Art, music, literature, and science are my religion, for they all tell me how to live, morally, spiritually, and in my relationships. They show me love for myself and for my fellowman. They preach to me so deeply and intimately. Some say that we humans have evolved to be religious because we know of death, and knowing, desire to explain it somehow, to understand it. Jan introduced me to God via music and the art of literature. She is not a musician nor is she an artist; she’s an avid reader. She plays Americanized Canasta with me on the first Thursday of every month, socially, with only a tiny bit of competiveness if she begins to win. She isn’t religious, per se, but she is observant, a scientist. She observed the young piano prodigy, how he or she, the youngest child that amazes us humans, moves their tiny fingers and hands across the keyboard creating and re-creating music. How the young prodigy learns music so easily that it baffles us, on the piano or a thousand other instruments. She then told me to consider those musical miracles, and I did, and I remembered god created miracles, those miracles. Likewise, I expanded my thinking, the young artist who can draw without training, and a thousand other miracles of human life, and evolutionary life. Consider the tuatara of the New Zealand fields, how it grows, how it grows? And yet, it has a Third Eye, what religion is that?
I was troubled by God and Christianity recently, and mad at Him, and that is how Jan came to explain her beliefs in god, manifest through the miracles of music, art, and literature. I remembered then my husband suggesting that I read “The Afterlife of Billy Fingers” when I was troubled another previous time at god, and I was filled with wonder as I read. Christopher Hitchen’s famous, or infamous if you’re a Bible-believing Christian or Jew or other Religion, book “God is Not Great” is my bible, for their god is not great. There are many gods of many religions that are not great. He is most often mean, jealous, and demanding. But the god of music, art, and literature, and Science, is beautiful. Sometimes loud, screamingly loud, but always deeply profound as She delves deep into my soul.
So we consider death, we humans. “We take those who are much closer to death than we are and sequester them in nursing homes,” wrote Andrew Sullivan recently in the online magazine “Intelligencer” (http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/12/andrew-sullivan-americas-new-religions.html), an article filled with absurdities, generalities, and banal bombast giving confirmation bias to his own religiosity. No, we don’t sequester our elderly. We carefully weigh all the awfulness of loneliness our mom or dad will have in a nursing home versus staying with us. We know how difficult it is to care for an aging parent, because our parent cared for us, wiped our little baby bums and changed our urine-soaked cloth diapers, as we have for our own kids, except we had Pampers instead of cloth (and dammit, those liberals are gonna ban that soon, too!). We don’t sequester them. My husband and his brothers found a home for their aging mother, and they will confess it was Providence herself that found that nursing home. She died while we were in New Zealand, January, 2019, and yet even sequestered and us so far away, we were deeply involved in her passing. Sullivan is the consummate Christian pessimist speaking when he says we sequester them to avoid thinking about death. There are those who are sequestered, and a few evil children, like Trump, who couldn’t begin to love their parents or their children enough to care for them themselves, who put their parents or elderly relatives in nursing homes for selfish purposes. But they are few, these evil ones. The rest of us Liberals, we know death and suffering right here and right now, as deep or deeper than the Christians.
Sullivan explains that his religion is a way of life that gives meaning. So, I suppose, my new way of life free of the religious cult I grew up in, is a religion. I hereby incorporate the Church of Liberalism. I not only have deep meaning in music, art, literature, and in living and enjoying life, including giving to others, sacrificing, serving, but I have taken up the cross of Liberalism, too, as both the theory and the practice of love. I feel sorry for Sullivan having to defend religion. It should stand on its own, and yet, today, religion fails and falls all on its own. I am reacting harshly at Sullivan, I realize, but I laughed out loud at this thought from Sullivan’s article. “They (us silly Liberals) are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.” Oh my! Where do I begin? Restraint of Christianity? Yes, such papal restraints, priestly sexual restraints—oops that formed its own double entendre—the wars, the wisdom of fighting wars, the wisdom of fighting each scientific discovery? That was the awfulness of Christianity. The culture? Okay, I will give in to that point. There is much of music and culture that helped form our modern understandings of art, literature, and music because of these historical religions. Primarily things like how to mix certain oil paints with linseed oil to make a certain color for painting Jesus on the Cross, and likewise, some musical linseed oil here or there. Small things these are from historical cultural Christianity. Christianity is dying because it didn’t work at giving deeper meaning to life. It answered nothing, not the questions of how or why nor the questions of how to love. And why? Because it did not focus on the here and now. And that is what liberalism is all about. Right here, right now, we have poverty and inequality, and it needs fixing. Not in Heaven, but now. Not by Christ’s Second Coming, but right now. Not by capitalism or Christianity, but by us Social Justice-seeking Liberals. I belong to the Church of Liberalism.
Oh, dear Brother Andrew Sullivan. Christianity is not the foundation of liberalism. Liberalism was built on the foundation of love, human love plain and simple. Love which mandates equality of races, equality of humans. And if Christianity had at least once held that human love, as perhaps it might’ve in that Bethlehem babe, then it quickly died, millennia ago, leaving nothing on which to build liberalism. My Sister Jan, she is the perfect practitioner of the church of Liberalism. “Canasta”, I yell to her, as I score one more book of American “Hand & Foot”, and then I lay down a card for Jan’s wife to pick up and win the game. We LGBTQ folk, queer as folk we are, are playing cards inside an old church, that once was Baptist, now a New Thought church that seems to be barely hanging on financially, and, by gum and by golly, I realize we’re building liberalism inside the physical foundation of Christianity, not quite the same as Sullivan had intimated in his essay. Yep, let’s keep the foundation of that little ol’ brown church in the vale. It’ll make a nice gathering place as we rally for President Kamala Harris.
