Afraid to act

Saturday afternoon. Sitting in my living room. Watching TV. Movement on the street catches my eye.

A car had stopped in front of our house. A second then pulled up behind. This is not unusual. The streets don’t line up straight in our neighborhood, and we figure that’s why we get a lot of stopped cars and turnarounds, folks having gone where they didn’t intend.

These cars were facing so that the driver’s side was toward the street. They both had tinted windows, thus I couldn’t see who was inside.

To my amazement, the following happened: from the driver’s window of the first car, a large, plastic soda cup came flying over the car’s hood and trunk and into our ditch.

Within seconds, out came another cup. This one hit the hood of the rear car, bouncing off to land next to the first cup.

The cars remained in place.

My immediate thought was to walk out and talk with the driver. I was itching to do it, but I didn’t move. I didn’t move because all I could envision was the situation going awry.

I feared the driver would not listen to my calmly-asked question as to why he—I assume it was a guy—tossed the cups out. I feared that he would lash back at me. I feared even worse.

As I sat and watched the two vehicles idling, the sense grew in me that this was done on purpose, that the person was deliberate in throwing these cups into our yard. And the longer the two cars remained in place, the more this sense deepened, and the more I was offended.

It felt like a dare, as if these guys were saying, “We can do whatever we want. You gonna come out here and stop us?”

I’m not saying that’s what they were thinking. It’s most likely they simply were getting rid of the cups and didn’t give a hoot about where they landed. During my daily running throughout our neighborhood, I see so much trash—cups, fast food bags, cigarette packages, you name it—that it seems many don’t care, don’t think, just want to get rid of their trash.

As I post this two days after the cups were tossed, I’m still angry. I am frustrated. I can’t get this out of my head. I simply cannot understand this kind of behavior.

I am angry because of the littering—the lack of caring displayed, that a person can toss his trash wherever, that he didn’t care whose yard he littered. (Would he want others throwing trash in his yard?) Even more, I am both angry and frustrated that I did not feel safe to talk to him. (When I told Julie, she echoed my concern.)

I find this comes down to some basic questions.

  • If people feel free to toss their trash wherever, what more important things do they not care about?
  • If folks don’t feel safe bringing such things to the attention of litterers, how will they talk to each other about more serious matters?

Now, about the dog owners, who don’t keep their pets secured, and the dozen times this year dogs have chased me as I jogged by . . .

New reviews of my book

My memoir, A Roller Coaster Through a Hurricane, now has twenty-five reviews on its Amazon book page. 24 of 25 are FIVE STARS.

The more reviews I receive, the better my online metrics and the greater are my chances of my book being seen by prospective purchasers.

If you have read Roller Coaster, would you consider posting a review? Thank you! Some have not wanted to post their name and were able to select a username. So, know that, if you desire, you are able to protect your privacy.

The two new reviews are from Christians, whose reviews are of high value. Because I am a Christian, I could not help but write of the many ways church and faith have played a huge role, yet …

I did not write a “Christian book,” but worked to demonstrate that my story can, and does, happen to anyone, of any walk of life. I am pleased that my readers and reviewers have come from every walk of life.

In the first of the latest reviews, note what I’ve underlined.

Here’s the full review:

As a general rule, pastors don’t know a lot about transgenderism and, when they do find out a congregational or family members is transgender, they are focused on “what do I tell this person?” This is an important book for the insight it gives into a person’s life and the years and decades he felt conflict within himself. Any pastor who encounters a transgender person should say “let me look into that” and then READ THIS BOOK before going any further. It will save a lot of heartache caused by pastors jumping in and trying to give advice about something they know little about. A must for every pastor’s library.

In the most recent review, note what I’ve underlined. (LCMS is the church body in which I was a minister.) This person informed me of having purchased copies for four professionals in both ministry and mental health care.

