Thursday, September 28, 2006

Endings, and an interesting first step

I will be offline for a couple days - I am moving to Ohio, and the cable guys come today at noon to take the modem. So I will be more techno-deprived than I have been since I first came to Chicago, and waited for SBC to install my phone and DSL...

The lion's share of packing is ahead of me, and it will be two crazy days. ..

The interesting first step, though, came in an email from a fellow blogger. He had read that I was listening to the GCN Radio podcasts from, and noted that I had my address listed on my GCN profile as from the Toledo area. So he reached out by email and invited me to join a group of Toledo GCN members at a get-together tentatively planned for October.

That is very cool.

When I'd lived in Toledo previously, I'd always thought of it as a beer-&-a-shot autoworker's town, and never ever saw any signs of gay culture there. Sure, Columbus and Chicago had Gay Pride Parades, but never anything like that in Toledo. There were always the sly hints and slurs from other guys about this bar or that bar being "fag bars," but other than that, I had no idea.

So my goal had been to connect with the MCC church in Toledo (which, unfortunately, is all the way downtown, some 20-plus miles from where I will be) and see what gay life there might be either near the University of Toledo or near Bowling Green State University in nearby Bowling Green, Ohio. But those were pretty tenuous plans.

Now, at least, I have a name, and an email, of a real live fellow gay Christian. Wow.

So that's it, for now. I have "miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I leave," to steal a famous line. So I am off to laundry, and work, and packing galore. I should be back up and online late Sunday night from the cornfields surrounding the Glass City...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The struggle between faith and religion

A significant portion of this blog is about my journey coming out of decades of homophobia - much of it instilled by the institutional church. So it's not surprising that I find myself struggling between "finding faith" and "losing my religion." For gay people of faith, it's an ongoing journey of conflict and resolution. For me, sites like and the online magazine Whosoever have been real blessings to me.

In a recent post, my straight-and-accepting blogging sister, Penni at martha, martha, sounded like she was going through a similar challenge. While her "coming out" and mine are vastly different, they are also amazingly similar. And my first thought was, "Ah, dear sister, welcome to the party...."

The thing that the commenters on her post make very clear is that "losing my religion" (in one way or another) is part of the Catholic journey. (It's not exclusively Catholic - not at all. But more on that later on...)

I know that Henri Nouwen - a spiritual brother of mine - struggled with the Church's teaching on the Eucharist. When he taught at Yale he celebrated open Eucharist in the chapel basement every day. In one of the better Nouwen biographies, Wounded Prophet, the author describes how Nouwen struggled repeatedly with this issue...and, in the end, chose to walk his own path. He lived consistent with his calling, and within the greater community of the Church, while annoying many a bishop over his lifetime.

I don't want to seem like a single-issue guy, or that all religion needs to be seen through this topic, but the issue of gay priests in the Catholic communities is a big deal where I was from, up until recently.

I lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, which contained five seminaries within walking distance of each other, including the Catholic Theological Union (CTU) and about 2 dozen Catholic religious residences. Living in Lutheran seminary housing, my front window looked across the street at an Augustinian friary (I think that's the word for it), and we were just down the street from one of the larger Catholic congregations in the city. In short, you could hardly throw a rock and not hit a Catholic religious community member, at least on the second bounce.

And there were (and are) a lot of gay and lesbian Catholic religious folk in the area. Not just a few; a lot. After all, if your faith calls you to be celibate because of your sexuality, and your heart calls you to service to God, what better synergy, eh?

Every one of them have been struggling, evoking in some way the prayer first written by Martin Luther, and given voice by The Clash:

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

A very dear friend, and one of my "coming-out mentors," coordinated the RCIA rite for the parish served by CTU. His partner is a former Carmelite priest. You might find Tom's words interesting, even if they might deepen your struggle.

But this struggle between participating in "the church" and being authentic to one's faith and one's conscience is part of the wider Christian journey, too. My former ministry professor, Dr. Tex Sample, co-edited The Loyal Opposition: Struggling With The Church on Homosexuality. While he has held pro-gay beliefs all his life, he has been more vocal in the last several years, and it has cost him - in church consultations and speaking engagements, in friendships, in outright attacks on his worth as a Methodist minister. But he, and the many authors compiled in this volume, believe that there is a place for active resistance to the doctrines of the church, expressed out of love for the church.

For what it's worth, too, there is a distinctly Protestant concept known as adiaphora - things which are not central to one's core beliefs. For instance, the Lutheran seminary and the Presybterian seminary in Chicago shared facilities, worship space, and staff. They could do this because their respective ruling bodies affirmed that the ways in which the two groups agreed were deep and abiding, while our differences were on things which we did not hold to be at the core of our belief.

At my late stage in life, I find that every person whose faith goes beyond "Yes, Jesus loves me/the Bible tells me so" ends up having these struggles. I believe these struggles are at the heart of much of the emerging church activity - seeking relevance and authenticity while preserving (or building) community.

A good friend, Michael Housholder, pointed out that while the local church is frequently sinful, broken and both wounded and wounding, it is also the single best opportunity to be an instrument of God's grace in a given community. Even though I'm not a part of a church community right now, I want to be - and once I get moved, I hope to be. