i read the news today, oh boy

Each time I hear of a new hate crime being perpetrated in Canada or the US, it’s quite clear that the level of discontent and anger throughout all races, orientation, creeds and faiths is no longer bubbling under the lid but reaching a boiling point.

Seeing a friend’s church vandalized yesterday leaves me with a sinking feeling. The church, which practices radical inclusion, has been victim of these kinds of attacks and worse before.

Seeing Jewish graves and menorahs being desecrated with graffiti and Swastikas, leaves me frightened for my friends of that faith. Seeing a disabled man, kidnapped, beaten and tortured by four individuals and livestreamed on Facebook makes me angry that people can be so cruel and callous to another human being.

I liked to have thought we might be getting past this kind of stuff but apparently not. We will do what we have always done. Clean up the mess, carry on and continue reaching out to the world with peace and hope.

The increase in bigotry and hate crimes surfacing and coming to light is one reason why i never cottoned to the “it gets better” movement. Because actions ALWAYS speak louder than words. And clearly things are NOT getting better.

Many of the people in those videos are in them for political and personal gain. When David Sweet – the former president of an organization who published several books on Reparation Therapy and Praying the Gay Away – appeared in the video, his hypocrisy angered me.

So much so that I wrote a song about it:

“I see you on the screen telling me it’s going to get better;
that there will be a happier fate.
But as I recall, just a few years ago it was you spewing the hate.
I’d like to think you’ve turned over a new leaf
but your history and politics have me wondering
what truly caused this change of heart?

People like you
are the root of the problem.
People like you
don’t always live like you should.
People like you
are blinded by your faith.
People like you
cause more harm than good”

I’d like to think the people who spew such hatred and anger are broken. Their souls must be in great pain. I only try to prevent allowing their hatred create more hatred within myself. I can hope they will either be brought to justice or see the error of their ways. However, in truth, I know that the forces driving them are bigotry and ignorance. And for these folks I can do nothing but pity and try to forgive them.

Does it get better – so far I haven’t seen it happen in my 40+ years. However it’s not going to stop me from trying to make MY corner of the world a better place.

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a tale of more than two churches

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

As I sat in work church on Christmas morning, the minister said something that horrified me more than usual during his sermon on the shepherds that visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

“The shepherds were not men you’d want to be around – they were ruffians, wild men and often unpleasant – not to mention the smell of unclean men who were regularly around sheep.  Elitists like myself simply would NOT want them around.  It was certainly a moment of grace that Mary and Joseph, who was a skilled tradesman, would have these people around their newborn son.”

This coming from a minister of an inner city church, that is across the street from the largest men’s and women’s shelters in a city of over half a million.

As the grandson of an Anglican Minister, baptised, confirmed and raised in the Anglican Church, I’ve had Christianity as part of my life as long as I can remember.  I’ve also struggled with my belief and faith in mainstream Christianity since my sexual abuse at age 13 by a church elder was covered up by the minister.  How can people who purport to represent G*d’s will and Jesus’ message do such harm to a young person?

My ability to support my faith was further tested when a friend who was recently ordained as a Presbyterian Minister lived with Larry and I for over 6 months while he searched for an apartment that was accessible for his wife, who was wheelchair bound after a severe stroke.  I felt that he was different, and could set aside the doctrines of his teaching and accept Larry and I as a couple, celebrating our love in peace and faith.

I helped him plant roots in the community, connected him with community leaders and organizations and after 20 years of agnosticism, joined his church and became involved in growing the congregation.

When Larry got sick, had his transplant and nearly died, I had to pull back from church activities.  During this time period, I emailed my friend multiple times, providing him information about Larry’s progress and my emotional/spiritual state.

At no point during this time period did he reply.  The only message I received from the church was that while I could not attend, they would gratefully accept my collection envelopes in the mail.  I withdrew from the church, returning the collection envelopes and any materials given to me through the mail slot.

I wrote my “friend” a letter expressing my dismay and sadness that he was unable to see through his prejudices and could not minister to me as a member of his congregation or a friend.

No reply.