Here’s the full review:

As an LCMS member and mental health professional, I highly recommend this book. Greg has certainly had quite a journey, and it is very informative to those who want to understand more about what it means to live with Gender Dysphoria. I hope the day comes where our understanding of causes and best treatments are clearer. One aspect of the book that I greatly appreciate is how throughout Greg’s struggles and suffering, he never loses sight of his faith in Christ and that perfect healing comes from Him. I also greatly appreciate in this time of inflexibility where people with differing views struggle mightily to listen to each other, Greg and Julie have both consistently modeled the patience, grace, and compassion that we all should strive for as Christians. I am looking forward to reading his next book. Soli Deo Gloria.

The “next book” to which the reviewer refers is my upcoming book, Ministering to Transgender Christians, which is intended primarily for pastors.

To see all twenty-five reviews, and to purchase Roller Coaster, click here:

Sad partings

Death comes in many forms.

Describing the hurt I twice experienced this year, I will not presume my sorrow approached that of losing a human being. However, because the things I lost had directly connected me to human beings I love, my sadness was deep.

A connection to Dad

When my father died in 2010, I wanted only one thing from his estate: his cultivator.

Dad used that cultivator for my entire life. Dad instilled in me a love of gardening. Dad taught me everything I needed to know in order to succeed as a gardener.

If I could have Dad’s cultivator, two good things could happen. First, I would have a significant piece of what Dad meant to me. Second, I would own a useful garden tool, one which I didn’t have.

None of my siblings was interested, so I eagerly took possession of the cultivator. It was spring, so I immediately put it to use in my vegetable garden in Port Hope, and then got just as much use from it in Indianapolis.

I wish I knew the age of that cultivator. The wood always was in rough shape; it was a splinter factory. The metal has been rusty since, well, I can’t recall it ever not being rusty.

As I was cultivating late in 2018, the left wooden arm broke. Since it was the end of the growing season, I set it aside to examine in 2019.

When I pulled out the cultivator last spring, I was disappointed to find that no elves had magically repaired it. Seeking Julie’s input, she agreed with my assessment: it was too far gone to fix.

While I had made do without a cultivator before inheriting Dad’s—for thirty years, I labored far harder using only a hoe—I now was spoiled. I got a new cultivator. One that is all metal.

Though I’m no longer using Dad’s cultivator, I’ve still not parted with it. It sits to the side, where I spy it quite often.

I can’t bare to break it down and dispose of it.

When I look at it, I see my father.

A connection to Port Hope

In the spring of 2008, I was in my eighth year as pastor at St. John Lutheran Church. As far as I knew, I would minister there until I retired. While I wound up being correct, in 2008 I never would have guessed my retirement would come as soon as 2014.

In the spring of 2008, I was in need of a new car. I headed to Bad Axe, to Hanson’s, where the year before we had purchased a Chevy Impala for our son.

I loved that Impala. I was envious that Alex got to take it to college.

Arriving at Hanson’s, I explained what I was looking for. “You like your son’s Impala?” “Yeah. I love it. I wish I were driving it.” “Come with me.”

I soon was standing in front of an Impala. Though it was seven years old, it had only 24,444 miles on it. I took it for a test drive.

A mile from Hanson’s, I pulled over and called Julie. Hearing the excitement in my voice, she simply asked, “What are you waiting for?” Returning to Hanson’s, I looked at no other cars, happy to take ownership of this Impala.

That car did me well. It got excellent gas mileage. It was reliable. I fit in it the way I feel in my favorite chair.

Three years ago, our car mechanic was fixing something on the underside of the car. He said, “It’s rusting really badly. It could go at any time.”

It didn’t go at any time. And, because it continued to run well and get great gas mileage, I usually forgot about the rust.

Until this autumn, when it sprang a leak. In the gas line. And the mechanic said, “If I try to fix it, I fear the entire underside of the car will crumble.”

I hate switching cars for the same reason I hate switching my living room chair, for the same reason all of you reading this don’t need me to tell you why—and it has nothing to do with money.

