Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Fair Weather by Richard Peck

Source of book: Borrowed from my kid. 

 Since my second kid introduced us to Richard Peck about 7 years ago, we have greatly enjoyed his books. He writes with a broad range, from historical fiction to modern ghost stories to Victorian mice to slapstick. Here are our previous selections:

 Here Lies the Librarian

A Long Way From Chicago

The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail

Past Perfect Present Tense

The River Between Us

Secrets at Sea

The Teacher’s Funeral

A Year Down Yonder

I was surprised to discover that we hadn’t listened to a Richard Peck book in quite some time. I believe that there is only one more audiobook in our library system. Indeed, this book doesn’t appear to have been made into an audiobook at all, which is sad. It would make a good one. I bought the book and read it to my younger kids. 


The story behind this book is kind of interesting. Originally, Peck wrote a short story about the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, entitled “The Electric Summer.” Unlike some of his other stories, which became the beginnings of other books, this one inspired a novel that was somewhat different from the story. 

The short story was perhaps my favorite of his, being a nuanced coming-of-age story, with a perceptive take on the relationship between a mother and daughter. The novel is rather different, with additional characters, and significant plot changes. In a way, this was disappointing, because I had kind of hoped to read a longer version of the original story. 

But that really is unfair. After all, there is nothing wrong with the book - it really is delightful in its own right. Peck decided to write a less serious and more humorous book, and also direct it more toward tweens than young adults like the original. 

Here is the basic idea behind the book. Rosie Beckett and her family live on a farm in rural Illinois somewhere. (The fictional “Christian County” - while there are counties with that name in Kentucky and Missouri, both are too far away to work for the train trip described.) Their life is, to Rosie, pretty boring and predictable. She isn’t sure she wants that future. (So far, very like the short story.) Then, an invitation from their Aunt Euterpe arrives. She wants them to come visit her in Chicago and see the Columbian Exposition. Rosie’s mom is fearful, but decides to send the three kids, Rosie, older sister Lottie, and little brother Buster for the visit, but stay home herself. One of the reasons she decides to do this, despite her misgivings, is that she wants to get Lottie away from her boyfriend, Everett, who she thinks is a drifter, possibly with a prison background. (This is far from the truth, as we find out at the end of the book.) 

While the mother attempts to send her own train ticket back, it is intercepted by Granddad, who is a force of nature and a delightfully humorous character. He flags down the train en route, and joins the kids, much to the shock and horror of Aunt Euterpe. 

Many humorous adventures ensue, from the kids causing the horribly incompetent servants to quit, to Buster getting lost in the Midway amidst the peep shows and belly dancers. The culmination of the visit, however, is when Granddad takes them to see Buffalo Bill do his show. Granddad’s dog Tip crashes the party, and in the confusion and aftermath, it turns out that Granddad fought in the war with William F. Cody, and they are old friends. This results in an invitation to see the rest of the show in a box, next to Granddad’s idol, Lillian Russell. 

The book has a lot of great humorous zingers, great slapstick, and a bunch of historical figures that are mentioned or appear in the book. As usual, Peck writes a great story. He was just an amazing storyteller, regardless of the topic. 

I thought there were some interesting parallels between this book and the pair of related books, A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder that he wrote right before Fair Weather. In some ways, they are mirror images. In Fair Weather, the country girl goes to the city to find herself. In the others, the city girl goes to the country to find herself. In each, there is a memorable and humorous elder relative. Grandma Dowdel is probably the best, but Granddad is no slouch. In all of the books, Peck’s generous portrayal of both city and country life and his gentle humor make the books particularly great for younger kids. 

I should also mention the use of minced oaths in this book. Granddad has a bit of a mouth, but his daughters have taught him to avoid “real” swearing around the kids. So he minces oaths in a hilarious manner. My favorite is “hecaTEE!” which has the brilliance of combining a hellacious reference with the goddess of witchcraft. 

Fair Weather is a lot of fun, and my kids enjoyed it. It seems to be impossible to find a bad Richard Peck book. It is sad that he is no longer with us, and that there will be no more stories, but we are fortunate to have the many he wrote over a long and productive career. 


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao

Source of book: I own this

 This was this month’s selection for our “Literary Lush” book club. One of the things I enjoy about this club is that I end up reading interesting books that I never would have discovered on my own. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was definitely not one I would have discovered on my own.


In general, this book wasn’t that well loved by our club. Perhaps it suffered in comparison with Deacon King Kong, which was outstanding, but it also had some flaws of its own. 

 The book is meant to be a retelling/reimagining of the backstory for the Evil Queen from Snow White. The sequel book presumably covers the Snow White part of the story. Dao sets the story in a mythical Asian-style kingdom that appears to draw elements from both Imperial China and Samurai-era Japan. 

 Xifeng is a beautiful young woman, trained by her abusive aunt to be cultured and talented, in preparation for a grand destiny. She is, so the cards say, to become the empress someday. To this end, she runs away with Wei, her lover, for the capital city. She then enters the Emperor’s palace as a lady-in-waiting, before scheming to eliminate rivals and eventually marry the Emperor. 

 Xifeng starts out as a sympathetic character, and for a while, there is at least the question of whether she will turn to the dark side or not. Unfortunately, the real turning point is when she abandons Wei to go to the palace...and this takes place only a third of the way into the book. Thus, pretty much any suspense is over early on, and the rest seems like playing out the string, so to speak. 

 The problem isn’t just with the early decision, but with the psychology. While Dao tries to make Xifeng struggle with her choices, it doesn’t seem like she really does, after she commits to being empress. In the cutthroat world of the palace, it is literally kill or be killed, and Xifeng doesn’t have much agency other than to “follow her destiny at whatever cost.” 

 Furthermore, Xifeng lacks complexity. Her most salient character is her beauty. That’s her calling card, and why she gets what she wants. She has some skills as a result of her training, but they seem performative. She knows vast amounts of poetry, for example, but poems seem to be weapons for her to use, not wisdom she has absorbed. Her motivations are too simple, too, to be believable. 

The book does have some good parts. I thought that the descriptions were evocative, particularly the forest and the palace. Dao creates a compelling world for her characters. The scene with the hot springs and mirror in the water is memorable and haunting. 

