am…

All of these are little celebrations that happen at any time, and I am so grateful.

I’m not sure Jesus died for my sins, and whether he did or he didn’t isn’t very important to me. For me, the real miracle of Jesus’ presence on earth was his ability to create equality among people who had none. Jews were divided against Christians. Christians and Jews were divided against Romans. Rich were divided against poor. All of these factions coming together, the wall between them crashing down… that’s my miracle. The rest could be stories, and they could be 100 percent true. But it’s not what I choose to focus on. I have a knee-jerk reaction to anything involving the gory imagery of the crucifixion or the spewing forth of the precious, precious blood… so much so that there are hymns I don’t like to sing, and art that makes me nauseous. Jesus is important to me because of who he was, not because of the way he died.

Moreover, I wouldn’t call my spirituality exclusively Christian, because I love going to temple and listening to the cantors, and there are several rabbis in Houston that I view as brilliant. I’m also open to new age spirituality, which for me is an expression of my love for God, but not firmly rooted in the Christian tradition. In the words of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “I’ll take wisdom wherever I can get it, and I don’t want to stop at a [national] boundary.”

3. Am I generous?

I can be. The motto of the Lanagan family is and always has been, “if I have something, and you need it, it’s yours.” It’s a tradition that I’d like to continue for many years. But like everyone else, I get busy and turn inward, and plans for generosity turn into panic that I won’t be able to take care of myself if I give x or y away. The lesson about those things returning to me tenfold is ever present in my mind, but the panic never goes away, so it’s a lesson that I keep having to learn over and over. In my relationships with my family and my friends, though, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for them. I’d go to the ends of the earth for any one of them if they were in trouble, but I’ve never actually had to prove that I would.

People have called me spoiled because my family (on both sides) is well off. And while that might be true if my clan had been affluent my whole life, I think that in reality it has had the reverse effect. Because I have so much and I am thankful for it, I am more than willing to give it away, more willing to take risks because I know that there is a safety net under me because my parents all give of their resources freely. My prayer is that if I am blessed with children, that they will think the same thing about me- that I give out of my abundance and what’s mine is theirs.

4. Do I have a quiet centre to my life?

The answer to that is, “I’m trying.” There are times when I am in the depths of my depression that I am forced into solitude, but that’s a different kind of quiet than when I’m on an up swing. When I’m really feeling good, I tend to get so busy that I forget to meditate and pray, so it’s a conscious effort to take time out. I have known for a long time that I am a giver in terms of energy. I am perfectly willing to be “that guy.” The guy everyone counts on when errands need to be run or babies need to be watched. As a result, I get drained quickly and often forget to spend that alone time it takes to recharge my batteries. But now that I’m aware of my part in it, I am more careful about who I give my energy to, and more vigilant about my alone time. The part where it gets tricky is with my girlfriend. Sometimes I have trouble defining the line between “me space” and “we space.” Again, a continual process.

5. Have I defined my unique ministry?

In a word, no. One of the things that I have learned about myself over the last five or so years is that I am just terribly interested in everything and I really don’t have any focus when it comes to buckling down and deciding on a career. Everything I think I want I try to combine into something. So far, I want to be theology professor who practices law and networks her office computers on the side. I know I need more clarity, but the bottom line is that I am beginning to feel that I could be more effective as a lawyer than I could be as a pastor/professor, but that is not to say that my work wouldn’t be a ministry. When I think of the work that Dana’s sister Stephanie does as legal counsel to a battered women’s shelter, I know that she is ministering to people far more faithfully than I am. I’ve just preached a few times. She’s been in the trenches, handing out the loaves and fish.

Equal Protection (Nov. 2005)

Because of several conversations and a very satisfying Con Law class last night, I feel better about the state of gay America than I have in a long time. What those conversations and class provided was a chance to put the plight of non-heterosexual Americans in some sort of historical perspective… and when you know where you’ve been, you can get a better idea of where you need to go.

First, some definition of terminology. Here is the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution in its entirety:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In other words, the laws of a state must treat an individual in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances. A violation would occur, for example, if a state prohibited an individual from entering into an employment contract because he or she was a member of a particular race. The equal protection clause is not intended to provide “equality” among individuals or classes but only “equal application” of the laws.

One might wonder why we have to make additional laws to reinforce an equality that the Constitution inherently provides… I don’t have a legal answer for this, but an emotional one. When you’re feeling marginalized, it’s hard not to pass on that marginalization. The Puritans came to America and from the moment they landed on Plymouth Rock, they marginalized the people who already lived here. It is a vicious, vicious cycle. And don’t think for a moment we’ve broken it, either. Whenever you start to believe that the GLBT community is radically inclusive, think about just how long it took for the Human Rights Campaign to support transgendered persons. We all have our prejudices, and there are only a few instances that the Supreme Court has said it is acceptable to write them into law, e.g. to keep prisoners from starting race-based riots.

