Tag Archives: A Letter to my Congregation

Don’t Give Up The Fort ► A Pastoral Letter

One block south of 8 Mile is the intersection of Gilchrist Street and Hessel Avenue

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Dear Pastor Kenny:

Remember the fort we built in the backyard behind my garage on Gilchrist?

I distinctly remember scrounging some of the lumber for it from the excavation ditch that later became the Southfield Freeway. I can’t remember who was with me that day, you or Dean Donaldson, but if it was you, it’s safe to admit it. The statute of limitations on that crime has long expired.

It was a pretty sweet fort, as I remember. With the liberated plywood as a roof and walls, it was water-tight when it rained. We spent a fair amount of time hanging out in there, but I spent more. There were many times I’d sit in the fort reading comic books. It became my refuge away from my sisters. As you may remember, I had 4.

My old backyard showing the room my father added to the
back of the house, taken on August 2, 2016. The first thing I
noticed was that the cherry tree next to the garage was no longer
there. It was beautiful in the spring and you could sit on the
garage in the sunshine and pick cherries all the doo dah day.

Did you ever wonder why we still don’t have that fort to sit within and ponder the world?

I destroyed it in a fit of pique.

My parents were bothered by the mess we left behind and ordered me to clean it up. I walked across the street and tried to get you and Dean to help me. Neither of you could be bothered, so I decided the fort had to go. With tears in my eyes, and filled with childish rage, I ripped it apart within minutes, demonstrating how shoddy we were at fort building and how I can, at times, be my own worst enemy.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

In the last 8 months my life has been on a metaphoric fort busting bender, until I find myself beached here 13 miles from the beach — right back where I started.

Don’t give up the fort.

Just when things seemed at their lowest ebb, I hastily prepared another of my epic Road Trips to visit Pops. Knowing we’d meet again on my swing through Michigan, I had a lot of time to think over what I wanted to ask you during all of that driving. I was telling my friends along the way, most of whom have read my previous Pastoral Letters, that I was going to see you again. Most of them also knew of my troubles of late. I started to make the joke that with all that was going on in my life, I needed to be Pastor-ized.

Your house still looks picture perfect, Ken

I had hoped to meet you in our old neighbourhood, where your house still looks picture perfect. However, time constraints meant we only had a small time together and I was on vacation, for the most part. I didn’t mind traveling to Ann Arbor to meet you.

I wanted to share everything that occurred since the beginning of the year, but we certainly didn’t have time for that, so I shared the highlights lowlights — including the heartbreak I experienced just days earlier in Toronto. I even told you the joke above about needing Pastor-ization. Then I popped the question that had been on my mind since I left Florida. It started as a far more complex question, but during all those miles on the road it became simpler and simpler until I boiled it down to 10 words:

“What is the answer when Jesus is not the answer?”

Your answer was very Zen: Connections.

I am still processing what that means for me. I’ve come to the conclusion that not all connections are real connections. Nor do I really want to be connected to all those who are connected to me. The contradiction is that my writing at the Not Now Silly Newsroom, as well as my oversized presence on the facebookery and Twitterverse is all about making connections to many people I have no real connection with. Heavy, eh?

On my most recent road trip in front of my
former Kensington Market house on Nassau

IRONY ALERT: The person/place I truly wanted an improved and stronger connection with has gone cold and I have no idea how to rekindle it.

Ken, your other suggestion — to get back to Drum Circles — is a good one. Pops’ hospitalization kept me busy since early June, and there was no time. One of my favourite ones is tomorrow. It’s the monthly Drum Circle where I actually composed most of my first Pastoral Letter to you. However, here’s another contradiction: I’m not a joiner.

Speaking of joiners, I have always . . . what’s the correct word — envied? coveted?– someone who has a God to believe in. When life turns to shit, there’s an entity to pray to. Atheists don’t have that. Without those connections of which you speak, I’ve got to tough it out on my own.

The last time I believed in something bigger than myself was, in reality, not all that long ago. It was only last year and I wrote about it in a previous Pastoral Letter which I titled Before and After Synchronicity. Now I’m not sure if what I believed was real. It all seemed so right and this feels so wrong.

I no longer know what to tell the crows.

I hope it’s not another year before we see each other again, Kenny, but I expect it will be. In the meantime, feel free to reply. I told you that I write these more for myself than for getting a reply. However, this time I’d love to read your thoughts.

Your childhood friend,
Marc Slootsky

Pastor Kenny Responds

Pastor Kenny. Pics stolen from his facebookery.

A Response to Your Pastoral Letter (Or How One Pastoral Letter Begets Another, Begets Another, Begets Another)

I’m a FB neophyte, so it took me quite a while to dig out your last pastoral letter once I had a little time to respond to it. I’ve not known how to respond to your pastoral letter because I wasn’t sure if or what might have been expected of me.  Was it an invitation to dialogue? In what forum?  I was just a little befuddled.  SO I figured, heck, I’ll just write something down on word doc and if Headly wants to publish it, so much the better.

