Called to Protest, Called to Support, Called to…

“The thing you have to understand,” the woman said to me, “what you need to really get, is that we’re called ‘God’s Frozen Chosen’ for a reason.”

Let’s go back to September 13th, 2013, a Friday evening in a beautiful coffee shop with sadly terrible coffee. She was a member of the committee tasked to find my diocese a new communications director. I hadn’t been fully vetted or offered the job yet, but she was fairly certain I’d be the candidate selected; she was right. And she wanted me to know, amidst my perceived creativity and ideas, that I’d possibly be facing an establishment mindset of Christians who were comfortable in quiet traditions; that my newness and difference and perhaps loudness and codified sexual orientation would be a shock to the system I might not professionally survive: “you’re going to want to button up.”

The short of it is that I started the job the following Friday and began the great professional adventure of my life thus far; that’s a bigger story for another time. What I want to talk about today is that sobriquet: “frozen chosen.” My dad used to throw it around all the time when talking about church, when pre-teen me would ask about why we Elliotts didn’t have a faith tradition. He’d talk about some Episcopal experiences he had growing up, good and bad, and quickly change the subject. But he’d never fail to talk about “God’s Frozen Chosen.” There’s a deeper faith conversation my father and I owe one another, sooner rather than later. But the first brand I learned of the Episcopal Church as a kid, and reinforced by the conversation that opens this piece, is that Episcopalians were stuck in place; Frozen Chosen is an awfully vivid and terrifying visual, after all, of a static existence of comfortable, icy stagnancy, without change or growth.

That hasn’t been my experience, to be sure. And I think about that initial image in conversation with our current cultural moment a great deal; we’re amidst a period of great unrest and transformation, to be sure. And I like to think that Jesus would be on the front lines of this change were he among us as a man today, calling us to action and carrying the banner high, aloft with the holy spirit and some undoubtedly clever signage.

I personally believe that faith requires us to step out and be loud. We’re emboldened to pull up injustice by the roots. Loud has never been my problem; I’ve been protesting in ways healthy and un- since I was old enough to match my perspective with smartassery and take a market to posterboard. My failing comes so often in recognizing the faith and strength in the power of support. I feel called to march and yell and engage and argue, with love and anger and a desire for change as the fuel that gets me going. But so often, I miss that there are people who are just as energized for change and alteration and finding justice as I am, but do so in ways that are subtle and just as effective. Those influencers deserve my praise and admiration and fellowship just as openly as someone marching alongside me at one of the recent rallies.

I’m writing this because faith in anything and anyone requires a belief that we can change the circumstances of the world around us, to make it better than we found it. There’s nothing frozen about that, and we’re not chosen for it, but rather find a choice in it. And I want to be part of that agency of change, even as I recognize and raise people up who want it too, but have different volume levels and gifts at work in getting there.

More life. To be continued tomorrow, when I’ll talk a little more about my struggles with sustained faith over big moments.

The Grossness of Smugness and Beyond.

It’s funny how much I admire resolve in a person, and how little I’ve come to value chutzpah. From a distance, they look an awful lot alike; confidence and swagger and a sense of certainty can sure be attractive. But the devil’s always in the details, and intent matters. What it personally comes down to: resolve has a goal and never comes without self-awareness and a sense of listening, while chutzpah, or smugness, is a certainty that only exists in an environment where destruction is a value. You only build your ivory tower up, after all, by knocking down the structures that surround you.

Yesterday, I appeared on an episode of the RAFT podcast, or “Riverside Atheists and Free Thinkers,” based out of California. I was invited due to my Guardian piece from two years ago, and my journey from atheism to baptism. My warning feelers were up and out; as I’ve discovered in conversations with friends and otherwise, in speaking engagements, in press discussions, and more, these opportunities are often structured less around dialogue and more around that same smugness–a desire to prove me wrong, or stupid, or to bolster atheist confidence by swinging a hammer of “insightful” humanism my way. I have plenty of friends who are atheists and we find time and energy to have love and faith in one another. But the other side of that is the adage that hurt people tend to hurt people, and this felt like a vulnerable arena.

But I’m committed to doing the things that scare me. And as frustrated as I often am with the insularity of the communities that give me strength, be they recovery, or amputee, or church, or whatever–I’ve made a strong choice that change and growth in me and others can’t happen in an echo chamber. Homogeneity of ideas is a dangerous and flavorless form of Kool-Aid. And so, I said yes and stepped out.

