I am back from my big summer road trip. How big was it you ask? Well here are the numbers:
Our trip by the numbers:
Days on the road: 24
Beds slept in: 8
Cities/towns visited: 11
Animals visited: 13
Phone chargers lost: 2
Hours in the car: 64
States driven through: 14
Miles traveled: 4,277
Friends visited: countless
During that time I attended the GCLS conference and did a reading at my favorite bookstore in St. Louis, both of which I will post about in upcoming blogs. It was an amazing ride, but it also very quite wonderful to be back at home. I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed for multiple nights in a row and enjoying the little luxuries or being still for a bit.
However, now that my physical adventures have settled down for the time being, I find it time to focus on a journey of another kind. This one has less to do with the car and more to do with my career. As you all know, I have been a proud lesbian romance author for the last seven years. The lesbian fiction community has given me so much joy, support, and love over that time, and I hope nothing about that will change. I still intend to put the bulk of my time, energy, and heart into producing quality novels, but now, in addition to my writing, I will also be starting a job in social media.
It is with great pleasure that I announce I’ve accepted a position as the new Director of Social Media for Bywater Books.
Those of you who follow this blog and Facebook know how much I adore the opportunities the internet provides for personal interactions with readers and writers. I believe fostering the relationships that bind our community together is one of the most important things we can do to keep our community strong. I find that work to be both personally and professionally fulfilling, so I’m thrilled that I get to combine another one of my passions with my work.
I hope each and every one of you will join me on this new adventure, both by continuing to follow this blog and also by liking/following Bywater Books in Facebook and Twitter.
Hey friends, it’s time for me to get back to work. I’m moving forward now and I am so looking froward to what the next few weeks hold.
First, I will be attending the Golden Crown Literary Society’s annual conference in July. The GCLS’s mission is to educate, promote, and recognize lesbian fiction, and I can’t think of anything more fun than that. Plus the organization is filled with great people who come together every year for a big ole lesfic loveliest. It’s one of my favorite events every summer, and this year I am proud to be making several appearances as part of the conference schedule. If you’re going to be at the con, here’s where you’ll be sure to find me.
Thursday July 23
11:10 – I don’t care what’s written about me so long as it isn’t true…
2:00 – Read Between the Lines – Lesbian Lit and Graphic Novels (Moderator)
Friday July 24
8:30 – Author Reading
11:30 – Author Auction
4:25 – Autograph Session
Saturday July 25
6:00 – Awards reception
7:00 – Awards
10:00 – Dance
I am sure I’ll also be spending plenty of time just hanging out, shooting the breeze, and catching up with good friends I don’t get to see nearly often enough. Please say hello!
Then, the week after the conference, I have the honor of doing a book reading/signing at my favorite bookstore ever! On Thursday July 30, I’ll be at Left Bank Books at 7:00. Left Bank Books was the first place I ever saw a lesbian fiction section. It was a wonderful and even life-changing experience. I love Left Bank Books so much that I put it in Timeless. I’ll likely be reading that scene, along with a selection from Heart of The Game, which also takes place in St. Louis. If you’re in the area, please join me for this one!
It’s been a long and enlightening couple of days.
I ended my last blog with the statement that I would not be posting “pro rebel flag” comments, nor would I post anything outright racist (and I made it clear I deeply believe the two are connected). I did not rule the comments section with an iron fist. I posted a few comments pointing out perceived inconsistencies in my argument or comments from people who wanted to spin my arguments in new directions. I have not censored people who are grappling with nuanced views or asking productive questions. However, I thought I had made myself clear in my closing that I would not engage outright arguments. Maybe I should’ve led with that statement. I now suspect people who didn’t agree with me stopped reading long before they got to the postscript. I’m not surprised people turned away from an argument that challenged them. It’s human nature to do so. Lord knows I buried my head in the sand long enough on that issue. I understand the impulse to do so, which is why I should have probably anticipated the anger and violence with which people reacted to the post.
I should have, but I didn’t.
Over the last few days I’ve been called a MFing idiot, a n***er loving liberal, a lunatic, a tool of black oppression, a worthless dyke, ignorant, a liar, a bitch, and all of those things were in the first line of the comments because I generally stopped reading after that point. I can only imagine what else those page-long diatribes worked up to by the end. I have the mouth of a trucker on me, but I ended up red-faced with embarrassment for the commenters on more than one occasion and tearful with sadness at others. It’s not often I’ve been personally faced with the full force of racism in its virtual form, and I admit I was unprepared to handle it.