David and I recently returned from New Zealand, where we saw so much that words cannot describe it. I am attaching a couple of pictures. The Tree Fern is endemic to New Zealand, and it is like an evolutionary magic. I thought ferns growing naturally in the Pacific Northwest of the US were magic when I first moved to the rainy part of Washington state, but these tree ferns were spectacular. They are abundant and being preserved now in a park called “Zealandia” where native species are being brought back little by little. The Tuatara (like a lizard) is another endemic species in that park. Thankfully, unlike the Moa bird, the tuatara still lives and is being helped along. The tuatara is the only genus of its species still living on earth after 160,000,000 years. Evolutionary magic, again. What a place!
David and I resumed our writing class when we returned, this last Sunday. David wrote about his mom’s passing while we were in New Zealand. I wrote about Johnny Mathis, and the faith of my fathers, which faith, interestingly, did not believe in evolution. Things have changed, somewhat, in Mormonism since I left, and many adherents have resolved the conflicts about evolution.
Johnny Mathis is old and he still sings “Begin the Beguine”. He’s coming to perform at Spirit Mountain Casino here in Oregon, where I heard my first rock concert, Melissa Etheridge, who’s my same age I found out later. At her concert, she looked and acted much younger than me, just like a rock star should and would, I guess. I loved Johnny Mathis when I was 13. I loved him singing “Begin the Beguine” because I loved sappy, old-fashioned romantic music. I never fully began to dance or sing until I was old because I was a closet-dwelling Mormon.
I began to question the faith of my fathers when I turned 40, and within a few years, I was blue, as in “blue, blue, my world is blue”, Mormon BYU blue, beyond blue. I was depressed beyond blue, that is. And so I began to ask myself, “When do I begin the Beguine?” The faith of my fathers began less than two centuries ago, very new compared to Hinduism and Guru’s, or Sanskrit religious books, or Buddha. It was easy to question that faith of my fathers by being older, more confident, and easier to find answers thanks to Al Gore who invented the internet and who was also a very handsome man. Men, I love ‘em all, can you tell? Could I dance the Beguine with Johnny Mathis before I begin to die?
The Tree Ferns
I dream of spaces and places that are made of glinting light, emotional glinting. Light makes a space and a place, and whether it is bright and cheery, or full of fear, or filled with a thousand other emotions in those spaces and places of my dreams, it is the light that makes them emotional. The light makes fear of height in my dream. For the cliff lives mightily high and the overlook scary, only when the glinting light forms its shadows and views. Or the sun, the afternoon sun, paints long shadows over a plain, the foothills of my dream.
The sunlight and the daylight of Utah is always lucent. But the light of Oregon, that glimmers crepuscular all day long. My ancestors left the dark and dreary light of England and Sweden with bright-light hope for Utah. Then it was not Utah, the territory was named Deseret, ignorantly hateful of the Native Americans, the Utes and the Paiutes and the many other tribes that traversed the light-filled, high-mountain valleys there. I think that light that shines so bright in that territory energized the souls of my ancestors. The Native Americans already knew that, felt it, and wove it into their dreams forever and still do. I think it energized my ancestors more than the Light hope from their prophet’s sermons. Perhaps.
I hate fluorescent light. It drains my energy, opposite of the sun. Where will I go for light now? New Zealand summer beckons me. How will the sunlight appear there? Will the shadows be reversed like the spinning water drains, so they say?
Some dreams are soft, blue Christmas light that enliven my memory of mom’s comforting words, confident, mysterious light. Now I am old, I dream and day-dream a lot, and like light at night, I sometimes cannot see the differences behind the lights. That afternoon-sun dream, the penumbra, foothill plain, smaller version of the Great Plains. That dream was emotion. The Ruby Mountains, in that dream, were the creators of the penumbra, the aura, and the emotion that came with it. As that dream progressed in time, the shadows extended longer and longer over the slightly rising plains. Fear came into the dream, mysterious fear. The plains of the Ruby Mountains were ruined by a developer, and I fear developers who “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.” It was called Spring Creek, with trails to trailers, one-acre parcels, dotting, spotting, ruining the plains. Plans and plains, they do not mix. One trailer is lit from inside, home-sweet-home lights, incandescent bulb light, yellow and warm. And I am transported inside that one to an even warmer fire in the fireplace of the 1970’s, the red Malm woodstove, of Danish modern design, popular to even the trailer dwellers in Nevada, now dated into discomforting ugliness like shag carpets. It will rise again, a la mode, no doubt, like everything does. The fireplace is a cylinder that smiles, and the smiling family inside the trailer, happy and caring, change the dream from mystery and fear to joy and love. Firelight and cozy-light and bright euphoria light. I recognize that family, a young couple called to be my Blazer leaders in the Primary. Blazers, blazing ironic light.
Like my life, my dreams reflect that my mood is intimately connected with light. Seasonal-effective, affecting me, disorderly. Sad. That sounds like a Trump tweet ending, no? I cannot end like that. No, I will not be sad. Light will change; spring will come. Realized is what I am. I am a life well-realized, now well-examined. Now I know and I can be delightful.