I’m about 85 percent glad I did; it was a moderated conversation between a marriage therapist raised devout baptist who “deconverted” to atheism while studying towards her certification, a theologian who was raised pentecostal and found his church’s beliefs irreconcilable with his own in his twenties, and myself. I found my fellow panelists charming, smart, deeply human, and kind. I’m looking forward to sharing that part of the conversation with you when the episode is ready in a few weeks.

The upset happened in the Q&A at the end. A gentleman came up to the mic and my Spider-Sense went off the minute I saw the swagger in his hips. But you can’t judge intellectual content based on rakish pelvic angles, and so I waited for his question.

And he gave me a twofer: first, he dropped the oft-cited anti-gay chunk of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:

For this reason, God gave them up to passions of dishonor; for even their females exchanged the natural use for that which is contrary to nature, and likewise also the males, having left the natural use of the female, were inflamed by their lust for one another, males with males, committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was fitting for their error.

We have several problems to unpack with the above; first is the doubt that Paul ever wrote it, and that it was imposed into text at a later date. The second is the invocation of lust. and the splitting of hairs in the Greek language used in earlier versions of this verse and what they meant–whether the above is about carnal desire, or child molestation, or unbridled lust, or gay/lesbian interactions is hotly contested. Third, as I’ve said time and again–the concept of the Old Testament and New Testament and the current way we live our lives is proof that our relationships with one another and with God continue to evolve, and literal adherence to text written thousands of years ago makes very little sense. If we stick to this, we have to stick to Leviticus, too, and my silk boxers touching my wool pants as I write this would then be an ample invitation to just kill me super-dead.

The short version: we’re beautiful, imaginative, thinking creatures capable of metaphor and expansion and deep connection. And assuming that brainwashing to the point of literal devotion to text pisses me off. This guy attempted a gotcha and I called him on it. I said he wasn’t going to change my mind on this one, and he clearly came locked and loaded to the table without knowing me or my story. All he saw was a Christian he wanted to stymie, not another human being. And I said that I found his smugness gross and it was time to move on.

I’d said earlier in the day that God doesn’t create suffering, and I’d lost friends to the argument of “Why does God give kids cancer?” And this limb loss horror gave that argument a run for the money for me; that I came back to faith means something, and I hold to that. I hold that God is with us in suffering, even as we do a great job of causing it for ourselves, in combination with happenstance. But S/He never leaves us without a lesson to grow and transform through as we suffer, and understanding our relationship from that perspective is crucial. This gentleman then threw some quotes from Isiah at me. I called it for what it was.

I wish this guy well; I think the tone and content of these moments probably said a lot more about him than it did about me and my faith journey. At the same time, as my life goes through several transformations in these next few weeks, I can’t help but think about what John Green said about his own work, his life, and the dangers of being loud about one’s Christian identity:

There is a certain branch of Christianity that has so effectively hijacked the word “Christian” that I feel uncomfortable sometimes using it to describe myself. But I am a Christian.” 
I worry about that a lot. I worry about that as I get loud about disability advocacy (next post) or what’s about to happen as progressive Christians attempt to make their voices heard in an organized fashion (the post after that).

All I can say is that we’re here to love, to learn, to bolster one another up, to use our slow-grown anger for positive purpose, and to screw up again and again, acknowledging that grace is an opportunity to fail better each and every time.

But yeah, smugness is gross. And I want it minimized in my life. I’ll call it out when I see it and won’t tolerate it as part of healthy and meaningful interactions.

And thus, that was a good lesson for the first Saturday in April. To be continued…

Lent and the Magic of Loss.

We’re not built to compare each year of our lives against the others; still, we do.

Or I do. Anyway, 2017 was a lenten adventure in loss, getting used to losing a leg and familiarity with my body, a series of considerations on who I used to be and who I became, measuring my manhood, my workplace persona, my skills, my worth as a human being, and everything else against the body parts I was missing and my own perceived uselessness.

I had a lot of people seriously come through for me and show up. And that’s why I’m still alive, walking, working 60+ hour weeks, and trying to be grateful.

And it’s still Lent, and I’m still choosing to give up things, and I’m still losing.