I have had to turn off the comments on that blog post, due to both the sheer volume of the comments as well as the vitriol contained in some of them. As I try to get back to work this week, I simply cannot keep up with them any more. I have a career, a family, summer travels to prepare for, and house under a series of construction projects. I do not have the time or the energy to read/sort through 25-50 angry comments every morning and then again every night. But even turning off the comments hasn’t worked, because now I am being harassed via email, and some people have gone so far as to contact my publisher threatening to boycott the entire company if they’re not allowed to post a comment on my personal blog.
I’m not ashamed to admit I am tired to the point of emotional exhaustion.
Let me be clear. I’m in no way claiming I’ve been oppressed. If anything, I’ve seen this experience as a reminder of my privilege. As an educated, white, middle-class woman, I’m not accustomed to being spoken to the way I have been over the last few days. This is a luxury many of my African American friends are not afforded. My heart breaks for them. I wish I could mitigate all the violence they face. I wish I could somehow act as a buffer. If there was some way for me to bear the brunt of the disrespect and anger they face on daily basis, I would put on my big girl pants, gird my loins, and take my verbal beatings, but that’s not how hate works. It’s not as if the people who hate me will run out of hate to hurl at other people. Hate feeds off of hate, ignorance breeds more ignorance, violence leads only to more violence. I cannot drive out any of those abhorrent virtues by submitting to them. The darkness spreads with each new expression. What I can do, however, is curb their expressions. I can stop providing that insidious negativity with an outlet.
That’s all I was trying to do with my little P.S. about not posting racist comments on my blog. I’m not surprised people tried to post them anyway. Why would someone who makes an argument that “Africans invented slavery” as their defense give any deference to my request for appropriate behavior? What I am surprised about is the number of people who’ve become angry (some even enraged) at my refusal to post their racist, ignorant, or mean-spirited comments. Several of them have written me multiple times, becoming more and more belligerent in the process going so far as to demand I give them their right to be heard at large.
If you’re one of those people, please stop. It isn’t going to happen, and here’s why: This is not an open forum or a town hall meeting. This is my blog. This is my online living room, and I will not allow you to talk to/about me, my family, or my friends here in any way that I would not allow you to talk to/about me, my family or my friends in my actual living room. If you came into my home and shouted at me to “Get my fucking facts straight,” I would ask you to leave. If you used the N-word or in any way suggested African Americans got what they deserved, I would show you the door. If you called young black men thugs and said they needed to be controlled, or suggested slavery/segregation worked well to that purpose, you’d be told never to return. And if you accompanied these messages with hints of violence, I would call the police so fast your head would spin.
Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, and as I said in my original post, you’re free to share them in your own blog or on your own Facebook page, but you cannot use my name, my space, or my virtual home as a platform to spread hate. If your comment is something I would not allow you to say in my home, in front of my wife and son, or around my African American friends, it’s not something I’ll allow you to say here. And if you’re trying to engage me in an argument I wouldn’t engage in on the street or in my church, I will not engage it here.
You are not entitled to my approval.
You are not entitled to my space.
You are not entitled to force your views on me or any other human being.
Here’s the final verdict: If you continue to try to spew racism, or try to justify your racism, I will delete your first comment. If you continue to push, I will report you as a spammer. If that doesn’t work, I will report your posts as harassment.
It you don’t like my policies, if they make you angry, feel free to write you own blog about how liberals are silencing you. Post your outrage on your Facebook page, tweet it out to the world, share those posts every day for the rest of your life. THAT is free speech. THAT is the American way. I will stand by your right to blanket your own corner of the Internet with your opinions no matter how much I disagree with them. What I won’t stand is for you to continue to try to force those offensive opinions onto my blog.
Friends, I debated posting this, because a) I doubt people on the other side of this debate are really capable of having their minds changed. And b) I am not sure this is the biggest issue affecting race in America right now. However, my friend and fellow author Rebecca Weatherspoon shared an article the other day entitled “Show Up, White America: The Opposite Of Support Is Silence.” It was poignant and it spoke to me. If you read only one blog today, read that one. But if you continue to read this one, know that while my words might not change the world, this is one small way I am showing up.
I grew up in the South. Confederate flags hung over much of my childhood. Cars, backpacks, notebooks, T-shirts, they were everywhere. I was taught that the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression) was about states’ rights and that it dealt a blow to big government. We got a day off of school every year called “Fair Day” on the official school calendar, but all the older teachers still called it Robert E. Lee Day. Some of them would snicker and say, “Oh, but we can’t call it what it really is ‘cause the Yankees don’t get it.” We associated the rebel flag (that’s what we always called it) with the Dukes of Hazzard and Lynard Skynard, free wheeling country people who were real and down to earth. We weren’t racist. We were Southern. You could be one without the other. The flag didn’t mean hate. It meant being proud of where you came from. Other people, outsiders, they just didn’t understand. I get it. I understand all those arguments, all those attachments. I really do. I even believed them.
