Category Archives: Toby Johnson

WC74 – Review of Wisdom for the Soul

Rvu_chang Book Review

Wisdom for the Soul:
Five Millennia of Prescriptions
for Spiritual Healing

Compiled & edited by Larry Chang
Gnosophia Publishers, 824 pages, Hardcover, $49.95

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

The final quotation cited in this enormous tome of brief quotes of wisdom is from a man named Philip G. Hamerton 1834-1894, who wrote: “Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted than when we read it in the original author?”

Indeed, this book is founded on that fact. And a very impressive edifice is constructed upon it. Wisdom for the Soul is a sort of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations squared! But unlike Bartlett’s it is all focused on wise sayings, not just famous ones, and organized by themes rather than by author (a 47 page biographical index of the 2500 some authors is appended).

Larry Chang, the creator of this impressive collection is described as a student of Religious Science and the Dharma, with a grounding in metaphysics, spirituality, pastoral counseling and public speaking. He is also described as an exile from Jamaica who was granted asylum in the U.S. based on sexual orientation. So he’s a Gay man.

Chang demonstrates one of those functions of Gay men as keepers of the past and keepers of wisdom that White Crane has come to champion.

This, of course, isn’t a “Gay book” as such, though there’s wisdom from Gay writers scattered throughout. A cursory examination of the author index shows such names as James Broughton, Arthur C. Clarke, Quentin Crisp, Harvey Fierstein, John Fortunato, Michel Foucault, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Gomes, Paul Goodman, Langston Hughes, William James, Audre Lorde, Bill T. Jones, Somerset Maugham, Stephen Sondheim, Annie Sprinkle, Lily Tomlin, Gore Vidal, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Marguerite Yourcenar, etc.
What an exercise in history, literature and culture it is just looking at the names.

And I’m happy to say my name is among them. I was pleased to see that Larry Chang outed himself in his back cover flap biography, explaining his asylum in the U.S. for sexual orientation. And I am proud to report that I myself get outed in the book every time I’m quoted (in twelve places) because my book titles contain the word “Gay.”

As that quote from Philip Hamerton points out wisdom is often most easily absorbed and remembered in short aphorisms. Larry Chang gives us a plethora of aphorisms. And, now he is working on a book of wisdom sayings for the soul of Black Folk and another for the soul of Queer Folk. I’m keeping my copy of Wisdom for the Soul next to my meditation cushion. It makes a great source of affirmations and inspirations.

The wisdom runs from funny to profound, just as it should. This is marvelous collection.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Selections from the book are also available on individual cards
for use as an oracle or for posting on the fridge. Check out

Congratulations to Toby Johnson and Steve Berman


We get letters because we have….Charmed Lives.

Greetings on behalf of the American Library Association’s
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Roundtable’s Stonewall Book Awards. As a member of the Stonewall Book Award Committee Jury, I am seeking review copies of books being considered for the 2008 award.

We are very pleased to inform you that CHARMED LIVES: GAY SPIRIT IN STORYTELLING, edited by Toby Johnson and Steve Berman, has been recommended for nomination for the 2008 Stonewall Book Award.

Formerly called the GLBTRT Book Award, the Stonewall Award is the oldest book award given for outstanding achievement in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Literature nationally. It is an official award of the American Library Association and is given each year at the Association’s annual conference. Additional information about the award can be found on our website.

Each year two awards are given in Literature and Nonfiction for outstanding works about GLBT issues or by GLBT authors. Each award comes with a $1,000.00 honorarium. Winners will be notified in January, 2008. The committee would greatly appreciate if the entire committee of 10 jurors could receive review copies within 10 working days. Juror contact information is below. Thank you for your assistance in this matter. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely, Beth L. Stonewall2sm_2

White Crane Books is proud to have Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling in the White Crane Wisdom Series, and warmly congratulates Toby Johnson and Steve Berman — and all the participating authors — for the continued success and recognition for this fine book.

WC71 – Review of Be Done On Earth


Be Done On Earth

By Howard E. Cook
PublishAmerica, pb,
185 pages, $19.95

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

A stranger appears in your life. He’s attractive, but even more, he’s charismatic, sexually alluring, but aloof. Everybody who meets him falls in love with him. And he’s mysterious, suddenly disappearing and then popping back up again in the most unexpected places and times, but always with coincidental (almost magical) significance. And he’s got a message for you—and for the world. And he wants you to spread it. He gives you a manuscript, and then he disappears again, leaving you with a mission.

