Friday, December 27, 2013

"People Can't Eat the Constitution": FDR, 1936 and Today

I've been reading a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt* which I started shortly after visiting his memorial in Washington, D.C. on Veteran's Day this past November (which I wrote about here). It's a long book, over 800 pages, and I'm a little over half-way through.

I have just read about the 1936 election and was amazed at how some of the rhetoric of that election - almost 80 years ago - mirrors conditions today. FDR is running for a second term, and his Republican opponent is Alf Landon of Kansas. The New Deal has been chugging along, transforming America, and the capitalists are starting to get really concerned.

I was frankly very surprised at how statements made in that election year - almost 80 years ago - by Roosevelt, Landon and others mirror conditions of today. 

As the nomination process played out, William Borah, long-time Republican senator from Idaho, made this statement: "Unless the Republican party is delivered from its reactionary leadership and reorganized in accord with its one-time liberal principles, it will die like the Whig party, of sheer political cowardice." (Sound familiar?)

The people were demanding change and the Republican party wasn't giving it to them. "They are offered the Constitution," said Borah. "But the people can't eat the Constitution." (Reminds me of how many so-called conservative reactionaries like to claim that they are self-appointed guardians of the Constitution.)

Alf Landon, the eventual Republican nominee, recognized that the days of Herbert Hoover's conservatism were over: "I do not believe the Jeffersonian theory that the best government is the one that governs the least can be applied today. [Keep in mind he was speaking almost 80 years ago.] I think that as civilization becomes more complex, government power must increase."

Compare that statement to statements by today's conservative talking heads, in and out of Congress, who frighten people into believing that the federal government has run amuck and must be drastically reduced in size.

Roosevelt was in top form that year and very combative. He admitted that he had made some mistakes in his first administration, but, he said:
"[T]he immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weights the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."
Roosevelt carried all but two states that year, winning 523 electoral votes to Landon's 8.


* Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by H. W. Brands.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Thank You, Judge Shelby

Not for the first time this weekend, I cried last night at the sheer wonder of what has happened in Utah since Friday. 

Like hundreds of thousands of other gay men, I grew up in a time when a realization that one was gay - that one was queer, a homo, a faggot - was in most cases a death knell to the blossoming of one's individuality, one's personhood. This mental illness - for such it was considered until 1973 - was to be suppressed at all costs. 

One learned to hate oneself. Growing up in a religious environment, one also learned that, while others merited God's love, I - and others like me - did not. No matter how hard one tried to believe otherwise, the tides of self-hatred were too strong. Repress. Suppress. Carry on. 

Perhaps there would be some way to redeem myself. I thought I had found the path out of "homo hell" when I converted to the Mormon faith as a young man and embarked upon the "way of happiness." I married. I raised children. I loved to the best of my ability. But as the song, "Blessing" states, every day a bit of me died. I could not redeem what could not be redeemed. Nor, as it turned out, could God ... because even He cannot redeem what needs no redemption.

A little over three years ago, I came out of the closet amidst the death throws of my marriage. Two years ago, I met a man with whom I fell deeply in love. Today, I share my life and my family with him. We had a commitment ceremony in August and plan to marry in the spring.

But with all that has happened this past three years, with all the growth I have experienced, with all the self-hatred that has been rooted out and replaced with the seeds of self-love, I wasn't prepared for what has happened these past few days. For the first time in my life, a federal court in my own jurisdiction has ruled, in essence, that who I am as a gay man is inherently part of who I am and that I have rights - as a gay man - that are worthy of protection by the government of the United States of America.

I wonder, Judge Shelby, if you realize what your ruling really means to me and to people like me. Yes, we can now marry our loved one in our own state. But your ruling goes far beyond marriage. It fundamentally affirms who I am as a gay citizen of my country, my state and my community. And for that, I am grateful beyond words to express.

Thank you, Judge Shelby. Merry Christmas.

