Take Bread Together, With Wayfarers and Wastrels

A pastor recently stood at the stage of the American Baptist Biennial meeting in Kansas City. He stood up during the business meeting to say something he had on his chest. On his reading of that day and our present moment in our lives together, our denominational beliefs were insufficient.

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Has Fat Gotten A Bad Rap?

Oh man WordPress allows reblogs now

The Dish

A new book claims so:

[The Big Fat Surprise author Nina] Teicholz describes the early academics who demonised fat and those who have kept up the crusade. Top among them was Ancel Keys, a professor at the University of Minnesota, whose work landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1961. He provided an answer to why middle-aged men were dropping dead from heart attacks, as well as a solution: eat less fat. Work by Keys and others propelled the American government’s first set of dietary guidelines, in 1980. Cut back on red meat, whole milk and other sources of saturated fat. The few sceptics of this theory were, for decades, marginalised.

But the vilification of fat, argues Ms Teicholz, does not stand up to closer examination. She pokes holes in famous pieces of research—the Framingham heart study, the Seven Countries study, the Los Angeles Veterans Trial, to…

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It’s not our fault people weren’t listening

A friend clued me into a HuffPo article about this thing Dan Savage is up to. Long story short, it’s an “It Gets Better” project in which Savage’s “NALTs” get to say to a camera that they aren’t bigoted.

I’ll have to think about whether I want to do this, or even support it. To be honest, I have a problem with Savage’s NALT stuff. It reminds me a little bit of conservative Christians who demand that Muslims denounce extremist Islam, all while the fact that many Muslims do denounce extremism on a regular basis and their denunciations are simply ignored by those who demanded the denunciations in the first place. I am part of a Baptist organization, the Alliance of Baptists, that has been vocally supportive of gays and lesbians publicly since 1993, well before many other  denominations, and regularly condemned anti-gay bigotry in public statements. I’m also a part of an organization, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, that has been working on these issues since the days of American Baptists Concerned, decades ago.

Savage’s complaint about NALTs always seemed to be more that non-traditionalists didn’t have a good public presence, which relates far more to our being sidelined as credible voices of USian Christianity by more conservative Christians than to some failure on our part to vocally denounce anti-gay bigotry in Christian community. Dan Savage only got told “we’re not all like that” so many times because those of us in the W&A communities had been so thoroughly excluded from places of power for so long that we had no platform from which to make our denunciations resonate. When Dan Savage assumed that our Christianities were synonymous with these Christianities we didn’t follow, we were understandably upset that our efforts were being ignored not only by our co-religionists, but by the LGBTQ community we either were allied with or were part of ourselves. And we told him so.

I get where Savage is coming from, but the idea that the people Savage called NALTs were somehow only privately so, in a “just-between-me-and-Dan-Savage” kind of way, always seemed a frustrating sleight of hand that belied the relative power imbalance between traditional and non-traditional Christian communities. I’m just not sure if I can in good conscience support popularizing a term that I think is dismissive of non-traditionalist Christianities.

But I can see the good in the effort, all the same. Perhaps it is a vehicle for the heretofore diminished media capability of the Christian W&A movement to actually get some credit for doing what it’s been doing for decades in the midst of a thoroughly oppressive broader church environment. I just think Savage would do well to remember that most NALTs have not been quietly wandering through that environment. We’ve been kicking and screaming.

On Deterrence

I’m currently working as a chaplain in a clinical pastoral education program at a hospital on Chicago’s south side.  When I started, I worked in the emergency room.

My second week on the job, a boy was brought in.  I won’t forget him, because when I learned his birthday, I learned that he was almost exactly as old–or rather, as young–as my little brother.  It does something to you when a boy as young as your brother is on a bed before you, his whole body shaking, his side ripped open by a gunshot wound he suffered while going from his home to visit a friend.  It means you don’t forget.

A guy had walked up to him and shot him.  Simple as that.  He was surrounded by friends when it happened, too, friends who helped him get to the hospital.  And when he got there, I had to hold his hand, and pray with him, and help him call his mother when his fingers were trembling too much to use the touch screen on his cell phone.  He had a mother, oh yes.

He was shot in a part of town with plenty of “concealed carrying.”  Whoever shot him knew that.  The perpetrator saw him there, surrounded by friends, and an educated guess would have told him the truth: that someone in that group was carrying a weapon.  Probably more than one person had one.  And they most certainly knew how to use it, and use it well, even without the proper credentials from the state.  And yet that individual, knowing the risks, knowing that return fire was not only possible, but probable, walked up to that young man and shot him.

I hesitated to share this story.  I have removed anything identifying because of the confidentiality of the pastoral visit, and hesitated to share because the body of that boy was as sacred as any I’ve encountered, an image of God struggling through pain to hang on to life and safety.  But maybe my sharing his story, even in this truncated form, can lay bare the real meaning of the Greek word martyr. It means witness.

It’s an story worth sharing, because it is worth remembering the next time someone tells you that the way to prevent crime is for everyone to carry a gun.  Because in this part of Chicago, many, many people are.  And yet a man still walked up to this boy, this boy surrounded by people who could credibly be assumed to be “packing heat,” and put a bullet in his belly.

Setting the Table

Here’s the sermon I preached today.  Naturally, it doesn’t ever preach quite like it’s written, but it’s worth posting to share with distant friends.  Not really edited for universality, either — there are some references to “this space” and so forth that are unique to the sanctuary in which it was preached.  But the message should be apparent regardless of context.

Sermon Text — “Setting the Table” — Preached at Glencoe Union Church, 6-24-2012

We ate dinner many different ways when I was growing up.  In the earliest days I can remember, my dad would pick me up from kindergarten at First Baptist Greenville, and would drive me back home.  Usually we stopped by the grocery store, and picked up whatever it was we needed for the day.  We ran errands together, too; Dad would often roll down the windows and let the air blow through our hair, and between recycling drop-offs and trips to the bank and the post office and the hardware store and everywhere else, he would lead me in a little sing-song ditty he had made up to keep me amused during these errands.  I’m a little embarrassed to share, but as they said in preaching, tell it like it is.  So here it is.  Y’all ready?

I don’t care, I like my hair to be MESSY MESSY MESSY MESSY MESSY!  ‘Cause I don’t go to school…to-day!  So my hair can feel COOL, hoo-ray!

And then we would get home, and it was time to set the table.  Mom worked during the day, all day, so Dad would begin preparing dinner.  I would have a few minutes to rest or watch TV or play, but before long I’d be called in to get the knives and the forks, get the placemats, and set out the drinks.  It was also my job to get the drink orders – Dad usually wanted water in a big tall Texas Tech University cup, and I had learned that Mom usually wanted a Diet Coke when she walked through the door.  Though their preferences rarely changed, it was still my responsibility to get the drink orders, just in case someone had changed their mind.

That’s more or less how it went, though it certainly changed from time to time.  Mom had Thursdays off, and sometimes she would help set the table.  When my little brother came along and got a little older, we would split table-setting duties.  We usually split them badly, accusing each other of not putting out an equal number of spoons or fighting over which set of placemats and napkins were most appropriate.  But in time we learned to work better together.

More, of course, went into setting the table than just setting the literal place settings.  We also had to wash our hands and faces.  And the context of dinner mattered too; if we had guests coming over, we would turn on the porch light, or open the front door, clean the living room, declutter the tables near the door, and generally make the place presentable.  And even if we were going out to a restaurant for a special occasion or on a day when Dad just didn’t have time to get to the grocery store, we had to “set the table” in other ways, by getting presentable, by getting rid of the dirt and grime of the day, by getting dressed in something a bit nicer than the usual t-shirts and jeans.  It’s a pattern that changed and shifted often while I grew up from toddler to child to adolescent to teenager, varying based on extracurricular activities and my parent’s schedules and our disposable income.  But it was still a pattern.  Setting the table was something we did, sometimes better, sometimes worse, but it was something we did together.

It was something we did because we wanted each other to feel comfortable.  It was something we did because we wanted to carve out a space in the day that wasn’t rushed; a space when we could sit and the utensils would be there, and we wouldn’t need to run back to the kitchen three times for napkins or things we forgot.  It was something we did when guests came because we wanted them, for a moment, to feel that our home was their home, that they were welcome, that they were loved.  As a child, I thought setting the table was a chore.  As an adult, I learned that setting the table was a sacrament.  It was a way we made grace visible to one another.

The gospel passage Rebecca read for you today is about setting the table: specifically, it’s about setting the table BADLY.  It’s not one that is often read aloud in churches.  When opening to First Corinthians in a worship service, our instincts are to go to the passages in the chapter immediately following, about the Body of Christ being made up of many people with different gifts.  A preacher can work with that, he or she can talk about how people have different talents that can come together for the good of everyone.  Or we want to talk about chapter 13, when Paul extols love.  Love is patient, love is kind, love never ends, yadda yadda, it’s all good, smile and let’s go home.  It’s a good passage, we can all feel good while it’s read, and exhort each other to love, maybe we can sing together The Gift of Love.

I don’t mean to make fun of these operations.  Both are good passages.  Indeed, I count among my many blessings that I have been able to read Paul’s ode to love not once, but twice in this same sanctuary.  It is Paul’s answer to the persistent problems of human community.  It is Paul’s answer to the question of how to live together.  For Paul, Love is the answer that allows the Body of Christ, with all its gifts, to function.

But in order to provide the answer, Paul must first outline the problem.  And the problem is that the Corinthian church was not setting the table properly.  The problem was that they were eating the Lord’s Supper together in a way that didn’t make the table welcoming for everyone there.  Friends in Christ, I am asking you today not to rush too quickly to the answer.  Instead, I am asking you to sit for a moment with the problem.  If we are to live into the answer that Paul provides, it might help to consider what it is, exactly, we are trying to get away from.

(read scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

Scholars still struggle with what exactly the scope of the disagreement was in the Corinthian Church.  This is not the only passage in 1 Corinthians in which Paul talks about disagreements and dissension in the church at Corinth, and they seemed to have disagreed on everything.  From what to wear in church to how to speak in church, the Corinthians were divided against themselves in many different ways.

But in this passage, scholarly opinion seems to have come to some fairly firm conclusions.  Early Christians met in homes, usually the homes of its wealthiest patrons, and from this scholars have been able to examine archaeological evidence.  A typical house church would be divided into several rooms, with space for storage and socializing, but also with a private dining room adjacent to a large courtyard.

Given the leisure time available to the upper class, the wealthier members of the church would gather earlier.  They didn’t have to work all day, they weren’t needed in the fields or the pastures or at construction sites.  And so they started the meal of the church earlier.  A long time ago the Lord’s Supper wasn’t just a ritual feast, but it was a real feast.  In addition to the ritual elements, there was a spread probably much like our coffee hour, but larger.

By the time the poorer members of the Christian church arrived, most of the meal would be gone.  The wealthier members would have eaten their fill, and even drunk most of the good wine.  In addition, they would have filled up the private dining room, leaving the lower class folks outside to go hungry, except for the few bits of the ritual food still remaining.  And they would have had to worship somewhere else, separate from the rest of the community.

In all of the text of 1 Corinthians, in all of the problems and divisions of the church, it is only this problem which prompts Paul to use the Greek word Krima.  It is translated here as condemnation, and it means damnation, judgment.  It is a harsh word.  And Paul reserves, in a long, long list of the divisions in the church, he saves this one for last.  He brings it up last, before he finally begins giving answers.  Friends, from this, I am guessing that Paul thought setting the table mattered too.  Paul thought that the way we prepare our space for one another matters.

