Sunday, February 23, 2020

Mardi Gras and the Forty-Day Hangover


You could consider giving up church for Lent.

You could consider (with Peter Rollins) Atheism for Lent

You could read one Mary Oliver poem every day for Lent. 

You could read Terence McNally's play Corpus Christi for Lent.

You could watch the first season of Six Feet Under for Lent.

You could watch Babette's Feast for Lent.

You could read Angels in America for Lent, or watch the HBO adaptation with Meryl Streep playing a rabbi, a Mormon mother, and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg.

You could listen to a Leonard Cohen song every day for Lent.

For Lent, you could get up every morning and tell yourself out loud, "My sins didn't kill Jesus." 

For Lent, you could get up every morning and tell yourself out loud, "Bigotry, self-righteousness, and the thirst for power killed Jesus." 

You could listen to Jessye Norman singing a spiritual every day for Lent.

You could rip a page out of the Book of Leviticus every day for Lent. (And burn it if you need to.)

You could exchange names with a homeless person every day for Lent.

You could think of someone who's suffering and just hold them in mind for ten breaths every day for Lent.


You could thank God for your queer self every day for Lent.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Unlocking Your Inner Temple: A Weekend of Mindful Self-Pleasure

Within your own body, you have the capacity for enormous pleasure and fulfillment. This two-day adventure of self-discovery and open-hearted, supportive fellowship, April 18-19 in Nashville, Tennessee, will guide you deeper into the erotic treasures you already possess. 

Let go of inhibition in a safe and welcoming space. Trust-building exericses will establish a strong, secure container for our experience. Sharing circles, solo and paired exercises, guided meditations, and instruction in technique will open doors into a deeper realm where body and soul are one--where desire can blossom into wisdom and compassion.






In addition to leading the workshop, I'll be available for individual sessions on April 17 and 20. You can use an individual session to:

  • increase your comfort with group experience
  • explore what you hope to take away from the workshop
  • address issues of body image, shame, and inhibition
  • process what you've experienced after the workshop
  • integrate your erotic and spiritual energies
  • practice techniques for whole-body pleasure


If you're interested in an individual session, you can read the sidebar text "Sacred Intimacy" just to the right of this post.




The US $175 registration fee includes Saturday and Sunday morning coffee, lunch, and snacks. An early-bird registration rate of $150 applies till March 1. The workshop is limited to twelve participants. 


The group workshop and individual sessions will take place at a private residence in East Nashville. Location will be provided on receipt of the registration fee. Contact me by e-mail for further details.






Photo by Andrew Graham

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Original Goodness: An Insight from Richard Rohr

"We must reclaim the Christian project, building from the true starting point of Original Goodness. We must reclaim Jesus as an inclusive Savior instead of an exclusionary Judge, as a Christ who holds history together as the cosmic Alpha and Omega. Then, both history and the individual can live inside of a collective safety and an assured success. Some would call this the very shape of salvation."

--Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope  for, and Believe (New York: Convergent Books, 2019), p. 68

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

An Invitation in 2020


If you're like me, you continue to long for a world where queer men can thrive in a web of rich connection. Where we belong truly and deeply to a community grounded in transpersonal love. Where the utopian promise of the gay liberation movement that  burgeoned fifty years ago becomes a lived and visible reality.

When we're blessed, we get glimpses of that world. But we're still not there. We live in the tension between Already and Not Yet. We'll probably live the whole of our lives in that tension. For the time being--since the time being is all we've got--we can choose to be some of the change that we long for. My aspiration for myself, and my invitation to you, is to commit again in this New Year to the nurture of community--among queer men, and among all those our queer lives touch. 