This is certainly a familiar theme in mythological writing. From Richard Bach’s Messiah or Myles Connolly’s very Catholic Mr. Blue to the gospel stories themselves about Jesus, one of the ways “revealed” or spiritual insight is traditionally presented is as “the book within the book.” There’s a story about meeting the charismatic message giver, and within that story is the story or teaching he gives.

This happens in real life. It’s not just a theme in literature or mythology. It’s an actual experience people have. In my own life, my nicknamesake and first collaborator Toby Marotta entered my life in an almost magical way, invited me to help him edit his masterpiece Harvard doctoral dissertation into a publishable book, and then, leaving me with a copy to rewrite (and a message about the meaning of the gay rights movement), he disappeared with his exotic Parsi lover to search for crystals in India.

I just made it sound more magical and mysterious than it really was: Marotta’s partner was a geology professor from India who imported minerals as a sideline business to teaching. This was just a business trip and I was left with just a copyediting job. But it was the start of my own writing career — and of my own understanding of gay consciousness.

So when Howard Cook relates the tale of his meeting the elusive, charismatic Bradford Lightfoot Dare in the strangest of places over a period of many years, I was ready to believe the story on several levels from the mythic to the mundane. Cook’s story of Brad Dare is quite intriguing. He first shows up in a Trappist monastery, then as a nude model for life-drawing classes in Washington, DC. He’s a dance partner to debutantes and a most eligible bachelor in the nation’s capital. Next he’s a Jesuit seminarian studying Teilhard de Chardin, and a little later, he appears unexpectedly as a housemate in a hippie household in Greenwich Village in the apartment previously occupied by the New York Queen of the Gypies — with writer Norman Mailer indirectly making the reintroduction. Then he becomes a gay porn star in San Francisco and a character in the development of West Coast New Age thought along with Ken Kesey and Alan Watts.

Especially because the tale begins in the 1950s, I couldn’t help being reminded of Fred Demara, “The Great Imposter,” (played by Tony Curtis in the movie) who beguiled the American public in those days with his story of living many identities, including Trappist monk. But Bradford Dare comes across in Cook’s telling not as a daring adventurer (though look at his name!) thumbing his nose at convention and legalities, but as a dedicated and driven seeker of transcendent truths, though no less rebel.

Dare shows up again in Cook’s life many years later, after Cook has successfully marketed a couple of books. He’s been studying and thinking and making notes all these years, and now asks Howard Cook’s assistance in articulating and promulgating the wisdom and enlightened insight he’s gained.

And that’s the book within the book: Bradford Lightfoot Dare’s proposal for how to modernize Christianity and recreate the Church. Partly tongue-in-cheek and partly with multi-layered symbolism, Dare calls his message the first encyclical of Pope John the Beloved.

Blending modern-day physics and cosmology, a little Teilhard and a little Matthew Fox, comparative religion, some Joseph Campbell, intelligent New Age thought, progressed Christianity, American political idealism, evolutionary theory, postmodernism, (and here and there what seem like loose associations), Pope John the Beloved calls for a new Church of the Second Coming—also referred to (iconoclastically) as the Church of Kingdom Come – COKC (try pronouncing the acronym).

It’s a sex-positive religion based in an evolutionary model of human nature with an openly gay priesthood (with a somewhat progressed understanding of the role of homosexual consciousness in evolution). Some of the tenets of COKC are intentionally controversial (like the proposal that genetic science will soon allow humans to reproduce in the lab, avoiding all the dangers of unregulated breeding, and taking advantage of the opportunity to improve human nature at the molecular level). But the suggestions for an updated religious model come across as heartfelt and genuine.

I’ve tended to focus on the frame of the story rather than the content. Brad Dare would probably prefer I was writing about his ideas rather than Cook’s presentation. But I will leave readers to study Dare’s “encyclical” on their own: it’s a little overwhelming to summarize in a few paragraphs in a book review. I think men in the gay spirituality movement will recognize many of the themes (like the question “Was Jesus gay?”). But some of the ideas are fresh and come from unexpected directions (like the “final anthropic principle” in quantum cosmology). And, at any rate, it’s not so much the conclusions that will draw readers into the book as the process. Whether you agree with the conclusions or not, the debate is interesting and the argumentation thought-provoking.

For me, as reviewer, the most thought-provoking was the question whether Brad Dare is an alter-ego and literary device of Howard Cook’s multi-faceted mind or a “real” person. In a way, it doesn’t make any difference.

I must say I was disappointed at the end of the book that the framing story is not recapitulated. I wanted to know what happened to Brad Dare. All we get at the end is that he is working on a follow-up about the Church of the Gay Salvation.