This car, however, was more than a reliable friend. As that old cultivator provided an intimate connection to my father, the Impala was intricately tied to my life in Port Hope.

I bought the Impala while I was in the best of years there—the first few years were a growing-into-the-work period; St. John, with its school, was a way larger challenge than my first call in Iowa—and I had so many more great years after. Julie and I were firmly entrenched in the village. It was home.

I drove that car everywhere. I made hundreds of home visits, and nursing home and hospital calls in it. Around Port Hope and Huron County. To Saginaw, and Port Huron, and Bay City. To minister to people I came to love. To minister to people to whom I wish I were still ministering.

I couldn’t have asked for more from that Impala. I got my money’s worth. I got my heart’s worth.

In September, Julie and I went car shopping. We purchased a 2017 Toyota RAV4. We’ve already taken it on a long trip, to Iowa in October. We are pleased with our new wheels.

The Impala was not trade-in worthy. We sold it for scrap.

Awaiting the guy’s arrival to take it away, I cried.

I was taken aback by how much this hurt.

1,000 miles in 2019!

On November 4, I achieved a goal that until the last few years was not even on my radar: I logged 1,000 miles on my running app.

I began distance running in 1980. Living in Michigan and Iowa, there was too much snow to run in the winter. I jogged from April to November, then headed inside to the treadmill and elliptical.

I also never liked running in the cold. But, having moved to Indianapolis, where there’s much less snow and, when it does snow, it usually doesn’t stick around too many days, if I could get used to jogging in the cold I could run year round.

Perhaps, it was my desire to be outside, not to be stuck in the basement on the elliptical, that drove me to get used to running in the cold. I did and, before long, I was digging it. Now, I love it, and have found that I can run better and farther than in the heat and humidity.

In 2017, I fell just short of 1,000 miles. I intended to hit the mark last year, but health issues kept me to 839. With my health issues resolved, I set my sights on 2019.

I entered the year strong. Indeed, not only have I achieved the total miles mark, I’ve averaged just shy of 5.5 miles per event. Never before have I averaged even five miles per outing.

As I lay in bed on November 3, I pondered what route I should take, needing four miles to hit 1,000. Immediately, a five-mile route came to mind, one which would have me arrive at the four-mile mark at the longest hill in our neighborhood—a hill I always walk up because it’s so long and high, and because I always arrive at it near the end of my run.

I hatched a plan. I would take this route, and I would celebrate my 1,000 mile achievement by running up that hill. To me, it would be achieving a huge goal by achieving a huge goal. And, to commemorate the moment, I would make a video as I ran.

Here’s my huffing and puffing recording of the moment:

November and December in Indianapolis provide generally good running weather. I have one more goal in mind for the year. Since I hit 1,000 miles in just over ten months, I bet you can guess how many miles I want to achieve for the year.

Pray The Gay Away

What do the following have in common?
• 1982
• Lutherans—specifically, Missouri Synod Lutherans
• Gay conversion therapy
• Comedy
• Music

The commonality for these five items is the new musical comedy, “Pray the Gay Away,” which premieres in Mount Vernon, Washington, on November 8.

Check out the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ptgashow/?ref=br_tf&epa=SEARCH_BOX.

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What do the following have in common?
• “Pray the Gay Away”
• Its author, Conrad Askland
• Yours truly

Last July, I received a Facebook message from Conrad. He had found my blog as he was doing research for his play. Because I had been a minister in the Missouri Synod, and also had been transgender, he hoped I could provide assistance in accurately portraying the Missouri Synod and its pastors. I eagerly replied and, the very next day, we enjoyed a long phone chat.

We hit it off. Conrad is a friendly dude, with a good sense of humor.

I wondered what prompted him to write a musical comedy play about gay conversion therapy and set it in the early 1980s in the Missouri Synod (LCMS)? While he did not grow up LCMS, he had experience in the Lutheran faith. He went for the early ‘80s for a number of reasons, such as its being right before AIDS became widely known and attitudes toward same sex relations had not developed to where they are today.