“Faith is realizing that you will always get what you need.” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” Jesus, New Testament, Matthew 6:28-30
Studying the Bible was an intimate part of my upbringing and of my adulthood. This scripture from St. Matthew often pricked my soul deeply as I thought about the song by Roger Hoffman, Mormon composer, written to convey its message musically and lyrically; it surpassed all my expectations back in the day of Black and White TV. I mean my days of Mormonism were like Black and White TV to me; I was hidden in a deep, dark, gay closet. My daughters Sarah and Kenzy have both sung the Hoffman composition, “Consider the Lilies of the Field, how they grow, how they grow . . .” as I accompanied them on the piano. It is still a favorite song of mine, but it no longer stirs my soul deeply as if it were the very essence of truth like it once did. As so much in my life now, the song fills me with contradictory emotions, ranging from anger to sadness, with love, empathy, and even melancholy in between it all. Here’s a mixed-up analogy for you on the whole thing. Hear an expert contralto voice as it sings the highest of emotions and the lowest, too. Obviously, the song is not written for a contralto voice. I mean, he who has ears to hear, let him hear, and just as Jesus of Nazareth did with sometimes confusing parables, I’m saying the song, together with the thoughts of the lyrics, the idea that God takes care of us and even the little children, well, that is as complex an idea as a full-range contralto voice is.
Perhaps the Hindu tradition of reflecting opposites, like sometimes the words of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar are, are more easily understood. However, we do not always get what we need, so maybe I’m on an endless journey into theodicy here. For example, just look into homelessness, poverty, hunger, famine. Many of our fellow human beings definitely aren’t getting their basic needs met. One thing feels definitely sure for me, I do not believe that just because someone can’t muster up some positive thoughts, or faith you might call it, that they must then be blamed for their own needful situation not being remedied. I reject that outright. My first spouse, Ranae, often said, “if you’re not getting what you want, fix your want-er.” It was her Grandma Harris, I think, who told her that when she was young, crying about not getting what she wanted. Grandma Harris also said, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.” Well, needs aren’t like wants, and you can’t fix your need-er. You need water; you need food. You need love. In some Hindu thought it is often expressed that eventually we all get what we need, because what happens is . . . well, it happened, therefore, it is. Or was. I think that’s a bit mentally indolent, though. If you died today of whatever cause, old age included, well, was it really “needed” to be that way? Was it really “your time to go”? I’m sure there’s some philosophical name for this fatalistic type of thought. I’ll Google it. It’s called fatalism. Hahahahaha. These pre-destination and fatalistic thoughts tend to placate us, but do they lead us really to believe more divinely? Perhaps they carry us on through times of sadness with some degree of hope that someone is in charge of it all. But I dislike this notion of someone else being in charge, of someone else being enlightened, and of some raised up in higher esteem than others. If there is justice in this world, then all must be able to be enlightened. I suppose we all are, when our needs are met. Korwin Ogden taught me this simple idea. He was my Priest’s Quorum advisor; I was a priest at age 16, so young and enlightened that the Mormons ordained me. LOL. “People won’t listen to the gospel when they’re hungry,” Korwin said. I recently dreamed of Korwin and Linda Ogden. The 1917 house I thought was theirs—D Land Title was their business inherited from Korwin’s parents—was transported and plopped right down in the middle of an empty field in the middle of Disneyland, with Korwin and Linda beginning to dress in their costumes as Disney characters of some kind. I couldn’t tell in the dream which Disney characters they were going to play. In the dream I ask them, “Why have you always been able to be yourselves, happy as you are and doing what you want?” Linda replies, excitedly, that she is offering the house and land on a long-term lease to my husband David and I for only $18,000.00 total; “be happy in the house,” they tell me, “it’s a steal of a deal.” Linda is very happy in this dream, content, but somewhat aloof as she is in real life. Aloof, but graciously so, peacefully so, just like in real life. When I awoke from that dream the other night, I realize happiness like my son Mikal has always had, came from him pursuing his own dreams, fulfilling his own needs, like going to Disneyland and playing characters there, like hooking up with his brother Nik and playing video games now as adults, just like they did in their teenage years. In my sub-conscious mind which burst forth enlightened as my right and left brain came together, formed this wonderful dream. My brain works much more coherently now that I’ve come out of the closet, I can tell you that.
“When there is total harmony and synchrony between the left and right hemisphere of the brain, and when the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system are working in harmony, then you say that this is an altered state of consciousness. And this altered state of consciousness which can be physically measured today, is what is called enlightenment.” This quote is from a question and answer format discussion by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, so apropos to my essay here, entitled “Does enlightenment come only to those who seek it? Can someone be accidentally enlightened?”
I certainly believe in the accidental, in randomness, chaos theory I’ve heard it called. Coupled with my recently found energy to make God into what I want Her to be, I say luck, random, chance, whatever you call it, and most of the synonyms for that idea are deity-related, fortune, etc., well, they are just part of life. For we who have been trampled, persecuted, we can make god in whatever way we wish. Anyone can. That was the most stirring sermon I’ve ever heard. Thanks to the very Reverend Dr. Fatimah Salleh, this is my new energy. To me, random chaos, whatever you call it, indicates that the only thing Divine about this life is you and I; we are the Divine and we make this world Divine by what we do, right here, right now, sometimes in preparation for the future, but more importantly through our being present and seeing and loving in the present. Postponing for eternity is a fall-out of Mormonism and Christianity, I think. Many millennialists–not millennials—give up this life and its improvements for a hope in the afterlife. They postpone cleaning up the environment, for example, for the Second Coming will surely burn it all up and cleanse it, so why do it now. It’s just around the corner, you know, this Second Coming. That is a sad way of living.
In Mormonism, like Hinduism—I can’t believe I’m comparing the two on the same side of an argument—we attribute our not knowing what caused random things to happen to the mysteries of God, that He knows why and how it surely affects the future, grand scheme of things. It is just because life is so complex and the world so big and wonderful, and we are so small and child-like and not perfected yet, not enlightened, that we can’t comprehend such vast greatness in the overall plan. Both religions acknowledge the opposites that must occur, that to feel joy we must experience sadness, and the like, or the unlike. God moves in a mysterious way, ya know, His wonders to perform. It’s not exactly the same in Hindu thought, but very close. We come to know our own connection to the Divine in Hindu thought, and by doing so, being centered, peaceful, calm, meditative, that we can fulfill our destiny in helping the world become better. We see a need and are able to help because we are filled with peaceful love. More synchronicities happen; more tender mercies, a Mormon adage, or more inspiration might be the old Mormon Doctrine word.
There are also other kinds of poverty, needs that should be met if there really were a benevolent God ruling the Universe. “If I ruled the world,” I used to say when confronted with the ironies of life. When I give empathy it is of this kind where I would change things completely; the caste system: gone; slavery: gone. And, they are going away; the world is getting better because of us, learning, growing, scientifically and in many other ways. We are evolving into better human beings. I didn’t realize when I said “If I ruled the world,” that I was foretelling my own future of dis-religiosity. Dissing religions is called “dis-religiosity,” and God knows I have dissed Mormonism and other religions, too. I have seen and felt my own emotional poverty, and my needs were not always met. Oh, but you say, in the end, your needs were met in your coming out process. Oh, but I say, I made my needs known to myself and finally to others, and I take credit for that. And so, I am Divinity itself, and if I am Divinity, then what need have I of God or of worshipping Him? In religion, the blame would lie with me if my needs are not met, because I became one of little or no faith for a time. “O ye of little faith” as Jesus condemns those who doubt Him; another religion of guilt. No. This I cannot believe in. I am religiously and spiritually reluctant to rely on some Being for my needs any more. We might become co-dependent, God and me, if I relied on Him, like we used to be. I do not blame someone for a lack of faith if they do not have what they need, either, and in that way I consider myself much better than most Gods of most religions. Arrogant, I realize. Acting to relieve poverty, hunger, or even feeling compassion without some big action, these are true religion, and undefiled. Some will say, “Aha, Kevin, that is the Christian religion at its very essence!” Why, then, add all the other guilt, shame, and blame to it, which often becomes so self-loathing? I have seen social sciences progress to find many more motivations than guilt to get us to help the needy we see all around us, to get us to learn more, to share more. Ironically, I must admit, the simple hymn “Have I Done Any Good” still rings so true to me. “Have I cheered up the sad, or made someone feel glad?” Does Elder D. H. Oaks know these words? That’s an inside joke for those of you who don’t know him.
I still enjoy studying religions and spirituality, but it is a journey, and I smell the roses along the way now. I feel Divinity in many more ways than I once did, and I mean more than just hearing the song of a bird and being in the moment, present, with that song and bird. I feel Divinity because I am at peace with me being me. And if I am me, and you are you, and everyone can be themselves—OMG, I’m a Libertarian at heart—then let’s all fill some needs we see around us and then see the world Divinely transformed; I wish, I wish. And, if wishes were fishes, we’d all have some fried. “What the hell does that mean,” you may ask? “You sound like an old man rambling.” I am an old man rambling, and I wish. Don’t we all have wishes? But what does frying them mean? Oh, that’s right, I don’t have ears to hear or eyes to see so I’m not understanding the parable. Can I have Sidney Poitier? I need him.
Purple makes you drunk. Chicha morada is a purple corn whiskey made in Peru, an ancient Inca recipe. Purple maize was invented by the Incas, you know. Chicha morada is also a refreshing non-alcoholic brew, too, made with cloves and other spices, slowly cooked. Apple and pineapple chunks float to the top. Served room temperature, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, served cold. There were few refrigerators in Peru, and even fewer houses with electricity. Peru is also dressed in all purple during October, mes morado. Purple processions follow a “Lord of the Miracles” image, a painting from deep in the purple heart of Angolan slaves who were brought to Peru after the conquistadors ransacked the country. Chicha morada, the alcoholic kind, flows freely before and after the processionals. Purple ends the month, too, with Day of the Dead.
Purple corn. My grandma Knighton grew purple corn, too, but only for decorating, not for eating and definitely not for drinking; we ate only white-supremacist corn, Puritan yellow. Grandma Knighton’s purple corn was bred with white and yellow corn, a mestizo, misceginated corn. It made an intriguing impressionist or pointillist painting, specks of purple, maroon, white, yellow, and even some burnt orange. Grandma’s Indian Corn decorations were hung by its whithered and paper-crackling dry shucks on the stone walls in the patio. Grandma had great respect for Native Americans, who we referred to as Indians back then. Silly Columbus, in his purple Spanish robes, calling them Indians.
Grandpa Knighton split the creek stones to build the patio where the purple Indian corn hangs. Some of the stones bled when they were split open. One or two of them bleed purple, perhaps just in the light of the Black and White TV where Perry Mason re-runs play, as we grandkids sneak to turn on the old TV. The adults have closed the patio door and we are supposed to be going to sleep. Because I am too young to follow the storyline of Perry Mason, my mind wanders to the bleeding, split stones. I focus on the purple one, a lavender shade of purple, like a soft pastel but a color that you have to blend a tiny bit of pink, speckles of white, and some iron-ore red and some granite blue, igneous formation to come out in this tint of purple. The purple bleeding rock tumbled down from the purple mountain’s majesty, the Rocky Mountains, the Wasatch range, and kept tumbling until it was washed round in shape by the creek where Grandpa gathered the stones for his masonry project. Mom said he learned the stone masonry trade by training himself, starting at the back of the little wood-framed house, splitting the stones one by one and fitting them together with cement mortar, and slowly working his way around to the front of the house where everyone would see the stonework. By the time he built the sunken patio, years after finishing the stone veneer, he was very skilled. And there and then, many years later, the bleeding purple stone had dried and the patio was a room.
Fast forward, I am grown, and the patio room was tinted with purple again when I took my fiancée to meet Grandma Knighton. A purple quilt was on stretched on the racks, the quilting racks. That’s where we had always slept as kids, beneath a quilt stretched on the racks. I loved purple, and my fiancée loved anything brassy and sassy, and the purple quilt was all that and more. Grandma Knighton had chosen several dainty, traditional type quilts for a wedding gift, but my fiancée would have none of those. She demanded the purple one. And I didn’t mind, so I persuaded grandma to give us the one she was working on, stretched on the racks. Grandma relented and brought it to the wedding reception several weeks later. Purple and blue and some prints, too. What a quilt it was!
Purple is red and blue mixed, a mestizo, and purple miracles are needed in the United States, I see. Trump doesn’t realize that “Make America Great Again” really includes all of North and South America; we’re all “Americans”, from Alaska and Canada all the way down to Punta Arenas, Chile. I learned this in Peru, when I saw “America” bus lines, and realized Peruvians were Americans, too. Trump may not know about Amerigo Vespucci, since Trump didn’t enjoy school as much as I did; instead he still talks of and praises Columbus. We USA-Americans will be bleeding red and blue on election day, November, 2018, and all that blood will be forming purple processions to and from the voting booth this November. We may end up drunk with purple, hopefully happy drunks, not the Kavanaugh/Judge kind. Happy Purple Month, y’all.
Judging and judges. It certainly is the time to think about them. David and I had a bit of a heated discussion on Judge Kavanaugh. David is very much against him and ready to believe Dr. Ford. Me, well, a bit skeptical of the motives of both parties, and certainly knowing Kavanaugh is a good ol’ boy and part of the good ol’ boy’s network of Bush’s and Ivy League Schools, and I hate that. I really do. But, knowing also that Trump, or worse yet, Pence, will nominate some other uber-conservative judge to the Supreme Court, and it won’t matter anyways. So back to judgments. Nick Einbender, David’s nephew, (my nephew, too, yay, as he and his husband are so handsome you just smile looking at them), asks the following question on the facebook page “Mormons Building Bridges”. Can LDS church leaders and/or LDS church members, fundamentally disagree with LDS-church attending LGBT members choosing to “act on it” and still truly love, support, and welcome them, and is it possible for the LDS-church going LGBT members to take those offering all that at face value? And the question got me thinking about judging. Many years ago, a good friend of my oldest son got married. The friend was not Mormon, but was religious, as was his bride-to-be. We all had gotten to be good friends with Mikal’s, my oldest son’s, friend and with his family who lived just a few blocks down the street from us. So, when we were all invited to the beautiful, outdoor, Summer wedding ceremony and reception immediately following, we decided to go. The pastor conducting the wedding, like many Mormon temple sealers do—sometimes to our great chagrin, as the Mormon temple sealer sometimes tends to be too verbose and often is an unknown person to the couple and their families, since Mormonism has a different tradition of who does the wedding sealing ceremony and the sealer rambles on about something totally unrelated to the couple being sealed—kind of like me when I write—offered some words of advice to the new couple. The pastor advised that the couple should take up some traditions, like he and his wife do, of drinking coffee in the morning together and chatting, as a way of connecting more deeply. All of my kids audibly gasped at the word “coffee” and I couldn’t help but ask myself what is wrong with my religion, my way of raising my kids that they would gasp at the word “coffee”? Being the good Mormon father that I was, I took up the subject of judgment at our next Family Home Evening. For those who don’t know what it is, Family Home Evening is a time for the parents to teach their children. I often used Family Home Evening as a time to correct the teachings that had taken hold on my kids from a misguided talk or testimony or class at the LDS ward we attended. We probably sang the hymn “Truth Reflects Upon our Senses,” a hymn not sung very much any more in LDS congregations, or “Lord, I Would Follow Thee,” especially verse two. Verse three of “Lord, I Would Follow Thee” is taken by many Mormons as permission to judge another, but as I read it again from a different perspective as an Ex-Mormon, I realize it could be simply that people in physical need deserve our help, the poor, the “needy”. Yet how many times in so many Mormon sermons have I heard it used as permission to judge another who is “needy” spiritually? We inevitably have to judge that they are lost, sinning, and in such dire straits spiritually, that they need saving. For that matter, Christianity and many other religions, too, have gotten it all wrong. We humans are not broken or awful or in need of any salvation of any kind when we’re born (yes, I know that’s a Mormon teaching, but we still miss the mark too often, and eight years old? Come on?), and we don’t need anything other than love as children or as adults. As the years of my parenting wore on, it seemed misguided judgments and truly false teachings were coming too often from my religion, but maybe that was just me thinking too much. Obedience, not thinking, is the first law of heaven. NOT! More than once I had to re-teach Jesus’ own ranking of the sins to my kids because someone at our Mormon church had gotten off track and said something about obedience being so damned important as to override love. Tirade and soap box coming; watch out. Like when we could tell my Mom was really mad, the swear words went up in order of awfulness: Hell’s Bells (mom was frustrated); Damn (mom was mad); Shit (mom was really mad; get ready for a &*&#!