Laws may be found discriminatory in two different ways. De facto discrimination is a law that is facially neutral, but discriminatory when applied. A concrete example of this would be the separate but equal doctrine set up in Plessy vs. Ferguson. The law was meant to be neutral, but in fact set up even greater disparity between blacks and whites when it was enacted. De jure discrimination is a law that is specifically written to discriminate, such as the Jim Crow laws enacted in the South from the 1880’s to the 1960’s.

Laws can be struck down as discriminatory under the Equal Protection Clause if a minority is considered a suspect class. A suspect class is a group of people that has a history of being discriminated against, and a small percentage of the population so as to limit their ability to defend themselves against the majority. Therefore, they are entitled to stricter levels of scrutiny by the court. The Supreme Court has extended the suspect classification to racial minorities, but have been hesitant to do so with women… most likely because even though there has been a history of discrimination against them, population-wise they are not a minority.

Perhaps I should back up just a few steps and explain what is meant by “strict scrutiny.” With both de facto and de jure discrimination, there are two tiers of jurisprudence. The lowest level is called rational basis. Rational basis means that the government has to provide a good reason as to why it is ok to discriminate, and there are certain instances- such as the aforementioned prison scenario. The second level is called strict scrutiny, and the government’s burden of proof is much, much more complicated. Not only does the reason for discrimination have to be rational, but a compelling governmental interest… and the law must be narrowly tailored to support it. If sexual orientation is found to be a suspect class, then we would be entitled to have laws that discriminate against us looked at under the microscope of strict scrutiny, and a whole host of laws that previously kept us from having the same rights, tax advantages, etc. as heterosexual couples would be struck down.

Though I know of no specific lobbying groups for the inclusion of the GLBT community as a suspect class, I do know that the Supreme Court has protected non-heterosexual Americans under the lowest rational basis review. In Lawrence v. Texas, the Court struck down a statute prohibiting homosexual sodomy on substantive due process grounds. In Justice O’Connor’s opinion, she argued that by prohibiting only homosexual sodomy, and not heterosexual sodomy as well, Texas’s statute did not meet rational basis review under the Equal Protection Clause.

Looking at the way that laws are reviewed and knowing more about the judicial history of other groups that have historically faced discrimination has helped me to breathe a little easier… and to know that even though the work is progressing slowly, it is going forward. In fact, I just have to laugh at all the separate but equal options are being offered to the GLBT community, like civil unions. Haven’t we been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt? Can’t we just skip all that and get to the “happily ever after?” According to the Religious Right, probably not… but at least if history repeats itself, I know there’s a happy ending somewhere.

Living Water

Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:6-14

One of the biggest benefits to living in Portland, for me, is jumping into the car and speeding toward the Columbia River Gorge. Sometimes I bring my camera, sometimes I bring my journal… but the last time, I didn’t bring either of these things. I brought Dana.

That’s because Dana and I have a great time when we hike. In fact, if you’re ever in the Gorge with us, you’ll know it. You’ll be able to hear the laughter for miles. It makes up for the fact that we’re not very experienced, we’re not in shape, and we each have a sense that we’re only going to hike until beer-thirty and then call it a day.

On this particular outing, we decided to hike to the top of Multnomah Falls. I’d been there many times, but only climbed as far as the bridge before turning back- not because I needed to gather up courage, but because hiking in torrential rain is not my idea of a good time.

Here’s what they don’t tell you in the guidebooks. Multnomah Falls is rated as an easy hike because the trail is paved, but the switchbacks are kind of steep and after a while, you really start to feel it in your knees and ankles. It’s not the Bataan Death March, but it’s not exactly beginner, either. Therefore, we didn’t think to take a few things that would have come in handy, especially bottles of water.

We got about a third of the way up the trail when we realized that we were really, really thirsty. We slowed our pace. At about the halfway point, wanting water crossed into needing water.

I concentrated on the beautiful scenery. The trees around us were magnificient, and their jagged pattern provided a gorgeous, if not somewhat interrupted, picture of the river. As we climbed higher, ignoring my thirst became more difficult. My mind began to torture me with pictures… ice clinking in a glass, a bottle of Dasani, the squeeze of a lemon slice…

We reached the observation deck, and all I wanted to do was plunge my head in. The fact that the current was literally strong enough to break my neck was enough of a deterrent. I wondered aloud if there was any way I could taste Multnomah Falls, to literally drink it in.

I was so glad that I’d spoken my wish, because Dana knew just what to do. She led me a little farther into the Gorge, away from the falls, to the river that feeds the giant waterfall. It was surreal, as if it warranted a warning. I climbed the rocks sitting in the current until I could cup my hands in the middle of the river, and brought them to my lips.

If joy had a taste, this would be it. I knew the river was alive, and it was as if I’d been able to take the rhythm of the rushing current and incorporate it into my pulse. For a moment, the river and I were one being, and I felt the power of nature in all its fullness.

It was a relationship of which to be mindful. I put one hand into the water again, reaching as far down as I could to pick up a stone cradled in connection. I put it in my pocket, and continued to splash and play. My face and hands were dirty from sweat and a little mud, but I’d never felt so pure.