Tuesdays, I have two support groups; I co-run the first one virtually and tend to not say much in the second one, an evening in-person gathering at a local rehabilitation facility. I’m questioning the usefulness of these at this point for myself, but hanging on because I’m still trying to milk some form of understanding and acceptance from this gross thing that happened. I talk a lot and this defining awfulness set into my body; maybe someone else can learn a thing or two.

I find myself stuck in the above as a mantra. There’s something almost selfish to it that I can’t put my finger on.

Performative assistance sets my teeth on edge. “I’m pulling for you” became the “thoughts and prayers” of the ten or so of us with newly amended limbs; it’s a phrase and a way of life that says and means nothing. It says “here are some happy words, please feel free to let go at any time, this is meaningless and I don’t know how to make myself feel better via my attempt at you feeling better so I’m going to go now, ta!”

I have faith and faith in some people and prayer matters and means something, often, but you have to act. Loss comes in the form of the strength of character you apply to the things you believe in, too, and that sort of loss is the part of Lent we don’t always talk about. The relationships and connections that are tenuous and low on meaning fall away or explode violently. And that’s okay.

At the end of all this, we’re supposed to be reborn with a new understanding of what really matters. I hope that’s so. It would mean a great deal, this year, that the loss of all of these parts and people meant something.

The first time comes back.

So my book is nearing completion, even as my health bounces in new directions and adds different wrinkles. And I’m cataloging things that happened as part of the narrative. The first time I tried to stand without a leg. The first time a doctor told me what would happen. The first time painkillers wore off. The first time I hit the button for pain medication and didn’t need it. The first time I realized I wanted pain medication for reasons other than pain. My first steps. My first pull-up. My first support group. My first time leading a support group. My first conversation about God being a construct. My first moment of peace at the thoughts of ending my own life. My first decision to live. My first realization that anger at God means belief in God. My first return to church

My first time defining despair.

My first time receiving The Look.

it was January 30. I’d been in rehab a few days. A nurse came in to check my vitals. It was six AM, the end of a long night for both of us. She didn’t know me well and didn’t know my history; she was normally on the other side of the floor and was filling in, this one time. My phone was on the small table in my room, about five feet from my bed, where I was sitting on the edge with my back to it, my leg and its absent partner sweatpantleg dangling off the side of the bed.

I asked the nurse to hand me my phone. She blinked at me. There was annoyance in her voice:

“Can’t you do it?”

And in that moment a narrative unspooled. I looked like a privileged white boy, asking a black nurse to hand me a gadget. The way I was sitting, she couldn’t see my legs. Lots of people come to physical rehab for various reasons; I was sitting up and looking mostly healthy. I could hear the weariness and personal invective towards me in her voice.

I stammered. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t.”

She made a noise like a locomotive releasing steam, and scooped up my phone. She came around the bed to hand it to me and she saw the bottom of my left pantleg and everything clicked. I never want to make anyone make that face again.

She put her hand on my shoulder and apologized and I realized I’d been crying. Or maybe I’d just started. But my face was soaked and I just could stop. And she stood there for a few minutes with her body in contact with mine, sorry for the exchange, trying to provide comfort as I went into full shutdown.

I’m still in that moment. I’m still recognizing how people I love look at me now, a mix of pity and privilege, like all they can see is a combination of the loss and what I should be doing and expectations of how badly I’m screwing this up and how I should be magically okay.

or maybe that’s just me. But it’s despair. I count that as the first moment it set in, that my worth had become altered and I wasn’t going to get who I was back, from first impressions right on through the first fistful of  dirt dumped on my casket.

All that was left was this, a tightrope of perception of how I’m expected to behave based on whether or not people know what’s missing.

I’m feeling it hard tonight, after a day of illness and emotional and intellectual punches. I’m lonesome and not handling it well. And I’m lying to myself that it’ll all be okay.

I’m more worried frankly, about what happens when I get more objective about the truth of this. But that’s not a problem for tonight.

Me too, even if not #metoo

This needs a prelude:

Four weeks ago, I was talking to a friend at 4 AM. He’s an emergency services dispatcher and sleep comes at a premium for me, so our best conversations tend to soak through into the night. Prior to the Weinstein story breaking, we had a long chat about the gendered politics of sexual abuse. And how people are and aren’t expected to carry it.

