I read that chapter with anxiety and wondered if the whole book would follow this young man’s religious questioning. I thought, I don’t know if I can go through this again. I’m happy to say the book took an unexpected twist and resolved that plot early, allowing me to enjoy the unfolding (and steamy) love story.
But I was surprised and unnerved how much Barnaby’s skillful narration dredged up my own religious past as a Catholic. Actually, after meeting other Catholics in my college years and throughout adulthood, I now realize I was raised “Old School Catholic,” where nuns beat your hands and everything you did was a sin. Nobody talked about sex or feelings or deviation from church philosophy. To do so was (you guessed it) a sin. I now understand not all Catholics grew up with this feudal interpretation.
As a young man a few years older than the character Brian, I left the Catholic Church and its self-hating outreach program for gays: hate the sin, not the sinner. I raged that religion had tricked me into loathing myself, duped me into believing I was garbage—and destined to become worse garbage—because my damaged, soiled soul came out malformed from God’s factory.
For years I spit on religion and spirituality because anyone spiritual was a self-deluded fool, swallowing a carefully-packaged system sold to them by their own insecurities, fear of death, or seduced by a slick zealot who promised God In A Can.
I could not deny my many life experiences, the small miracles that dazzled me, gifts of forgiveness and creative charity than inspired me, touched me, constantly catching me off-guard. Every time I tried to suppress my spirituality, new miracles bubbled up through nature, friendships, and men who I had loved. When my heart opened to being in love, yes I loved that one man, but other loves unlocked inside me, greater loves than just our two-person relationship. How could I explain that?
And then there were the dreams. I have always enjoyed an incredibly rich dream life, and over the years have distinguished between regular dreams and Big Life Dreams. During one of these special ones, I lounged under the Tree Of Life, and no fucking around, it was the motherfucking Tree Of Life. I could sense every leaf, witnessed every unique soul in its towering branches. I wept at its beauty and its love for me, waking up with tears streaming down my face. Twice I have met goddesses in dreams with life changing results. I have visited with the dead whose recurring messages for the living followed this theme: we love you. We’re rooting for you.
Note: Dreaming about zombies does not count as dreams about deceased loved ones.
In addition, I could not deny friends’ experiences, friends who loved their religion. Their religion (and yes, some of them were Catholic) loved people, loved God, and adopted a certain flexibility in this love, a positive questioning that I had not realized was acceptable. I didn’t think these friends deluded or suckers. They loved from a very different place. It mystified me and made me realize my narrow religious experiences had damaged my views of positive spirituality.
As much as I fought it, there came a point where I could no longer deny it — I was a spiritual person.
To this day, I have trouble defining what it means to be ‘a spiritual person.’ The very phrase makes me think of long-haired hippies smoking marijuana picking wildflowers and telling the tulip whose life they just snapped off the stem, “I love you, bro.”
Hrrrm. That’s not me.
While my spirituality evolves into new minty flavors of love, I remain a product of Catholic influence. One of these new flavors is a softening of feeling toward the religion I grew up with. I will never return to the Catholic Church, but I am now free to love the stories of Jesus, his compassion, his transformational love. I love the values my church-lovin’ family instilled in me. While I refuse to ignore the intense dysfunction in that fucked-up papal hierarchy, I also celebrate the love I had once known in that world.
So I wrote a book about it.
King Perry is truly autobiographical as I used to explore my current and past spirituality.
Perry’s plot line focuses on the best of Christianity, following one man’s selfless service to the kingdom of man, and how that ends in his unique ability to open the passage between death and life. Perry is abandoned on a mountain top (like Jesus) is transformed in three days (like Jesus) and adopts a new nickname, The Forgiver King (one of Jesus’ many honorary titles).
In fact, all three main characters have nicknames.
King Aabee = The Father King
Perry Mangin = The painter’s son / The Forgiver King.
Vin Vanbly = The Human Ghost
The Father, Son, and Ghost? Really, it doesn’t get more Christian than that.
King Perry celebrates the joy of true Christianity, returning to the greater love by acknowledging your vulnerable and broken truths aloud: I hurt. I’m scared. I’m lost. Turn to the rising son and face all of loving creation, eagerly awaiting your magnificent return.
I included dozens of Christian references throughout the story, allusions to heaven and hell, twice comparing Perry to Jesus. Hell, I even included a duck, the original animal associated with Christianity until the Church decided ducks do not possess enough dignity to represent Christ. Think of how much kinder, more relaxed the Catholic Church would be today if they had only embraced a goofy, earnest, waddling duck.
King Perry’s second plot line focuses on the very worst of Catholicism—a group of men who rape children and are never caught, never brought to justice. The kids who suffered through that trauma are left alone to recover from that shattering experience.
While I made no mention of direct or implied mention Catholicism or priests, I definitely intended this dark plot to consider the horror of abusing children. How can a religion meant to unite people with the greater universal love knowingly allow their most trusted officers to rape children in decade after decade of unreported abuse?
How can a loving person place spiritual trust in such damaged clergy?
It puzzles me to this day.
I am unable to resolve these polarities in my old faith. In fact, I summarized my conflicting feelings over being raised Catholic with the last two lines of the book: “Bear versus fish. Totally surreal.”
These days, I worry less how to define my own spirituality. I feel it. I nurture it. I ask myself questions like ‘does this action make me more loving or less so? Does this open my heart or shut it down?’ I like calling my spiritual entity “The Sparkling Spirit,” because in my life, it fucking sparkles, blinding me with laughter, goofiness, solitude.
My spirituality is snow sparkling at dawn and chilly summer nights writing on my back deck by candle light. In my world, The Sparkling Spirit encourages grief as a way to connect us to each other. The Sparkling Spirit also advises me to be hard like a diamond sometimes, demanding safe boundaries and protecting others.
I believe this Sparkling Spirit dances throughout King Perry as well, manifesting in a kingdom where every man is the one true king and every woman its one true queen. They play, they weep, they greet the dawn. All flavors of spirituality are welcome here—current Catholics, former Catholics, and every label in between. The only price for admittance is that you must love with all your love, no holding back.
Come and greet the dawn.
In addition to fiction, Edmond enjoys writing non-fiction on his blog, www.edmondmanning.com. When not writing, he can be found either picking raspberries in the back yard or eating panang curry in an overstuffed chair upstairs, reading comic books. You can find Edmond on Goodreads sometimes.