True community is a dance between our individual longings and our deep awareness that we'll find what we're looking for only by being part of something bigger than we are--something that may unsettle us, knock us out of our preconceived sense of ourselves and remake us. Community is risk and adventure. It takes courage, because it opens the possibility that we can't control what will happen when we step outside ourselves.
You build community when you go to a meeting in support of a project you believe in, even though you've had a long day and just want some down time at home.
You build community when you walk into a nursing home to visit an elderly friend, even though nursing homes are probably the last places on earth you enjoy hanging out.
You build community when you respond kindly and graciously to the flirtation of men you're not attracted to, instead of shaming them with blunt rejection.
You build community when you let yourself be open to the possibility that a one-night stand might become a friend--or at least deserves a phone call to thank him for the time you spent together.
You build community when you follow through on the promise to check in with the men you met at a gathering that opened your heart, even when the intensity of that experience fades into the business-as-usual of your life back home.
You build community when you keep faith with the longing within you for a bigger, fuller, richer life: when you step up into the work of repairing your soul and repairing the world, of transforming them both, of making them both new.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

With Every Breath

"Every time you take in a breath, you are repeating the pattern of taking spirit into matter, and thus repeating the first creation of Adam. And every time you breathe out, you are repeating the pattern of returning spirit to the material universe. In a way, every exhalation is a "little dying" as you pay the price of inspiriting the world. Your simple breathing models your entire vocation as a human being. Like Christ, you are an incarnation of matter and spirit operating as one.This, more than anything we believe or accomplish, is how all of us continue the mystery of incarnation in space and time--either knowingly and joyfully or not."

                          --from Fr. Richard Rohr's daily meditation for December 26

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Good to Meet You

Last Saturday, I was standing at one end  of "The Barns," the repurposed streetcar repair sheds that in winter months house  my favourite farmer's market. I'd bought three jars of homemade jam from the reserved Mennonite woman down the row and wished her and her daughter a Merry Christmas--unsure of how strict Mennonites even feel about such greetings. The handsome son of one of the organic farmers had sold me my winter vegetables for Sunday's dinner. I'd finished my cinnamon roll and coffee listening to two women in their sixties play some wicked duets on mandolin and guitar, and joked with them about the meter still running as I chucked more change into their open instrument case. I was putting on my hat and bike helmet when a total stranger came up to me and thanked me for zeroing out my carbon footprint for the day. And we exchanged names.

"It's good to meet you."

"It's good to meet you, too."

It's a banal phrase, until it isn't. Until it's filled with the joy of a genuine connection though you share nothing more with a stranger than the miracle of being alive on a planet in desperate crisis. Until it's about genuine meeting, the "I-Thou" moment in a wider web of "all our relations" that's as close to the heart of the Mystery of our lives as we ever get.


It can happen in a market. Or a church. Or with a hookup you connected with on Grindr an hour ago. Or with someone you've lived with for twenty years. Hell, it can happen with your cat on the couch. Or a dying whale on the beach. Or in a stable at the edge of Bethlehem. None of those settings makes it any more sacred, or any less.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

At the Return of the Light


Darkness doesn't last forever.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Have a Splendid Whatever

For the first eight years after my partner Jonathan and I met, Christmas was completely off the menu. No tree. No poinsettia. No evergreen boughs. The memories were too visceral for him of growing up Jewish in New York and feeling as though the whole city, beyond the safely kosher confines of the Upper West Side, was ramming the holiday down the throats of his family and neighbours.