Valentine’s Day (Feb. 2005)

I’ve been fortunate enough to have lots of memorable Valentine’s Day celebrations. The earliest was when I was in the seventh grade. My boyfriend, Nathan, was staying with his friend David for a while, so I invited both boys to my house and my mom cooked spaghetti. We had a fabulous time with lots of laughs. At the end of seventh grade, Nathan moved to The Woodlands, and unfortunately I have no idea what happened to him.

Middle school romances don’t usually last that long, so the next year I celebrated with Ryan. He came with me to my choir’s Valentine’s Day fundraiser, where I wore all red and sang right to him. He took me to an Italian restaurant, La Mora, and afterward gave me a single silk rose- with an inscription that said, “the day this rose fades is the day I’ll stop loving you.” It was deeply moving for eighth grade love, and sometimes I still wonder what life would have been like if we’d been one of those nauseating couples that met their soulmate in the eighth grade. The best part is that Ryan and I are still a part of each other’s lives, cracking each other up by e-mail when we’re both equally bored.

Kathleen showed up at my dorm room wearing a beautiful blue dress and carrying a dozen roses. Back then, I didn’t have a car, so she drove me back to her house, where she had cooked a magnificient meal and we laughed about how much trouble she’d gone to in order to pick out a good red wine. Being newly 21, neither one of us knew that much about it, but she’d wanted it to be perfect… but she didn’t have to worry. It was.

Matt and I started dating about a month before Valentine’s Day, so I was nervous about what to do for him. As it turned out, a friend gave us tickets to Tales of Hoffmann, so we went to dinner and to the opera. It was perfect without going overboard.

Last year was funny and memorable… I’d bought my then-girlfriend one of those cheesy get-to-know-you type games and we took it with us to Edgefield. Now, before this story really gets started, you must know that she is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met in my life. Not only did she want to win, she wanted to WIN BY A LOT. So she spins and the card says, “Count the number of dots you rolled and give that many sweet treats to the person on your right.” We were in a hotel room and all the restaurants were closed. She was going to have to make due, and I knew she was screwed. Though not particularly competitive, I was enjoying the fact that there was NO WAY she was going to work her way out of this one. She’d rolled a three.

She took a piece of chocolate out of the box I’d brought and dug out some of the filling with her finger (in my family, we call that a rectal exam). One down, two to go. There was a Diet Pepsi sitting on the dresser. She gave me a sip. Then things got dire. There seemed to be nothing else. “Well,” she said. “Let me dig through my purse. There’s gotta be SOMETHING in there!” She starts rifling around and I start to taste victory. I am just about to set up for the ticker tape parade when I hear an “A-HA!”

It was a mini Tootsie Pop. Checkmate.

This year, I’m looking forward to flirting with lots of people and hearing stories from my friends about how their Valentine’s Day was spent- so make it memorable!

Microscopic Truth (Nov. 2004)

When Kathleen and I were married, there were very few things about her that irritated me on a not-quite-daily basis. She did have one habit, however, that made me want to tear her hair out (why ruin my own?).

I am a good storyteller. Like most Texans, I often exaggerate details for comic and/or dramatic effect. It’s generally what makes a good story. Storytellers also create an unspoken bond with their audiences when they tell their stories that allows one to “jewel the elephant” because they know they’re being entertained…

But apparently, Kathleen did not get that memo. When I would tell stories, she would do one of two things, and sometimes both, depending on her level of frustration: 1) give me very disapproving looks that clearly said, “you are acting like a retarded monkey.” 2) Interrupt me during every sentence to correct what I’d just said, because she had to let everyone know that what I’d said wasn’t exactly the way she remembered. She would even interrupt me during the retelling of stories if I didn’t tell them exactly the same way I told them the last time.

Kathleen was into microscopic truthfulness, and it was terribly inconvenient.

Now that Kathleen and I aren’t together, I’ve had time to wonder whether she had a point. Was I just trying to add emphasis, or was I slipping away from the truth in a manner that was harmful? In a roomful of friends, probably not. But I was awfully talented at it when I was by myself. Truth dribbled through my fingers and onto the floor when I would come to the end of each month and wonder why we didn’t have any money when we both had extremely high salaries. Truth sat outside the window, longing to be let in when I would wonder why my wife never thought I was good enough for her, paralyzed at the thought that perhaps we weren’t meant to be married and I should leave. Truth got down on its knees and begged for my attention when, after my wife left me, my depression was so bad I didn’t want to leave the house, even to go to a doctor.

Bit by bit, as I’ve seen my life rise from the ash that the divorce left behind, truth and I have gotten to know each other again. We’re trying each other on. At this point, we’re not quite sure how to work together. Up until two or three years ago, it was so much easier to tell myself (and everyone else) that everything was fine. Back then, I would hold back emotion using a fake smile as a makeshift dam, and very few people learned to recognize it.

Back then, the further I got from the truth, the more I lost myself. Now, the truth is rescuing me… a little bit at a time.

I now rely on microscopic truth to give me an accurate picture of where I am, a yardstick to let me know how far I’ve come, and a compass to point me in the next direction.