Against my better judgement, a friend asked me to audition for a paid chorister at my “work church,” I was hesitant but I auditioned and found a beautiful building, an astoundingly gorgeous instrument to sing to and a choirmaster that would and has continued to challenge my abilities as a singer.

However I found a conservative church who is more focused on the building rather than the community, shoring up their class boundaries rather than preaching Jesus’ gospel and a minister whose prejudices and elitism were clearly and seemingly proudly displayed in his messages.

It is consistently clear to me that I am little more than “the hired help” at this church and, as an openly gay man, would never be accepted (this was pretty much communicated to me in those exact words by a member of their Session).  To this date, the treasurer, despite signing my monthly cheque for almost four years does not know who I am and several parishioners have actually turned their backs on me when we meet in public.

Hardly living up to Jesus’ message.

At the same time, a number of good friends are devoted Christians, who actually live up to the message and practice his teachings throughout their day to day life.  A retired minister even visits with me regularly to help me navigate my need to balance faith with empirical evidence and fact.  His being a geologist before attending the calling certainly helps.

Before Larry died, he took over the role of Santa for a local United Church, whose minister had recently lost his wife to a similar cancer that Larry had fought for the last seven years of his life.  He accepted that Larry was an openly gay man and also that Larry was Wiccan in faith without batting an eye.  He also welcomed me into the “family.”

When Larry got the terminal diagnosis, Rev. Moore was the first person to reach out and made several visits to our home.  When Larry went palliative, Rev. Moore visited me at home and also helped drive me up to the hospital, where he attended to Larry’s and my spiritual and emotional needs with care, dignity, humour and respect.

When Larry passed, it was a given that his memorial would be at Laidlaw Memorial United Church.  Larry’s Wiccan faith was welcomed and he worked with a local Wiccan Priestess and Priest to ensure that Larry’s spiritual values were included in the service.

I was happily surprised and the congregation welcomed this then shattered soul with open arms and loving hearts.  After a few services in the summer and a Christmas Eve service where I fought my desire to end my life and just sat and wept the entire time, I petitioned the church to join.

They welcomed me, even though I could only attend during the summer months and a few select services during the year.  They welcomed an openly gay community organization I was a part of, providing us a home and a venue for our performances.  They were not pretentious, welcoming and offered loving hearts to all who entered with an open heart and loving spirit.

When I sing at work church, I miss the spirit and warm nature of Laidlaw’s congregation and Rev. Moore’s guidance.  He is a friend, a spiritual rock and mentor to me.

Case in point – two services on Christmas Eve:  At Laidlaw, the pews were filled to overflowing with people in the balcony and chairs being brought up from the basement to seat the extra.  During the children’s lesson, 46 children came up to the front and Rev. Moore led them in a rousing rendition of “Jesus Our Brother, Kind and Good” (aka the Friendly Beasts).   At work church, 35 people attended, mostly not of the congregation and there were no children.

John Pavolvitz wrote:

“For far too many people, being a Christian no longer means you need to be humble or forgiving. It no longer means you need a heart to serve or bring healing. It no longer requires compassion or mercy or benevolence. It no longer requires you to turn the other cheek or to love your enemies or to take the lowest place or to love your neighbour as yourself.

It no longer requires Jesus.”

This is most represented by work church, and contrasted by Laidlaw, which is welcoming, open and accepts people for who they are, as long as they are there to share in spreading the message of peace.

During the time after Larry’s death, I began revisiting my faith and what I believed in.  At the same time, one of Larry’s mentors reached out and provided a space of solace in turbulent emotional times.  Rev. Beyerl is the founder of the Rowan Tree Church which, best explained, is an interfaith group based in traditional Wiccan values.

The Rowan Tree Church did not demand that I turn my back on my Christian upbringing, however strengthens the basic teachings and philosophies of humbleness, peace, living simply and being attuned to the planet around us – protecting it and loving it as an aspect of the divine.