But I was lied to, or at the very least, not told the whole truth, the bigger truth.
It’s hard to admit that. No one likes to admit they’ve been duped. No one likes to admit they bought into the propaganda machine. No one wants to look around at people they once trusted, agreed with, defended vocally, only to see them for the bigots they are. But we have to. As a Christian, as a mindful human being, I am called to seek light out of darkness. If we are reasonable, educated, thoughtful people, people who want to learn and grow and make the world a better place, we have to be willing to admit we’ve made mistakes, and more importantly, we need to be strong enough, brave enough, loving enough to correct them.
Even if we’re willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they truly never saw the Confederate flag as tied to any racial issues, and I’ve admitted to falling into that group myself, we still can’t condone its continued use.
Things change, the world changes, symbols change and take on new meanings, or sometimes old meanings bubble up to reveal what had been there all along.
Either way, the Confederate flag is not the first symbol to go through this transformation. The swastika used to have another meaning, too. It was used 5,000 years before the rise of Hitler, giving it much more “heritage” than anything American can ever claim. It was a symbol used to represent good fortune or well being. You can still see it in ancient temples. By the early 1900’s, the symbol was as commonplace as yin-yangs or peace signs are today. Children doodled them on their books, Rudyard Kipling signed swastikas beside his autographs as a sign of respect and good will toward his readers. There is a long-standing, bright, and legitimately beautiful tradition behind the swastika. And yet no matter how German my heritage (and my last name is Spangler, so I’m pretty German), no matter how many wonderful meanings are attributed to the symbol, I would never under any circumstances wave a Nazi flag. I think we can all agree that no reasonable people draw them or decorate with them anymore since it became the official symbol of the Nazi party.
See how that works? Good people were faced with the horror of the atrocities committed under that flag, and they realized the old meaning could in no way balance or overcome the violence and hatred done under that symbol. No amount of warm feelings or past heritage could wash the blood out of the Nazi flag. So they were done with it. Good, thoughtful people do not look at the flag of Hitler and say, “You don’t understand the old meaning.” They simply distance themselves from the symbol and all its modern-day implications. The only people who willingly wear or carry a swastika now align themselves with violence, hatred, and everything the Nazi party stood for. It’s still their right to do so, but no reasonable person would argue that calling someone who brands themselves with a swastika an anti-Semite is an unfair assessment.
The Confederate flag is no different. Southerners, or rednecks, or country folks (however they identify) do not have a monopoly on symbolism. Nor do they control history. No matter what your daddy told you the stars and bars meant, it also meant some people were willing to die for the right to hold other people as slaves. No matter what your teacher said the Confederate flag symbolizes, it also symbolizes white supremacy. No matter what your favorite band told you about broadcasting that you’re a rebel, using that flag also broadcasts the fact that some people are willing to kill to protect the idea of a “racially pure” America. Go ahead and mix all that up, hate and heritage, pride and oppression, good vibes and violence. It still doesn’t come out anywhere near even. The bad by far outweighs the good.
Maybe this flag flew over the park you played in as kids. Maybe it flew in your grandparents’ yard. Maybe it hung in your dorm room. Maybe you associate it with your past or with a past version of yourself. If so, I’m sorry for that. I am sorry for you, and I am sorry for me. I am sorry for what we didn’t know then, and for what we thought we knew so well, but as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.” Now you know better. Now you know the Confederate flag is the flag that flies over every gathering of the KKK. Now you know it’s the flag flown by white supremacists. Now you know that flag was a rallying point for slaveholders and segregationists. Now you know that flag is carried by men who go into churches and gun down African Americans.
That doesn’t mean everything you held dear is dead or even tainted. Pride and heritage and history and family ties all exist outside of the rebel flag context. I still love so much about the South. I love BBQ and fried chicken and corn bread. I love tea so thick with sugar you almost have to chew it. I love the smell of jasmine and the way magnolia petals blanket the ground in a fragrant sea of white. I love the special brand of hospitality that makes a new place feel at home and the way a slow Southern drawl immediately eases tension from my shoulders. I love SEC football. I love the way country music mixes with southern rock. I love baptisms in a river and sun showers at three o’clock every summer day. I love to call every soda a coke. I love to listen to Jimmy Carter talk about just about anything.
There’s a hundred different ways to love the South. There are a million ways to be proud of where you come from, and none of them have to involve the image used to subjugate an entire race of human beings. If you continue to cling to the one symbol of the South used to hurt and oppress, that says nothing new about the flag or the land it once covered, but it says a great deal about you.