Christmas, on the other hand,  is wired into my German Lutheran DNA. During the fifteen years that I shook the dust of homophobic organized Christianity off my feet, my alienation from the faith I’d grown up in never extended to hating the season. It always felt to me like the culturally specific version of something more or less universal--the need to celebrate light in the depths of a season of darkness. During the years of that long disaffection, the Solstice Parade that snakes every year through Kensington Market in Toronto felt like a magical expression of all that that I loved in Yuletide:
as did the Christmas sequence from Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander:
Ten years ago, hell-bent on bringing some observance of the season into the house, I was the one who searched out the hand-cast glass menorah that we’ve used every year since. Jonathan hadn’t lit one at home for the four and half decades of his adult life.Six years ago, the first winter after we changed houses, I acknowledged his ongoing reservations but finally insisted on a tree. As I unwrapped the ornaments that hadn’t been out of the box for seven years and started talking about the associations each had--the heavily oxidized remnants of my grandparents’ decorations, purchased in the 1930’s; the baroque extravaganzas my mother and I assembled from craft kits when I was in high school--he got it, and within two days announced that we needed a bigger tree next time.
Since then, we’ve taken to giving each other Christmas ornaments as Hanukkah presents. Christmas Eve, I attend midnight Mass, as I’ve done since the late 1990s when I decided once again that the wisdom embedded in the spiritual traditions of my youth were my birthright, to be claimed on my own terms. Christmas morning we unwrap presents before heading off for Chinese food and a movie.
A few years back, I went to a radical faerie Solstice party. Among the guests was a gifted counter-tenor who sang an aria from Handel’s Messiah, while a loop of digital photos on the TV screen featured partially naked people cavorting in a green landscape the previous Beltane.
I know that for many queer people who’ve cut ties with the Christianity of their upbringing as a matter of survival, the season’s associations bring up far too much of what they need to leave behind. Nonetheless, here’s my invitation: hang onto the mystery of light kindled in darkness, of the spirit of generosity towards friend and stranger, of warmth in the depths of winter. Yes, toss out what doesn’t serve you. But don’t surrender what fed you as a child, and what some corner of your heart may still long for. Make it new, make it yours.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Learning What We Already Know

I had the privilege of spending the weekend before last encouraging ten men enrolled in a mindful masturbation workshop to pay deeper attention to what they've known, on some level, all along: that we possess within ourselves enormous capacities for pleasure and fulfillment. That we have access to a deeper realm where body and soul are one--where desire can blossom into wisdom and compassion.

Why do we need to be guided deeper into the erotic treasures we already possess? 

Because for decades we've been told that sex is something we "get" rather than an energy that circulates within us and between us.

Because we need a secure and welcoming space to release the inhibitions of a lifetime. 

Because we need to practice acceptance and generosity toward others in order genuinely to practice it toward ourselves. 

Because we need reminders to slow down and breathe, to move our bodies, to make sound, to explore subtleties of touch, in order to become conscious of what we take for granted. Because it takes years to unlearn what many if not most of us learned at the age of fifteen--a fast, silent, tense, breathless pump-and-dump.


Because we need the experience of a community to tell us, "I see you. I've got you. You're safe. You're worthy. You're irreplaceable and sacred. This is your birthright. And sharing it is sheer joy."


Photo by Andrew Graham

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Mid-afternoon, November light

Sit on the stone as the light flows down the slope.
Remember how the air becomes your breath.
Forget where the light ends and the branch begins.
Forget where the crow ends and you begin.
Forget where you end and the tree begins.

Friday, November 15, 2019

"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake."

--Kurt Vonnegut

Saturday, October 26, 2019

"Who are my mother and my brothers?"

The Scriptures are in fact full of diverse forms of family and familial relations. Why? What does this say about the majority who do not practice sexuality according to this dictum? Our formulas for sexual ethics are theoretical and do not match the realities of human lives where sex really matters. Instead, our questions ought to be probing and profoundly reflective of sex where it is found and not how we think it is. How do we treat one another when it comes to sexual expression and commitment? How do we treat our primary intimate relationship—with or without a sense of the Sacred and the potential for good?
                –Olive Elaine Hinnant, God Comes Out: A Queer Homiletic, Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2007, pp. 4-5.             

Sunday, October 6, 2019

An Aphorism for Yom Kippur

"Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past."


                           --Anne Lamott

One of the most poignant moments in all of Jewish worship is the thrice-repeated disavowal Kol Nidrei, sung at the beginning of the service that bears its name on the eve of the Day of Atonement. It's a truly counterintuitive thing for the congregation to declare: "All our vows...we repudiate them all. They are undone, abandoned, cancelled, null and void, not in force, and not in effect. Our vows are no longer vows, our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths." 