"Rather than protecting or supporting the families of opposite-sex couples, Amendment 3 perpetuates inequality by holding that the families and relationships of same-sex couples are not now, nor ever will be, worthy of recognition ... [T]he Constitution protects the Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights, which include the right to marry and the right to have that marriage recognized by their government. These rights would be meaningless if the Constitution did not also prevent the government from interfering with the intensely personal choices an individual makes when that person decides to make a solemn commitment to another human being. The Constitution therefore protects the choice of one’s partner for all citizens, regardless of their sexual identity."

Monday, December 23, 2013

What One Utah Family with Same-Sex Parents Looks Like

Saturday was one of the happiest days of my life.* Six of my children were staying with us, and we were joined in the afternoon by my daughter Hannah, her husband Cary and their daughter, Nutella (that's what Mark and I call her). We had fun watching Nutella toddle around. We sat and chatted. We ate dinner. The kids played ping pong. Everyone was happy. Everyone was enjoying themselves. And as a father, this was the sort of evening that I had dreamt about. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful evening. 

I chose the title of this post cognizant of what is happening in Utah right now. As I wrote in my post on Saturday: "We are a family. My partner, Mark, and I love each other. We, together, love our children, who are legally "mine" and my former wife's, but are also morally Mark's. Why? Because he loves them and they love him."

We are a family.

* The lead photograph was taken by dav.d photography. The other pictures were taken by my very talented daughter, Rachel, pictured above on the left with her sister, Hannah.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Utah Will Never Be the Same

On Friday, the state government and the Mormon Church hierarchy lost control. 

Utah will never be the same as it was Friday morning. i.e., before (federal) Judge Robert Shelby's ruling that Utah's Amendment 3 (banning same-sex marriage) is unconstitutional. 

Totally apart from what this ruling means to gay Utahns and their families, I think this decision, in ways which cannot be fully known at this point, is probably the most momentous one involving control of the state of Utah since the last years of polygamy when federal judges came in to assert federal authority over a recalcitrant Mormon-controlled state government. 

In a sweeping ruling that I must imagine took by surprise the powers that be in this state, the complacent, smug world in which those powers operate - secure in the knowledge that they are in control - was suddenly upended. 

News reports this morning quote Governor Gary Herbert as saying that the situation (with the county clerks who issue marriage licenses) is "chaotic." In other words, he has lost control of the situation. And a perhaps titanic struggle is shaping up between the Utah state government and (via the federal judiciary) the federal government, the likes of which this state has not seen since the days of polygamy. 

The state requested an emergency stay* over the weekend of Judge Shelby's ruling. Judge Shelby declined, saying he would hear arguments tomorrow as to whether a stay is appropriate. The state also went over his head to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals,** asking it to issue a stay if Judge Shelby does not submit to the state's demands for an immediate stay. (Which, it seems to me, is hardly likely considering the same judge issued an order two days ago that "enjoins the State from enforcing Sections 30-1-2 and 30-1-4.1 of the Utah Code and Article I, § 29 of the Utah Constitution to the extent these laws prohibit a person from marrying another person of the same sex.") 

The hierarchy - both political and religious - has lost control. 

For the hundreds of thousands of Utahns who are not part of the dominant religious environment in this state (or who may be, but whose progressive views are frowned upon within their community), these events are tremendously affirming. A federal judge has provided affirmation not only to LGBT Utahns, but to ALL Utahns who feel disenfranchised and disconnected from their state government because they are a minority. 

Utah will never be the same again.

(*A stay temporarily suspends the effect of a ruling.)

(**All federal courts in the country are organized within districts. Utah is part of the 10th district, the headquarters of which are in Denver.)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dignity: Marriage Equality Comes to Utah

On this snowy morning, six of my children are either still sleeping in their bedrooms in our home or are already downstairs watching television.* Christmas music is playing in the background. My 19-year-old daughter is in the kitchen making waffles. Mark is sitting next to me, writing in his journal. Others of my children are not currently here, but will be on Monday as nine of the children, my son-in-law and my granddaughter sit down to dinner with Mark and me.

We are a family. My partner, Mark, and I love each other. We, together, love our children, who are legally "mine" and my former wife's, but are also morally Mark's. Why? Because he loves them and they love him.