 The book also seems to start to go an interesting direction with Xifeng seeking to be free from the patriarchy of her “traditional” culture. This is one reason that she spurns Wei, who, after all, is a bit patriarchal. The forest demon queen is correct, however, that there isn’t anything more “free” about working in the palace. Even becoming empress is, in a world where women are rarely permitted to rule, simply a chance to be a more powerful possession of a man. This interesting question is rather cast to the side as the book goes on. In the actual event, Xifeng becomes the minion of the Serpent God, and not any more free than she would have been as a wife kept at home. And more than that, she wouldn’t even have the benefit of true friendship and love. 

“The truest love and friendship rarely come to those in power.”

 Also perceptive is a “red shirt” member of the diplomatic envoy they travel with. 


“I’m sick to death of lords and kings and emperors. What do they do but play games and let their people pay the price in blood? We have no quarrel with each other. Only kings are arrogant enough to believe the world too small to hold other men.”

 This echoes observations by Steven Pinker and Tim Blanning

 Overall, the book was disappointing, but not terrible. It was a diverting read for stretches, before kind of fizzling into inevitability by the end. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Noodling for Flatheads by Burkhard Bilger

Source of book: Borrowed from a friend of my brother. 

Generally speaking, unless it is a Dirk Pitt book, I tend to take my brother’s book recommendations seriously: he is a devoted reader with a taste for thoughtful and interesting books. When I saw his little Facebook review of this one, I really wanted to read it. Fortunately, his friend (who lent it to him) was gracious enough to let me borrow it too. Since at least two of my kids are interested in reading it now, I suspect it will get a lot of mileage before he gets it back.

Burkhard Bilger is an interesting character - as interesting as his unusual name. He has written for The New Yorker for a couple decades, as well as a variety of literary and scientific publications. But he was, believe it or not, born and raised in Oklahoma, to German immigrants, in a decidedly non-upper-crust family. He thus combines a deep sympathy and understanding of rural America with a well educated and broad perspective. Since I wasn’t that familiar with him before this book, I looked him up and discovered that he is often compared favorably with John McPhee, who I recently discovered. I would agree that his writing is indeed in the same basic vein as McPhee, although with his own unique and enjoyable voice. 

Noodling for Flatheads is a collection of eight long-form essays about interesting facets of Southern culture. Bilger writes, not from the coastal elite perspective of what he calls “southern grotesque,” but from a sympathetic, open-minded viewpoint. And, to that end, he experiences what he writes about. And yes, that includes catching giant catfish with his bare hands….by shoving his arm down their throats. (That’s the title essay, in case it wasn’t obvious.) What results is a series of fascinating looks at interesting people and the things they care about. As my brother put it, the essays are not in the least condescending, but bring a delightful degree of humanity to the people and things he writes about. (Again, definitely in the tradition of McPhee, and something that a lot of writers could learn from.) 

The topics are both broad and unusual. I figured I might list them, because they aren’t obvious from the title. First is, of course, catfish hunting. And then there is cock fighting, moonshining, squirrel hunting (including eating the brains…), frog farming, racoon hunting, soul food, and the rolley holers...which is kind of the game of marbles with a heavy dose of “ever so much more so.” It’s an interesting slice, with a bit of diversity too, not just the usual white southern stuff. 

I must say, I quite enjoyed this book. Bilger has a real knack for interviewing people, and he brings the characters to life. Also, because he participates in most of the activities he writes about, his essays feel more involved than a dispassionate observation. His writing is also excellent. (Again, I am reminded of McPhee: the prose isn’t flowery, but the command of the language and precise use of words is delightful. Things come alive because of the good writing.) 

Bilger essentially writes, as he says, of the difference between the “two Americas.” No, not, as John Edwards observed, the elites and the average person; but of the surface America and the grey market, so to speak, that exists beyond the official laws. 

I often felt as though there were two Americas: the one we legislate and the one just down the street, inside and abandoned warehouse or a neighbor’s basement; the one on television and the one where Santeria rituals are performed and snakes handled, where moonshine glimmers and gamecocks fight. 

This is in the context of cockfighting (which is actually pretty dang big here in Bakersfield, despite being illegal…), but it could apply to any number of things. I have certainly eaten grey market food, and seen enough stuff in the neighborhoods I have lived in (from chicharones to fireworks) that are not, strictly speaking, legal. Bilger does note, though, that as brutal as cockfighting is, the birds actually live a better life than those raised in factory farms. Morality is often relative… 

In the chapter about moonshine, Bilger makes another spot-on observation. 

American history, some say, could be written in terms of whiskey as well as wars and wandering tribes, and the result might say more about the American character -- about the perennial battle between liberty and the rule of law.

Booze has been a part of the history of the New World, for better or worse, from the rum trade that fed slavery to the moonshiners in my wife’s ancestry to Prohibition to the modern craft beer movement. There is something uniquely American about our relationship to ethanol. And, this being America, race is inseparably linked to pretty much everything. This bit is enlightening, following a history of moonshining, and the ways that nasty stuff was used to adulterate booze for the out-of-town market. 

A few of the moonshiners I talked to said these were nothing but scare stories, passed around by revenuers. But others admitted that there have always been two sorts of moonshine: the decent stuff, which is kept at home and sold to neighbors, and “nigger likker,” as they called it, shipped to anonymous shot houses and nip jounts in the big city. It’s in such areas that moonshine has taken its worst toll. In 1928 sixty died of wood alcohol poisoning in New York alone, and in 1930 authorities estimated that fifteen thousand people had been partially paralyzed by “Jake,” a type of moonshine made with Jamaica ginger. 

The chapter on squirrel hunting is likewise filled with fascinating intersections. During the AIDS crisis, “plague porn” really took off, and those wounded by the Southern Baptist horseshit of “AIDS is God’s wrath on gays” latched on to the “eating squirrel brains gives demented hillbillies mad cow disease” bandwagon. Neither was exactly true, of course. AIDS is a threat to humanity, and the victims are often the “innocent,” not the “guilty.” (Women and children in Africa and elsewhere come to mind.) Likewise, it turns out that squirrels most likely do not carry prion disease, and that the clusters in the South were simply genetic. But the comedians certainly took the story and ran with it. Dave Barry, one of my favorites in my teen years, asked the obvious question: “Since when do squirrels have brains?” 