So, for purposes of volume and honesty, I dragged this out: from ages 11-13, I was sexually taken advantage of by an older boy in my neighborhood. I wasn’t the only one; it happened dozens of times over two years to at least four of us I know about. It took me years to develop the vocabulary and perspective to realize I’d been abused; that I didn’t feel anger about it at that point or ascribe issues of weight, masculinity or orientation to it isn’t of consequence. I had the “first time we all had sex” story swap over beers with friends in conversation at 19 and realized via their reactions that what happened to me wasn’t normative and okay.

I don’t know if anger is the emotional crux of what I feel, 25 years later. I tracked him down via the internet; he’s married, in North Carolina, with three kids. And that’s where I’d like the story to end. But as my dispatcher friend reminded me, you can’t undo what happened. Whether or not I’m aware of how I express myself, I do carry the marks of what happened to me.

So, first time I’m talking about it publicly: I was a child and the victim of sexual harassment and assault. Me, too. And I didn’t talk about it for so long because I’d nornalized it and ascribed my status as a hairy, masculine and physically intimidating man to my invincibility: not so. We dismantle environments where this can happen and sit on the shelf for decades by creating, instead, environments in which we can talk about what happened without shame.

And yet, I’m a fervent believer that #metoo isn’t about me. This isn’t about what happened to me or how it happened; it’s about the gendered use of power to attain sexual gratification and harm and take things from another. That’s not quite what happened to me, as a sixteen year old took advantage of me. But it’s part of the same horrific continuum.

This isn’t up to women to solve, or the victims of any gender to own and speak out and tear down walls. We know this happens. Men know this happens. And men have the power and requirement to solve this. It’s way past time. And ignorance of our position in this is culpability, as if we did it ourselves.

We have to be better and we have to do more. The victims are not responsible for the next stage or creating safe spaces. That’s on us.

Acting, Art and Amputees.

“Bull,” the new ratings smash on CBS, has hired an actual amputee to play a character missing a limb. I applaud this, to be sure. But why are we acting like it’s a daring move when it should be par for the course?

There are around 2 million Americans with lower limb amputations; we’re from all walks of life (terrible pun not intended and hopefully forgiven quickly). I feel strongly about representation requiring visibility, and, with all things being equivalent, casting amputee actors for amputee roles is a requirement, for simple reasons of authenticity and decency. One of my support groups, in a flagrant display of inappropriateness via attempted charity, was gifted tickets to Stronger, the Boston Marathon bombing movie that handles a double amputation via CGI. Everything about that situation smacks of emotional manipulation and inauthentic expression. That a bunch of folks in their first year of BKA status had tickets thrown their way just makes me even further predisposed towards film animosity. Anyway–didn’t Children of a Lesser God conclusively answer this not-quandary a generation ago? Conventionally abled actors don’t get brownie points for wearing a pair of green screen socks or dark shades and stepping into a world like ours. It doesn’t count. It’s blackface with wheels and shades and a cane. And it’s unacceptable.

And of course, my pal Alan just chimed in a moment of devil’s advocacy. Haven’t my WordPress adventures of the last month taught me that the devil has plenty of advocates?

We bounced from “Bull” to “The Good Doctor,” and from TCG’s piece last year on amputee stories in theater to the recent Broadway run of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime.” Alan’s son was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in February, which Alan’s two younger brothers also have. We were talking ASD representation in comics last week, and settled on three X-Men who demonstrate an authentic portrayal…and that’s about it. Alan brought that back around to the current tv and theater portrayals of Asperger Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorders; why aren’t there more actors and visible artists with these conditions in roles that demonstrate these conditions?

I had an answer for him, even as I wasn’t happy with it: the stage situation is one of consistency. Eight shows a week have to be delivered exactly the same, every time, to the tune of a hundred bucks a ticket. If an actor’s condition allows for him or her to do that, then yes, Asperger Syndrome doesn’t get in the way of casting the role. Otherwise, it becomes a difficult conversation in which a neurotypical actor assumes the part. I wish it were otherwise, but the regularity of playing the part for an audience takes precedence here.

What it comes down to: does a person’s disability or othered-ability enhance or detract from their ability to play a role and tell a story about their experiences from an authentic perspective? If it enhances that ability, tell the story. If it detracts from that ability, then it’s time for that uncomfortable conversation. Alexander Sharp and Marianne Elliott won performance and directing awards for “Curious Incident,” and a minor string of protests were set off when Tyler Lea was cast as Sharp’s replacement, the professional statement made by the casting agency making a version of my sentiments above; consistency and reliability at eight shows a week were the tenet that actors on the spectrum who auditioned weren’t able to guarantee. It unfortunately fell outside of reasonable accommodations. A recent production in Indiana cast an actor on the spectrum in the role, with significant accommodations made to bring this element into play. I wish I could honestly stand against the professional litany that claims this is different, but I can’t. Physical and cognitive differences have to be considered in separate continuums.

