Saturday, November 25, 2023

And now for something fairly serious.

 So, many years ago, when I was really starting to be more open about being gay, a lady I knew from Cub Scouts and church gave me a book about a Presbyterian minister and his quest to become an ordained minister within the Presbyterian Church (USA). (Bit of obscure history. The Denomination split during the Civil War ear into the Northern United Presbyterian Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States. There are a few other shards running around, but they tend to be...different. The two branches reconciled in 1982ish, which I remember. So, when this starts, it would have been the United branch, but by the end, we're in PC(USA).)

Anyway, Rev. Glaser tells us of his growing up Baptist, and finally realizing he's gay in college during the Vietnam era. He speaks of his calling to ministry and how he found himself joining the Presbyterians in Los Angeles before attending Divinity School at Yale. 

Eventually, we enter the fun of the 1970's Presbyterian Task Force on Homosexuality (I may have the name wrong, but basically, the General Assembly [the national governing board, which more or less makes decisions that the local Presbyteries approve or decline] appointed a task force to see about making recommendations on ordaining LGB people. (Trans folks weren't particularly included in the conversation at that point in time.) 

There's also whole sections on his work ministering to gay folks in college, and the problems he runs in to with being open about his avowed homosexuality from both the gay and straight students.  And the few openly gay ordained ministers in the era, one in the United Church of Christ and of course the Metropolitan Community Church. Anyway, the task force's majority report, suggesting guidelines for ordaining gay folks, got shot down and a watered down minority report instead got approved. 

Now, in between this, is an exploration of Glaser's thoughts on God and his personal dramas. When I read this roughly 26 years ago, I spent a lot of those sections going "Oh Guuuurl" or "Oh, get her". Much further on, I better understand what he's talking about, and how odd attraction and love are. While a lot of his more intellectual thoughts on faith tend to be Boomer reformation stuff, particularly in the epilogue he gets into some more meaty thoughts on sexuality as an expression of God, which given that just about everyone likes to ignore Song of Solomon, is something one really doesn't hear about often. 

And frankly, This was likely addressed more to a straight audience, helping heterosexuals better understand what it means to be gay and Christian, with a secondary focus on letting gay Christians know they are not alone. However, given it took PC(USA) until 2011 to finally reconcile on a national level with LGBTQ+ parishioners wanting recognition and acceptance, his happy ending really didn't happen until 30 years after where this book ends. (To be fair, individual churches and Presbyteries did make their own decisions prior to this, but mostly in the Out of Sight of the General Assembly, Out of Mind of the General Assembly sense.) This makes an interesting continuation of Congregations in Conflict by Keith Hartman, showing some of the same arguments happening 10-20 years apart in different settings. Supposedly, Glaser has written more books since this one, so I may eventually check it out and see how his story continued during AIDS and ENDA/DOMA.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

I feel very attacked

 So, as part of my mild Keith Hartman obsession (Ok, so I love his writing, I'm not stalking him or writing fan letters), I picked up a copy of his first published work, Congregations in Conflict: The Battle Over Homosexuality, written, near as I can tell, when the author was at Duke. 

I had read this previously, in maybe 2005ish, which meant even then, some of the conclusions herein are a bit outdated. (Copyright is 1996, even if most everything discussed tops out in 1995.) Nearly 30 years on, much of what's happened in the intervening years has shown that progress has happened, although at different rates among different factions. However, what I missed the first time I read this, was that all 9 situations explored are in the North Carolina Research Triangle Area. (While two of my brothers live there these days, I doubt either would have an interest in doing follow up for me.) 

Anyway, we start with a Methodist congregation and two Southern Baptist congregations, and how they deal with ministers trying to minister to gay members, and the problems that happen with that. (The Methodist congregation has an older population, and a younger population, with no in-between membership to kind of help reconcile the differing generational views. And since the older folks have the purse strings... Both Baptist churches, which eventually work out to be accepting congregations get expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention.)

We then move into the Episcopals and a bunch of drama concerning a same sex union and the Duke Divinity School dramas of 1992. 

Discussion gets into the Metropolitan Community Church of Raleigh (for those who don't know, they were founded as a church specifically for LGBTQ+ people), and the adventures in what to do with a growing congregation who've moved beyond being just celebrating Gays and God, and also dealing with a minister who's being pulled in several directions due to parishioners dying of AIDS. 