I also enjoyed the chapter on frog farming. Which still isn’t a thing. Basically, frogs seem to resist being raised in captivity. Sure, they may breed, but diseases get them. Or any number of other issues. And they don’t make money. Anyway, I have had frog legs. They are delicious. But not easy to find, for reasons this chapter makes clear. (Also, not everyone likes them…) But there is a great line in the book about, well, here’s the whole paragraph. 

Ken Holyoak’s fish hatchery, frog farm, and wild hog preserve sits on a small gravel drive guarded by a very large fish. Eight feet long and six feet high, bristling with exotic fins and fluorescent purple-and-yellow scales, the fish looks like a cross between a bluegill and a beetle -- a Volkswagen Beetle, that is, circa 1969 -- and hovers above passing cars as if scanning for minnows. Even Holyoak doesn’t recognize its species. “I just asked this feller that goes to my church to make me a feesh,” he says, “and that’s what he come up with.”

Also excellent is the chapter on Soul Food. Which I rather enjoy eating, although I haven’t had all of the various entrails yet. Bilger opens with a quote from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. 


What a group of people we were, I thought. Why, you could cause us the greatest humiliation simply by confronting us with something we liked. Not all of us, but so many. Simply walking up and shaking a set of chitterlings or a well-boiled hog maw at them during the clear light of day!

Bilger notes, again, with great perception, that a lot of people see food as a matter of “purity”: they are pure, and the lower classes eat unclean food. (And yes, this is absolutely tied up with both race and class in our nation.) 

The world is full of people who define themselves by what they won’t eat: macrobiotics, vegetarians, weight watchers, and weight lifters. But sometimes the more difficult, more audacious act is to define yourself by what you will eat -- especially if it turns everyone else’s stomach. 

Both my wife and I have earned our bona fides by eating fish with the heads on -- and the eyeballs. Personally, I view food as (in part) a means of connecting with other cultures. Which means I will try all kinds of stuff, largely as a connection between others and myself. 

There is so much more in this book than the few things I have mentioned in this post. It is fascinating, with well-told stories, and a slice of life unfamiliar to Californians like myself. Bilger’s empathetic and human connection to those he interviews makes this book particularly sweet. It is a good read, worth seeking out. 




Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare

Because of Covid-19, theaters are closed here in California, and the Utah Shakespeare Festival is cancelled. Thus, I doubt I am going to have many chances to see live theater in the near future. We have been getting by with video sources, even though they are not the same. The Globe in London is releasing filmed performances of various plays, including this one.

We first saw this play at Fresno’s “Shakespeare in the Park” a number of years ago. The kids immediately loved it, what with laundry baskets and all. Critics have not been so enthralled with the play, considering it one of Shakespeare’s weaker works. Audiences and opera composers seem to have sided with my kids rather than the critics. 

 The play features Sir John Falstaff, the debauched and obese knight who steals the show in Henry IV Part I. In fact, Falstaff was so popular that Shakespeare wrote Henry IV Part II in order to cash in on the popularity. (Which proves, by the way, that neither shameless sequels nor cashing in are a new thing.) Eventually, Shakespeare decided to give Sir John his own play. 

 Despite featuring Falstaff and being ostensibly set in the time of Henry IV, the play is really a spoof of 16th Century middle class society. 

Sir John, broke again, decides to mend his fortunes by seducing a wealthy married woman. Well, two of them. He figures he might as well try both and see if he can land one. His buddies refuse to be the messengers, and instead, turn him in to the husbands. One of them laughs it off, but the other takes it all too seriously and is consumed with jealousy. He disguises himself and buddies up to Falstaff, asking him to seduce the wife so that he can have a chance at her after she is already “fallen.” 

Meanwhile, the two wives, who are smarter than any of the men of course, simply compare the love letters, laugh, and decide to play tricks on Falstaff. 

 First, he is forced to hide in a basket of laundry and thrown into the Thames. Then he is disguised as a fat aunt, mistaken for a witch, and beaten soundly. The final humiliation is when he dresses up for a fairy revel in which he is to meet his intended, but is harassed instead by youths paid to give him the business. 

It is hard to really feel too sorry for Falstaff. After all, he is trying to seduce married women. And he is a lech, even by Elizabethan standards. Furthermore, the main injuries are to his ego, not his body. But still, one might find a scrap of sympathy for an old man who is treated infamously. (As he claims.) 

 The secondary plot involves the daughter of one of the women, who is being courted by three men. The one she loves, Fenton, does not meet with the approval of either of her parents. Her mother prefers the French doctor, Caius; while her father prefers the Welsh preacher, Sir Hugh. The two are ludicrous characters, challenging each other to a duel, but are unable to complete it after they are directed to different locations. 

This being a comedy, you know it will end in a satisfactory marriage, and a comeuppance for each of the deserving persons. 

For the most part, the play is slapstick silliness rather than profound psychological analysis. But I did notice one thing in particular this time. The “merry wives” have complex and interesting motives. On the one hand, it is flattering to be pursued, even if by a silly rake like Falstaff. Thus, they play along to a point...not enough to actually cross the line into adultery, but enough to get off a bit on the fun. It is as if they are able to get some of the emotional gratification of an affair, without cheating. In this version, they make a mild nod to S&M in their flirtation. 

 Shakespeare also gets a lot of humor out of the class and nationality differences. His Welshman is nearly unintelligible, and his French doctor is so full of botched Latin and worse English that the London audiences of his day must have laughed themselves silly. For American audiences of today, some of the humor is lost perhaps, but at least poking fun at the French and Welsh doesn’t seem mean-spirited like it might have in Shakespeare’s day. Being either French or Welsh in America of the 21st Century doesn’t carry negative social consequences to any significant degree. 

The Globe version was set more or less in the 1930s, as far as fashion. In spirit, of course, it could be anywhere - or any place. While in general the acting was good, I particularly liked the interaction between Falstaff and the wives. All three parts were filled by fairly big names. Pierce Quigley (with a long list of stage and screen credits) played Falstaff. My only quibble with him is that he is too thin, even with a fat suit. But he did bring a good vibe to the part, sympathetic, calculating, egotistical, and wounded in turn. (The best Falstaff I have ever seen, though, is still Tom Hanks, at a live performance of the Henry plays in Los Angeles. That was just amazing.)