I am going with Headly at your request, though I knew you as Marc.  I think we lost regular connection before you became Headly so it was good to hear your story about how the name came [about] and took.  Ken or Kenny works for me. Only my sisters, Marilyn and Nancy call me Kenny, so it reminds me of my past. (The name, btw was ruined by association with Barbie, and if it’s not too insulting to a fine musician, Kenny G. Nobody seems to name their kid Kenneth anymore.  Someone told me in Scottish (?) it means “handsome,” which [may] also account for its unpopularity. Who would want to name their kid “handsome”?  Alas. Mark has fared much better as a name, and the variant Marc (short for “Marcus”?) is a little exotic, given that we’re in the 1950’s Tom-Dick-Harrry-Mary-Deborah genre of Wonder Bread Names to begin in. But I digress.

I must say I have been honored by your interest in my little LGBT soap opera. Spreading the word about Letter to My Congregation, being interested, curious, sympathetic.  But it has also been comforting to reconnect a little bit with my Gilchrist past through your reaching out. 

Pastor Ken Wilson with wife Julia

My wife, Julia, grew up in Holland Michigan, where her dad still lives in the house she grew up in. (Her dad was an English Professor at Hope College.) She can go back to the house and stay overnight, as we have a few times since we got married.  Recently, at her moms memorial service, she met all sorts of people from her growing up years—people who babysat for her and for whom she babysat, teachers from high school, old friends.  It helped me realize how the decline of a city like Detroit can disconnect you from your past. 

Going back to the old neighborhood recently was stunning—urban blight such as I’d never seen just a few blocks South of where we grew up. Such an empty feeling. And no one from the old neighborhood to share it with. So reading your posts—especially your history of the Detroit riots—triggered all sorts of memories for me. Thank you.

One of the things I’d forgotten was just how racist things were growing up. You reminded me what it was like to grow up Jewish—and it all came rushing back, the horrible jokes about Jews, and Blacks, and Poles, and well, non WASPS. I remember being warned by someone not to attend a Catholic Mass because they spoke Latin and you didn’t know whether they were saying bad stuff or not.

It made me feel ashamed. Using the N-word was strictly forbidden in my family. Same with anti-Jewish rhetoric. But talk of “Injuns,” “Krauts” and “Japs” was tolerated. Now I’m ashamed. But I was also ashamed because of my forgetting. Forgetting how bad the Christian participation in anti-Semitism was in that era. Remembering how my late wife Nancy and I came to visit you in Toronto talking all our Jesus talk without remembering how your ears would have heard Jesus talk, having been called, as was common in that time, “Christ killer.” I can’t imagine what it would be like to associate the Jesus that I’m so ga-ga over with that kind of treatment from people who claim to be part of the religion he started. I have to admit, it’s a pretty reasonable thing to judge a religious figure by the behavior of the religion that he founded. So I can’t blame you for not picking up what Nancy and I were laying down in that trip to Toronto. 

Pastor Kenny’s very important
book, which got him thrown out of
the church he founded 45 years ago

By the way, it was fun to talk about that Toronto trip and to hear you say that you found it kind of interesting despite the fact that the God talk went on a little too much for your tastes. New converts to anything are a trip and I imagine I was one too. You should hear me talk to my friends who show any interest in my Fitbit. I get enthusiastic about things and want the whole world to adopt them. (Say Headly, have you tried the Fitbit? It’s amazing how it helps you be more active—I walk so much more now that I have one of these little wonders.)  But I digress again. I think you bring the elementary school of me, the Kenny locked up in Pastor Ken. 

I do know that there’s a connection between the mistreatment of the LGBT community and the Jewish community. In much the same way that anti-Semitism was tolerated in the Church for millennia—based on a handful of biblical texts taken out of historical context—a handful of texts taken out of historical context have propped up teachings that are harmful to vulnerable sexual minorities. The Second Vatican Counsel—which took place while we were growing up in Detroit—signaled an important reversal on this. Now there’s virtually no respectable Christian tradition in which it is OK to refer to Jewish people as “Christ-killers.”  Maybe the same reversal is underway today when it comes to sexual minorities. I certainly hope so.

And drum circles. I found it fascinating that you’ve gotten into them.  I’ve always thought they would be a blast.  I walk through the Diag sometimes and there’s a drum circle happening. They don’t seem to be looking for people to join them, but I’d like to. I always think of you now when I see them.  The feeling of connection with other people that happens with a drum circle has got to be pleasurable. You could do a lot worse for a communal spiritual practice than a drum circle. He said, approvingly.

OK now I have to figure out how send you this word doc via FB. Oh crap, is that even possible? 

Grace and peace to you, fellow pilgrim and pastoral letter writer.

Editor’s note: Kenneth John Wilson is my oldest friend in the world. We grew up together on Gilchrist Street in Detroit, catercorner from each other. We lost track of each other in the early ’70s.