Gradually, over the past three years, I have come to feel more confident about being open about my sexual identity, about who I am. And during the past two years, I have come to the point that I no longer hesitate to publicly refer to Mark as my partner, e.g., when I'm in stores, restaurants, etc. I have grown more comfortable in quietly asserting and carrying my dignity as a gay man in a committed relationship.

But today, I feel different. In my home state, a federal judge has just ruled that our family, and Mark and I's relationship, is legally entitled to the same dignity and respect as those of heterosexual couples. Today, I feel validated as a gay man in my own community. I feel that, as it has so many times in American history, the federal judiciary has stepped in to confront a state that seeks to deny its citizens the rights that are their due. That a power greater than ignorance, bigotry and religious-based intolerance has stepped in to right what was wrong. 

And I'm grateful.

* Photo by Katrina Barker Anderson Photography


Here are some quotes from Judge Robert Shelby's ruling that resonated with me:

“[T]he legal issues presented in this lawsuit do not depend on whether Utah’s laws were the result of its legislature or a referendum, or whether the laws passed by the widest or smallest of margins. The question presented here depends instead on the Constitution itself …”

"The Constitution guarantees that all citizens have certain fundamental rights. These rights vest in every person over whom the Constitution has authority and, because they are so important, an individual’s fundamental rights 'may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.' W. Va. State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638 (1943) ..." 

“A person’s choices about marriage implicate the heart of the right to liberty that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment … The effect of Amendment 3 is therefore that it denies gay and lesbian citizens of Utah the ability to exercise one of their constitutionally protected rights. The State’s prohibition of the Plaintiffs’ right to choose a same-sex marriage partner renders their fundamental right to marry as meaningless as if the State recognized the Plaintiffs’ right to bear arms but not their right to buy bullets ...”

“[H]owever persuasive the ability to procreate might be in the context of a particular religious perspective, it is not a defining characteristic of conjugal relationships from a legal and constitutional point of view. The State’s position demeans the dignity not just of same-sex couples, but of the many opposite- sex couples who are unable to reproduce or who choose not to have children ...”

“Both same-sex and opposite-sex marriage are therefore simply manifestations of one right—the right to marry—applied to people with different sexual identities. While it was assumed until recently that a person could only share an intimate emotional bond and develop a family with a person of the opposite sex, the realization that this assumption is false does not change the underlying right. It merely changes the result when the court applies that right to the facts before it. Applying that right to these Plaintiffs, the court finds that the Constitution protects their right to marry a person of the same sex to the same degree that the Constitution protects the right of heterosexual individuals to marry a person of the opposite sex ...”


"In 1966, attorneys for the State of Virginia made the following arguments to the Supreme Court in support of Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage: (1) “The Virginia statutes here under attack reflects [sic] a policy which has obtained in this Commonwealth for over two centuries and which still obtains in seventeen states”; (2) “Inasmuch as we have already noted the higher rate of divorce among the intermarried, is it not proper to ask, ‘Shall we then add to the number of children who become the victims of their intermarried parents?’”; (3) “[I]ntermarriage constitutes a threat to society”; and (4) “[U]nder the Constitution the regulation and control of marital and family relationships are reserved to the States.” Brief for Respondents at 47-52, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), 1967 WL 113931. These contentions are almost identical to the assertions made by the State of Utah in support of Utah’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. For the reasons discussed above, the court finds these arguments as unpersuasive as the Supreme Court found them fifty years ago. Anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia and elsewhere were designed to, and did, deprive a targeted minority of the full measure of human dignity and liberty by denying them the freedom to marry the partner of their choice. Utah’s Amendment 3 achieves the same result.