Pierce Quigley and Bryony Hannah

Sarah Finigan and Bryony Hannah, as Mistress Page and Mistress Ford respectively, were hilarious. Their characters were clearly having way too much fun with their tricks, and they were totally believable as co-conspirators. I did not know much about either, but Finigan is also a veteran actor both on stage and screen, while Hannah is best known for her work on Call the Midwife. She is pretty tiny compared to the other actors (who themselves aren’t huge, actually) and looked the part of the little British housewife. 

 As with all Globe productions, the live music was fun. In this case, mostly Dixieland Jazz from a small ensemble. The dance numbers were definitely old New Orleans, with extravagant Mardi Gras costumes. Overall, it was good fun, and well done. 




Friday, June 19, 2020

The Heaven Tree by Edith Pargeter

Source of book: I own this.

Most people, including myself, are familiar with Edith Pargeter under her pen name, Ellis Peters. While a few literary friends and relatives have recommended the Brother Cadfael books, I have only read the first one. This is primarily because we only own the first one, not the next few in line. I like to read things in order, which means I will need to seek out the next installments. I did, in any case, enjoy A Morbid Taste for Bones.

The Heaven Tree is one of Pargeter’s earlier books, written under her own name. It is the first in a trilogy set in the 12th Century, like the Cadfael books. Also like the Cadfael books, it centers around churches. I received a hardback edition of the three books in one from my brother, who has a knack for finding good books. I intend to read the others in the series eventually. 

 This book is all about Harry Talvace, the younger son of a minor aristocrat on the Welsh/English border. He was, it appears, born in the wrong century, as he has strong and revolutionary ideas about universal human rights, which gets him into trouble. It starts when his foster-brother Adam is accused of killing a deer. Because Adam is a Villein, not a freeman (well, kid, actually), he is sentenced to have a hand cut off. Harry, incensed at this injustice, and feeling that it is partly his fault (which is true), flees with Adam, first to the local monastery, then eventually to France. 

 Harry had been previously apprenticed to learn stone cutting, and he is a true talent, a transcendent artist. His further training in France leads to his coming to the attention of Ralf Isembard, an enigmatic and proud noble from the area around Harry’s hometown. Isembard makes Harry an offer: if he is willing to devote the next half decade or so of his life to the task, he can build a great church on Isembard’s property - and have a free hand in its design and construction. 

 It is no picnic working for Isembard, however, as he is the epitome of the ruthless nobleman, used to treating his serfs as his own property - or as pawns in the power games played by the increasingly incompetent King John. 

 But the politics are not the only thing going on in the book. There is a fascinating “love quadrilateral.” (Related to the love triangle, but with one more person.) Harry is madly in love with Gilleis, the plucky and rather forward young woman who (as a girl) enabled his escape from England. Fortunately, Gilleis loves him back. Also in love with Harry is Benadetta, a former courtesan. Harry loves Benadetta, but not in that way at all. Finally, Isembard is in love with Benadetta, who agrees to be his lover, as long as he understands that she won’t marry him, doesn’t fully love him, and will leave him if the man she loves summons her. So, basically, one requited love pairing, and two unrequited loves thrown in. 

 I’m not sure I can really say more than that about the plot without giving too much away. I’ll try to discuss some of the really great lines very carefully to avoid major spoilers. 

 But first, about the writing and characterization. Pargeter’s books aren’t true literary fiction, but they are a solid cut above typical genre fiction. These early books aren’t as polished as her later ones would be, but they are still quite well written. 

In particular, the main characters are well drawn and psychologically complex. Even though Isembard is more or less the villain, he is a sympathetic one, more along the lines of a Tragic Hero undone by his own hubris than a force for evil like, say, Iago. He is a truly compelling character and thoroughly memorable. Harry is also complex, but more likeable. His impetuosity gets him in trouble, and he struggles to read important social cues at times. He is good hearted, but not always wise. 

 In contrast to these two flawed men, you have the two women, who are decidedly the smartest characters in the book. Gilleis is missing for much of the book, which makes her an important but secondary character. Pargeter doesn’t develop her that much, although I believe she gets a bit more play in the sequels. It is Benadetta, though, who is a force of nature in the book. Pargeter doesn’t indulge in the typical “feminine” stereotypes at all. Benadetta is sexual without losing one ounce of dignity, she is the opposite of catty, making Gilleis into an ally rather than a rival. She is open, honest, and refuses to emotionally manipulate others. She and Gilleis make their own decisions and plans throughout, without feeling the need to kowtow to males. It is this characterization that really reveals Pargeter to be both psychologically astute and free from the blind spots many male writers show when writing female characters. 

On a related note, I do want to mention the scene when Benadetta meets Gilleis. This seals Benadetta’s fate, as she understands that she can never have Harry. But her response is more complex than grief, because Benadetta pictured the future Mrs. Harry as some sort of shy, submissive, pretty sort. Gilleis is none of these except pretty after a fashion. Rather, she is forward, assertive, exuberant, and - as Benadetta realizes - a true match for Harry. 

 This scene stuck with me because it really resonated with my own life. My mom always assumed (and told me so) that she was worried that I would pair with a timid, submissive woman and run roughshod over her. That...didn’t happen. I married an assertive, strong, opinionated, and thoroughly competent woman, who doesn’t play games, and doesn’t take shit. Alas, unlike Benadetta, who finds comfort in the fact that Harry made a good match, my mom has never really reconciled herself to my choice. It is one of the sorrows of life I have had to live with. 

 So, some interesting quotes and ideas from the book. A key historical plot point is the interdict Pope Innocent III placed on England over the dispute with King John about who would be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Pargeter astutely notes that the burden of the wars of the powerful always fall on the most vulnerable in society. 


It was always on the lowest and least that the weight came down in the end, just as debt found its way down from king through his barons, through their tenants-in-chief and their sub-tenants, to the free cottagers and the bound villeins on their poor little yardlands of earth. Innocent struck at John, John struck at Innocent, and both blows fell on the poor man in his field. 

 This theme returns at various times in the book - like Harry, Pargeter intends to call out injustice where she sees it. Isembard is fascinated by Harry’s ideas, but cannot bring himself to embrace them. The problem with being open to new ideas is, of course, that you find yourself questioning those things you take for granted. I particularly liked this line, which is so true. 


The habit of questioning everything can be dangerous, for sooner or later it will surely bring a man into head-on collision with the unquestionable, and he will not be able in conscience to draw aside. 