Last year I was made aware that Pastor Kenny is shaking the foundations of organized Christianity with his book A Letter to my Congregation, which argues for full inclusion of the LGBT communities in all congregations. We have since reconnected to my extreme happiness.

There has been some slight editing of this Pastoral Letter for clarity and spelling.

The Trunk Lost In Transit ► A Pastoral Letter

Pastor Ken Wilson wrote this book arguing for
full acceptance of LGBT folk into the church
and uses scripture to back up these arguments.

Dear Pastor Kenny: Long time, no see!

Seriously, it was great reconnecting with you at the tail end of the 3rd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research, as brief as our reunion was.

I was mighty disappointed when it looked as if we were not going to meet because of your vacation schedule. When I got your message that you’d be available after all, I dropped everything to high-tail it out to Ann Arbor to see you. Had I not already had something scheduled for the evening, I could have stayed and talked forever because there was still so much I wanted to know. Did you ever see that Saturday Night Live sketch “The Guest Who Would Not Leave”? I was already feeling as if I had overstayed my welcome because it was running into dinnertime and you had just got home from vacation.

I have a confession. [Do you take confession?] Because it didn’t look like we’d be getting together, I never finished reading your book. A bigger confession: I’ve been reading your book with the same critical eye and methodology with which I read James Rosen’s historical revisionist history of John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s Attorney General. I filled The Strong Man with yellow Post It Notes and then eviscerated it in the Watergate exposé Did Roger Ailes Dupe James Rosen, Or Did Rosen Dupe ‘Merka?

The problem is that right up until the time we met I had been thinking of you as a research project. I used our reconnecting last year as a jumping off point for these Pastoral Letters, in which I am (selfishly) exploring and writing about my Atheism, which grew out of my Agnosticism, which grew out of a Reformed Jewish child. To that end, I’ve read dozens of reviews of your book, read up on The Third Way, and continue to follow the writings of your old church and your new church.

Random Ann Arbor pic

I have often said, “You can take the boy out of the newsroom, but you can’t take the newsroom out of the boy.” I was wrong. The journalist in me had a million and one questions for you, but the minute I saw your face, all that went out the window. It was Kenny, my oldest friend in the world!!! I was a little boy again, forgetting all about the Not Now Silly Newsroom. In fact, I was so caught up in just reconnecting that I forgot to take any pictures of you, even though I carried 3 cameras, took some pictures on our walk around Ann Arbor, and usually document every tedious moment of my life.

I am glad we got to talk about your getting kicked to the curb by your old church. I don’t know how much of that was said for publication, so I won’t. However, I find it a fascinating story on the type of changes churches need to make in order to survive into the next century.

Here’s what surprised me the most about our reunion: Maybe it’s because you’re a Pastor, or because I have been trying to reconnect to my past, or because you’re my oldest friend in the world, but I don’t know what prompted me to blurt out my deepest, darkest secret. I can’t believe I told you what I’ve shared with less than a half dozen people, 3 of them psychiatrists. The significance of the title of this post will be mysterious for everybody else.

Random Ann Arbor pic

One mystery cleared up, however. Remember how much I was sweating after our walk, even though it wasn’t that hot a day? As it turns out, that was the beginning of my uncommon cold, which I wrote about in Road Trips, Writer’s Block, and the Uncommon Cold ► Unpacking The Writer

I always feel like I’m behind on all my writing, but even more so with this post. You asked me to send you links to my writing that I felt were worth your time. Originally I thought I’d just shoot you an email. But, then I thought it might make a better Pastoral Letter. Then I kept putting it off as I had other things to write. Better late than never, eh? Not to brag, and only because you asked, here are a few of my posts I think are worth reading:

1). The Detroit Riots • 2). My Days With John Sinclair • 3). Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins • 4) Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins ► Chapter Two • 5). Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins ► Chapter Three • 6). When Whites Went Crazy In Tulsa • 7). Happy Birthday Coconut Grove!!! Now Honour Your Past • 8). Josephine Baker Born • 9). Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician? • 10). The Day I Shook Hands With Glenn Beck • 11). The Day I Met Bob Marley • 12). Any & all of my Watergate stories • 13). A Tribute To Alan Turing ► The Man Who Saved The World • 14). A Musical Appreciation ► Cole Porter • and 15). More Proof the Palin Family Are Liars and Grifters, which is as fresh as today’s headlines.

Random Ann Arbor pic

And, of course, my Pastoral Letters, which are all addressed to you, whether you’ve read them or not.

I think I’ll leave it here, Ken. The Autumnal Equinox Drum Circle is coming up later this month, which is when I tend to think of Spirituality without a God. And, if you recall, Drum Circles are when I most often think of you. You’ll probably be hearing from me again near the end of the month.

Feel free to write back because I never know what you’re thinking.

Your childhood friend,
Marc Slootsky