The chant's origins and earliest contexts are in doubt, and the text has changed over time, attesting to the fact that generations have struggled with the oddness of beginning a day of self-examination by disavowing obligations.

But think of the ways you may have boxed your life up tight by seizing on a fixed idea of who you should be, who those around you should be, what you have to do to fulfill a narrow and unhelpful understanding of who you are in the world. Think of the ways whole societies go down disastrous paths by acting as though something they've freely and unwisely chosen is a course from which they can't turn back.

What the Kol Nidrei offers is a return to what Zen practitioners would call "Beginner's Mind"--a state before I made bad decisions about who I am and have to be. A state where I can hear the call of a Voice that says, "Honey, just let that shit go."

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Magic Unfolding: Barrie's Altar

A personal altar is a living process, an external expression of what's moving within you. Barrie Petterson, who wrote last week about embarking on the creation of his shrine, shares this fresh glimpse of his sacred work.





Friday, August 30, 2019

Ritual and Self-Discovery: A Guest Post by Barrie Petterson

I'm so very grateful to my newfound friend and brother Barrie, for this beautiful description of his explorations over the weeks since we shared in the retreat Frank Dunn and I co-facilitated at StoneSong in western Maryland. I read with joy and admiration his account of playful, uninhibited, and ongoing self-discovery.


MY ALTAR
I have never felt drawn to ritual. As an ex-Baptist minister I’ve never been “high enough up the candle” to dabble in smells and bells. (This leaves aside the biggest Baptist ritual of all – adult baptism in a tank!) During my July retreat at StoneSong just six weeks ago, I foundered over the instruction to construct a personal ritual, and really just wanted to opt out. Then, to my surprise, apparently unconnected strands of thought and feeling came together that allowed me to participate with feeling. 

At the retreat, David also offered detailed suggestions on how we might construct personal altars. I found myself drawn to the idea on returning home. I realised I already had a temporary altar of sorts, a space I'd dedicated to mindful masturbation: browsing a catalogue, I'd come across a bedside lamp in the shape of an erect cock.  Inspired to fashion something more to my own taste, I went into my workshop and a few days later had created a black phallus fitted out with LED lighting. I placed it on a low bedding chest and propped a large mirror against the base to give me a view of myself as I handled my cock. 

In the past weeks, I've cleared an alcove in my studio. Under  a slightly raised platform I'll add LED lighting. I’ve painted an altar piece with random penises mingling (an image adapted to my own needs from another source). I found an attractive altar fabric with a subtle penis motif. On the  platform, I'll set a large carved phallus with two feet to stop it toppling over. I'll add a couple of smaller representations of the penis. I have yet to decide what other objects will sit on the altar; I imagine my selection will change with time. 

Underneath this altar, the large mirror will still allow me to view my cock and balls as I devise some form of phallic worship. I will remain totally naked, though as I write this I can imagine using some kind of “prayer shawl”. (My ritual buddies at Stonesong included a devout Jew, who had bought a new prayer shawl for the occasion.) My ritual will not involve ejaculation, as this is difficult for me . But in the first stage of preparing the altar, I've dropped some of my semen to soak into the wooden platform. I see this as a form of dedication and anointing, and I may later invite friends to add their ejaculate in the same way. I am overwhelmed by the thought that the semen is sacred, and part of a holy ritual which I feel compelled to create I imagine oil and water will also become become part of the ritual I devise. I am fortunate to have a copy of Frank Dunn’s prayers for phallic devotion. I know I will use them, as well as my own. 

I don't intend to conceal the altar, now that I have recently come out to my family as gay – but I will have a painted canvas to hang in front of the alcove, so that it is protected from the distractions of ordinary daily routine.