 That is pretty much why I am no longer part of organized religion. I have always questioned authority and tested “truth” to see if it is really true. I mean, I have been that way since my earliest memories. It hasn’t endeared me to the religious hierarchy, to say the least. The problem, as Pargeter notes, is that if you do start asking questions, it leads to challenging assumptions that are the third rail of organized religion. (For me, gender roles and sexuality were big ones…) 

Harry doesn’t just challenge Medieval orthodoxy when it comes to his compassion for lower-class people. His very life is an affront to the values of the time. As Isembard says to Benadetta, when Harry marries Gilleis:


“This marriage is a strange matter! How often I have seen my friends wedded and bedded, and never been stirred to feel anything but pity for them, that they should have to submit themselves to such tedious embraces with such unpleasing partners, to add a few fields or one more manor to their honours. Only a landless man can afford to plunge into marriage like this boy, without a single furlong to gain. What’s to become of our morality if young men are to marry for nothing more substantial than love?”

What indeed? And, it is strongly implied in our own time, “what is to become of our morality if young women are to marry for nothing more substantial than love?” There’s the “problem” with feminism. Without needing to marry to avoid starvation, women can choose to marry for love. And what then? How will the hierarchy of control survive? It won’t, and you end up with egalitarian expectations. Harry and Gilleis embody this egalitarian ideal, as it were. 

 Harry also exemplifies a dangerous approach to religion. His act of worship is to create beauty - the church he builds is a monument to God, not man, and thus the changing political alliances of the Pope are irrelevant to Harry. 


“What has Innocent to do with this? Often and often I have caught myself wondering about these same things. But always, when I felt my work growing beneath my hands, I wondered no longer. I build, and I feel no intervention of pope or priest between myself and God, and no doubt in my mind that this act of praise and faith is justified. King John may have failed you, but England has not. Innocent may shuffle his little blessings and bans without scruple, like loaded dice, but I swear God does not. I have not been building for pope or bishop or priest. The house is for the archangels.”

 That right there is as good a description of my relationship to God as any. I do not feel any intervention of priest or pastor or theologian between myself and God, and indeed I resent the arrogance with which those sorts attempt to thrust themselves in between. And my own acts of worship, of whatever nature, are not done to please the religious powers. 

 For the last two bits, I will try not to spoil the plot. There is a scene in which Isembard gets as much of a comeuppance as his power and privilege will allow, and the way Benadetta orchestrates the scene is fantastic. Pargeter wrote the whole scene so perfectly, I’ll just say that you need to read the book for this scene alone. 

 The final one comes after Isembard has basically taken his revenge on everyone he can. He has sought to humiliate others, but in reality, he has humiliated himself. The shame and the disgust falls on him. And more than that, in his violence, he has destroyed everything that gave him joy. 


He rode in a desolation without limit in space or time; he had depopulated his world.

Dang. That’s one of the finest lines I have ever read. (And also a perfect use of a semicolon.) There is still one more chapter to follow, in which the final stuff is sorted out. But that line is what really ends the book. Isembard has sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind. His desolation, of his own making, is limitless, and he has depopulated his world. 

 The book does have a few weaknesses. The secondary characters aren’t as well developed as they could be, for example. The plot is well thought out, but relies on a few improbable occurrences. But really, these are minor faults, particularly in an early work. What is good in the book is really good: memorable and complex characters, compelling story, philosophical and psychological depth, historical accuracy. I quite enjoyed it. 


Fun biographical notes: 

 In addition to her popular mysteries, Pargeter was well respected for her translations of Czech works. She visited Czechoslovakia in her mid-30s and taught herself the language. That’s pretty badass.  

 Pargeter may have written herself into The Heaven Tree just a bit in the character of Benadetta. She too was in love with a man who did not reciprocate, but married another woman. She remained friends with him after the marriage. 


Thursday, June 18, 2020

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

 With this book, we have finally filled in the weird gaps in our experience of this series. Well, at least the kids have. I have never read the very first book, although the events of that are fairly well covered in subsequent books, fortunately. From now on, we can continue in order.

 In the Company of Cheerful Ladies is the sixth in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, featuring lady detectives Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi, as well as the host of other characters populating McCall Smith’s middle class Botswana world. 

 Speaking of characters, this book introduces two important characters: the hard working and resourceful Mr. Polopetsi, and Mma. Makutsi’s future husband, Phuti Radiphuti. Both featured in the next book in the series, Blue Shoes and Happiness, which we listened to five years ago. (I can’t believe it has been that long, but apparently it has…) 

 While all of the books in the series tend to be a bit leisurely and rambling, this one seems more so that the others, in part because the multiple plots take a long time to come together into a theme. That’s not a bad thing, though. My kids have loved these books from the beginning - they introduced me to them - and find the gentle style appealing. And also the humor, which is dry but affectionate. 

 So what happens in this book? Well, to start with, Mma. Makutsi upends the equilibrium of the Agency by confessing that she prefers regular tea over bush tea. (In the world of the books, this is indeed an earth-shattering revelation…) But this is just a portent of greater upheavals to come. 

The older apprentice at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors (the business of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, husband of Mma. Ramotswe) has taken up with an older, rich, married woman. When he, through his own stupidity, ruins Mma. Makutsi’s new teapot, he insults her and quits. 

 While following him, Mma. Ramotswe sees him enter a rental home owned by Mr. Matekoni with the woman - is it being used as an illegal bar? She is startled enough to run Mr. Polopetsi off the road, which is how they meet. Mr. Polopetsi turns out to have been unjustly imprisoned for an accident that wasn’t even his fault - he got the blame as the low person in the hierarchy. Mma. Ramotswe takes pity on him and offers him a job. This turns out to be a great decision for all involved, as Mr. Polopetsi has many skills and a tremendous work ethic. 

 Meanwhile, Mma. Makutsi, lonely despite getting 97% on the examinations at the Botswana Secretarial School, takes a dance class, and ends up stuck with the awkward, stuttering Phuti. She doesn’t find him attractive at first, but eventually, they find they are a good match. 

Finally, Mma. Ramotswe’s first husband, the violent and philandering Note Mokote reappears and attempts to blackmail her. 

 How will all this get resolved? And, for that matter, how will they solve the case of the banker who absconded with a bunch of money? Will common sense, good will, and copious quantities of bush tea be enough to win the day? Well, we know the answer to that last one, at least. 