The minister who lived with Larry and I, found this troubling and decided to “disown” as a friend and exited my life without a single word.  When I discovered this, I pressed him on what happened and he confirmed that he found my writings troubling and in disconnect with his Christian faith.  He suggested I change and stop this path or risk losing him forever.  I still love Rev. Dickson, I have been able to forgive him as his actions are products of his upbringing and teachings.  I will welcome him with open arms and a wary heart if he chooses to enter my life again.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Rev. Dickson and several other friends were devoted members of a church, who invited them to join the ranks of the clergy.  That is, until other factors became problematic for this church.  Oddly enough, this church welcomed the devoted members with open arms, until loved ones became ill, requiring long-term care and attention.

In all of these cases, these potential clergy were told to turn their backs, institutionalize or leave the loved ones behind in order to pursue the path of the clergy.  A choice that thankfully none of them were willing to make.  Being told that you are welcome but your infirm family members would not be was too much for these individuals.

How they remain faithful after such treatment is testament to their belief in the message.  They have all moved on and pursue their ministry elsewhere.

As have I.

My work with the Rowan Tree Church does not demand that I turn my back on my Christian upbringing, however strengthens it with asking me to explore other faiths as both an intellectual and philosophical manner.  It asks me to examine my faith and my actions in that faith as a denizen of this planet and also an aspect of the divine spirit – as we ALL were crafted in the image of the divine, regardless of religion, sexuality, gender or skin colour.

My work with Laidlaw United Church does not demand that I turn my back on my spiritual explorations and studies in the Rowan Tree Church, as those studies have moved me closer to the direction of Rev. Moore and the church’s mission statement – in acceptance, faith and welcoming all.  I was considering studying towards my M. Div as a United Church, however the divinity schools are now filled with politicians and administrators and do not seem concerned in turning out preachers and ministers.

I am not a religious man, but I am a man of faith.  I have faith that I will follow the lessons of Yeshua ben Joseph AND the other prophets, priests and ascended souls whom we all should listen to and learn from.  I have faith that simple living and good deeds will be rewarded, not by the promise of paradise after I die, but of the knowledge that I have lived simply and done my best to spread peace and love in the world.  I have faith that a pretty building and opulent spending does not indicate that a person is better than any other, when an ugly heart is concealed within.

I have faith that there are good Christians out there, there are good Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, Pagans, Buddhists.  Being a good person is not based out of one’s beliefs in scriptures from a  book, but out of one’s actions towards others.

Peace.  Blessed be.  Amen.

dear santa.

Dear Santa,

At this time of year, I know you’re quite used to folks writing to you asking for things.  This letter will be different.

I am writing to thank you for all you have done for me throughout the years.

When Larry decided to portray you, I was happy he found something to keep him busy during the months of November and December.  Little did we know that his portrayal of you would become something much deeper for both of us.

When Larry began networking, little did I know that he would meet people who would become friends for the rest of his life.  Little did I know that many of these folks would become good friends, mentors and spiritual advisors to me.  The men who portray you are often incredible people who set aside their lives to portray you, and eventually their lives are shaped by you and what you represent.

It never ceases to amaze me.  And those that remain in my life have been blessings to me – I am reminded of your giving nature and love in their actions.  My faith in humanity is refreshed when I am with them.

Your biggest and best gift to me was Larry being given a focus and drive.  Your next greatest gift to me are all the men who portray you who have stood behind me and supported me when my world fell apart.  You continue to give in the men who were inspired by Larry to grow their beards and don the suit of red and portray you.

At least two of these folks have been a large part of my life before you entered it and they remain a large part of my life.  They continue to support me in their actions, words, prayers and deeds and they remind me that faith can be a powerful thing when given the right intent and reason.

The latest gift you have given me is the latest Santa who has asked me to be his “elf” in the way I was for Larry – supporting, helping connect him with resources and continue to serve your spirit by helping another great friend portray you.  Michael kept me going when I hit rock bottom with PTSD and Depression and I am blessed and honoured to call him friend.

The only reason why I’m still walking this earth is because of him and I am indebted for his quiet love and peaceful resolve to keep me talking when my mind and heart were trying to shut down, screaming for my body to join them somehow.  I wear the semicolon on my left forearm because Michael gave me reason to stay alive – because I need to honour a promise I made to Larry.