-storm). So maybe I need some scatological expletives here, because I’m really mad. My kids would remember how many times I stressed the commandment on which we could hang all the law and the prophets. Ring someone’s neck, as my mom would say. Back to the story at hand. Coffee as a sin? As I look back on that wedding, I realize my three girls were especially vulnerable as they had been taught strongly that the ONLY wedding worth its weight was a temple wedding, and so perhaps it wasn’t the coffee that made them gasp, but the coffee on top of the wedding that would end in failure, because it wasn’t a real wedding per LDS standards. Perhaps that was just too much handle under the LDS way of living. Coffee, on top of it all! So, my answer to the question at hand. Can? Yes, humans can love, support, and welcome, and they’d probably do it naturally if they’ve been raised themselves to love, not judge. It is possible, but not very probable in the LDS worldview, in my humble opinion, because . . . coffee! And, funniest thing of all, I absolutely judge harshly my coffee now; I’m one of those nose-in-the-air, particularly-picky coffee drinkers. I have to have just the right blend and roast with just a tiny bit of the right kind of cream, no sugar. David, well, he can do “instant” and be satisfied; or just plain old diner-style black coffee. But, who am I to judge another? In case you hadn't "judged" it, Bert and Ernie were a lovely gay couple. Dedicated to my niece, Tori Christensen.
My grandma, Afton James Rex, directing a podcast in the olden days, about 1967, on the set in Silver City, NM.
Well, here goes nothing. I mean, I don’t know what I’m doing on this blog yet, technology-wise. My son Nik helped me a lot, but I had to pay him to do so. Technology is expensive. So, I’m trying to link my many readers to a podcast that my husband David and I did recently. When I say “did”, I mean we were interviewed for it, and audio-recorded, so that’s the new word, podcast. In the olden days, only a few people got to be interviewed and audio-recorded and then broadcast widely. I once interviewed and audio-recorded my Grandma Rex. It wasn’t broadcast widely, as my brother Judson unrolled the cassette tape and, well, it was thenceforth only a written interview, because, thankfully, Mrs. Busk, the english teach who gave us the assignment to interview someone, made us transcribe the recording, and I did so very soon after the interview. So, I have the written version, which I’m going to broadcast right here, right now. Meanwhile, if you know how to listen to a podcast, here is the link (I hope this blog allows linking, like linking, blinking, and nod, that was a nursery rhyme).
Well, it looks like the linking worked. If you have Apple Itunes, it’s also available there, just search for “Gay Fathers Podcast”
And, for the finale: Here’s My grandma, Afton James Rex, being “podcasted” the old fashioned way. Well, darnitall, I can’t find the written PDF copy I know I have on one of the NINE, that’s right 9, thumb drives that have my entire life recorded on them. I’ll get back to you on this issue, meanwhile, enjoy the modern podcast of me and David. And, the picture of Grandma Rex directing, until I find the written transcript of my interview of her.
Every first weekend in August during my childhood, there was a big family reunion for the Hunt family, because August 2nd was Grandma Hunt’s birthday, and it was summertime so everyone could travel. I remember at least two times the reunion was held at the famous amusement park, Lagoon, in Farmington, Utah. This particular reunion, my mom, who was the in-law to this Hunt family, made us all matching T-shirts, and we won “best dressed” family, of course. Grandma Hunt as a banner reading “grandest grandma” on it. In spite of being an in-law, my mom loved Grandma Hunt and related well to her. Grandma Hunt loved sewing and hand-sewing work especially, and canning bottled jams and jellies and fruit, too. So did my mom. The Hunt reunion was also held at Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, once or twice, and once at Logan, Utah, at Adams Park. Aunt Helen Marie lived nearby Adams Park, and it was easy to hold it there that year as Grandma Hunt had been moved to Sunshine Terrace in Logan for elder care. We could call her Elder Hunt now, I guess, getting all that elder care. It was sad to see her there instead of her nice home in Evanston, Wyoming. We also held week-long Rex Reunions every other summer, but that’s another blog for another day.
Mom was just learning to sew using knit fabrics, which is quite a feat, mind you. We’re all in knit shirts, you’ll notice, and this was one of her first endeavors in the new fabric. Unlike non-stretch fabrics, you have to be very careful with knits or the seams all bunch up, and you end up with a shirt that looks like a hot-air balloon being filled up for take-off. My mom is an expert seamstress now, after keeping 7 kids clothed in a limited budget. She sewed lots of shirts for us boys, but we almost always bought the pants. However, one time when “carpenter” or “painter” pants were just coming in style, my mom saw some at the store, saw how expensive they were, then figured she could easily sew some “extras” onto some pants, “extras” like a pretend place to hang your hammer, your paintbrush, etc., and so she made me some. I must’ve been a bit more adventurous than my brother, Brian, as he stuck with the store-bought jeans. The pants turned out great. They’re called cargo pants now, with extra pockets here and there, but they were painter or carpenter pants back then, and were modeled on the real work pants that carpenters and painters used. I imagine some French fashion designer being so intrigued by the uniform of a painter, that the designer just gets this bee in his bonnet and comes up with a way to market painter or carpenter pants as a style. Voila, a new trend is born. The painter pants my mom made turned out great.