Be Done on Earth is a neat example of an ancient literary and mythical dynamic by which wisdom is personified in a charismatic person who inspires those caught in his magic spell to discover their own insights and to surpass him. I was pleased to suspend disbelief and enjoyed the book — just as 30 years ago at the start of my writing career I was willing to suspend disbelief and let my friend and fellow Toby be an inspiration and watershed in my own life.

I wonder if there’s something “inherently gay” in finding inspiration in a charismatic person instead of an authoritarian institution or revealed text. I think that might be one of the subjects in Pope John the Beloved’s second encyclical.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

WC71 – Review of Rising Up

Rvu_perezrisingup Rising Up:
Reflections on Gay Culture, Politics, and Spirit

By Joe Perez
Lulu Publication, pb, 248 pp,  $15.75
Also available from as an e-book for $6.25.

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

Joe Perez moderates the Gay Spirituality and Culture blog on the Internet. With blogging having become a major force in American media and politics, Perez’s blog constitutes a major gay presence in the new electronic/virtual media world. The blog hosts columns by a variety of writers (occasionally including this reviewer) as well as linking to Perez’s own extensive writing at

Perez’s book, Rising Up, demonstrates another facet of his creativity within this virtual world. For the book is a hybrid of traditional writing/publishing and the new Internet-inspired style of blogging. It is a compilation of columns and postings Perez has written for the blogosphere, and then edited and rearranged for book publication. This is a new kind of writing and a new phenomenon in the book world.

There are several levels, therefore, at which to review this book: first, simply the phenomenon of a blog-based book, second, the “personalistic” style of writing occasioned by blogging, and third, the content.

The first level is easy: this is probably the wave of the future. The nature of posting on the Internet is that it’s fleeting and ephemeral. Electronic media demonstrates one of those Buddhist insights into existence: everything is transitory, existing like a bubble or a dream. Brilliant writers post brilliant, incisive commentaries on the web. But these exist only as electronic signals flashing round the world at light speed and getting lost in the torrent of such signals, then disappearing into the past. It’s a natural impulse of serious writers, thinkers, and commentators to want to preserve their best writing and to organize their insights to make them more accessible. And it’s an appropriate writer’s discipline to edit and rewrite one’s material. So the blog turned literature is a logical outgrowth of this computer phenomenon. Joe Perez really is riding the crest of the wave.

The second level of critique is much more complex. Blogging is almost necessarily reactive and interlinked. Blogging is a kind diary-keeping, without the confidentiality. Bloggers write in response to other blogs and postings on the web. In the electronic blog, the hyperlink is easy to create and easy for the reader to follow. In print, it doesn’t work that way. So, for instance, where traditional academic text would have a footnote, Perez’s blog text has a bracketed reference to a URL like []. Of course, that’s actually very easy to follow on the computer—easier than to a footnoted book you’d have to got to a library to find — but it is awfully inelegant in print. What’s more, the reactive style means the reader is only hearing one side of a debate. To Perez’s credit, he generally introduces and explains the text he is commenting on. This, indeed, is what a reader would expect from a serious and academically trained writer. Joe Perez is a Harvard graduate and done masters level work at the University of Chicago.

Blogging also tends to be sequential and timely. News comes out in bits and pieces and commentators are always dealing with it in the fleeting present. Thus their commentaries can lack perspective. Again to Perez’s credit, he has organized the book by themes and not by dates. His insights then come across as thoughtful and logically interconnected, not just reactive. But this is the major problem with this style of writing. Above I referred to this as personalistic. By that I mean that the reactive quality of blogging results in lots of first person pronouns and consequent subjectivity. Joe’s personality is very present.

The third level of critique is of content. Rising Up covers a lot of territory; as the subtitle indicates, the book is about culture, politics, and spirit, ranging from “Responding to religious traditionalists,” “Fighting HIV/AIDS,” “Looking at popular culture,” to “Elevating business and society,” “Connecting sex and soul,” and “Exploring spiritual alternatives.” (These are six exemplary chapter titles out of twelve.)

Joe Perez is a student of modern psycho-spirit culture theoretician Ken Wilbur. Wilbur’s ideas and models of experience and spiritual growth pervade Perez’s writing. Wilbur uses a lot of acronyms for his wide-ranging concepts (AQAL, for instance, for “All Quadrants, All Levels” meaning “comprehensive” and “flexible.”) Perez follows suit and uses the acronym STEAM for the processes of psychological and spiritual growth. Students of Wilbur’s will find Perez’s discussions very appropriate application to gay consciousness; non-Wilbur fans may find them confusing. The concept of “rising up” through the stages of personal growth unites all the various discussions including the nature of gay consciousness itself.