What Paul asks the church to do instead is to discern the body when it eats the Lord’s Supper.  He asks that we examine who is our neighbor, and what are their needs?  In the Corinthian community, there were workers and wealthy, poor and powerful, laborers and luxuriants, and the lower class were being consistently ignored by the upper class.  When they had meals together, they weren’t noticing each other, they weren’t taking care of each other.  They were worshiping without substance; they were praising God, but not holding their fellow human beings close as the nearest image of God they had available.

Issues of rich and poor are not gone today, but when I think about this passage, and the problem Paul poses for Christian community, I think about Felipe.  I met Felipe at a meeting for UChicago’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. We struck up a conversation.  He was a graduate student in Spanish Literature at the University of Chicago, in his first year, and had come to the meeting to make friends and get to know people.  He thought it was interesting that I was in the Divinity School, and that I preached from time to time.  He had a lot of questions about faith, and religion, and a story of a church that had not taken kindly to him when he had come out.

When I told Felipe where I lived in Hyde Park, I referenced it by way of a nearby church.  Upon hearing the name of the denomination, he raised his eyebrow and said, “Sounds like a cult!”  I laughed a bit, and we talked some more, and I tried to show him a Christianity that was different.  But what bothered me about the encounter is this: the church we were talking about considers itself welcoming and affirming of LGBT people.  It has gay members.  It hangs a rainbow flag in its building.  I have heard sermons preached there that were honestly and forthrightly welcoming.

And yet every week, it shares the Lord’s Supper.  And every week, Felipe walks past as a member of the Body of Christ, a member who was once turned out and rejected, and Felipe does not know that there is a table set inside for him.  He walks by hungry, while those inside are feasting on the word of God and the memory of the risen Christ.  He goes by, forgotten.

And this happens not because the church hasn’t welcomed him.  The church has, in fact, made steps to be a welcoming church.  It happens because we in the Christian Church universal, from Hyde Park to Haiti, from Guatemala to Glencoe, are not setting the table.  We aren’t turning on the porch light and calling our neighbors to join us.  We aren’t throwing the doors open.  We aren’t discerning the body, and all the members and people in this world who need support.

Friends, I do not want you to hear my words today as condemnation.  I came into this pulpit today thankful for each one of you, and I leave this pulpit just as thankful.  But I truly believe that we are not doing enough to set the table for our brothers and sisters, whether they be poor, whether they are gay or lesbian, whether they are people of color or people in need.  I have my own solutions, and my own opinions.  I have my own set of answers to these questions.  I could share them at length with you, and am always willing to do so.  But today I wanted to pose the question, and let it sit with you.  Your answers are your own.

But as you formulate your responses in the days and weeks and months and years to come, consider this.  My story of setting the table as a child matters, and you all know what it is like to set a table.  You consider who is coming; you consider who to invite.  You consider how to dress and how to act hospitably.  You consider opening the door and turning on a light.  You ask others to help.  You raise your children to take over the responsibility when they are ready.  You strive to make your home – and God’s home, here in God’s house – their home, their place, their space.  For a while, this may seem like a chore – just like my childish self thought setting the table really was.  But in time, and by the grace of God, we will discover sacrament in it.  We will make the grace of God manifest in our lives.  Thanks be, thanks be, thanks be.

Over at the Dis…

Over at the Dish, Andrew Sullivan writes

I’ve long thought that gay men are a natural fit for a non-bigoted GOP. We await one. And the wait seems to be getting longer.

This is all well and good, in one sense.  The more a person can feel comfortable as themselves in both political parties, the more our culture as a whole will be showing signs of progress.  That the general consensus across all sorts of demographic cleavages, including political ones might converge in such a way that the solid mainstream is social acceptance is a positive.