If you hear black voices crying out in agony and still turn away in favor of a flag, that makes you racist. If you prioritize a symbol of a dead rebellion over real, living, suffering people, that makes you racist. If you cling to your pride in what used to be or what you used to believe, instead of learning and growing and striving toward healing, that makes you a racist. Maybe it doesn’t make you the kind of racist that shoots up a church, but it make you the kind of racist who values your own comfortable ideas over the hearts and lives of your black brothers and sisters, and that is racism, too. I am sorry if that hurts to hear, but it’s the reality of the choice you are making. You continue to cast your lot with racists organizations, white supremacists hate groups, and grand wizards of the Klan even after being told that’s what you’re doing. If that’s who you want to side with, that’s your American right, but as we used to say in the South, when you lie down with dogs, you come up with fleas.
As for me, when I was a child, I thought like a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child, but now I’m an adult. I have learned better lessons. I know better than I did before. I value human life over the vestiges of my past, and I can be secure in who I am without hurting anyone else in the process. I no longer want any part in the Confederate flag, and perhaps more importantly, I’m done getting flea bitten by people who do.
P.S. I have to approve all comments on this blog, so don’t even bother sending in racist ones. I am all for free speech, but you have your own walls, your own facebook accounts, and your own blogs and I have said all I have to say on this subject. If you want to post some argument in favor of the Confederate flag just post them elsewhere. They will not be posted here.
I’d known Paco for about 5 years, but we only saw each other every few months and we rarely had prolonged or deeply personal interactions. We drafted fantasy baseball teams together, we hung out at some of the same parties, we curled together both on the same team and as friendly bonspiel rivals. Paco was not a close friend, and yet in same ways I did consider him a good friend. He was the kind of guy that made you feel happy as soon as you saw him coming. He was the kind of guy that made me shout “Paco’s here!” before he’d even stepped on the ice. He was the kind of guy who could make me laugh even from the other side of the rink. I didn’t even have to hear what he’d said, I could just tell from his facial expression it was hilarious. He had an easy laugh, paired with a comedian’s timing, and a quick, self-deprecating sense of humor.
For a guy I saw maybe 3 or 4 times a year, I feel like we had more inside jokes or catch phrases than people I see every day. He could make me giggle just by drawing out “twenty-four” in a way that sounded more like “twernty-fer.” We could talk about Star Wars or sports or a team of assholes we’d curled against or the letter ñ or anything that amused us that day.
He had a story for every topic. And he was always game to go one more. One more round, one more game, one more drink, one more story. It seems like every time I saw him, he invited me along for a drink, or said I could get in touch any time I was in Buffalo, we could do this or that, or join some sports league or another. And like I said, we weren’t even that close. After watching his facebook page today, it’s clear he made the same kind of offers to everyone he met. He was just that kind of guy. But I never once took him up on it. It was always too late. I was always too busy. I didn’t know him well enough to text him off the cuff. I just never did. And now he’s gone.
At 31 years old, he’s just gone.
There will never be another chance to go get that drink or play that game or do that completely random thing. We’ll never get to confess to each other whether or not we got choked up at the new Star Wars movie. I’m never going to rip on his fringe Mohawk stocking cap, or laugh at his butt crack showing when he’s in the curling lunge. I’m never going to shout “Paco’s here!” again. I’m never going to get to tell him how much I enjoyed chatting with him or how happy it made me to bump into him unexpectedly.
All the clichés are running through my head. Life is short. Tell people you care about them when you have the chance. Take every chance. Live every moment. There’s no guarantee of a next time. It’s the same stuff you hear anytime something like this happens. You hear it all the time, but you know what? My not having anything new to add doesn’t make it any less true.
I am feeling all my regrets today. All the missed opportunities. All the friends gone before I fully understood their worth. All the times I swore I’d do better, only to end prioritizing bedtimes or housework over the chance to make a memory.
I didn’t know Paco well enough to know if he had the same kinds of regrets. He was a human, so he probably did, but I also get the sense that Paco squeezed more joy and all-around awesomeness into 31 years than most people could get out of two lifetimes.
I didn’t do my house chores this afternoon. I didn’t do my work chores either. I picked up my kid from school, got us a chocolate milkshake and some French-fries, and we ate them sitting in the hatchback of our car at driving range. We hit a bucket of balls. We shanked them, we sliced them, and we cheered wildly for the few that went far enough to beat our low expectations. Now we’re having frozen pizza for dinner even though there are fresh fruits and veggies in the fridge.
It doesn’t make a difference. Not really. Paco’s still gone and I will likely go back to freaking out over laundry by next week. There will be more losses and more regrets. But today, just for this day, I did what amused me, and I made a few memories to honor the memory of Paco.