The book, like Internet surfing, doesn’t have to read from front to back. It’s filled with interesting and provocative comments, most of which stand alone. I thought the section on HIV/AIDS perhaps the most heartfelt. Joe Perez deserves to be read.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

White Crane #70 – Daniel Helminiak’s Sex and the Sacred

Rvu_helminiak Sex and the Sacred:
Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

By Daniel Helminiak
Harrington Park Press, 235 pages, pb,  $16.

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

In engaging, easy-to-read prose, Daniel Helminiak addresses the central work of religion and spirituality today: to tease out the rich meaning and significance behind the myths and doctrines that have come down to us in the great traditions without getting trapped in literalism and superstition, that is, to rearticulate religion so it makes sense—and makes sense especially to and about—us lesbians and gay men who have been so influential in creating religion and yet who have been so victimized by it.

In this collection of essays spanning his career as theologian, Scripture scholar, psychologist, and gay spiritual apologist, Helminiak shows how true Christianity is not inimical to modern LGBTQ consciousness and indeed that spirituality—and gay spirituality in particular—transcends any and all specific religions.
Central to Helminiak’s thinking, expressed through some six books, is that spirituality is common to all human beings, including, of course, gay human beings, and that it is not necessarily linked with religion or belief in God. Indeed, the link is the reverse of what’s usually thought: it is spirituality that comes first—“the infinite longings of the human heart”—then come God and belief as natural outworkings and projections of that hunger.

Spirituality is a human psychological enterprise. And every person deals with these issues whether they identify them as religious or not. And because these issues are psychological, they necessarily include sexuality and they call out for sexuality to be understood with respect and not condemnation. For spirit comes out of the human heart and seeks to satisfy the hunger of the heart, not down from God or Church officials demanding repression of the heart for the sake of order and societal authority. Helminiak observes that this distinction between spirituality and religion (and God) may be his most important contribution.

The book consists of some fifteen essays that address various issues of importance to gay people: from coming out and achieving self-acceptance, the longing of the heart for infinity, and sexual ethics to the real lesson of Jesus’s example, the Church, the Bible, gay marriage, and even the effects in the human spirit of the terrorist war. The chapters are independent of one another, but read consistently as a more and more comprehensive presentation of what religion could and should be.

Daniel Helminiak is a precise and thorough-going thinker. Some of the arguments in the book may seem obscure and tortured. You can tell Helminiak doesn’t want to just cut through the Gordian Knot of Christian doctrine, but respectfully and intelligently to untie it strand by strand. Still the book is readable and entertaining, filled with interesting tidbits of Biblical and Church history that change how everything should be understood. His analysis, for instance, of the Council of Nicaea places the “divinity of Jesus” in historical context; what that idea meant to the creators of the Christian religion is much more subtle than the common Christian myth.

Perhaps most interesting and relevant are his discussions of real life issues: the spiritual lessons of AIDS, for instance, and appropriate gay sexual ethics. Even if you’re not especially concerned about Church history, these topics hit home—and with such positive and caring attitude.

Daniel’s right, I think, that his well thought out and thorough-going distinction between spirituality and religion is a major contribution. And this particular volume of his presents these arguments sensibly and very readably.
The essays on heaven as everlasting orgasm and on the homosexual modeling of relations within the Blessed Trinity are delightfully provocative and downright queerly brilliant.

Toby Johnson is former publisher and current contributing editor  to White Crane.  His newest book, Two Spirits, is reviewed in this issue.

White Crane #70 – Mark Jordan’s Blessing Same Sex Unions

Rvu_jordan Blessing Same-Sex Unions:
The Perils of Queer Romance
and the Confusions of Christian Marriage

By Mark Jordan
University of Chicago
258 pages, HB, $29.00

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

Mark Jordan is Professor of Religion at Emory University, author of two influential and mind-blowing books on the history of the idea of “sodomy” in Christian Church history and several other books, and he is a marvelous writer and rhetorician.

Blessing Same-Sex Unions is a delight to read. At times, of course, it is precise and theological. There’s nothing lax about the book’s argumentation. But it’s written with a certain whimsy and delightfully arch rhetorical style. In the Epilogue, Jordan compares the book to an opera buffa, a comedy of manners, and his narrative voice perhaps to what he calls “the avuncular parson’s winking approval.” From behind the curtain of his serious theological and cultural commentary, you can occasionally imagine the author sticking his head out, smiling at the audience, and delivering a great one-liner—or maybe giving a campy raspberry to all the seriousness.