As for the LCMS, they provided a good church setting because the LCMS has remained where it was in the 1980s. In the LCMS, theology is akin to math facts; where 2 + 2 always equals 4, theology is factual and does not change. Thus, if a theological doctrine were true in 1982, it remains true in 2019.

Regarding gay conversion therapy, this is the practice—which has now been widely rejected, even seen as harmful for those subjected to it—by which those with same sex attraction are immersed in “right thinking.” To wit, God made males for females, and females for males, and if you just accept that, and dig it deeply enough into your mind, and pray long and hard enough, you can change your sexual orientation.

It’s also been used for those with gender dysphoria. Indeed, two pastors used it with me (while never specifying that’s what they were using, perhaps not even aware it’s what they were doing), in the months before I transitioned. “Greg, you’re a male.” “You fathered children.” “Remember your baptismal identity.” I replied that I didn’t question any of that, and chanting these things didn’t help because my problem wasn’t with how I was thinking. Since they had no other way to help me, they simply repeated their mantra.

Thus the title of Conrad’s play, taken from the well-worn joke: pray the gay away. Just pray, and seek God, and think right, and you can get rid of these feelings.

Back to Conrad. Over these months, he emailed me a number of times. He began by sending the pastor’s lines. I was able to help him polish them for accuracy. Over the months, for anything of which he was not sure he popped me the question.

Conrad scoured the LCMS in search of properly understanding what it continues to believe about same sex attraction and every associated bit of theology and practice. While I’ve not seen the play or read the entire script, I am confident he has gotten it right.

He recently contacted me, wanting to connect his cast members on a Skype call. You know I jumped on that!

We talked for an hour. They asked me loads of questions, mostly about Lutheran attitudes. We laughed at many of the LCMS’s foibles, while I also explained why Lutherans stand up for what they believe.

Among those I met were the man who plays the pastor, the woman who plays the mother of a gay son who took his life, and “Martin Luther.” Most impressive was the young man who plays the boy who is the focus of having his gay prayed away. (In the photo at the top of this page, that’s him.) After we talked for five minutes, I asked his age. “I’m fifteen.” And a very impressive fifteen he is.

Conrad didn’t set his sights unreasonably high for how his play would be received. Thus, when he learned that opening night has been sold out, he was elated. He now reports the entire three-weekend run might see the house full each for each performance.

I have only one regret about the play. I’m in Indiana and Conrad is in Washington. I am eagerly watching from here, to see the reviews come in.

Playing it for laughs and setting it a generation ago, Conrad was able to tackle a ticklish topic in a way so as to be palatable. With Conrad and cast, I hope he achieves what surely are Conrad’s twin goals: to entertain and to educate.

Iowa 2019

Julie and I just returned from our annual trip to Iowa—a rare October visit. And a dandy visit it was.

We always snap a pic of the Mississippi as we cross, and text it to Julie’s mom and sisters. Not only does it tell them where we are, it’s the halfway mark of our trip.

Next comes the requisite “Welcome to Iowa.” While it feels good to be on the homestate turf, recall what I wrote, above. Because we enter the state in the southeast, and they live in the northwest, we still have many miles to go.

With three stops, we always plan on the trip taking eleven hours. We made it in 11:03 to the Leckband’s bit of paradise.

With the wide shot, I wanted to capture the grandeur of it.

Not. Even. Close.

Between the soybeans and the house is a huge pond, which they spent years digging, creating it from a creek, before they built the house (rear left in the pic below).

From a previous visit, the next two pics better show the pond and house.

Julie is the dutiful daughter. She spends a good chunk of her week doing things with and for her folks, such as this:

Most of my time is spent reading, eating, and jogging. I love running wherever I visit, including here. But, man oh man, the terrain is one hill after another.

While I’ve adjusted to the city life in Indianapolis, give me the country anytime. I never tire of looking at the farm fields. I don’t mind running on gravel—there’s usually a track of hard ground created by vehicles. If I don’t use the gravel roads, I am stuck running the same two routes—north or south—on the pavement.