“Rather than protecting or supporting the families of opposite-sex couples, Amendment 3 perpetuates inequality by holding that the families and relationships of same-sex couples are not now, nor ever will be, worthy of recognition. Amendment 3 does not thereby elevate the status of opposite-sex marriage; it merely demeans the dignity of same-sex couples. And while the State cites an interest in protecting traditional marriage, it protects that interest by denying one of the most traditional aspects of marriage to thousands of its citizens: the right to form a family that is strengthened by a partnership based on love, intimacy, and shared responsibilities. The Plaintiffs’ desire to publicly declare their vows of commitment and support to each other is a testament to the strength of marriage in society, not a sign that, by opening its doors to all individuals, it is in danger of collapse.

“The State of Utah has provided no evidence that opposite-sex marriage will be affected in any way by same-sex marriage. In the absence of such evidence, the State’s unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the State’s refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens. Moreover, the Constitution protects the Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights, which include the right to marry and the right to have that marriage recognized by their government. These rights would be meaningless if the Constitution did not also prevent the government from interfering with the intensely personal choices an individual makes when that person decides to make a solemn commitment to another human being. The Constitution therefore protects the choice of one’s partner for all citizens, regardless of their sexual identity.”

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Filling Holes and the Christmas Butterfly

I first became aware of it a couple of weeks ago. A dim feeling. a Sense. A lightness. A happiness. But the feeling escaped articulation. Something was different about Christmas this year. I didn’t feel what I have felt in the past: stress, anxiety, an elusive chase for the “Christmas Spirit.”

Gradually, as days passed, thoughts started coalescing in my mind. I came to realize that the way I have approached Christmas this year is a reflection of the spiritual path I embarked upon a couple of months ago (a continuation of a path I've been on for three years). As I began that journey, what has made all the difference is the realization that my spirituality needs to be “organic,” i.e., it needs to be a reflection of who I am, rather than a set of beliefs imposed from without.

(In this regard and as an aside, a passage I recently read in John O’Donohue’s book, Anam Cara, speaks to this need for organic spirituality: “The Celts recognized that the shape of each soul is different; the spiritual clothing one person wears can never fit the soul of another … Each destiny has a unique curvature and must find its own spiritual belonging and direction. Individuality is the only gateway to spiritual potential and blessing.”)

What I came to realize is that, in years past, I approached Christmas in much the same way I had approached “religion” and “spirituality,” i.e., that it’s all about externals, things outside myself that I or others impose upon myself. Developing traditions for the sake of traditions. Constantly worrying whether my/our Christmas is “good enough.” Should I get another gift for this person or that person? Will it be enough?

I listened as other people, as well as myself, would sometimes complain that “I just don’t feel the Christmas Spirit this year,” as if that Spirit is entirely dependent on external conditions being just right. Enough snow. Enough presents. Enough baking. Enough service. Is this the right mix? Should I/we be doing something different? Is it enough?

Not that I’m criticizing others or telling others what they need to do/don’t need to do. Heaven knows there is enough of that every December in the media. No, I’m talking about my own feelings. Christmas became, I now see, the ultimate exercise of trying to fill a hole, with stuff “out there.” It became, in a very real sense, a religion full of rituals and beliefs, the purpose of which was to fill a hole, with Christmas being the "High Holey Day." (Think about it: why is Santa so popular? Because he is a god-like figure who loves us and who knows the secret desires of our heart; but who also judges us based on our behavior.)

The hole was created by a lack of love. People go through their lives looking to fill a hole in their heart that was created by a lack of love. They look outside themselves for something to fill this hole. The lucky ones eventually come to realize that the hole can never be filled from without; it can only be filled from within. 

With respect to Christmas, people look to fill that hole and are saddened when they are unsuccessful in doing so. This is why people complain about not “having” the “Christmas Spirit.” This is why people become depressed over the Holidays, which become another reminder of the presence, depth and breadth of their hole.

What I came to realize about Christmas this year is that I approached it (without consciously attempting to do so) in the same manner as my spiritual path, i.e., from inside, organically, letting it flow. This year, I haven’t felt that I needed to do anything in order to have “a good Christmas,” as I used to do. This year, I haven’t felt the need to fill a hole within myself; and that perhaps is the best Christmas gift I could give myself, i.e., the realization that my hole is filling up. I am healing.