Then we get two chapters of Non-programmed Friends gatherings and the fun of trying to find clarity on blessing unions in both meetings, before getting involved in Dignity, the organization for Black Catholics, and the friction between them and a Jesuit church founded as an all Black congregation, made more complex by edicts from John Paul II and the now Benedict XVI. 

The Epilogue deals with congregations on a national level and the author's predictions on how the drama will play out over the next few years (as the book was written.)  

Thankfully, not all of them came true. Of particular interest to me was discussion on the dueling sexuality reports in the Presbyterian General Assembly of 1991. (I seem to recall perusing both reports in High School for an argument paper on gay rights I was writing. Yeah, that whole, explore gay issues by posing as an outsider trying to understand. Worked out soooo well.) While he (like everyone else) predicted that the Minority report would get adopted, I seem to recall it didn't, and the denomination wound up compromising one way and another. It was ugly, since while Homosexuality was main event, there was a whole "fidelity in marriage, chastity in singleness" clause that had a few folks asking if the ministers were going to become bedroom police. Of course, I also recall an agreement between a few Protestant denominations in the Reformed tradition that would require each denomination to recognize the other's ordinations, and that a few of those in that agreement (like the United Church of Christ) whole heartedly ordained the gheyz. In terms of the Roman Catholics, while they're still not where a lot of us would like to see them, the Scandals of the past few decades and the Promotion of Francis I have moved the needle a bit with them. As for the Episcopals, this was written before V. Gene Robinson became a household name for a few months and nearly broke the Communion. 

This remains a fascinating time capsule of church history and exactly how far things have come in 30 years.

Friday, October 27, 2023

So, pretty much everyone on Athas is an ass

 Finally finished up Troy Denning's The Prism Pentad with The Cerulean Storm, in which we find out everyone left alive in this series is an ass. 

So, when we left off Tithian had more or less killed off his rival Agis, had sent two dwarf banshees to encourage the Mul son on Neva and Caelum to kill the dragon, and had taken possession of the Dark Lens. Rajaat, who isn't dead so much as imprisoned in anextraplanar prison, is plotting to take revenge on his former champions (the current Dragon Boris and the Sorcerer-Kings) as well as escape from Shawshank. Sadira is still married to Agis and Rikus, although she's widowed on one front. The Sorcerer-Kings know the Lens is running loose and want to recover it before Tithian does something remarkably stupid.And the Half Giants are coming for Tyr, since the Lens lets them gain intelligence. 

All of which turns into a very long extended chase to the Dragon's lair, where pretty much everyone gets what they deserve to a degree. 

Again, it's epic sword and sandal and sorcery, with a bunch of characters you love to hate. I do love the ongoing visual of the silt skifs, riding the tides of dust in the dried up waterways of the desert. I like the idea that the villains in here were all Evil, but doing what they thought was best for the world. 

All in all, the series holds up as a memorable D&D adventure series, although one probably not as high quality as the DragonLance Sagas.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Titania is an ass.

 So, finished Seanan McGuire's Sleep No More yesterday, which finally sort of resolves the cliffhanger from the last book. Essentially, we pick up 4 months after Titania was found and essentially remade most of north and central California in her image of what a perfect Fairie would be. Which isn't exactly what anyone living in Fairie would particularly want, beyond certain elder pureblood sidhe.

As such, in this version of Fairie, October is living in Mom Amadine's tower with Dad Simon and Sister August, being a nice subservient changeling girl who knows her place among the purebloods. Quentin is now an utter asshole who likes tormenting her on the rare occasions she enters Shadowed Hills. However, it's a trip to the Hills that leads to October being taken to Tamed Lightning where the local Dryad April gets awakened and begins the long slow process of unraveling the Umbridge-esque pink of Titania's illusions. 

Oh, but it's fun. With the few mixed breeds and a few free changelings living well outside of San Francisco, all of Maeve's descendants either exiled or missing, and much of the kingdom being returned to the state it was in at the outset of the series (including at least 3 dead/elfshot characters coming back for the fun), and everyone's favorite sea witch being trapped in a tree...

Quite a bit is going on here, and the fact that the Summer Queen is a master of illusions means we're not entirely sure of how much of what's returned is real. (Indeed, the finale has a character observe something is up, but what that something is never really gets quantified, so I wonder if that will be the plot hook in the next book.) 