But let’s keep in mind what “non-bigoted” really means, Andrew.  It means a Republican party that isn’t actively hostile to women’s rights, including reproductive choice, access to contraception, and a legal framework that protects them from violence.  It means a Republican party that doesn’t actively harbor folks like John Derbyshire for years, including years in which Derbyshire self-described themselves as a racist.  It means a world in which the Republicans advance to considering the “T” portion of the LGBT acronym as people.   (To be fair, Democrats need to work much harder on this too, I’m looking at you, Barney Frank.)  And Republicans are going to need to stop being so actively and powerfully aligned with powerful financial interests against people with fewer means — upper class bigotry against lower class people is still bigotry, folks!

S the idea of the Republican party being non-bigoted being a way for a gay male to get along with them really limits itself to one specific kind of gay person, that is, a rich, white, cisgendered, male gay person.

I’m sad to say that I think Sullivan and the person he’s talking with are probably right on the merits of their prediction.  I think a lot of gay men, especially if the Republican party isn’t actively opposing their marriages, will probably start to migrate to the Republican Party.  But I say that’s a shame, because whatever that party might become, let’s not call it “non-bigoted” just yet.  We might just find that rich, white, cisgendered gay men are more bigoted than we originally thought.

I’d love for them, and for the Republicans, to prove me wrong.  And, as a white, cisgendered gay man who might one day be wealthier than some thanks in part to the privileges of my color and my gender, I’d hate to be someone who jettisoned all principle once my own personal satisfaction had been achieved.


“Comfort ye my people,” cried the tenor, “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

For the hundredth time, I heard the music pivot, and I heard the words of the Prophet on the lips of a young man I do not know, and the proclamation rang forth.

“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked straight and the rough places plain.”

And for the first time hearing this music, I heard it.  It reduced me to tears and prayer.

I am the mountain; at times the valley.  There are rough places in me, there are crookednesses that must be straightened out.

The world is filled with the lowly, teeming and yearning for their deliverance.  The world is filled with the 1%.  In my society I am not one of them; in other societies I am wealthy beyond measure.  There are injustices and evils, roughnesses, wickednesses, crooked roads of systems and sins that destroy the vision of this world.

But I was reminded in the pivot of a tenor’s voice that the highway we build is through our hearts and through our worlds.  It does not conform to the strictures of the terrain, wind and wrap around and twist and climb mountains and plunge through valleys.  The highway we make for our God in ourselves and the world exalts the meek and lowly, humbles the proud and powerful, rebuilds what is broken, and smooths out the sufferings of the world.

We predict and wait in Advent upon a Christ whose birth drives out the fear, that proclaims good news, a Christ met by poor and rich alike, a manger in the meanest cave exalted to the most sanctified space in creation.

There is much in my life right now that stands in need of healing and wholeness.  There are worries.  I cried when that music pivoted, I wept at its beauty and its truth, and my tears were both contrition for my faults and joys at the promise that God-with-us in Christ has promised to build Her great highway through the center of our heart, and our world.

Advent began for me, truly, this night.  Maybe a bit late, if the church calendar is to be believed, but thanks at last be to God.

Aloft in the Kingdom of Heaven

There are a couple of writings going around by Lillian Daniels, a successful UCC pastor in Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago.  The writings are in a well-worn genre.  Depending on your perspective, that genre is either the genre of criticizing the shallowness of spiritual-but-not-religious people, or of ministers complaining about the tiresome task of talking to people who think differently about religion than they do.  You can read the short version here and the long version here.  A brief excerpt, to get the feel for what Rev. Daniels says:

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

In some ways, I find myself in agreement with Rev. Daniels.  Spirituality and the life of God is tied up in the experience of a community.  “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another,” as Proverbs 27 puts it, and this can often happen uniquely and powerfully within a community.  That is definitely one of the reasons why I stick it out with a community of faith; I find some of the most powerful and probing moments for growth in my spiritual life have come, not from personal reading or devotion, but from the wonderfully directed and often scalpel-sharp questioning of the atheist who comes to church with his wife.  I wish more Christian communities had room to do this community thing better, honestly.