As I contemplated my thoughts that have gradually taken shape over the past few weeks, I have been reminded of the proverbial butterfly that one chases, trying to capture and hold it. In Christmases past, I have chased that butterfly, otherwise known as “the Christmas Spirit,” or the “good Christmas,” or “the elixir that will fill my hole.” This year, I didn’t even think about chasing the butterfly (probably due in large part to everything that has been going on in our lives, especially with our recent move). But, lo, it came and quietly, gently rested upon my shoulder. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jesus: Of Paris, Desires and Dreams

It had been building for weeks.

I was a Mormon missionary in Paris, France. When I had joined the LDS Church almost two years before, I had truly believed that I could leave my same-sex attractions behind me. I had worked diligently to discipline my mind. I had done everything I was “supposed” to do, and more.

The first four months of my mission were fine, i.e., I experienced no “temptations,” and I had little trouble controlling my thoughts. But then I was transferred to Paris, and temptations seemed to come at me from everywhere. Gorgeous men who attended our English class. Beautiful men on the street. Sensuality that was palpable.  

For the first (and only) time in my life, I was propositioned by a guy – directly, unmistakably, in a store in the heart of Paris. An older male member of the Church befriended me. I knew he was probably gay, but I didn’t care. Another male member, also probably gay, seemed to see right through my mask. 

All of this was extremely unsettling to me. For the first time since joining the Church, I allowed the genie of my repressed sexual orientation to escape from the bottle and allowed myself to contemplate who I really was.  It was exhilarating, but it was also frightening – particularly since I was a missionary.

It was after struggling with these thoughts and emotions that swirled around me for a number of weeks that I had a dream that was unlike any dream I have ever had, then or since.  It was so palpable, so real, so revelatory. I have written about this dream before, but the time has come to write about it again.

I dreamt that I saw a person in a large room filled with people dressed in white.  His presence seemed to tower over the others. I knew it was Jesus. As I made my way to the front of the room, my eyes became locked with His and He beckoned me to come to Him, to take His hand and embrace Him. As soon as I did so, we were transported, just the two of us, to another place, where we sat and talked – I talked, He listened lovingly and patiently - about my fears and joys, the deepest corners of my soul … and my ultimate secret. 

My gaze never left His countenance, and in His beautiful eyes, I saw love such as I had never before felt. In those eyes, I saw no judgment, no guile; only perfect, total understanding. His very countenance radiated such intense purity that I felt as if I would faint from bathing in such exquisite peace and love. In this setting, enveloped in love and light and truth, He told me that it was okay – my “attraction” – and that He loved me just the way I was. And that was the message I woke up with.

Now, one would have thought that this experience would have given me permission to embrace my gay self. But the message of the dream and the message of the Mormon Church regarding homosexuality were completely opposite each other. And I wasn’t strong enough to embrace who I really was.

This dream remained vivid in my mind for the next 25 years. It played a crucial role in the events that catapulted me out of the closet. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I feel I came to see the true significance of the dream. 

The insight came in a flash, seemingly out of nowhere: that dream, from a Jungian perspective (which posits that dreams are vehicles through which our subconscious tries to tell or teach us something), was really ME telling myself that it was okay to be gay. I assumed the personage was Jesus because my subconscious recognized that I viewed him – particularly at that point in my life – as the supreme Validator.

When I shared this with Mark, he provided the rest of the stunning insight. He posited that the love I had felt emanating from “Jesus” was really from my own deep Self, extending love and acceptance to my troubled, anxious self who was trying to do the right thing as a Mormon missionary and a Mormon man who desperately wanted his homosexuality to go away.