 The themes of the book are rather interesting. As usual, McCall Smith looks at the collision of the traditional and the modern worlds. While “traditionally built,” and claiming to hold traditional values, Mma. Ramotswe is, in her own way, very much a feminist and modernist. She may cook for her husband and take care of him, but she also picked a kind and decent man who cares for her just as much. Mma. Makutsi wishes to find a suitable companion, and is, like most of us, attracted to good-looking people. But she recognizes a good man in Mr. Radiphuti, even if he isn’t conventionally attractive. 

 Another theme in the book is that of seeking the kind route, rather than the confrontational one. Mma. Ramotswe treats Mr. Polopetsi with respect and kindness, and he is able to return the favor in tracking down her stolen van, and in helping her deal with Note Makote. Mma. Makutsi chooses to be kind to Mr. Radiphuti even though he isn’t her first choice, and discovers a gem. Mma. Ramotswe is compassionate to Note Makote’s mother, and learns crucial information about his past. 

As usual, the multiple plots move the story forward and are interesting, but what really makes the story come alive is the way McCall Smith writes characters. They truly are unforgettable and compelling. They are complex, with human faults and blind spots, but thoroughly likeable. It is easy to see how the series has grown to over twenty books. While they are classified as “mysteries,” they really aren’t as much about the mysteries the detectives solve, as the relationships they navigate. 

 As I have said about the series, it really is best to read them in order. We did it out of order mostly because of which audiobooks were available at our library. (Now, I order them, and rip them to a USB drive so we aren’t bound by due dates.) 

 We definitely enjoyed this installment, and will be continuing to listen to these on our adventures in the future. Lisette Lecat does an outstanding job as usual on the audiobook. 




Previous posts about Alexander McCall Smith books:

 #1 Ladies Detective Agency series

 The Tears of the Giraffe (#2 in the series)

Morality for Beautiful Girls (#3 in the series)

The Kalahari Typing School For Men (#4 in the series)

The Full Cupboard of Life (#5 in the series)

Blue Shoes And Happiness (#7 in the series)


Sunday Philosophy Club series

The Sunday Philosophy Club


Other books:

 La’s Orchestra Saves the World


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Pride Month: The Moment I Became a "Side A" Christian

“Don’t let your compassion keep you from calling sin what God says is sin.” 
~ My former pastor (and other Pharisees and legalists throughout history) 

“This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
~ Certain Pharisees

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
 “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” 
 Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
~ Jesus Christ

 My journey away from the Fundamentalist/Evangelical belief system regarding human sexuality has been a couple decades long, and has been both a gradual process and a series of epiphanies.

On the one hand, my LGBTQ friends and family have been important to this journey. On the other, I believe that equally important to my journey have been the numerous bigots in my life, who have at various times clarified exactly what the foundation of anti-gay teachings really are. I hope to someday give a more detailed and comprehensive account of my journey, personally and theologically, but I figured I would start with this moment, five years ago, that remains seared into my memory. (I use the word “bigot” intentionally: see footnote below.)

Just as background, unlike many (most) Evangelical parents, mine never taught me to hate. I never heard them (to my recollection) advocate for denying them jobs, housing, and healthcare - which is literally the goal of the Culture Wars™. However, like pretty much every Evangelical back in the 1980s - and not just Evangelicals either - they believed that any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage was sinful. Of course, it was a lot easier back then, before it became much clearer that sexual orientation wasn’t a choice, and couldn’t be “cured.”

My journey through my 20s was a gradual process of coming to understand all of that. As a strongly cishet white male, it was easy to ignore the stories of LGBTQ people, just as it was easy to ignore the stories of women and people of color, and assume that I was “normal,” and others were, well, others.


Those who didn’t grow up in the American Christian subcultures may not be familiar with the terms I will be using, so let me define a few.

I believe that Christian beliefs about sexuality generally fall into four categories (I have written a post about this that I have yet to publish, but intend to this month.)

Denialists. These people, generally Boomers or older, deny that sexual orientation exists, that people are born LGBTQ, and believe that “same sex attraction” can be cured.

Calvinists. I use this term not because all Calvinists believe this, but because it is a Calvinist approach. Basically, sexual orientation isn’t a choice. But God made people gay so that he could burn them in hell for eternity for his everlasting glory. But, considering Calvinists believe that god’s default approach to humans is to burn them for eternity, choosing only to save a small sliver of the population - mostly middle-class white people - what’s a few gays, right?

“Side B.” These are most younger evangelicals who are not “Side A.” This belief acknowledges that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be cured, but insists that sex should only be in the confines of heterosexual marriage. Thus, LGBTQ people should either enter heterosexual marriage or remain celibate for life.

“Side A.” Side A believes that sexual orientation and gender identity are God-given traits, and that LGBTQ Christians should live in harmony with how they were created, in a manner consistent with the Greatest Commandment. Thus, LGBTQ people are encouraged to marry, and allowed to participate fully in the Christian community.

Like most Evangelicals, I started out as a denialist, back in the days when we believed in “reparative therapy.” Now, of course, it has been thoroughly discredited. Even the largest group that pushed it, Exodus International, has repudiated it, acknowledging that it didn’t work and caused harm. And, as it has now come out, “reparative therapy” is just another name for psychological and sometimes physical torture.

I switched to “Side B” somewhere along the way. I don’t remember an epiphany exactly - it was probably just listening to LGBTQ friends, particularly one from church who came out at that time. This would have happened sometime in my late teens. 
But I can remember EXACTLY when I switched to “Side A.” This is that story.


In May of 2015, my former pastor was working through I Thessalonians, and got to this passage in chapter 4:

3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.[b] The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

 From there, he embarked on a shockingly passionate anti-gay sermon. I mean, his usual practice - something I liked about him - was to explain the different viewpoints and why he believed the way he did. This was done in a calm and dispassionate way, and was the official church approach to theology. “Grace based,” focus on the essentials of the faith sort of thing. Which is why for a long time, that church was a haven for people like us, survivors of abusive theology, looking for an alternative to Fundamentalism, a place where we could have community without being forced to adopt a bunch of doctrinal dogma.

That’s why this was such a shocking sermon. I have never, before or since, heard him preach with such passion and emotion. It was like this was the One Thing That Mattered™, and he must communicate with force that there was no possible other conclusion.

And, at the climax of the sermon, he let loose with what I think he believed was his “money line”: 

“Don’t let your compassion keep you from calling sin what God says is sin.”

