"No, no, please... let me pray for you!"
See now I'm angry, and that's not good. For a while I thought I was the only one who was really angry about this. Angry that this Small Minority of Loud-Mouthed Bullies (SMLMB) had decided to take control over what you get to watch on your television. They don't trust that you'll be able to make the "right" decision. They might even have to keep an eye on what you're allowed to see in a movie theater. Or in a museum, even. Yup, freedom of choice can be a pretty scary thing to the SMLMB. Soon they may have to step in and approve anything you might want to say out loud, in the privacy of your home. Or maybe what you might think in your mind. If it weren't 2006, I'd think it was 1984!
I've been under the distinct impression lately that this SMLMB has decided that God belongs to them. That they found Him and "finder's keepers." That anything that has anything to do with God, or Jesus, or one's own personal spirituality has to go through their approval process. I mean, how could someone least of all a homosexual, a lapsed Catholic and someone who's (gasp) interested in Buddhist teachings (also photography and woodworking, by the way)... how could that lesser person possibly even begin to write a fictional story about a man who talks to Jesus. It can't be done. Why, you might as well ask a middle-aged white woman to write about gay cowboys (Brokeback Mountain)... or a young, rich gay man to write about some poor white trash who kill for no reason (In Cold Blood)... or a couple of high-toned Hollywood screenwriters to pen the diary of a young Jewish girl and her family, who were terrorized by the Nazis (The Diary of Anne Frank). It can't be done. It's a waste of time.
See what I mean? About the anger? Maybe I was taking this too personally y'know, my show, my idea, my baby. Maybe I needed to seek out other opinions. Objective opinions. But where can you find unsolicited objective opinions these days? Duh. The World Wide Web. I started reading "the boards." The websites. The blogs. The new "voice of the people." (Or, at least the voice of the people with DSL.) I found some comfort I mean, as long as I stayed away from Pat Robertson's www.please-God-smite-jack.com, I was fine. I wasn't the only one confused by all the uproar, a response so out of proportion that it seemed almost comical. Quite a few people had noticed that the SMLMB were trying to take over the school yard. And, as has so often happened in this country, people are now waking up. They're seeing this thinly veiled attempt at censorship for the darker thing it really is: small-minded bigotry and hate... disguised as righteous indignation: "Next thing you know, he'll want to be drinking out of our water fountain!"
Well, the average, mind-your-own-business American won't put up with that. They're speaking up. I'm reading it. They're starting to fight back, and not with cut-'n-paste e-mails fed to them by hate-mongers, but with honest, thoughtful debate. For the most part. It took some time for the reality of it to sink in, and here's why: We're not accustomed to having to fight for something we already have our freedom of choice! But that's been the latest tactic of the self-righteous zealot. Don't wait for someone to ask for something; try to take something away from them that they already have. That's how bullies keep you off balance. Bullies don't sit around the playground minding their own business, waiting for some new kid to stumble into their territory. No, bullies go looking for trouble. Remember, the SMLMB didn't wait to actually see The Book of Daniel. They went after it like a blue jay going after another bird's eggs before they can hatch and defend themselves. They look for trouble from someone they think they can beat, the new kid. The kid who's just trying to make friends. I just hope the SMLMB don't start making me do their homework for them.
So, then, instead of getting angry which is, let's face it, an easy way out I've done a little soul-searching over the question that so many people have asked me: "Where'd you get the idea for The Book of Daniel?" My answer has been what I've truly believed: That it had been kicking around in my head for a while, the notion of exploring the life of a priest and his family. A life that's under the magnified scrutiny of having to be perfect. (Or as near to perfect as a person who is our link with the divine can get.) And that's what I'd always thought. But lately, I've gone a little deeper, deeper into my own soul, and tried to root around for the actual genesis. What was going through my mind as I wrote it? Why a priest? Why the flaws? Why include Jesus? And little by little, I've started to understand more of what was going on in my head.
See, as a kid, I remember sitting in church, listening to people recite, by rote, the prayers and communal responses required of them during a service:
Celebrant: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give Him thanks and praise.
I remember hearing people saying these words, but I don't remember thinking that anybody actually meant it. It sounded like recitation. Once a week. For an hour. Then for the rest of the week they yelled at each other in traffic and other places. So what did it mean? I'd had religious instruction from the Sisters. I'd studied, received Communion at age 8, and was confirmed at 12. I knew all the answers to the questions. All the prayers. All the responses. But what did it have to do with actual life? My Baptist friends (I grew up in North Carolina) would sometimes say, "You need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." A what? Ultimately, I drifted away from the organized church and tried to find that personal relationship on my own. Eventually I got caught up in life and forgot all about it. Then came Daniel.
I hadn't consciously connected it all until recently, but I'm pretty sure that my inclusion of Jesus as Daniel's "best friend" was my way of finding a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." That was the meaning I was looking for in those prayers and words. A friend. A brother. A kinder, sweeter soul than me, who could help me understand myself better than anyone else could. A teacher... who wasn't wagging his finger at me or smacking the back of my hands with a ruler, but who was always there to remind me how to live my life. And even when I stumbled and I stumble a lot he always helped me back up. And we wouldn't talk about the stumble, because we both knew it had happened and why, and I would try not to do it again.
But I probably would. And if I did, he would still help me up. And we could do that a million bazillion times and it wouldn't matter. Because that's what a savior can do. He can save you. From yourself. And even if I rarely live up to my potential, I know it's enough that I try.
The Book of Daniel airs Fridays at 10pm/ET on NBC.