In addition, this dream – from this perspective, showed me who I truly am (and, by extension, who each of us is): a person capable of deep (even perfect) love, compassion and knowledge. It dramatically showed me what it means to be Christ-like, to be enlightened, to be full of compassion. Looked at from this perspective, the dream gives me hope that I not only CAN be the personage I saw in the dream, but also inspires faith that I AM the personage in the dream. 
 “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible Gods and Goddesses. To remember that the dullest, and most uninteresting person you can talk to [including oneself] may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
~ C.S. Lewis

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Memories: A German Christmas

When I first came out, I wrote a lot of posts on my first blog about re-discovering who I am and reconnecting with the person I was before I joined the Mormon Church and got married. In December 2010, I wrote a series of posts about Advent, anonymously reveling in the process of reconnecting with beautiful music and Christmas memories that had rested without stirring for the better part of life. What follows is an edited version of the first of those posts.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I was raised in the Catholic Church. December was a special time, growing up. Not only was it the month of Christmas, but it was also the month of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a time of Christmas pageants at the Catholic school I attended, and a time when my mother baked all sorts of stuff which reflected in part her German heritage, including the quintessential German Christmas cookie, the Lebkuchen (her recipe being unlike any other I have ever seen, and a small taste of which to this day will transport me back to my childhood).

December was also the month, when I was seven years old, that I received my first communion. (My sister Martha was born a couple of weeks later.) Here I am in all my boyish purity, standing (far left) in front of my teacher, Sister Mary Joseph, with hands dutifully folded.

I remember Sister Mary Joseph as being kind. That couldn’t be said for the principal of our parochial school, Sister Eulogia, whom we nicknamed “Sister Chicken Lips” due to her enormous protruding lips. This tall woman was such an officious person that, one winter day, she actually came over to our yard from the convent (adjacent to St. Theresa's school, which was right across the street from our house) to inform me, my brother and our friends (most of whom were good Protestants) that having snowball fights was a sin. I think my oldest brother told her where to go (and later paid for it).

When I was very young, the mass was still said in Latin, and to this day, whenever I hear Adeste Fidelis or Panis Angelicus (particularly, in either case, when sung by Bing Crosby) or other Latin Christmas hymns, I am transported in my mind to that small stone Catholic Church (which seemed so big to me as a boy) with the choir loft in the back, hearing the Latin music waft down through the candle-lit darkness to where my family sat in the front.

The Interior of St. Theresa's at Christmastime.

I can vaguely recall when my dad was the choir director. He loved to sing in Latin. But his singing voice stilled when I was yet a young boy.

There was a snugness to that corner of my childhood that to this day gives me comfort. Even after joining the LDS Church, for example, I always had a soft spot in my heart for The Bells of Saint Mary’s and watched it every December.

Perhaps in part because of this Catholic upbringing and also because of my German heritage, I have had a special place in my heart at Christmastime for all things German. I used to purchase Stollen with marzipan filling every year from Siegfried's German Deli in downtown Salt Lake, as well as some special German chocolates for the kids’ stockings. We also made various German Christmas cookies, including Lebkuchen, and observed traditions associated with Germany. 

Christmas in Germany

One of these traditions was every year watching a Christmas special called Christmas in Germany, hosted by Loretta Swit (of MASH fame), that we had first seen on TV (and recorded with our VCR) in December 1988, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Swit arrives in Germany and stays with a family in Bavaria. She then proceeds to travel throughout Germany during the month of December. Particularly touching was her visit to the wall in Berlin, where at that time, people on either side placed lit candles in their windows as a form of greeting to those across the wall and an expression of hope that the day would come when the wall would no longer be there.

This tradition of watching Christmas in Germany and all of the German-related Christmas traditions came to mean a lot to some of my older children. My daughter, Rachel, who is currently working as a nanny in Philadelphia, recently wrote a blog post about the TV special and her experience of visiting a real Christmas market recently in Philadelphia. Among other things, she expressed that she "didn't know watching it every year meant so much to me until it came to December and I hadn't watched it yet." Well, guess what Rachel, Hannah and others: Christmas in Germany is on YouTube!

German Christmas Music

I also love German Christmas music, from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, to his lovely hymn O Jesulein Süss, to one of my favorite Christmas carols Es ist ein Ros Entsprungen, most commonly translated into English as Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming. The text, the author of whom is unknown, appeared in the late 16th century, and the tune with which we are familiar was written by German composer Michael Praetorius in 1609. (This melody is also used for the beautiful French carol, Dans une Etable Obscure.)