This past Sunday my pastor was out of town, and I was asked to fill in for her. It was a fun morning, and I received so much love and support, not only from my own congregation, but also from friends and family all over the world. I had several people ask to hear my sermon. I even got a few requests to record the whole thing. While that was a bit too much, I did agree to post my thoughts here. Clearly, these words were not meant for a general audience. I was addressing our specific congregation, so if you’re not a person of faith, feel free to stop reading now. Come back another time though, okay?
If you are interested, please feel free to read on, knowing that you are welcomed as part of my community of believers any time and in any way you see fit.
Old Testament Reading: Psalm 127
New Testament Reading: Mark 13 – 16
Sermon Title: Suffer Unto Me the Little Children
This is my first sermon in this church. When Cynthia asked me to preach today, I actually didn’t even flinch. I immediately thought of all the awesome sermons I could give on hot button issues. I wanted to do something hard-hitting. I even started to outline a sermon I tentatively entitled “Angry Jesus.” It was going to be fantastic and witty and well researched, and it would make everyone a little uncomfortable a time or two.
It was going to be so easy and so fun that I was honestly surprised when people started offering me their support and sympathies. What’s the big deal? I am just going to talk to you all, and you’re going to sit there and politely try not to nod off. Compared to teaching Sunday school, this is a breeze. No one is standing on his or her chair, no one has gotten into the scissor drawer and tried to cut anyone else’s hair. No one has even thrown anything…yet. Anyone who thinks that giving this sermon will be harder for me than what I do on any given Sunday has never run a Sunday school class.
And really, why would you? That job is hard and frustrating, and it comes with tons of responsibility. Not only do you have to keep the kids safe and relatively quite and interested enough that they don’t climb the walls, you also have to teach them everything they need to lay the foundation of a life-long relationship with God.
This is the part of sermon where I confess my deep, hidden sin before God and my fellow believers: I didn’t want to teach Sunday school. I don’t love it. I certainly didn’t volunteer for the job.
I like kids, I really do. I am a notorious baby stealer. I like to cuddle them when they are tiny. When they’re older, I like to give them things their parent’s don’t like, teach them things their parents would rather they not know, wind them up and then let them go running wildly back to their parents. I’m everyone’s favorite inappropriate aunt. But that means I’m pretty much the opposite of what most people would consider good Sunday schoolteacher material.
But I grew up in a much more evangelical tradition. My parents taught Sunday school at our Methodist church. I went to a Baptist school and a Nazarene youth group. It made me a mixed up mutt when it comes to religious dogma, but those experiences led me to a deeply held belief that the Holy Spirit is still calling us. I honestly believe God asks us to serve and grow not only in the ways that He needs us to, but also in the ways that we need. So when I got asked to teach Sunday school, I figured this might be one of those calls. God had asked me to work with the youngest members of our church, and therefore God must think we need each other.
Wait? Why am I still talking about Sunday school? Sunday school is not hard-hitting. Sunday school is not a hot button issue. Sunday school is something little old ladies talk about in their quilting circles. This supposed to be my grown up time. The kids are safely tucked back in their classroom. This is my chance to take a break from the repetitive singing of “Kum Bah Yah” and really meditate deeply on the major problems people of my generation are facing right now.
You see, I’m a Millennial. I am among the first born of the biggest generation American has ever had. Those of us born between 1982 and 2000 number even greater than the Baby Boomers, and despite what you hear on the news, we’re not all bad. When you get down to the numbers, Millennials are more like the WWII generation than any group that has come before or since. We are team workers, we are joiners, we are socially and environmentally conscious, and we build intense personal relationships with our families and friends and co-workers. I could go on and on, and I have a master’s degree worth of work to back up my assertions here, but that’s not the sermon I want to give, either. I don’t want to tell you all the ways we are great. I want to tell you the one thing about us that really scares me.
32 percent of Millenials have no religious affiliation, and they’re not looking for one. This trend is not new. It’s been on the rise since the turn of the last century, but for the first time in American history, more than a quarter of a generation has no desire to go to church.
Now please don’t conflate that lack of interest with a lack of exposure. Many of these people grew up going to church. Most of them grew up with religious family members and friends. A Gallup poll from 2014 found that 86% of unaffiliated people believe in God. These same people even understand Jesus’s teachings, with 68% of those same people saying they believe Jesus is divine.
Quick show of hands: How many of you have a close friend or family member who was raised in the church, but no longer attends? How many of you have close friends or family members who say they believe in God or Jesus but don’t want to attend church?
The heart of the problem does not lie with a misunderstanding of God or Jesus. Jesus and God still poll very high, but the church does not.
