Sunday, March 20, 2005

Introduction: Judge tenderly of me...

This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me -
The simple News that Nature told -
With tender Majesty

Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see -
For love of Her - Sweet - countrymen -
Judge tenderly - of Me

- Emily Dickinson
This is the blog I never wanted to write. For years, and years, I never wanted it to come to this...I never, ever wanted to speak or write these words. But I no longer can hide them, no longer can deny them. It feels so silly to be admitting this now, when I am (as a kind friend said recently) "pushing fifty." But there are parts of my life that just are not going to heal, and parts of my faith life that will never really be true, unless I can be rigorously honest about me - all of me.

There's just no easy way to say this:

I am a gay man. A gay Christian man.

And yet, there it is.

Acknowledging that has been a long time coming...thirty-four years, at least. If not forty.

For some of those who know me, this is no fact, it's been a little embarrassing to learn how poorly I concealed my secret. And for some, this will be a big surprise, evoking all kinds of reactions. For now, all I can say is bear with me - I'm working through this slowly, step by stumbling step. This posting is an ever-evolving document to help me - and perhaps, those who have known me - to understand why I'm finally talking about this now.

I've tried to be so open about so much of my life (especially my struggles in recovery) but somehow I never found the courage to take the last step of rigorous honesty, and "come out" to anyone - even the people I love. There's a lot of reasons for that - many of which I'll explore in other writings here. But the two main reasons I've never come out are simply
- I never wanted to be gay, and
- I was waiting for God to heal me - to fix me, to make me "right."
Ever since I've known I had this orientation, at least one silent prayer has always been, "God, please - make me straight, heterosexual, whatever the hell "normal" is. Help me desire what people tell me is Your natural order, OK? If being straight is really Your will, then please - let it be done, and let it be done quickly. I'm ready to go. I'll suit up, show up, and try to play the part - fake it 'till you make it, they say. OK. I'm ready when you are..."

And up until recently, if I had the choice, I still wouldn't have chosen to be gay. Let's face it - on the surface, given society as it is, and the consequences of living as a gay man in it, who the hell would?

(As you'll see, I'm coming, slowly, to feel differently. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly...)

For more than three decades, I prayed that "fix me!" prayer. And the only thing that has happened is that I ended up more lonely, more sick of living a lie, and more desperately "apart from" the world than I have ever been. To be honest, at first I just got tired of waiting on what I thought was God's provision. Now, I'm coming to understand that "waiting to be fixed" is not part of God's provision at all. And I'm tired of despising myself in the process. (And, to be honest, if an angel showed up with a magic pill today, I'm not sure I'd take it....but more on that later.)

For seven long years, as I experienced a true call to a life in ministry, I was ready to give it all up. sounds stupid now, but at the time it made perfect sense. I'd deny my sexuality, abandon any hope of intimate relationships just as a priest would, and just continue to live the lie that I'd been working on my whole life. For all those years, I really, honestly felt that it would better to live acting as a gay-friendly member of the "straight" clergy (who might be able to build bridges and soften hearts) than as an openly-gay clergyman (who would just seem to be pushing his own agenda). After all, the rules of my faith community insisted on celibacy outside of marriage - so either way, sex was out. So why not be of service, eh?

Well, that road is closed, for now - seemingly for good. (And for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with my sexuality. According to the rules of my denomination - if not their standing practice and tradition - I could have been ordained as a celibate gay man. We can argue later about how likely that might have been...)

Regardless, I'm coming to believe that God is healing me (though so far, that healing is coming in a much different form than I ever anticipated). I'm gingerly exploring a radical idea: that God gave me this faith, this knowledge, this training, and this "time apart" to face the truth of my homosexuality, to come to accept myself as His child in this way, and to find a way to be a voice for the untold numbers of gay Christians who are tired of hiding, tired of living in the shadows, tired of denying what God would have them be.

I don't know when I "knew" I was gay...but I certainly knew something was different with my sexuality at 14, when guys I knew and trusted were talking about making out with girls, and I wasn't gettin' it. Thank God, I never actually asked any of my buddies, "What's the big deal?" - but I thought it a lot. Soon enough, I figured out that I should be feeling something different - and wasn't. God knows, I tried to act and feel different (and left a lot of emotional wreckage in my wake in the process). Sometimes, I thought it was working - but in the end, it never did.

So at this late stage of the game, I can testify to this: no matter how much I have tried, no matter how much I have wanted it to "work," I have never, ever had even a naturally-occuring thought of true sexual attraction to women...ever. Now, I have tried to manufacture those feelings - with friends, girfriends, my former wife, you name it. I tried desperately, and often. And I really, really, really wanted it to work - and often made myself believe that it had worked - but it never truly did.

Nope. Not once. Like I say...I have tried. A lot.

If that's true, that also means there has really never been a moment of my life when I have not been homosexual. I never "abandoned natural relations with women" (Romans 1:27a, NIV)... because I never had anything to abandon. I was never, ever "there" to begin with. As rigorously honest as I can be, I am coming to believe I began life this way.

I don't think that the majority of Christians can even conceive of this as a possibility - much less believe it.