The text of Est is ein Ros is based on a scripture in Isaiah 11:1-2:  “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.”

The German word for “rod” or “twig” is reis.  Apparently, at some point, this word morphed into the word ros (“rose”), which was perhaps partly based on common symbolism of the wintertime feast. Long before there was a "Christmas" feast, Europeans used plants that thrive or flower in the winter as a symbol of hope and life in the spring to come. The Christmas rose was one such flower.  The point is that the “rose” in the hymn is Jesus Christ.

The following is the common English translation of the German text:

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When halfspent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God's love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When halfspent was the night.

O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.

Here is one rendition of this lovely hymn:

I am also including here a recording of a portion of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Part I, performed by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner:

And, lastly, a recording of O Jesulein Suss:

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Our Maui Angel. I wrote here about how we acquired her at a roadside stand in Maui.

As I wrote yesterday, my former wife and I established a tradition early in our marriage of collecting ornaments. We tried to add at least one new ornament a year that would symbolize something that happened in the family and/or someplace to which we had traveled that year.

I have carried that tradition into my new life with Mark, bringing with me ornaments that had belonged to my dad and step-mother and some of the ornaments which were special to me from my married years. 

One of the ornaments that belonged to my dad and step-mother

I wish I could say that I had at least one ornament from my childhood; but my mother sold all of our Christmas stuff, along with many other things, when she moved while I was on my mission 30 years ago. (Yes, I still have a bit of an issue with that.) She tried to make up for it later as she took up tole painting and sent us and the kids a number of ornaments in the early 90's - and these are nice to have, especially for my older children.

A wooden gingerbread man my mother painted and sent to us 20 years ago

An ornament my mother painted for my daughter Rachel for her first Christmas
(Rachel's picture)

This Santa ornament was given to me by my secretary at my law firm in Vancouver, about 20 years ago.

I have tried to collect broom ornaments over the years. I purchased several of the one in the upper right at a craft fair
I came upon in the student union 25 years ago while I was in law school in Vancouver, Canada. The one on the left was
purchased this past year at the Granville Island Broom Company in Vancouver while visiting my daughter Hannah.

More broom ornaments

An ornament that has special meaning to me, purchased in Uniontown, Pennsylvania in the fall of 1995

Ornaments, above and below, purchased in Russia when we adopted Aaron and Esther

My sister has given me ornaments over the years that she has acquired on her travels. The one above is from London, England, the following one is from Switzerland, and the one after that from the Netherlands.

An ornament given to us by Mark's mother

These two ornaments, above and below, are part of a collectible series. I purchased the doctor merman two years ago in a shop in Durham, North Carolina, and the one below was purchased in the Castro when we were there this past summer.

We purchased this ornament last year. It was such a perfect representation of the children's book, And Tango Makes Three, which tells the true story of a pair of male penguins - Roy and Silo - who, after it became apparent that they were trying to nest, were provided an egg which eventually hatched. The chick, Tango, was raised by Roy and Silo. I read this book to the Quads to help them come to grips with the fact that Mark and I are gay and are a couple.

Gingerbread Mt. Vernon purchased in November when we were there

Wooden bird purchased at Thanksgiving in Grand Lake, Colorado

A souvenir of our trip to Disneyland with the Quads last June

This last picture, above, is of one of a dozen or so charms that I purchased for Mark in various temples and shrines while on our trip to Japan in September. Each charm - of different colors and sizes - represents a healing charm, particularly for those who have cancer. These dozen or so charms are the most important addition to our collection of ornaments this year, for each one represents a hope that Mark's hormone therapy will continue to work and that he and I and our children will be able to enjoy Christmases yet to come, along with all of the other 364 days of the year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Mother of All Christmas Trees

I finally decorated our Christmas tree Thursday night. It has been standing in our living room for 10 days, soaking up water, waiting for the time when I could put the ornaments on.