They fit me well; they looked almost exactly like the store-bought, ones, and I got asked out because of my jeans. Lori Blackburn asked me out to the Sadie Hawkins dance, which was a girl-ask-guy type, a really wild idea back in 1976, and she used my nice-looking pants as a way to get into my pants . . . oops, I don’t mean it that way. I mean, she used my pants as segue into asking me out on a date. She was so impressed with the way I looked in the pants, I mean mom fitted them so nicely to me, you realize, plus I gained a few pounds that year in high school, and filled out the legs and butt nicely, that Lori just couldn’t contain herself and asked me out, and asked me to wear those canvas-colored, off-white linen look, pants to match hers for the dance. So, we went, got pictures of the painter jeans, and danced the night away. As the school year wore on–Sadie Hawkins was in the fall–I outgrew the pants and split the seams, literally, as I put them on one morning. Mom said she couldn’t expand them any, so they went the way of all the earth, and I said to them, “For dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.” I then buried them. Kind of like I buried all my feelings, too. Fun ending to that part of the pant’s story, though. As you look below in the various photos, one photo is the old painted side of the Grass Valley Mercantile Co., in Koosharem, UT, where we had the 2018 Rex Reunion. The deep-knee bend ruined my painter’s pants.
The trouble with the dance, and school life, and pants was this: I wanted to go to the dance with Lori’s next older brother, Danny. Unlike Lori, Danny was a boy, plus he’d just gotten his braces off so he was extra gorgeous, whereas Lori still had hers on. I think the being a boy was the bigger issue for me, though. LOL. Danny had dark curly hair to go with the big smile.
Well, back to the Hunt Family Reunion of 1974. Maybe it was 1973; I’ll have to ask Aunt Janice; she knows how to connect all the dots and find clues in the picture to determine when it really was. The reunion, like most, was very fun. Lots of good food, fun, laughing and playing, and being part of a family that loved me. I tried to be what I thought they all wanted of me; a nice, straight boy. It wasn’t so much a conscious effort on my part or that I was hiding. It was just that being gay was not an acceptable choice back then. I was told you couldn’t be gay; you just couldn’t or you’d be thrown into hell. Plus, gays were gross, sickened, sinful, awful, devilish, repugnant. Repugnant means not accepted by your family. So, I thought I could just be straight; everyone else was, so why not me? The years of self-loathing accumulated, though, and it wasn’t until 2013, that’s 40 years if Aunt Janice can pinpoint the year of the photo, that I determined it was either I must come out of the closet or die depressed. What a choice, huh?
This week, tomorrow, August 7th, 2018, my dad turns 80 years old. We had a big family reunion to celebrate his birthday, too, and I wrote last month in anticipation of it. I hadn’t seen some of my siblings for years. How would they react to gaily-married me? Would they bake me a cake, or not? Well, we all avoided difficult topics, I guess, like politics and religion, mostly, so we made it through. But, did we really relate or did we just get along because we’re family? Maybe that’s what families do, it’s just I always thought my family was perfect, and so was I, and, well, I guess I have to lower my expectations a bit, of myself and of my family. I had a gay time. My family are all wonderful, good people, even if some of them voted for Trump. I guess that’s part of getting along. Getting a long what? Getting a long line of family. Oh, and one final thing. My son Mikal now has an early August birthday, August 6th, so he can join the long line of Family Reunion/Birthday combo’s.
From top left to right the additional pictures are:
A. Four generations of Rex fathers. Taken in 1988 at Richfield, UT. I meant to get a 4 generation picture, but I was having too much fun.
B. Papa David holding his grand-daughter, Mia. Lots of Grandpa’s in this family now.
C. Grandpa Rex holding Zoe, his grand-daughter. If you look closely, Zoe looks a lot like her dad in the 1974 photo above, where my mom is holding Nathan, Zoe’s dad, at about age 3 or 4.
D. The Rex Family, 2018.
E. Papa David pretending he knows how to drive an ATV; thanks to Grandpa Rex, we all enjoyed 4-wheelin’ around Koosharem and environs.
F. We got to see Aunt Jeanette and Aunt Janice, who will remember even more Hunt Family Reunions than me.
G. Grandpa Rex holding Zoe, his grand-daughter. If you look closely, Zoe looks a lot like her dad in the 1974 photo above, where my mom is holding Nathan, Zoe’s dad, at about age 3 or 4. (Well, hell, I don’t know why two of the same photos show up on this thing; what do I look like, Bill Gates?)
H. The side of the local mercantile store, with an old painted “billboard” advertisement about ripping the seams of your overalls, which meshes nicely with my story above about ripping the seams of my painter’s pants (see above story). More about this in my story above. Read the damn story, above. Get it?
A.B. C.D. E.F. G.H.