Alan also put forth people in entertainment who are often considered to be on the spectrum because of behaviors demonstrated, including Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin. And the slope gets even more slippery…I’ve worked with wonderful people who are incredibly successful in creative endeavors and employment despite and often because of being on the spectrum. It isn’t our place to put them there, though, or to assign them entry to a community they haven’t identified with or claimed. A diagnosis is required, as is ownership of that part of a person’s identity, as opposed to us watching tv and spotting links in behavior. The yet more slippery slope comes from self-diagnosis and ascribing community when medical professionals aren’t willing or able to do so. That’s a hair’s breadth from a similar experience to the ableist blackface I described above.

The bottom line of all of this: these roles are best cast by those who can authentically portray them, convincingly and professionally, and express the physicality of life experience. So hey, cast an amputee to play an amputee before Jake Gyllenhaal enters the room.

Rebuilt.

An evening of night terrors means I go to the gym at midnight. I lift until I’m tired and my eyes are heavy-lidded, and then I come home.

I have this problem where, about thirty seconds after I’ve said something, I realize exactly how it cuts to the quick. I’d inadvertently hurt someone I care about last week, and as an apology tumbled out of my mouth, clumsy and earnest and not as thought out as I wish it had been, I said: “I’m struggling to find value in myself after everything that happened.”

I really thought my epoch of loss in this new era of being an amputee was over. Not so much. This is still a storm of grief. A colleague once said to me that dysfunctional environments lead to minutia becoming important, like debating the merits of open-toed shoes in a workplace facing a funding crisis. The same holds true for our lives, when something hits us hard and threatens to destroy us. If recovery becomes too big, we focus on the small, or stupid, or unimportant.

I fell down that well–see my last three posts; selfish privilege, cruelty to animals, self-immolation and blind spots press my buttons hard. Not my circus, not my monkeys, and I’ve got eighteen deleted and gross comments in the form of hyperbole, death threats, physical admonishment, and comments about my family members from six authors that teach me exactly that lesson. I’ve also learned how to block IP addresses, so I don’t even have to read the hate speech before it disappears into the masturbatory ether in which its authors dwell. The urge to print it out and mail it to the parents of the senders is pretty strong; no one needs that toxic, abortive garbage, though. It’s a really easy way to ignore the life raft you’re on by focusing on the already drowned.

Short version: I’ve got a pretty great life.

I just stood up at my best friend’s wedding as the Best Man, something I thought I’d die before doing a few months ago. I’m a leg down and I didn’t die. I’ve got a job I love and my health improves every day. I’m writing all the time and people are able to read and interact with my work. I don’t have a lot to complain about at the moment, beyond the wonky shoulder I gave myself from too much time lifting too much weight tonight.

There’s a young woman in my limb loss support group who knows about my love of Lego; she’s built me out of spare parts twice, once in the wheelchair and once newly-legged up (above). We find little joys to swap and laugh about amidst the awful crap that happens to us and that’s how we’re reborn.

I have to keep reminding myself that we’re an Easter people, and rebirth and regrowth are part of this story, and nihilism is gross, and navel-gazing in too much focus is equally gross. I’m really trying to build new connections and give this life of mine meaning through the people I connect with and change me, even as I get chances to change things around me. Not dying in early January requires some rent paid somewhere for all this bonus time. I’m trying to balance that out.

It’s Friday the 13th and it’s the first day of the year that really feels like fall; there’s something to cherish in that. I’ve managed to avoid pumpkin spice anything thus far, and I’m chaperoning a haunted hay ride with a dear friend/ex-boyfriend next week, which is one of my favorite little pangs of nostalgia.

You work hard, you find things to value beyond yourself, you acknowledge that none of this is about you, and you plan to stick around, and good stuff tends to happen.

So, maybe we go for more of that. More life.

The lessons of trolls.

  1. Just because you could do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The aggressor from several posts ago has a few friends who like to get frisky and violent with their language. It’s caught in the spam filters of the comment section here, but it’s still shocking stuff that will find its use somewhere, someday, in art or conversation.