That's why I'm taking these ever-so-gentle first steps through the closet door - because I find I can no longer remain silent. In the war of words and ideas on homosexuality, there seems to be two main sides:
- the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, & transgendered) community, many of whom are in stable, committed relationships (or want to be), who are not sex-&-drug-crazed "circuit boys," who simply understand that they are different, and just want the chance to live and relate to each other openly and honestly, like the rest of the world; and on the other side,

- a significant majority of Christians, who seem convinced that homosexuals (a) have chosen this orientation, (b) have chosen "the homosexual lifestyle" (including indiscriminate sex and drug abuse), (c) are going to hell because of it, and (d) are determined to take all of decent society with them.
In reality, there are probably at least three other groups:
- Christians and non-Christians alike who either do not have an opinion, or who agree with the gay community, but don't want to get in between the first two groups (for any number of reasons);

- Loving, committed, faithful Christians (both straight and gay), who truly believe that actively gay and Christian are not incompatible, and who are willing to speak out about it; and

- Closeted members of the GLBT community who truly want to believe that their homosexuality, their faith, and their lives as equal members of the world community are real, valid, and intimately intertwined. These are people who feel they have to live their lives hiding in the church while trying to find a way of life and faith, but unable to even ask about the topic - for fear of "outing themselves," and being cast from the community of faith.
For years, I consciously chose to be a member of that last group. And that's why I'm writing - and praying - about all of this.

I'm still a Christian. I'm still an alcoholic in recovery. I'm a middle-aged former corporate slave who ditched his former life to come to seminary in Chicago. (For a number of reasons - none having anything to do with my sexuality - I had to drop out for the forseeable future.)

And I'm a gay man.

Coming from the 12-step communities (primarily Alcoholics Anonymous), I've found this truth: you can argue with my ideas, you can argue with my philosophy, you can argue with my dogmas and concepts and beliefs. But in the end, the only absolutely concrete thing I have to offer is my experience, strength, and hope. You may not like my experience; you can choose to ignore or deny my experience. But in the end, the only reality I have is contained in my experience - and my faith. And that's what I'm going to try to share in this digital "great adventure."

Now, at this point, I have heard non-Christian people say to other gay friends of mine, "Hey - haven't you been listening to your so-called 'Christian' friends? Your so-called faith says that you are an abomination, and that you should be cut off from the world, you stupid moron. How can you have a faith that claims that you should cease to exist? Why bother?"

It's a valid question. It's one I've wrestled with ever since I started going back to church. And it's at least one reason why I've stayed in the closet as long as I have. There are many, many answers to this - but here's a few, for now:

First, I'm not doing any of the things that would get me labeled "abomination." In fact, as of this writing, I have not "lain with" anyone - male or female - for eleven long years. My only sexual experiences with a man were more than 20 years ago - and the person involved was so ashamed, he ultimately committed suicide, rather than doing what I am doing right now. So let's clear one thing up: I am not "coming out" because I've found some hot guy to "do the nasty with," or because I have found some special someone to skip down some gay "lovers' lane." Tragically (again, at least for now) nothing could be further from the truth.

Second, and more importantly, as a Christian, I have affirmed the Bible as the inspired word of God. As a seminarian, I affirmed the Bible as the inspired word of God - first, to a specific community in a specific time, and second, as a guide to faith and action. But there are enough valid questions about the translations and intentions of the texts I quoted, and others (even by straight theologians, who have no percentage in "perverting Scripture") to give me hope. I'll be exploring those as I go along.

Thirdly, as a gay Christian, my homosexuality calls into question beliefs about the very nature of creation, about God's power and goodness, about the nature of sin, the essence of humanity, and about God's love for all creation (even me). How can I be an abomination and yet be fearfully and wonderfully made?

John 3:16 (that phrase that so many folks spout at the drop of a hat) says that "God so loved the world" - not the straight world, but the whole world.

Regardless what Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, or anyone else says, I am a child of "the world" that Jesus came to save. I am a part of the created order of the world. I didn't choose this; I have just been this way - forever. And I am slowly coming to believe that God can and does loves me, and desires me to have a relationship with me - just as I am. I've been told - by people who seem to know - that God wants me to be "happy, joyous and free." I don't believe that God wants me denying what I am, rejecting sexuality as I am drawn to it, and hiding the truth about who and what I am from the world. I cannot believe that I would be created homosexual, and then told to abstain from "that sinful life." Even though I have done just that, out of fear...for decades.

The 2nd step of the 12-step recovery program says that we "came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." A friend recently told me that he'd heard "sanity" described as the ability to work, play, and love - successfully, and in balance. So it seems that my adventure will be to discover how a a gay man can reconcile the love of God and the promise of salvation in Christ as revealed in the Bible with the ability to work, play, and love as a "practicing" homosexual.

Ultimately, some will say this is impossible. But I have to believe that the God of my misunderstanding is way, way bigger than that.

As of the day I first wrote this, I was a long, long way from "out." For another while, I could count on both hands the number of folks who knew that I'm gay. Now I'm out to a few more people, but still struggling through the closet door. So forgive my fear and struggling - but for the time being, this will be an anonymous blog. I long for the day when I can strip that cloak of anonymity away - but for now, this is just survival, one day at a time.

If I've sent you the link to this site, you know who I am...and I'd ask you to help me preserve that anonymity, until I'm ready to break it. No one else can - or should - be "outing" me until I'm ready to do that. (I'm not silly enough to think it won't happen - but I can at least ask...)

If you're still with me, welcome to the journey.
Judge tenderly of me...

(last updated November 20, 2005)