You have given me a good friend who both portrays you but also has taken me under his wing and works with me musically.  David has been my most ardent supporter, believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.  He still does.

You have given me a number of spiritual supports and guides who are showing me that faith is a personal thing and can be balanced with my scientific mind’s desire for rationality and evidence.  Just as I believe in your existence in the hearts of the people who portray you, I believe in a higher power that exists in the hearts and minds of people who are searching for more.

You have given me the drive to keep going when everything within me fought forward motion.  I have recorded and released a CD that is singularly me, I have started writing new songs that build upon while moving away from table for one.

You have continued to keep my family in my life and I am blessed with a supportive and caring Mother and an amazing brother, sister-in-law and nieces.

So.  For once, it’s time that someone thank you for all you have given me.  Gifts that aren’t material, however gifts that have supported me and provided me strength.

Thank you, Santa, for all you have given.

Love,

myke.

P.S. I’d like to ask you for one thing.  If there’s someone who is supposed to be in my life to make me happy, can you make it happen soon?  If he has long white hair, a beard and chubby belly – even better!

 

 

table for one. in conclusion

As the final chapter of the birth table for one. draws to a conclusion, I’m reflecting on how different my life is from the first attempts at writing sitting in The Brain on that fateful Art Crawl night after Larry’s diagnosis.

Seven years.  Seven.  Fucking.  Years.  Four surgeries.  Three deaths.  One nervous breakdown.  Five days of recording.  One album.  One life.

I’m far less angry.  I’m far less scared.  I’m far less impatient.  I’m far less tolerant of negativity.

Throughout all of this change, I have been re-evaluating my life and what it means to be me.  An old acquaintance used to say “Simplify and do everything.” as a joke, however this saying has summed up the past three years of my life.  As I jettison the trappings and detritus I have had surrounding me, the resulting physical, mental and emotional space is allowing me to focus more on things that are important to me.

As my life becomes simpler, I’m able to focus on more.  I’m also making important choices that have impacted on my happiness and health in a positive manner.

Seven years ago, I was close to four hundred pounds, having replaced my chemical addictions with food to medicate my unhappiness.  Seven years ago, I was so focused on my career that both my health and chosen form of expression (music) languished and suffered.  I was in my thirties with sleep apnea, high blood pressure, failing knees and ankles and pre-diabetic.

I thought I was happy, but truly the one light in my life was diagnosed with cancer and we focused on fighting the battle for his life.  Fast forward to now and I’ve survived the loss of my husband, my father, a beloved animal companion, been through a year of treatment for PTSD and anxiety, continue to battle my weight, keeping it down to a healthy level.

I am now hovering around two hundred pounds, eating a clean diet, drug and alcohol free almost thirteen years, breathing easily and most of my other health issues have resolved.

I am also writing further music that reflects a need to carry on, to learn and grow, as well as collaborating with other songwriters and music makers…my catharsis is complete – time to remove my life from suspended animation and continue moving forward.

Simplify and do everything indeed.

 

on scary people

I think it’s finally time that I express my opinion about the clown situation happening across North America.  A lot of people know that I once worked as a clown and have studied the art of clowning for almost 30 years.  A lot of people might just think that it’s a hobby, however it’s far more than that.  I’ve worked as an entertainer since I was 13, I have performed thousands of shows in that time, entertained for people dying, people getting married and centenarians in nursing homes. The past few years (since my weight loss) I haven’t clowned as much but I still hold the art close to my heart and have taught and presented at international lectures throughout the past few year. My goal is to further the education making better clowns with new ideas and programs worldwide.

Now my opinion on what’s happening.

The current clown “thing” started with some people (mostly teenagers) dressed as clowns going up on to people’s porches and smashing pumpkins. After watching the story, at the very end the newscaster mentioned that most likely the people doing that knew the people they were messing with.

This year pranksters bumped it up a notch and the public copycats grabbed it and ran with it.

However a LOT of the reports have been proven to be either unsubstantiated for lack of evidence or outright hoaxes perpetrated by teenagers or young adults wanting attention.