My generation is not lazy or apathetic when it comes to church. That 30% of people under the age of 30 aren’t even neutral toward the church; they actively don’t care for us.
When the Pew Institute did a massive generational survey in 2012:
- 70% of them said the church was too concerned with money and power,
- 67% said the church is too concerned with rules,
- 67% percent said the church was hypocritical.
Another Pew study asked Millenials, both those affiliated with church and those not affiliated with church, to list the words or phrases that popped into their heads when they thought about church or church groups. These are their top 10 answers: 1) Hates Gays 2) Judgemental 3) Hypocritical 4) Too Political 5) Out of touch with real life 6) Old-fashioned 7) Insensitive to the needs of others 8) Boring 9) Not accepting 10) Confusing
This is not just a simple image problem. This is a substance problem.
My generation knows God, they know Jesus, and they were raised in and around the church. They are our children, our grandchildren, our brothers and sister, nieces and nephews, and I’m sorry to say that we failed them. These young people who know us, who were raised by us, think that we, the collective church we form, are hateful, judgmental, out of touch, and insensitive.
Does that hurt you? Does it upset you to hear? It should upset all of us. It does me. These are my friends, my coworkers, the people who I share my life and experiences with. I am happy they still know God, I am happy most of them still find truth in at least the basic teachings of Christ, but I am devastated that they do not know the love of a congregation like this one. And I feel guilty for being part of the culture that turned them away.
I wish this was the part of the sermon where I tell you three simple steps to brining Millennials back to church. Sadly, it is not. I don’t have three or five or ten simple steps. I don’t think that kind of reconciliation will be simple, I don’t think it will be a linear process, and I don’t think that the process will be the same for everyone.
I think we here at Fredonia Presbyterian Church have started making great strides in that area, and I love that we are continually seeking new ways to actively align the work of our church to the message of Jesus Christ. However, over the last two centuries, the church has gone wrong in a multitude of ways, and it will take at least that many ways of making amends to reverse the damage already done.
Still, do not despair: This sermon is at least two-thirds of the way over and I promise we’ve hit the low point. It’s going to be more positive and more constructive from here on out, because while we do not get a do over with my generation, another generation has already arrived.
That’s the great thing about generations, unless we somehow make the biggest mistake ever, there will always be another generation to come. And from the dawn of time, the promise of each generation has been to do a little better than was done before. Every generation gets to look around, assess where things went wrong, and promise to do better for those who come after them.
I feel that way every time I sit down with the Sunday school kids. I carry the weight of my generation that’s turned from the church. I think about all the reasons they list for not liking this place, and I pray for guidance to show our kids something different.
When someone tells me the church taught them to be ashamed of their flaws, I go in and make a special effort to tell our kids God made them in Her own image and loves them for who they are. When someone tells me they felt judged by hypocrites in church, I remind our kids that everyone has sinned, even me. Especially me. When someone tells me they left church because it’s irrelevant to the struggles in their life, I make an extra effort to ask our kids what’s going on at school, or on their sports teams, and I pray for their concerns using their own words. And when someone tells me they left church because it was boring or mind numbing to be lectured at constantly, I give into my silly, inappropriate aunt side and encourage them to blow bubbles in their juice boxes while talking to them about how much joy Jesus can bring to their lives.
That has been my call as I understand it for the past 8 months, to try to teach them what it really means to be part of a church. And now that we’ve had this talk, it’s your call, too. You thought that earlier bit about the hazards of teaching Sunday school was a tangent, didn’t you? It wasn’t. Starting June 28. Sunday school will recess for the summer. The kids will no longer be leaving the sanctuary after the scripture reading. They’re going to stay in church where all of us, and I do mean all of us, will be charged with teaching them what it means to be part of this congregation on any given Sunday.
I have taught them the Lord’s prayer, the Doxology, and several hymns. We have ordered special children’s bulletins for them to read and color during the sermon. I have explained where the offering goes and why the confession of sins matters, but ultimately it will be up to all of YOU to teach them they are valued and welcomed and loved in this space.
It will not be easy for them at first, and it may, at times, be even harder for you. They will squirm, they will giggle, they will drop things and crawl under the pews to get them. They will whisper to one another, and they will appear to pay no attention to anyone in front of or around them. They will likely not remember what the sermon was about. They will not remember the songs we sang and they most certainly will not remember the things we tell them about appropriate behavior from one week to the next, but I promise you this: They will remember how they felt. They will remember how they were treated. They will remember the difference between a stern look and a gentle hand on their shoulder. They will remember the difference between a sharp word and loving guidance.