I sat there stunned for a moment, before it came to me in a rush that this was completely familiar. I had indeed heard this before, regarding another similar issue. 

“Don’t let your compassion keep you from enforcing rules!”

And it sure as heck wasn’t Jesus Christ saying that. Rather, he went out of his way to heal on the sabbath, and to excuse his disciples for gleaning - gathering food for themselves - on the sabbath. 
It was at that point I knew I was a “Side A” Christian, and there was no going back.

Please don’t try to excuse sabbath breaking as a minor offense - it carried the death penalty in the Torah. See Numbers 15. This was a freaking huge deal. And Christ went WAY OUT OF HIS WAY to break the sabbath to make a point to the “experts in the law.” He pointed out that god required “mercy, not sacrifice.” The point being that the rules are never trumped by compassion. Ever. And you do not EVER sacrifice other people to your rules.

Here are the passages in the Gospels that talk about the sabbath:

Matthew 12:1-14 (both gleaning and healing)
Mark 2:23-28 (gleaning) 
Mark 3:1-6 (healing)
Luke 6:1-10 (both gleaning and healing)
Luke 13:10-17 (healing)
Luke 14:1-6 (healing)
John 7:21-24 (healing)
John 9:1-41 (healing)

Re-reading this for this post, I was struck by a number of things about these passages. First, all four gospels contain at least one passage about Jesus breaking the sabbath. All of them. Which indicates to me that it is a very important incident in the life and teachings of Christ.

[By contrast, the number of times Jesus Christ mentions homosexuality, despite it being widely discussed in Palestine and the Roman Empire at the time: ZERO. One would think if it were a core issue, he might have mentioned it? Ditto abortion, by the way…]

My second observation was that the religious leaders were described as “experts in the law. These were people who spent a LOT of time thinking about the Torah and what it meant people should or shouldn’t do. In other words, a lot like our present day Fundamentalists, who spend a LOT of time and energy thinking about exactly what genitals mean - what you can do with them; how the configuration you are born with determines your role in society, the family, and church; and how to use the power of the civil law to punish those who disagree with Fundie rules.

Third, the Gospels include two different categories of rule breaking, and gives analogies for them. The first is healing. One may - indeed one SHOULD - help others on the sabbath. Christ uses the example of rescuing a helpless animal from a ditch, and applies it to human beings. “How much more should one heal a person!”

I take this to mean that when we consider rules, we should focus on the whole “love your neighbor as yourself” thing. How we choose to apply or ignore the rules should be determined by whether it helps or heals others. And no, “making them follow the rules” isn’t love. This is made abundantly clear by the way Christ responds to the advice “can’t they just wait until the next day?” His point was that good needed to be done now. The rule was overruled by the greater law of love.

The second category of rule breaking is even more interesting - and it is the one I have never once heard preached on.

The disciples were hungry, and broke the sabbath by gathering grain. It is implied that Christ himself may have gathered too, and eaten of the grain. This is a REALLY clear violation of the commandment. As in the letter of the law - “don’t gather food on the sabbath.”

Yet Christ literally excused this, citing another egregious instance, where King David and his men ate the sacred bread - that’s another capital offense, by the way.

I find this one particularly fascinating because of this: the disciples weren’t doing good to others. They were satisfying their own needs. They were hungry, and they broke the rule in order to fill the need they had.


This is HUGE!

I think these two instances combine to apply well to our rules about human sexuality.

First, as Christians, we should seek to heal, not harm, with our rules. And we cannot do that simply by reading and re-reading the rules. We have to ask those who are affected what their needs are, and meet them, regardless of whether their needs fit our rules well. The question wasn’t “can we make them wait until the next day?” but “do they need healing now?”

This is where I believe the passage from Luke (and also in Matthew) about not loading people down with burdens is relevant as well. I am astonished at the way heterosexual Evangelicals casually condemn others to a lifetime of celibacy. They would place on them a burden of loneliness that they have zero interest in helping carry. In fact, a number of people I know (of a certain generation, particularly) who are the most anti-gay had shotgun weddings. I mean, they couldn’t even keep their knees together until they turned 20, yet they would condemn LGBTQ people for something they couldn’t even do for a few years?

The second point, though, is that Christ didn’t condemn breaking the rules to meet your own needs. To be clear, Christ DID teach against meeting your own needs at the expense of other people. This isn’t an excuse to harm others in the name of “meeting your own needs.”

What it is, however, is an indication that god doesn’t consider the rules to be more important than people. David and his men were starving? Eat what is there! The disciples were hungry? Take and eat! (Later, St. Peter would have his vision that the Kosher rules didn’t apply in a way that would prevent gentiles from entering the Kingdom.)

Fourth, I noticed that Christ said the sabbath was made for man, NOT man for the sabbath. Humans don’t exist to serve the rules. The rules are there to serve humans, and human needs matter more than the rule.

Or, as one might put it in this context, “Marriage and sexuality were made for man, not man for rules about marriage and sexuality.”

The way I would apply it to sexuality is this: there is nothing inherently wrong with sexual desire. If god created you with a desire that doesn’t fit the “rules,” then human needs trump the rule. And in that connection, let’s look back at that passage from I Thessalonians.

First, the word translated “sexual immorality” is porneia, which has an...interesting history. The word is thrown around a LOT in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Porneia is used primarily to describe idolatry or selling oneself to another god. (The root of the word combines "sex" and "transaction," that is “prostitution.”) So the Israelites seemed to be continually committing “porneia” with other gods. Esau committed “porneia” when he sold his birthright. (How crazy is that?) Christianity, particularly starting with patriarchal church fathers like Augustine, decided that “porneia” really meant sex outside of marriage, which is...not its clear meaning. To the Greeks and Romans, porneia had become an idiomatic way to refer to “acceptable” extra-marital sex - namely, men sleeping with prostitutes or raping their slaves. (There was a different word, moicheia, to refer to adultery - that is, a man messing with another (free)man’s chattel.) This could be an entire rabbit hole here, but suffice it to say that the cultural baggage of the Greco-roman world combined with the cultural baggage of Second Temple Judaism to create a whole doctrine that is rather foreign to the Torah or to the culture the bible was written in.