It all started the day after we got back from our Thanksgiving trip to Colorado. Knowing that a snow was coming, I went to Cummings Christmas Tree lot on 1300 East hear in Salt Lake. I wasn't going to go to Harmons (grocery store) again this year because (a) our tree was practically dead by Christmas Day, and (b) this year, I had high ceilings to play with in our new home.

After recovering from sticker shock and a great deal of perusing, I finally settled on a Fraser fir from Oregon.

Being at this lot brought to mind memories of past Christmas trees. When I was growing up, we had a firm and fast rule about Christmas decorating in our house: no Christmas music on the HiFi until after Thanksgiving; decorations went up two weeks before Christmas, and the tree went up one week before. My dad always bought Scotch pines; I guess he figured those lasted the longest. 

Christmas 1964 in Marion, Ohio. I loved that battleship.

In Salem, Illinois, where I grew up until I was almost nine, Dad went down to a little gas station and market (about three blocks away) and picked out a tree in the lot behind the store. Later, when we moved to Carmi, the tree came from a lot set up between the Dairy Queen and Brazier, which closed for the winter.

I look at these trees in the few pictures I have and think, OMG those things were ugly, i.e., the way they were decorated. Of course, I (and the rest of us kids) didn't know any better; that's just the way the tree was. We had about 3-4 boxes of glass ornaments and some styrofoam ones (ugh) (notice the bell above my head as well as the Christmas tree and star off to the left). No tree skirt. Our favorite part was putting on the tinsel (do they still sell that?).

In later years, we started using gold foil garland, which was a real jazzer-upper for us. The above Polaroid picture, albeit of terrible quality, was taken at Christmas 1967 - our first year in Carmi - and is priceless to me because it shows my mother smiling and relaxed. My little sister, almost two years old, is sitting next to her. Mantle decorated, stockings hung.

My most memorable Christmas tree excursion was when I was a freshman in college, when I made my one and only trip to a tree farm. I came home for break a day or two before Christmas and found that my (by then several years divorced) mother had not bought a tree. I checked everywhere in Carmi but could not find one. 

I shared my plight with a good friend, Lisa, and she said she knew of a tree farm ... in Kentucky ... across the Ohio River. We drove to Cave-in-Rock, an hour or so due south of Carmi, took a ferry across the river and then drove a short distance to a tree farm. Found a huge tree, the guy cut it down, then we hauled it back across the river, then made the return trip to Carmi. This really was an over the river and through the woods trip.

Loading the tree on my roof rack

So getting back to the present ... I had originally planned to keep the tree on the back patio for a few days before putting it up, but I was told by the guys at the lot that I only had an hour or so before the tree would seal off the bottom again. That meant I had to get it in the house and into the stand right away. Then I realized that Mark wouldn't be home. I was on my own with a 12' Fraser fir.

As I got the tree off the car and struggled to the bailing string off, I was beginning to get a sense of the challenge ahead of me. I had to get it in the stand, then get this heavy tree that was almost twice my height upright. It took a couple of tries, but I finally got it up and tightened the support screws as I prayed that the tree wouldn't topple over.

The next challenge was to get it in the house and set it upright once again. This was no easy task. I had put a folded sheet on the floor on which the tree would stand (to help prevent water damage to the hardwood), and when I tried to stand the tree up, the sheet kept sliding across the floor. After several attempts, I was finally able - with one superhuman thrust - to set the tree upright. Then adjusting the support screws. Finally, it was done.

There the tree would stand for a week, with no lights. There was too much else going on. Painters were coming, yada yada yada. Finally, earlier this week, I got the lights on. I frankly had been dreading the task, but it ended up not being as bad as I thought it might be. Then, Thursday night, the ornaments went on. And on the seventh day, I rested. But behold, I beheld the tree and it was good.

When I was married, we had a tradition of adding at least one ornament each year, commemorating some event that year or someplace we had traveled. After Mark and I got together, I continued that tradition. I admit it, I have been somewhat of an ornament collector; but one of the things I enjoy most about decorating the tree is looking at ornaments from years past, as well as those we have purchased since the previous Christmas. And this will be the subject of my next post.