Sunny days brought farmers into the fields to harvest corn. Below, there was a combine working near where these trucks were parked. I stopped my run to snap this pic because the thought occurred to me: the old is still respected as the new is appreciated.

In the background, above, the buildings sticking up from the treeline are in Ocheyedan. Down the road from this spot, work is ongoing at a culvert, taking one lane away. Note the yield sign’s admonition.

I was amused. For vehicles to have to take turns would mean at least three would have to arrive at the same time. The odds of this happening are about the same as my never making a smart-aleck remark to my mother-in-law during my week’s stay in her house.

Family time is always the best part of our visit. Sunday morning breakfast was one of many meals we enjoyed together.

The week flew by, then we flew the coop. Julie and I split the driving. I was glad I thought to download some shows on Netflix, to occupy me when Julie was behind the wheel. I was pleased to be able to prop my phone in the dashboard nook. With earbuds in place, I sat back and enjoyed.

Photo jogging journal

Jogging provides me with way more than great exercise. I see lots of interesting things. Some are funny. Others odd. Several intriguing, At times, after passing by, the sight propels me to create a story about it.

I don’t like to interrupt my running to take photos, so when I see something about which I later found a fun angle, I plan my next run to return to that spot to capture it.

Sometimes, I miss my chance, as with the brick tied up in a bow, that was in the middle of the entrance of a driveway, which was gone the next day.

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The photos that follow all come from this month—October, 2019—except for this one from 2016. I include this older picture because I can’t imagine the scenario in which an intact frozen pizza wound up on the side of a busy, 45 mph speed limit road.

Actually, I can imagine …

I see a car in which there are two occupants. These two are screaming at each other. It goes awry:

“I swear, Terry, I’ll throw these groceries out the window!”

“No, Tracy!”

“Oh, yea, Terry. Here goes the pizza—“

“For the love of Mike! If you have to toss something, why can’t it be the rutabagas?!”

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At first glance, I thought this monster was preparing to kick a soccer ball. When I saw that ball was a skull, the soccer game stuck in my mind:

“Great game, Slayer!”

“Yargh! We really cracked some skulls!”

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A half mile later, I came across the following, which was the only one of these things I stopped the first time to photograph.

Yes, I thought about picking it up and taking it to place next to the skull at the monster’s feet. Alas, satisfied with the photo, I resumed running.

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I run across a lot of roadkill. Never had I ever seen a perfectly preserved skeleton before I saw this (which was mere feet from where that Digiorno pizza had been):

It’s as if someone placed the bones on top of the skin. Crazy.

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Proving the old saying: records were made to be broken.

In case you were wondering, the group that made this album was Skip And The Vinyls.

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I’ve mowed over plenty of acorns and pine cones, even my neighbor’s crabble apples. I suspect the owner of this house has to pick up these hedge apples before hitting the lawn.

If Newton had been sitting under a hedge apple tree, history might have been written far differently … probably by his assistant … after he laid Newton to rest.

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I simply think this next thing is cool. Nowadays, it sits in the yard of condominiums. I would love to see the original house by which it stood, and know the reason it was built.

The easy answer is that it was used as a root cellar. The fun answer would be that it was a hiding place for bootleggers during Prohibition. The best answer is that it was a prison … for disobedient children.

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Here’s my favorite, a situation with three parts to it.

Part 1: How fast did this guy have to be driving, and how hard were those brakes working, to rip into the ground like this?

Part 2: At what point did he realize he was about to come to a stop on top of a No Parking sign? Perhaps, that’s why he kept going, you know, so as not to break the law.

Part 3: The sign didn’t stop him, but this tree—or, the tree that used to be here—sure did.

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I was running through this WALK sign as I took this picture.

Did I break the law? Should I have kept going until I plowed into a tree?

Whatever the case, the cops will have to catch me, because I’m on the run and I’m not stopping!