On Facebook, several of us started a thread talking about this, a few of whom know/remember the person in question. Ultimately, the only way to deal with a troll is to ignore them; there are tools at play here to disenfranchise, damage, limit, and “doxx” this person; there are tools that protect me and my family from these threats. I’ve employed the latter and I’m not doing anything regarding the former. As one friend of mine from the drama camp almost two decades ago posited, the aggressor in question blogs enough about her unhappiness and the limitations of her life. There’s nothing I could do that would add a level of anything meaningful to that.

Ultimately, this was a good lesson for me in what happens when disenfranchisement and too much free time mix. It turns the internet into a weaponized form of mental illness. I hope to never have the time or means for that to come into play.

The biggest surprise for me is that a few of these toxic and sad people can’t help but keep lobbing what they view as insults. And it just doesn’t affect me, but it provides a lot of insight into the kind of people they are, what abuse they’ve suffered, and what hurts them.

OT, NT, Testamental Change Vs. Progress.

To quote a hero, “It’s been a bit of a day.”

I started today with a frustrating doctor’s appointment, rolled into a long day of work, noted a series of continued harassment from the friends of the woman (she’s at most three years younger than me; I resist the urge to call her a girl, out of both trivial sexism and the clarity that regardless of her circumstances, she’s an adult who is responsible for her actions and their consequences) who’s taken an interest in attacking me as the latest in a long line of internet altercations on her part, and the cherry on top is I got love-tapped by a van full of methodists; I was picking up a package from the UPS guy when the big blue van pulled around slowly and hip-checked me, knocking me to the ground. I’m eighty percent sure the driver yelled “Shit, I hit the cripple!” as she leapt from her vehicle to make sure I was okay.

The good news of the day: 1) I guess my neighbors know me well enough to make me THE cripple in my complex; I demand a sash; 2) I signed the paperwork for the play festival in CA that’s doing my new play, “Ableist Bull Caca (ABC)” in December; 3) I’m fine, but for a bruise on my left hip that’s Gorbachevian in its shape; 4) Virginia Wesleyan University will be performing my 15(!)-year-old play, “Forward Motion,” in an evening of freshman shorts this winter. That brings this full circle. We’ll get there in a minute.

I don’t just have good days or bad days these days; I have quiet days and loud ones. There are the ones without event and the ones in which everything happens. It’s either a couple of tumbleweeds and a deep sigh or sixty pages of War and Peace,  but it’s never in-between.

The fulcrum of everything returns to January 9, the night before I lost my leg. That’s the big Before and After in my life, and I suppose it will be for some time to come. The chaplain at Penn Presby who took a liking to me (I think–I definitely took a liking to her) was a woman named Dasha, who listened better than anyone I’ve ever met.

That first night we talked, she sat with me and prayed. There was more than a little comfortable silence. They had me on the good drugs, so I was looser of tongue than usual, which is saying something. And so I opened my mouth and wanted to talk about Job and Lot, and how the Old Testament God really had no qualms about being a jerkface. I lobbed a Shalom Auslander quote I love–I’m not sure if it’s from Beware of God  or Foreskin’s Lament:


If you took the Old Testament, dumped it in a word processor, and did a find/change substitute for ‘God’ with ‘Fred’ and read it aloud, you’d say ‘This Fred is screwed up. Fred is a profoundly damaged person. Fred is not someone I want to be around.’

She laughed. “So what changed God?”

I’m not sure. I’m still not sure God changed. My friends who are rabbis meet this idea with an explanation that Christians assume they’ve got a horizontal morality (do good works in fellowship WITH God) against an Old Testament idea of vertical morality (do good works because God is angered by our sins, and wants us to ask forgiveness). As a former (very very lapsed) jew myself, I have quibbles with the binary nature of this, as my faith experiences at all levels of judaism didn’t seem marked by fears of an angry God (and we know how I feel about choices made out of fear).

I do know that the Old Testament, even amidst its depictions of divine rage and human suffering, made persistent promises of better days to come for Israel and all of us. And Jesus fulfilled that promise and changed the world. I understand that. I still walk with the anger of what happened to me, how to go forward, and how to live into it without confusion. God doesn’t cause suffering, as I’ve said before, but he allows us to find lessons in it. I often wish it didn’t hurt so bad, even as I remember to trust.

And so that’s my day. Reconciling two different perspectives across a kairos moment of God between the OT and NT, and my own moment therein.