There have been times when the church as whole, and maybe even us as individuals, have been everything those unaffiliated individuals think we are. We have been judgmental and hypocritical and too caught up in money and power. We have been boring and out of touch and insensitive to the most sensitive hearts and minds among us. And because of that we have lost a large portion of my generation for good. But we have a second chance to do better.
There is a new generation among us now, and they will be in the pews beside us this summer. I am asking you now to please take some time to let the gravity of that sink in. Every single time you interact with these kids over those 10 weeks, you are being called to secure the future of the church of Jesus Christ . You are being called to be the hands and voice of God to them in God’s own house. I hope each and every one of us will open our hearts to the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we can accept this call with joy, understanding, and a great deal of patience.
I figured that title would get your attention. After my last blog was shared over 3,000 times, I’ve been a little worried I had to follow up with something catchy, something profound, something to make all 3,000 of you buy my latest book, Heart Of The Game. I thought and thought and thought but came up with nothing.
You see, most of the time I’m not that poignant. I’m just a boi who likes stories. I like characters. I like romance. Long before I ever had any intention of writing novels, I loved to read them. One summer in middle school I found The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Did you know she (yes, she was also a woman writing as man) was 15 when she started writing the book? Well she spoke to me as a teen. I loved that book so much I carried around with me. I had a paperback copy that fit in my back pocket, and I carried it around the neighborhood and would just sit down and read little snippets. Part of a page got ripped out at one point. The spine cracked, the cover got bent, but I loved that book so much I didn’t want to be outside its world for too long, so I kept it close at all times.
I’ve always been that way with my books. I disappear into them. I sink in so deep I forget what time it is, what season it is, what city I’m in. When they end, I mourn them. I often have “memories” that I never really experienced except from the point of view of some exquisitely drawn character. I’ve seen so clearly places I’ve never actually visited, and I suffer scars that never felt a wound. I don’t read books; I inhabit them. I love my books like a child loves a stuffed animal, and if stories work like Velveteen Rabbits, I have loved more than a few sets of characters into full existence.
Yesterday, I choose to return to one of those old favorites, a classic. In honor of Katherine V. Forrest’s birthday, I picked up Curious Wine again. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that book since college, but it’s one I just sink into like an exhausted person might fall into a feather bed. From the opening pages, from the first glorious appearance of Lane Christianson, I am a swoony puddle of romantic mush. “Your looking is like touching.”
Suddenly the boisterous, playful baseball boi is big ole girl longing for candlelight and a bubble bath. And I am in touch enough with my feminine side to give it what it asks for.
I posted that photo and immediately got a comment saying “If you drop that book in the water, you are dead to me.” It was from my editor Lynda Sandoval, and she quickly added a “just kidding.” And she was just kidding. I’ve been to her house. I’ve seen the books everywhere! But the comment still got me thinking about the idea that some books are just too precious to risk getting wet or bent or dirty. I get that as a way of honoring them, of holding them up as the precious treasure they are, but for me a good book isn’t like a piece of jewelry or fine china. A good book is much more like a beautiful woman, something to touched, explored, held close no matter where you are. To enshrine a set a books high on some shelf like a showpiece seems somehow akin to having Halle Berry and not taking her to bed for fear you might muss up her hair.
It’s fine that people collect books, that they save them and protect them and get obsessive about keep them pristine, but at the same time, please don’t feel the need to do so for my sake. Not with my books. That’s not how I’d like my books to be cherished.
I don’t want to write the book you give a prominent place in your bookcase. I want to write the book that stays on your bedside table for so long someone uses it as a coaster.
I want to write the book you bend the spine on because you stayed up reading so late you just set it beside you in bed and ended up rolling over on it.
I don’t want to write the book you never bend or dog ear the pages of. I want you to fold down the pages and star the margins of passages you want to go back and read again later.
I don’t want to write the book you make people wash their hands before they touch. I want to write the book you get Cheetos on because you can’t put down it down long enough to eat a real meal.
I want to write the book you get sand and sunscreen on because you took it to the beach and got so absorbed in it the tide snuck up on you.
I don’t want my titles to be collected for collector’s sake. I don’t dare hope to achieve the longevity and beloved status that Katherine Forrest has. I don’t expect to ever write a book on par with Curious Wine, but if some time down the road, someone who isn’t even born yet finds a copy of Heart Of The Game and thinks they’ve stumbled onto a lesbian romance classic, I hope they won’t be afraid to go ahead and take it into the bubble bath with them.
There’d be no better compliment to me than if readers let my characters into their hearts do deeply they couldn’t help getting them a little wet or dirty in the process.