I mention this to point out that my pastor - like virtually every Evangelical pastor, simply takes for granted that they know what porneia means - and applied it specifically to same sex relations. 
But look at what else is there in the passage that gets glossed over. First, being in control of one’s body. Hey, that’s actually a great idea! Learning to control myself was key to a good marriage. Don’t be like the pagans! This would seem to be a nice dig at the whole “sleep with prostitutes and rape your slaves” idea conveyed by porneia as understood by Roman society. Again, sounds like a good idea: don’t take advantage of the poverty and desperation of sex workers by using them as sex objects, and don’t rape. And finally, “no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.” Come to think of it, a few prominent pastors (and the leader of the cult I was in) need to learn this one. Don’t wrong or take advantage of other people!

And this very thing was mostly glossed over in that sermon in favor of a screed against LGBTQ relationships. Doctrinal purity and the rules were more important than finding ways for people to meet their sexual needs in a way that healed, not hurt them, and didn’t take advantage of others. 
All of this important background information, ethical thinking, and application to reality as experienced by LGBTQ people was less important than a passionate screed against gays and their relationships. And all justified with:

“Don’t let your compassion keep you from calling sin what God says is sin.”

 And that is how and why I became a “Side A” Christian on that day.


In retrospect, I wish I had walked out of church that day and never returned. It took another year and a half, and a serious incident involving a hate group, to make us leave.

Soon after we left, we found out that there had actually been an intentional shift in the church, away from the “grace based” idea, to a more “traditional” fundamentalist approach. Unsurprisingly, this shift was driven by the wealthy, white, and (mostly as it turns out) racist Boomers who held the actual power in the church. Those bills had to be paid, so those of us who differed from the official line had to be forced out.

That was nearly three and a half years ago, and we have not (and likely will not) ever return to organized religion. But, in retrospect, the beginning of the end was that day five years ago in May of 2015, and that hateful sermon.

I truly hope my former pastor reads this post, and understands the way this sermon backfired on him. And also that his decision to embrace hate then and later cost his religion a number of people, including my children.


Why I use the term “bigot”: 
(From Merriam Webster)

Bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

A person isn’t a bigot for disagreeing. A bigot is someone who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his own prejudices. This means that no amount of proof will ever convince them. LGBTQ people giving evidence of how doctrine has damaged them won’t matter. Kids committing suicide over sexual orientation won’t matter. Nothing matters except the rules. Because “salvation” is in the rules
A person is also a bigot when they treat members of a group with hatred and intolerance. To say that this is the Evangelical approach to LGBTQ people politically is an understatement.

Sure, there probably are a few people who think gay sex is wrong, but who fully support anti-discrimination laws, and genuinely try to help LGBTQ people without condemning or trying to convert them. But….I can probably count them on one hand.


It’s beyond the scope of this post, but I want to mention that one reason I changed my mind is the sheer amount of LYING that Evangelicals do about LGBTQ people. And that includes our former pastor, unfortunately. This whole “gays are all sexual predators” is gross slander, something I thought Evangelicals thought was a serious sin. But I guess it applies only when someone says something unkind about them, not when they falsely accuse people outside their tribe of crimes and predation.


There is a whole rabbit hole regarding the Christian doctrinal superstructure of sexuality, from Augustine’s belief that sex should only be done expressly for procreation, and that one should try one’s best NOT to every enjoy it, to an honest analysis of what marriage actually meant until recently. 
One of the theological parts of my journey was to honestly and openly look at the Old Testament and its cultural context and understand the truth:

There are very few restrictions put on male sexuality in the OT. A man could sleep with a prostitute, take a concubine, rape a slave or war captive, take and discard multiple wives, sleep with any unmarried women he wanted (although he might be on the hook for a bride price…) Really, about all he had to do was (1) not sleep with certain relatives (2) not sleep with a male and (3) not mess with another man’s chattel (his woman, ox, or donkey…)

Now women, on the other hand...lots of restrictions for them, of course. They were the property of men.

Oh, and anyone else notice that the OT is silent on lesbian sex? Or that the one possible reference to lesbian sex in the NT was believed by the early church fathers to be a reference to a cult where females penetrated males with dildos? (You don’t hear that in church….)

Anyway, the meaning of porneia is hardly the cut and dried thing that Evangelicals say it is. It’s literally 2000 years of cultural baggage, beliefs about the superiority of males, protection of their female chattel from despoiling, and obsession about legitimate offspring.

Law school disabused me of a lot of false notions, including the belief that a man who sleeps around on his wife is committing adultery. It isn’t, legally, or in the bible. A man could sleep with literally any unmarried woman he wanted, including a prostitute or slave, and it wasn’t adultery. (It would merely be porneia...if even that.) Rather, it was adultery when a man (married or otherwise) slept with the chattel - the wife - of another man. Yep, that’s what it legally means, and how it would be understood in the bible.

There is much more to what I call a “theological superstructure” than meets the eye. And that’s why when you look closely, you see that the foundations aren’t really about human thriving, but are all about beliefs about the inferiority of women, and the perceived need to protect male property. For me, when I really grasped that, the whole house of cards crumbled. I may have to do a series of posts someday about that - I have spent a lot of time wrestling with it, but haven’t committed it all to writing.
Oh, and if you want to know how messed up Augustine was on this subject, consider that he considered a woman who had sex to make an illegitimate son (to support her, etc.) but didn't enjoy it, to be less of a sinner than a woman who wanted sex with her husband for pleasure. Literally. And if you are going to have buttsex, it is less sinful to do it with a prostitute than with your wife...


One final thought: 

Just as it is beyond arrogant for us white people to tell people of color how they should feel, what their experiences are, what their needs are and how to meet them, and how they should respond to injustice, so too it is beyond arrogant for cishet people to tell LGBTQ people how they should feel, what their experiences are (including their relationship with god), what their needs are and how to meet them, and how they should respond to injustice.

If your theology of gender and sexuality has not been built from the ground up with the full and equal participation of women and LGBTQ people, then it will - by definition - be incomplete at best and harmful at worst.

The current Evangelical doctrine about gender and sexuality didn’t appear by magic out of the sky. It was developed within certain patriarchal cultures with certain assumptions, including the congenital inferiority of women, the right of some humans to own others as slaves, and a universal embrace of the sexual double standard. It was created and refined over the last 3000+ years exclusively by males holding power in their societies, without any meaningful input from women, slaves, or LGBTQ people. And it shows.