As I continue to design and build my altar, I cannot yet predict the role it will play in my life how its presence will affect me as I go forward. But given my previous skepticism about such aids to ritual, I marvel that I’ve had a complete turn-around into this newfound enthusiasm. I acknowledge that something in me has stirred to draw me into this exploration: something emotional that  has me wishing to adore the phallus – not as a personal item to which I am attached, though that too – but as a way of reaching out to the Universe and its ongoing creative energy, and welcoming it as  it reaches out to me. To know that when in masturbating I reach for a higher state over and beyond orgasm (though that too!), I am not alone in so doing. As I jack off (I like these various phrases for the activity!) I know that I am joining in with mankind as they too seek a bliss which is beyond words and which others may not be able to frame or express. Regardless of belief or philosophy, this urge to handle the penis is common to all men. I believe this Oneness is central to the meaning of life and can be approached in ritual – and certainly in company with other men. Regardless of any impulse to denigrate, coarsen or soil this act, all men are pulled to the same central point: devotion. 

We're told that male babies in the womb have erections and play with themselves. Now, there is another phrase I love: “Play with yourself,” in spite of its use to shame boys and men. The devotion I aspire to isn't serious and long-faced. It is in essence playful, and as innocent as a curious child who has not learned to be inhibited. We do it because it’s nice. We find pleasure and at the same time feel grasped by a higher order. In such moments, we can hear laughter as we fall into welcoming arms. We are embraced in tactile bliss. This is who we are – naked and at home. Regardless of my years – I remain a tender loving child.


Barrie Petterson --15
th August 2019

Friday, August 16, 2019

Unlocking Your Inner Temple: A Workshop in November

Within your own body, you have the capacity for enormous pleasure and fulfillment. This two-day adventure of self-discovery and open-hearted, supportive fellowship, November 16-17 in Nashville, Tennessee, will guide you deeper into the erotic treasures you already possess. 

Let go of inhibition in a safe and welcoming space. Trust-building exericses will establish a strong, secure container for our experience. Sharing circles, solo and paired exercises, guided meditations, and instruction in technique will open doors into a deeper realm where body and soul are one--where desire can blossom into wisdom and compassion.






In addition to leading the workshop, I'll be available for individual sessions on November 15 and 18. You can use an individual session to:

  • increase your comfort with group experience
  • explore what you hope to take away from the workshop
  • address issues of body image, shame, and inhibition
  • process what you've experienced after the workshop
  • integrate your erotic and spiritual energies
  • practice techniques for whole-body pleasure


If you're interested in an individual session, you can read the sidebar text "Sacred Intimacy" just to the right of this post.




The US $150 registration fee includes Saturday and Sunday morning coffee, lunch, and snacks. An early-bird registration rate of $125 applies till October 15. The workshop is limited to twelve participants. 


The group workshop and individual sessions will take place at a private residence in East Nashville. Location will be provided on receipt of the registration fee. Contact me by e-mail for further details.






Photo by Andrew Graham

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Longings of Our Hearts, Made Visible


On the altar, a token of what each one of us brought into five sweet days of community. 

Sacred because together we chose to make it so.




Photos by David Mayes
Dedicated to the brothers of StoneSong 2019


Monday, July 22, 2019

At Play in the Temple







Photos by Hoppergrass and David Mayes

Friday, July 19, 2019

Reverence at Midsummer


Photo by Hoppergrass
Dedicated to the beautiful souls gathered at StoneSong, July 2019

Friday, July 5, 2019

Rootedness, Grace, and the Taproot Between Your Legs



When you look at a tree at the edge of the forest, you're only seeing half of it. 

The truth of its life lies in its rootedness. The unseen, sustaining depth of its life is out of sight--in the tangle beneath the surface, where it's intertwined with everything that grows around it. It lives in a web of connection that you probably won't notice if you don't imagine your way, like a burrowing animal, down into the soil.

As with trees, so with us. We focus on what's happening above ground level. We fall easily into believing that we're separate from each other, that each of us sustains his own life, more or less in isolation. Although we go on drawing our sustenance from the common ground where our lives intertwine, we don't pay much attention, or any at all, to the mystery of our interconnectedness.