So the news the last few weeks has been kind of bad. Between the bigot who blasted my family on Facebook and trans kids being bullied to death and Indiana going bat shit crazy, it’s easy to get caught up in our national back swing. Never mind that rapid social progress is always followed by conservative blowback. Never mind that any seasoned activist will tell you it’s always two steps forward and one step back. Never mind that for every crazy politician spouting hate there’s two more moving closer to full inclusion. It still hurts.
I’ve been out for fourteen years. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I still feel the burn of shame in my cheeks when I hear a pastor rail against my family. My stomach clenches when I have to explain to my son why he’s not a boy scout. My shoulders still tighten in anticipation every time someone I don’t know asks me what kind of books I write. It’s not that I think these people are right. It’s not that I’ve bought into the bigotry. It’s not that I lack the courage of my convictions. It’s the opposite. It still hurts because it’s personal.
To the man who railed against queers on my uncle’s Facebook wall and then said he wasn’t talking about anyone personally, yes, yes you were. To the governor of Indiana who says he wasn’t motivated by a desire to hurt anyone specifically, yes, yes you were. To people who say, “that’s so gay,” then say they didn’t mean “gay,” yes, yes you did. Your pretending like you didn’t mean anything personal doesn’t change the fact that those things are personal. We are people. I am a person. My wife is a person. My son is a person. My uncle is a person. Our church members are people. Your words, your laws, your discrimination are all personal to each and every person who is gay, or questioning, or loves someone who is gay or questioning. We are real people with real feelings (and real dollars to spend) and real families to care for. Every hurtful thing you say about gays and lesbians is about real people.
But you know what? The responses are personal, too. From my uncle, Mr. Blue-collar-union-electrician and all his blue-collar union friends who verbally beat down the Facebook bigot, they are real people, too. The CEOs who pulled their companies out of Indiana, they are people. The people who pull their own kids from scouting, or create alternative activities that our family is welcome to join, those are real people too. The students who march and hold candles for trans kids they never met, they are people. The straight man who read Heart of the Game because he likes books about baseball, lesbian characters or not, he’s a real person. The women at my church who clipped out an article about my book in the local paper, they are people. They are good people. Honorable people. Loving people. They aren’t gay, or necessarily liberal, or highly educated. They don’t live in trendy neighborhoods or always know the pc terms. But they are people who take our feelings, our rights, our lives seriously. They take issues that aren’t their own and they make them personal.
That’s why we’re going to win this fight, why we’re already winning it. To us, the big tent collective of not only queers but also anyone who’s ever loved a queer, this time it really is personal.
I know I owe you a blog, and I want to write it, really I do, but some crazy lesbian romance writers have descended on my house! Maybe you recognize them:
Yes, that’s Melissa Brayden on the left and Georgia Beers on the right. So now there’s wineries to be toured, food to be consumed, mischief to be made, and selfies to be taken. But in the midst of all that, Heart Of The Game became available in the Kindle store yesterday. I know I have told you all several times you can get the Kindle compatible ebook directly from Bold Strokes Books, but I’ve also heard from a lot of you who like to shop the Kindle store. If you’re in the latter group, now’s your chance. You can get your copy of Heart Of The Game right here, right now! I sure hope you’ll give it a read and let me know what you think.
In the meantime I’m going to get back to those selfies.
I am proud and seriously excited to announce that Heart Of The Game is now available in from Bold Strokes Books! This is my eighth book, and it never gets any less thrilling (or nerve-wracking) to know that the characters I have poured my heart into for over a year are now in your very capable hands.
The book actually went live last Friday, ahead of schedule, and I want to thank everyone who’s dropped me a line saying they already got their copy. If you have gotten yours yet, don’t fear. Just go on over to the website, where you can buy it in print or download it in epub (iPad), Mobi (Kindle), or PDF (all the things) format.
I know I am biased, but I think the timing of this release couldn’t be better. For most of us in the United States (and parts of Europe) harsh winter weather has dragged on for entirely too long. We are all ready for the smell of fresh cut grass, warming rays of sunlight, and yes, a little bit of baseball. And we’re in luck because Spring Training games started yesterday, and the hope of a new season, a fresh start, and even an early taste of summer is in the air. All those things are also in Heart Of The Game, along with a sweet romance that also happens to offer you a good look at a new season, a fresh start, and an early taste of summer.
If you’re not sold yet (why? why? I ask you) I hope you’ll do me a favor and at least go check out the full first chapter excerpt of the book on the Bold Strokes website, because even if you don’t end up falling in love with Duke and Molly the way I did, it would sure make me happy if you at least got to meet them for a little while.
And once again, thank you to everyone who has already bought the book. I appreciate it greatly, and now I start the long, nervous process of pacing the floor, wringing my hands, and waiting to hear what you think of my new baby!