But her tone throughout the articles seems thoroughly…well, I find it disconcerting.  It reads very much like the gentleman on the plane is a bother or a nuisance; it reads as though Rev. Daniels, a member of the religious elite, is too advanced to be bothered by such simpletons, especially if they’re uninterested in the religious community.  This may not be intended or even felt by Rev. Daniels, but the tone sort of seeps through regardless.

I can’t help but feel that the tone is symptomatic of a broader dearth of religious AND spiritual imagination.  Imagine another scene: you, a minister of Christ, are on a flight from Boston to Chicago.  The person next to you asks what you do, and when you say you’re a minister, they say they are spiritual but not religious.

Instead of getting peeved and asking for a change of seats, consider this: there in the plane, in the space of those two or three cramped narrow seats, a little space of the kingdom of God has been carved out for you.  As you crest the vault of heaven, you have actually landed precisely where “real human community” has a chance to form and develop, even if only for the duration of a journey between Boston and Chicago.  Indeed, this encounter with another human being is more than just an inconvenience on the way to your destination.  Instead, it is an opportunity to attempt a deep encounter with the Image of Christ that resides at the core of the spiritual-but-not-religious person in front of you.

I confess to feeling the same way Rev. Daniels feels, on many occasions.  Especially if I’m tired, the words of the spiritual-but-not-religious person can sound like an attack.  When someone confesses a life spent in abusive congregations, the feeling that somehow they are blaming you for those problems can be strong.  But if you approach the encounter differently — as God setting out a chance to experience nascent human community where the best fruits of religion can blossom, then there is no problem with this encounter.  What is happening in the plane is exactly what Rev. Daniels claims to want: a space where another human being calls you on stuff.  In fact, the person on the plane, just by saying they are spiritual-but-not-religious, just did.

The next time this happens to me, I’m resolved: I’m going to respond differently.  I’m not going to smile and nod and say I understand, while privately seething.  Instead, I’m going to ask them what their spirituality is like.  I’m going to share my own spiritual experiences of labyrinth-walking privately, and my experiences of worship together in a community as an experience of spiritual awakening and healing.  I’m going to say that one reason I like church is because I have a community of spiritual people around me helping me on my spiritual life.  And I’m not going to say everything; I’m going to listen too.  When that spiritual-but-not-religious person speaks, I am going to strain and stretch and yearn to hear the voice of God speaking through them, as the image of God in them strains and stretches and yearns to hear me.  And maybe in that community of believers summoned into being from Boston to Chicago, God will still be speaking, and speaking boldly, and speaking beautifully.

Confessions of a Guilty Carnivore

Over at Salon, David Sirota has a good post on how vegetarians should talk to meat-eaters.  Full disclosure: I’m not a vegetarian.  I was a vegetarian for Lent, for the most part, having meat only once a day on Sundays and having fish occasionally simply because I needed to do something, while I was learning how to do this new thing I’d never done before.  While I’m not strictly vegetarian now that Lent is over, I have significantly cut back on the amount of meat I eat, sometimes going for a few days without eating any.  I’m working at it, practicing it, one day maybe I’ll get there.

It’s been a challenge.  I actually don’t tend to like a lot of vegetables unless they’re prepared just so.  I cannot stand raw or only slightly cooked onions, no matter how small.  They need to be sauteed forever or stewed to mushy oblivion before I can eat them without retching.  Same goes for peppers.  I don’t particularly like cucumbers, eggplant, or squash, and have only recently developed a fondness for tomatoes — but they have to be good tomatoes.  This makes restaurant vegetarianism very difficult, as the chances that a vegetarian option will contain something that my tastebuds literally cannot stand either on the basis of taste or texture is very high.  It has its positive points, too — having to plan my next few meals well in advance and take time to prepare food myself cuts my food budget considerably, and builds a level of intentionality into my consumption that helps me take care of myself better than if I was just inhaling hot pockets.