Our natural state is gratitude, because gratitude is an awareness that our life comes to us from outside. Our life flows into our root systems from the soil that sustains us, and from the roots of those around us. Without our rootedness in common ground, we have no life. When we forget this, we misrecognize our life and cut our awareness off from our true Source. We're alive not because of what we take for ourselves, but because of what comes to us as Gift.

True gratitude goes hand in hand with generosity, because if our life flows into us from outside, it flows through us, and out of us again into those around us.


If we choose, we can cultivate our erotic energy to live more deeply into our interconnectedness--as a way to drop down into the realm where our lives depend mutually on each other, and on the wider life of all Nature. We can join not only with each other, but with the web of Creation around us. We can choose to practice erotic gratitude, and erotic generosity.






Sunday, June 23, 2019

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Heart Leaps Up


Draw me after You, let us make haste...

The voice of my Beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping over the hills.
My Beloved is like a gazelle 
or a young stag.

(Song of Songs 1:4, 2:8)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

BarTimaeus Acted Up

"They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way."

--Mark 10:46-52

His very name tells us he hasn't fit in from birth: Bar-Timaeus. The Greek text adds "Son of Timaeus" as a gloss, but that's what the name means in the first place. His father is Greek, but he lives in an Aramaic-speaking community. So when he calls out, "Son of David"--and geez, how Cecil B. DeMille can you get?--by implication he's really saying, "You're the ultimate insider, I'm half on the outside. Can you please look over here and see me, because I sure as fuck can't see you?"

Jericho wasn't a hotbed of Second Temple orthodoxy. It was a miscegenated city full of half-breeds and eclectic beliefs. And the ancient Near East was no place for anybody disabled. "Blind" and "beggar" were pretty much redundant, unless Timaeus was still around, had money, and was well-disposed toward his son. Presumably, he wasn't. 

I heard that passage afresh in the year 2000, shortly after a fifteen-year stint when I refused, for very good reasons, to darken the door of a Christian church. (Medieval cathedrals didn't count.) Several years after both the other out gay men in my family had succumbed to AIDS, and the second one's death had been whitewashed by a convenient secondary cancer diagnosis. I saw BarTimaeus as if for the first time. He broke open the Word for me.

BarTimaeus acted up. He was blind from cytomegalovirus. He was covered in KS lesions. Everyone pushed him to the back of the crowd when the hot, controversial young rabbi was passing through. But he was a screamer, determined to be heard from the back and despite the attempts to shut him up. He threw condoms in the middle of Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. He threw pig's blood on the doors of pharmaceutical company headquarters.

BarTimaeus was David Wojnarowicz. BarTimaeus was Sylvia Rivera. BarTimaeus was every trans person who fought back at the Stonewall Inn fifty years ago. BarTimaeus was James Baldwin. BarTimaeus was that holy slut, Blessed Keith Häring of New York.

And for everyone around him who tried to silence him and keep him invisible, there was someone in the crowd to say, "Take heart, he's calling you."

There is always someone to say, "Take heart, he's calling you."

Monday, May 27, 2019

An Inconvenient Truth

"What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the cancer cell."

That's Annie Dillard's memorable aphorism in her short, wonderful book, Holy the Firm. It's a meditation on what it means to hold to a faith that the Divine is wholly present in the material world, and in our bodies. 

It ain't all sweetness and light. If God sings in our bodies when they're strong, able, and energetic, God is also in our bodies when we're weak, disabled, wounded, exhausted. God is there in the emergency room, the cancer ward, the nursing home, the occupational therapist's office.

It's wired into us to resist our limitations and vulnerabilities, to strive for strength, wholeness, performance, and beauty. It's natural to rejoice in those qualities. But we get hooked, so easily hooked, into believing that losing those things somehow separates us from the Holy. Images of God looking like an Olympic athlete are more seductive than God bent over and leaning on a cane.


But the body is our teacher as profoundly in its weakness and its failures as in its strength and its pleasures. "Everything that arises is subject to dissolution," the Buddha told his disciple. It's scary to embrace that truth. But within it are the jewels of wisdom and compassion.