This current escalation and media attention is troubling to me. As media attention grows, many legitimate professional entertainers are being harassed or outright threatened by the “dog whistle” alarms in these media reports. It frightens me that people I know and respect are now potentially being placed in danger because people are concerned for their safety against pranksters.

To a lot of people this is not a problem at all and possibly even a celebration. This is a problem, because first it’s the clowns next what?

Yesterday, a leader in the clown industry sent an email to his organization to suspend wearing makeup to any performances until further notice because of their safety. He also mentioned that any form of bullying is wrong and encourages other forms of bullying.

Clowns have been bullied for a long time. Almost every time I go out, I have somebody tell me to my face that they “hate clowns”. Now I understand that there are jobs in this world that people do that I don’t care for, however I don’t specifically walk up to them and tell them that I hate them. I keep my opinion to myself.

But honestly folks, this is pretty simple

1. If a clown approaches you with a hostile demeanor, protect yourself as you would against anybody with a hostile demeanor. Most clown training progams train clowns NOT to approach someone, however be open, friendly and approachable.

2. If you ARE a clown, consider temporarily lightening your look – use less makeup and be more “human.” I have been suspecting the days of heavy make up are ending in this country as the public is wanting less. It’s time to stop fighting that and embrace it.

3. Clowns need to learn to act as professional adults; the “clowns lives matter” is an absolute embarrassment. Clowns are not being oppressed and shot in our cars like the African-American community has been dealing with for centuries. Clowns cannot equate a few months of negative press to that experience therefore cannot and should not even try!

4. Please understand that anyone can put on a halloween mask, crappy makeup and a wig; however that really makes them a person in a costume. If someone dressed as a policeman and did this, the media and public wouldn’t say policemen were committing the acts. They would say imposters were. There’s a difference between a professional and the people now roaming the streets. They’re just sad individuals. They want people to be terrified, and unfortunately, it’s working. People that advertise as professionals are highly unlikely to be the troublemakers allegedly lurking in the woods.

5. Clowns are real people. We love people and we love kids. Most of us want to provide happy memories, and it saddens me that people running in the streets would stain the idea of what a clown should be. Professional clowns are not only trained, but the government requires them to do background checks before jobs, particularly those involving direct contact with children.

6. If you hate clowns or they scare you, that’s perfectly okay but clowns really don’t want to hear that. It doesn’t give any pleasure to somebody to hear another person tell them that they are hated and honestly it gets old FAST. Please keep your opinion to yourself and announcing it loudly to the public is kind of a douchey thing if it’s at a public event where it’s known entertainers are going to be. If your fears are affecting your ability to perform activities of daily living, perhaps you should get them checked out by professional help too, being afraid of a person wearing makeup and a costume, which essentially is their work uniform is NOT healthy or a normal psychological response…

on questionid.

After my Dad died in November 2014, and my nervous breakdown that December, it was clear that I had pretty major work to do to get my shit together again.  After packing up my basses and other instruments and coming home from my vacation, I proceeded to throw myself fully into therapy.

I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.  When asked what the treatment options were, I proceeded with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing combined with working with cognitive behavioural therapy and for a VERY brief time, medication.  I spent a period of six months of intense self-examination and questioning my identity.

there’s a question that we must all ask ourselves one day,
and there is no easy answer.
an act of self-examination, a question demanding truth
with no correct response.

each time i ask this question, i get a different response,
each interrogation brings further confusion.
forcing me to evaluate my responses from the past;
leaving me further lost in a world of my own creation.

This last stanza is the truth.  Who I am depends on the day and how I’m feeling.  Some days I am pain.  Some days I am rage.  Some days I am love.  Some days I am fear.  Most days I am confused.

However I am not lost in a world of my own creation anymore.  That world was where I spent from age 13 to age 30, where I was medicated, often drunk and avoiding the old wounds, which continued to fester until 2010.

From 2010, the festering wounds were covered with the psychological equivalent of a flesh tone bandage…until it got ripped off over 2013 and 2014.

who am i?
no response to this simple question.
each person i ask has different opinions,
conflicting responses.
who am i?
further confusion building inside me;
every time i peer inside it changes
no simple answers.