Two of my sisters have birthdays in July, on the 2nd and the 3rd, and my daughter Sarah was born almost on the 4th of July–she missed it by just a couple of hours–and my grand-daughter, Karalyn, has late July birthday. My July sisters shared the same bedroom and small double bed for many years, and my mom made them a light purple–some might call it lavender–gingham-checked bedspread, tied to its backing and batting with white yarn. You can see the white ties intersecting the checks in the painting. Several years ago, I wanted to celebrate with my sisters the life we all shared, with many memories, which resulted in this painting. Both sisters got a slightly different version of the painting, and I think this one for my sister, Monet, turned out the best. The lavender bedspread has Utah shaped into it, just below the polar bear, and the shape of the state of Nevada is formed by the upper edge, the top, right-hand part of the painting. The Ruby Mountains on the top left, flow into Nevada as day changes to night, and a star marks the location of the town of Elko, Nevada, where we lived for several years and where I most remember the lavender bedspread. 1705 4th Street, Elko, NV, was the first, brand-new home my parents bought, a 3 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath speculation home in a new subdivision near Northside elementary school. They had purchased an older home back in Vernal, UT, when I was 5 years old, but it needed lots of work, a real fixer-upper it was. We moved from Vernal to Uintah, UT, near Ogden, and then to Elko, NV, when I was 7. A stuffed polar bear sits in the casino of the old Commercial Hotel in Elko, Nevada, the world’s largest dead polar bear. It is the most famous thing about Elko. On Sundays when mom was trying to rest and dad was in charge of us kids, he would take us to places of interest, few that there were, in Elko, and the taxidermy polar bear was one of the places. The other common place he’d take us was the local museum, where I remember vividly the telephone exhibit. Old telegraphs, then telephones throughout their history, and then a futuristic version phone, depicting a device where you could both hear and see the person you were communicating with. It seemed like such a far-off dream, something from my favorite cartoon, The Jetsons, and yet here it is, these many years later, fulfilled, as I recently talked by Skype, actually Facebook messenger, camera with my July daughter who is living in New Zealand now.
At the bottom of the painting is Cove Mountain, as viewed from the spectacular vista of our family home’s living room at 701 Ogden Drive, Richfield, UT. Some bureaucratic idiot recently re-addressed the property. God only knows why, and my mom fought the change as well she should’ve, but she lost. I think it’s 669 West Ogden Drive now. My dad did his very best to design the home to capture the view of Cove Mountain, and he did quite well given the limitations of a panelized construction, pre-manufactured floor plan home that Uncle Bruce Pease helped us build, like an erector set, in 1977-1978. We all graduated from Richfield High School, all 7 kids, and the big “R” represents that high school, as well as the red cliffs and sandstone towers of nearby national parks, finish out the painting. I am looking forward to showing my husband, David, the red-rock country where I grew up, later this July, 2018, 40 years since our house was built.
During these years of Elko and Richfield, I was becoming a closeted gay young man. So, the memories are filled with lots of unprocessed emotions. After 29 years of Mormon marriage, the strictly heterosexual kind, I am taking my husband, gay as we are, and perhaps someone with lots of empathy who is reading my little blog post may be able to understand, even if just a little, how this trip may turn out. I topped off my birthday gifts to my sisters a couple of years ago in this poem to go along with their paintings.
The Lavender, Gingham Check
By Kevin K. Rex, July, 2015
Lavender’s purple, silly Billie,
Not green or blue, dilly dilly.
Lavender, we say, is purple lilac,
Stare at the gingham check, look back,
To see a bedroom full of play,
Boards of games, and bored Summer’s day,
Dolls and phone calls to teenage ears.
There, too soon, we’ll be counting age’s years,
And white yarn tying that purple deck,
Will fray; and wash will fade the fabric check.
Then, we’ll say, “Lavender’s only a scent,”
“And only hint’s a color, long now spent.”
When the white-haired mind can’t remember more,
We’ll say to our grandkids, some four,
Some five, now six, and seven years old,
How purple was really our Nanny’s bold
Idea of being a la mode!
The lavender will fade to Ruby’s view,
Cove Mountain’s green will turn to blue,
And yet we’ll sing, dilly, dilly, it’s green!
Lavender’s green, and my brother’s a queen.
And he wanted the dolls,
And the teenage boy’s calls,
Lavender has turned to rain’s colored bow,
But he got bear’s fur. Now, you know.
Well, let’s see what this looks like! My son, Nik, has helped me get this blog started. I am posting a picture from my first time participating in a Gay Pride Parade. I marched with the Gay Father’s Association of Seattle (GFAS) in the Seattle Pride Parade. It was the most thrilling and meaningful thing I have ever done and ever felt. Stephen Schlott, a long-time member of GFAS snapped this picture of me as we filled balloons with helium to give to kids along the parade route. Mike Macklin, also a GFAS member, kissed me at one point in the parade, right in the middle of the parade route, and I will forever remember that. You see, I was taught that two men kissing was a sin next to murder. Mike also had been brought up as a Mormon, and he knew full well all that I had been through in coming out, because he, too, had been through it. We weren’t in love, or dating, and we had just become friends in talking as we filled the balloons before the parade. He told me of his BYU experiences, of hearing, in person, the infamous “Little Factory” speech by Boyd K. Packer. His adult son and fiancee came by before the parade started and greeted us, helped us continue filling balloons. When we as humans allow our fellow-humans to be themselves, instead of trying to mould them into what we think they should be, we will see Divinity. Heavenly Father loves balloons.