But to go back to my point, I think David Sirota misses something very important about the psychological state of a meat-eater.  He describes the aggression that sometimes arises in conversation with meat-eaters quite well.  I know he does a good job, because I have been that carnivore before.

There was a time when even being around vegetarians got me a bit aggressive, a bit willing to spar over it, a bit more willing to even flaunt my meat-eating and dare them to say something.  While I wouldn’t say I was ever as gung-ho about it as the carnivores Sirota describes, that’s still how I felt.

Why was I this way?  Quite simply, because I judged myself for eating meat.  I knew I was doing it for no reason other than personal gratification, to the detriment of the world, and I projected all my self-judgment on them.  My aggression wasn’t really aggression — it was defensiveness.  It was classic projection.

I’d guess 75% of vegetarians aren’t judgmental about it at all.  But a lot of times, meat-eaters, especially ones that seem like their politics would line up with a meat-free lifestyle, are consciously or unconsciously struggling with their own selves on the matter, and foist that hard internal struggle onto others.
I perceive in Sirota’s comments something of the moral crusaderism that can actually make it hard for a meat-eater to get through it, come clean, and make the switch.  This isn’t to say his type isn’t needed — I probably would have never gotten to the point of questioning my meat intake if it wasn’t for moral crusaders pointing out the obvious, that eating meat is harmful to me, my friends, the moral status of animals, and living people across the world I’ll never know.  But it helps to keep in mind that the defensiveness of meat-eaters often comes more from agreeing with the vegetarian’s position, but lacking the courage, self-control, or self-awareness to acknowledge or adopt it.
If vegetarians crusaders are going to do the good work of convincing the world to stop eating meat, they should at least consider their audience, as Sirota says.  And, occasionally, that might call for a degree of empathy with the moral conundrum a meat-eater is placed in, which directly pits their own ego-driven desires against a higher good they perceive and agree with, even if they can’t admit it to themselves. Just some thoughts, from someone who has been working to become less carnivorous, who isn’t perfect, but is trying to do better.

Early Riser

I wrote this just now; I awoke early, scared of snakes.  A little background: a long time ago, probably in early middle school or late elementary school, I dreamed I had found a rattlesnake, put it in a box, and put him in my closet.  Many years later, I awoke terrified that the dream was real, and that I still had a starving, and probably angry, rattlesnake infesting my closet, just waiting for me to stumble upon it, at which point it would kill me.  I awoke tonight with the memories of that first acute fear heavy upon me, and felt that it would do me some good to write it out.  The developed piece is of a style I don’t normally use, but it felt right in this case; honestly, H.P. Lovecraft was much on my mind the entire time, despite the fact that I have not ever read any of his work.  But I’ve played enough games of Arkham Horror and remember enough of the mood in Eternal Darkness to get a sense of what he’s like, and I felt, in a sense, that this was my attempt to do something similar.  This is what came of it.

Early Riser

I arise early.  For the first time in many years, the fear of them has entered my bones.

It has been a long time since this terror of the early morning slipped into me, a slow wakefulness, a slow mindfulness that one of them might finally repay my ancient, ephemeral kindness by slipping unnoticed and unheard into my bedroom, climb with her ancient arts of stealth up my bedpost, interject himself—unobtrusive as morning light creeping beneath a windowshade—between the covers and the mattress, and kiss me ever-so-gently into the full glory of the morning.  But it entered me again, like an old and terrible friend, the sort of friend one makes but never likes: when, as a tormented and tormenting member of the childhood class, one is young and still learning what it means to laugh, one discovers someone who knows something about them as well, and a bond is forged that runs only as deep as a ridge of paper diamonds rubbed against a rock.