Blessing Same-Sex Unions takes a different point of departure from usual for discussing gay marriage. Instead of arguing about rights and benefits and human or American liberties, Jordan addresses the question of ceremonies: what is a “wedding”? how do you put on a properly “gay” wedding? what does it mean to “bless” the union? what is the “union”?

One of the reasons, perhaps, that Jordan’s prose is so pleasantly mannered is that he is acutely concerned with language and complains that the language used to debate this contentious issue is usually imprecise and misleading. So he spends considerable space in the book analyzing the language of religion and particularly of marriage and relationship.

I recommend the book simply for its enjoyable readability and its occasional comedy about what is often so “deadly serious” on both sides of the debate. But, of course, the content matters and Jordan’s take on the content is refreshingly different from the usual.

As part of analyzing “marriage,” Jordan looks at the real issues: the wedding and the commitment (to what?). In one of the more humorous sections, he picks apart an issue of Modern Bride Magazine, showing that weddings are really for ceremonies for women and they’re mostly about spending exorbitant sums of money on dresses and catering. He jokes that gay men are intrinsic to weddings—but usually as the dress designers, the planners, and the caterers (and maybe the priests!). Weddings are big business in America. They’re done through the Churches, but really have very little to do with religion.

As a Church historian, Jordan solidly refutes the notion that heterosexual marriage is the fundamental building block of society and has remained unchanged through Church history. Early Christianity did not approve of marriage at all. St. Paul wanted all Christian believers to abstain from sex, reproduction, and marriage as he did. The early Christians believed the end of the world and the return of Jesus were imminent. Having children and planning for the future were signs of unbelief. And monogamy and indissolubility as the central characteristics of Christian marriage are new ideas, certainly not consistent with the polygynist model of the Biblical patriarchs. Even Jesus’ teachings on marriage have more to do with honoring women as equal human beings than with offering a legal structure for or a theology about sex.

Christianity has been traditionally anti-sex and anti-pleasure. So marriage is less about legitimating sex or discovering the mystical significance of sexual consciousness than it is about keeping inheritance lines clear and placing sexuality in a pattern that ultimately subordinates it to child-rearing.

A theme that runs through the book is how modern gay men and lesbians might be reforming marital and childrearing expectations, perhaps, by doing it better. The (surreptitiously anti-sex?) Fundamentalists complain that gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed because gay people (men especially) are more likely to be pro-sex and liberal (adulterous?) with one another. We gay men might argue, for instance, that a little outside sex, especially engaged in honestly and forthrightly within rules like “only when the partner is out of town,” can actually strengthen the bond of love between the partners. That’s what the “family values” people call redefining marriage and worry that our gay adaptations to reality might allow all marriages to be happier, more stable, and—god forbid!—more sexually satisfying.

One of the most interesting discussions in the book is based on analysis of love letters from earlier times. In the letters between the literary critic F.O. Mathiessen and the painter Russell Cheney, for instance, who were lovers from 1924 to 1945, Jordan finds a definition of male love and bonding that blends Walt Whitman’s enthusiasm for embodiment with conventional marriage to come up with a notion of loving “companionship, devotion, and laughter” that enhances personal freedom rather than constraining it.

Jordan looks at “rites” and “liturgies” to see just what is being blessed. Looking at several scripts for gay marriage ceremonies, he elucidates just what kind of commitment the partners might be entering into based on the words they use in their, perhaps personally composed, vows. He also analyzes John Boswell’s arguments that “Pre-Modern” Christianity actually had rituals for same-sex bonding.

If you’re rushing out to join the crowd demanding the same rights—and rites—as heterosexuals because it’s the cause celebre of the moment, you might be more interested in one of those guides to gay marriage, with referral pages for the best costumes or most stylish comestibles for the reception. But if you want to delve deep into the meaning of what such a “blessing” is, here’s the book for you. And it’s a fun read!

Toby Johnson is former publisher and current contributing editor  to White Crane.  His newest book, Two Spirits, is reviewed in this issue.

Toby Johnson’s latest book reviewed in Washington Blade

Rvu_tobywalter2spiritsToby Johnson, White Crane‘s former publisher and current contributing editor, has recently written a book with Walter L. Williams titled Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navaho.  It recently received a very favorable review in the pages of the Washington Blade newspaper.

"gay authors Walter L. Williams and Toby Johnson deftly unveil the great histories of gay people as seen through the mythic and cultural expressions of the Navajo."

You can read Jesse Monteagudo’s review in the September issue of White Crane and you can purchase the book at Lambda Rising On Line or via Toby Johnson’s website at