The author states it's fun writing stuff down finally that's been in her head since the outset. And it's fun to read. And I'm happy she didn't start here, since the series has given us characters whom we've come to know and love, and therefore are much more emotionally involved with as this apocalypse happens.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Tithian is an ass.

 So, I'm a lot behind on a lot of things, due to issues of a personal nature. I actually finished The Obsidian Oracle a few weeks ago, but...


This is actually an ugly read. Tithian, King of Tyr, gets in trouble at the outset by sending slavers to the Dwarf city near Tyr, which in turn sets off Neeva, since the slavers nearly take her son. This gets Agis involved, since he gets tasked with tracking down Tithian to bring him back to Tyr to face justice. 

Tithian, it would seem, was actually also after some Dwarven artifacts to get his hands on the eponymous Oracle, currently in the hands of giants. 

The narrative swings back and forth between Agis and Tithian, as they are forced to work together to get the Lens and survive a battle between two factions of giants, one with normal heads, and ones with animal heads. 

And a hell of a lot of betrayals.

For a D&D novel, this is really heavy material to deal with, as even the dering-do is overshadowed by some really ugly actions on pretty much everyone's part in the narrative.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Elves on the run

 Book 3 of The Prism Pentad by Troy Denning concerns Sadira, The Amber Enchantress, who again proves there aren't any particularly nice characters in this series. At the end of the last book, we heard about The Levy owed to Borys AKA the Dragon, and in this one, Sadira heads off on her own to find the Pristine Tower, where the dragon was born, to find a way to stop or kill him. This is made complicated by several factors, among them, Nok, the halfling wizard whose staff she bears wants it back and is a bit annoyed by her holding on to it. We also have King Tithian riding the mind of her Kank (a horse sized ant) trying to get her killed. Oh yeah, and her long lost father, chief of the Sun Runners elf tribe and her half brothers and sisters. 

Now, to say Sadira has Daddy Issues is an understatement. Daddy left her mom to rot in the slave pits of Tyr. When she eventually gets around to confronting him, he doesn't even remember her mother's name. Mind you, the worst comes in the City of Nibenay, where Sadira and her half sister get wrapped in a plot to incapacitate Daddy, but they also have to keep giving him the antidote due to various complications. 

Mind you, the half centipede prince is out to get Sadira after being tipped off by Tithian, and half of her allies want her dead because she keeps abusing her magic. (This book delves deep into how magic works on Athas. Most magic users draw energy from plants. Problem being, you grab too much, you kill the plants, making you a defiler. Certain users can draw on the energy of animals, although again, it's possible to kill people by drawing too much. Thus the levy. Anyway, Sadira does manage to kill several plants along the way, instead of dying as her allies feel she should have.) On the other hand, when she does eventually reach the Pristine Tower, we find it has a strange metamorphic field that causes any wound to start transforming the bearer into....something else. 

By the end of this, we know the Sorcerer Kings are keeping something imprisoned, and the shadow people aren't happy about it. We know the Kings are afraid of something. Oh yeah, and Tithian wants to be a true Dragon King. 

Fun book. Not a single good person in it.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Legion of DOOM!

 So, we're back in Athas for The Crimson Legion as Rikus and his partner Neeva lead the Tyr legions to defeat Hamanu of Urik, who's trying to take over Tyr. Added drama by the love quadrangle or Rikus sleeping with both Neeva and Sadira, and Sadira sleeping with Agis, leading to a bunch of relationship drama that would fit right in in Genoa City or Port Charles. (Or maybe Passions, since Rikus gets possessed by a racist wraith halfway through the novel.)

Anyway, plotwise, we're dealing with an "odds are against us" military story, as the free legions are far outnumbered by Urik forces, who also happen to be led by Rikus's first owner. Said owner, is also a master psionicist who is able to get magic from Hamanu, as well as having a shadow giant he can summon. 

We play cat and mouse northeast through the desert as both belligerents try to outwit one another. We find a Dwarven city that happens to have a bit of metaplot within, as well as two maguffins for Rikus to survive combat. (One is the sword of Borys, which cuts through everything AND lets the bearer hear conversations from some distance; the other a belt that catches any missiles aimed at the wearer.) We find out Tithian isn't at all happy about the Senate not respecting his authority. (That King Tithian has two floating shrunken heads as advisors should have tipped us off.)