I am certain I dreamed this fear into existence, but I do not know for certain if anything I am about to say is true.  The uncertainty of my own certainty on this matter provides much of the substance of my fear, I am sure.  At some point in my childhood, perhaps after the stage of wide-eyed awe at every rock, but before leaving home with any sense of finality, I became convinced that I had brought them in.  The details are murky, but I know I placed them somewhere, maybe just one of them, but maybe as many as three.  (The number does not matter; as with all such things, they breed; even one of them may become many if given time and dis-reflection).  The closet, perhaps, it seemed appropriate then.  It was a place to keep many things, so why not these?  They would find a nest there, and become more.

I had, by then, passed the years of my life when the closet contained monstrous horrors; I had slept so long with my closet door open that it had ceased to be a place of fright for me.  I was more horrified of the coats hanging in the hallway just outside my door, the way in the light of the bathroom seemed to shine on them in just the right way.  At some point every night, if I could stir myself to look, the coats had seemed to slither themselves together into one form, and it seemed to move of its own will.  Every time its movement was the same: it would turn its countenance toward me, and stare.  And then, with the object of its chilling regard in view, it would smile.

But I the fear that is in me now is not of old coats transforming their dimly imagined selves into sepulchral phantasms.  It is, instead, the memory of the night I awoke, certain as I was born that they were in the closet, and they were angry.  I had brought them in, for reasons that now I do not understand; I guess that maybe it was morbid fascination, the tiny thrill of alarm that strikes as a faint echo of ecstatic communion when encountering something dangerous, surviving a car accident, touching one of them along its ridged belly.  Maybe for the same reason, they had slept as icons pinned to my wall for many years prior; the rare nights my brother made use of my quarters when I was away, he would remove them or cover them with thick fabric, so as not to have their twisted shapes stare down on him.  Perhaps he feared them as I did that rack of coats; perhaps he feared that they might smile.

But that night I awoke afraid, for I realized it had been many months since they had become my friends in the dark.  And in those many months, they had been hungry.  Perhaps instead of breeding, they had turned on each other one by one.  And now perhaps one, victorious champion, lay with all its meditations set on what lay beyond the confines of the world in which it resided, the bag, the box in which it had found itself transported from the world of its own habitat to the inner realm of endless night.

I was afraid because I knew then how weak my craft was, for whatever it (and any brothers and sisters it might have consumed) had been placed in was surely too weak to hold it.  I had brought it in—if indeed I did bring it in, on this point my mind is hazy.  If this is indeed merely nightly ghast or the remnants of a sordid dream, then perhaps I relate not the genesis of the fear, but rather the birth of a personal mythology—and my skill at containing its horror was not great.  It was only a matter of time before this hoary champion stirred itself to loose its bonds, to walk again on legs that would carry it out of bondage in vengeance against its neglectful master.

I have said, quite carefully, that the fear is not purely of them.  I believe now, as I sit by my window writing these words with the daylight stirring itself and the birds chirping, that indeed this dread that inhabited my body not an hour ago is based on a misremembered dream.  I never really did bring them into my house—what a fool thing to do!  I merely dreamed I did, and on the night of that same dream I awoke in terror, feeling that I had done the deed months ago and now the god I ignored was ready to move against me.  I say, rather, that the fear is of the memory of that first morning when all these fearsome thoughts first rose within me.  I fear this memory, for I have moved many times since that gruesome birth, and yet still its placental wrappings enter my mind at odd hours.  Eleven times have I gathered boxes in hand and moved my household since the day I awoke with this fear, and yet now it gathers within me again.

The fear has left me now.  I must admit, I feel silly to have even felt the need to write any of it down.  But still…but still I wonder what it is I must have done, to have dreamt so great a terror, and a part of me still wonders if it was dreamt at all.  I have not, after all, ever really developed the courage to explore that closet to my satisfaction.  Perhaps in it there really is a bag filled with skeletal nightmares and several pounds of flesh-become-dust.  Or perhaps there are only portfolios of memories, reminders of a long time ago, photographs of what life was like before I dreamed their existence into my being.