Oh–that bit about “Forward Motion”–it’s a play I wrote in 2001-2002, that was purchased for publication by Playscripts in 2006. Its scripts and productions pretty much pay my student loan, and it was the moment I went from a guy who writes to a writer, by Stephen King (“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”).

And while I patterned the female lead after several women in my life, the woman in question who’s currently targeting me was one of three girls who workshopped that play in the summer camp I counseled and taught. Which goes to show you: 19-year-olds probably shouldn’t teach 16-year-olds, and every connection we make on this planet has both destruction and lessons in it, if we work the thread enough. I don’t wish to have anything to do with her, but if not for passing that script around all those years ago, I may not have developed the guts to submit it for publication, which set off a whole bunch of bright moments in my life.

OT to NT. Suffering to Understanding. At least I think that’s so.

Compassion Out of Fashion.

It has been a magnificently sorrowful series of days, personally and otherwise.

The death of friends, of icons, the mass murder in Las Vegas, the return of illness: a pall hangs over the world, threatening to snuff us out at any moment. This dark reign of awfulness seeps into our pores.

You can feel the rot on the wind, if you’re seeking it out. And yet we have one another. And that counts.

After wading through the muck of yesterday’s shooting and the inundation of a job in PR/communications that requires a continual absorption of the revolting truth of these deaths, and getting clocked in the jaw with the news of Tom Petty’s passing, I raised up on my clunky prosthetic leg and wandered out of my office. It was time to go home. But, as usual on difficult days, my head is like a neighborhood on the wrong side of town–it’s not advisable to take a walk through there alone.

And so, I realized, I needed a meeting.

When I talk about my recovery, people pop their eyebrows up. “You’re such a hyphenate!” says my dear friend Tim, a military amputee I met in one of my support groups. “A gay, Christian, progressive, alcoholic, activist amputee. Where’s your parade?”

Oh, Tim. Every day is my parade. That’s what I do.

Anyway, three weeks ago, I hit a thousand days of sobriety. It was a little under four years after my first AA meeting, but there was a  falling off the wagon between those two dates. Amidst all this loss and destruction and disease, I’ve managed to stay sober. Faith has something to do with that; so does purpose, which this disease has brought roaring back to me. And of course, I have some of the best friends a guy like me could hope for. I’m never alone. I’m never without support or adventures. I’m lucky on that front.

After tonight’s meeting, my friend Alan and I went out for a sludge-esque cup of coffee and some much-needed laughter. We’re angry. We’re stewing in it. We don’t know what to do after a day like today.

It’s so easy to see the snark and vitriol in all of this; an echo-chambered acquaintance of mine posted a particularly gross photoshopped image of Trump, intended as satire.

I showed it to Alan, and he arced his eyebrows my way and said: “You know, if you’re seeking to humiliate anyone, the first person you humiliate is yourself.”

And I blinked. It wasn’t the first time someone said that to me this year.

About three months ago, a former camper from my college theater/summer camp counselor days started a flame war about opinions on her nettiquette and the circumstances by which three family dogs had died and the fourth was put in danger via misbehavior and negligence.

My friends chimed in; eventually, so did I. And then her friends made disparaging remarks about me, my physicality, my family, and threatened my workplace. The authorities were involved. A police report was filed, and further steps were taken to ensure the safety of me, my livelihood, and my family. I was notified when she recently moved, and was apprised that she now lived dangerously close to a family member one of her friends had threatened (the threat is still posted to her blog as a comment, and she refused to take it down when asked). It became a scary situation that I didn’t take lightly. And I continue to back-pocket the whole thing as if I’m waiting for an animal to attack.

And of course, Alan and I ended up talking about this tonight. “You know,” he said, as the conversation wound down and I began to understand that drinking anything other than decaf after six p.m. was a serious mistake, “It’s possible to be a victim and a bully at the exact same time.”

He’s right. He’s almost always right. The thing about being marginalized (as it could be argued both myself and my antagonist in this situation were) is that, in order to normalize yourself or get back to the center, sometimes you engage in punching down. And that’s exactly what happened.

Because in interchanges like the one we had, and in the pall of weeks like this, it’s so easy to feel like you can’t make a ding in the universe, like you’re the pawn to energies and evils that you don’t have the energy or agency to fight. I’m not going to let that happen to me. Life is rare, and precious, and there are dents to be made and changes to see in the world before this is done.

 

 

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