Anyway, by the end, we know that Borys was on a quest to exterminate the dwarves, and we also know he's since become The Dragon, and the Dragon will eventually demand tribute from Tyr. (We also find out gnomes don't exist in this setting.) We also get our first look at one of Kalak's old buddies and get a better look at how Dragon Magic works. (In this setting, sorcery mixed with psionics. Dark Sun was famous for giving everyone psionic stats. Which, to me, was basically more math is the math game that can be D&D.) 

Overall, a good continuation, and we get to know Rikus better by the end, even as he loses almost everything.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Slavery is bad, ya'll

 It's been several years since I last slogged through Troy Denning's Prism Pentad (which is pretty much the story of D&D's Dark Sun setting), and I'd forgotten how much I occasionally enjoy the desert soap opera. 

The Verdant Passage sets the stage for the next four books (which mostly focus on individual characters in here), as fate aligns the lives of Slave gladiators Rikus and Neeva with escaped slave and sorcerer Sadira, and again with Noble senator Agis and Templar Tithian in the city state of Tyr. 

Basically, the King of Tyr (Kalak) is holding gladiator games to celebrate the building of his ziggurat. Well, except the edifice is actually part of his goal to become a dragon. 

Rikus and Neevah as selected by the Veiled Alliance to kill Kalak during the games. Sadira, who works with the alliance and has been schtupping Rikus, starts schtupping Agis to get him on board after finding out he's all about taking down Kalak. Agis, in the meantime, thinks that because he doesn't abuse his slaves, he's an ok slave owner. His majordomo, on the other hand, would rather become a dwarven banshee than remain a slave. 

Tithian agrees to not interfere, since he has his eyes on becoming king if Kalak buys the farm. (He's also terrified of what Kalak intends to do.)

We end book 1 with Kalak dead, the slaves of Tyr freed, and Tithian wearing the crown. 

It's torrid and turgid, but it's engaging. Worth reading.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Captain Caveman!

 Technically Murder Beneath the Buried Sky by Keith Hartman is a novella, but when it came out, it was the first writing from the author in quite a while. 

We follow Calvin around, in the cave system his parents and several others followed into the cave to escape "The Burn", a nuclear holocaust. While indications remain that it started off as a cult of religious types, it comes clear that isolation had kind of ended the more religious mania of the area, as free love regardless of gender seems to be the norm among most of the folks in the caves. 

The problem is, as we find out, Calvin's dad is found dead at the opening, and Calvin is the prime suspect. 

What follows is a rather engaging mystery, as to who killed Dad and, more importantly why someone would kill the Quartermaster. 

To go into too much detail on everything would spoil the plot, although I think I can get by with saying the author himself expresses its inspiration came from Plato.

Lots of fun, although darker than much of what else Hartman has published.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Merry Go Round the world

 So, Morgan Brice wrote Roustabout in both her universe and in a shared universe involving the Carnival of Mysteries, which I'm taking to be basically like Thieves World back in the day, where different authors write with a shared setting. In this case, a unique carnival that's kind of secondary to the romance budding between Tennessee Supernatural Investigator Bart and RJ (aka Ghost Boy), a con man out to expose the sins of people who hurt his family. (Supposedly, older versions of these guys show up in the Kings of the Mountain series, but it's been a while since I read those.)

Anyway, Bart is called to take on the Ghost boy case in Memphis after the previous agent died of a heart attack. He and RJ actually meet in a hookup bar, although neither realizes who the other is at the time.

Anyway, while they both touch themselves thinking about their encounter in a stall, RJ is busy bringing down his former foster family and a warehouse owner who's disregard for OSHA regulations killed his brother. Bart in the meantime is using his Necromancy to try to figure out what RJ's game is. 

Things go sideways when the RJ finds out the Warehouse owner has a witch on staff. Said witch curses RJ before he can have another date with Bart. Bart in the meantime has figured out what RJ is doing and arranges to have RJ join the Bureau as his partner, although when RJ gets cursed and ghosts him...

Anyway, RJ ends up at the Carnival of Mysteries, figuring dying of a curse among his people (he worked carnivals after running away) is better than dying alone. 

Eventually, everything works out, we get some smut, and everyone is happy, except the bad guys. 

Fun read, although I'm unsure if I feel like looking up other books with the Carnival just to find out more.