I was discharged from EMDR after a year and discontinued my medications after a scare caused by a side effect of anti-depressants.  I am not anti-medications, however I know they don’t work for me.  I’d rather be able to think and feel, with the risk of having a meltdown every now and then, versus being a placid, potentially suicidal zombie.  This decision was made with full support of my medical professionals and with full knowledge of having to do some seriously heavy lifting as far as therapy and being real with myself.

i asked myself this question again today
and got yet another answer
i answered as truthfully as i could, cutting to the quick
leaving nothing to chance.

who am i?
no response to this simple question.
each person i ask has different opinions,
conflicting responses.
who am i?
further confusion building inside me;
every time i peer inside it changes
no simple answers.

there’s a question that i repeatedly ask myself.
and never seem to like my response.
an act of self-examination, forcing me to be true,
leaving me empty and confused.

The act of self-evaluation and forcing myself to face my reality, past experiences and history has been both horrifically challenging and frightening as well as enlightening.  As I peel away the layers, I am removing blockages that are preventing me from moving forward.  I couldn’t have written this music, I couldn’t have chosen to perform it, I couldn’t record and release table for one. and leave it open, vulnerable, to the world.

Yes, table for one. is as much a part of my therapy, recovery and healing as any of the psychological work I’ve done.  Having released it to the wider world has been both liberating and terrifying as I now have a wide open road ahead of me, free from obstruction.

who am i?
no response to this simple question.
each person i ask has different opinions,
conflicting responses.
who am i?
further confusion building inside me;
every time i peer inside it changes
no simple answers.

Yes I continue to struggle with my identity.  I continue to struggle with my ego.  I continue to wrestle with my past.  I continue to struggle with my future.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way!

on passing me by.

passing me by. was written November 2009 on Art Crawl night, while sitting at The Brain on James St. N. in Hamilton, Ontario.

the air grows chill and the days grow short,
the twilight hours are beckoning.
the animals have departed, nature’s slumber begins;
winter is the time of our reckoning.

As it was early November, the nights were growing longer and the days were growing cooler.  I was quietly watching the Art Crawl crowd, drinking my pot of coffee (The Brain serves their coffee in a 4 cup Bodum).

another year is gone –
life keeps moving on.
this year has come to an end;
time no more is a friend.

At this time, Larry’s liver cancer had progressed to the point where he was barely functioning due to the hepatic encephalopathies – essentially his liver was no longer functioning and the ammonia building up in his body was poisoning his brain.

The medication to treat hepatic encephalopathy in end stage liver failure is lactulose – a strong laxative that forces the body to purge.

I was trying to balance his ability to function cognitively with his ability to go about activities without shitting himself.

daylight fades, the sun grows wan;
the night becomes increasingly longer.
the land grows barren, fading out to white;
winter’s grasp grows stronger.

It’s pretty clear that I was beginning to feel the effects of 22 years of denial and anguish and my struggles with faith, my sexuality and my distaste for organized religion.  At the time a good friend had resurfaced in my life, now a Presbyterian Minister, and in the pulpit at the church around the corner from my house.

I’ve written about this person in the past and won’t rehash his betrayals in my life.  I love this person dearly and wish him the best but don’t have room for people who cannot set their egos aside and act in accordance with their faith.

another year is gone –
life keeps moving on.
this year has come to an end;
time no more is a friend.

my hair’s grown grey, my eyesight blurred;
my life spent setting the stage.
my body weakens, my soul grown weary
as i struggle into middle age.

Between drama in the workplace, Larry’s failing health and yes my failing health (I was topping 350 lbs by this time), I was feeling run down and tired pretty near all the time.  I was physically and emotionally spent.  The greying of my hair was progressing quicker and I was eating my stress and feelings by this time, having exchanged my alcohol and drug dependence for Doritos and diet cola.

another year is gone –
my life keeps moving on.
my year has come to an end;
time no more is my friend.

This song was the last thing I had written before Larry had his liver transplant.  It sums up my state of mind and the bleakness I felt at the time.  It’s also a good general “dull grey day” kind of song too…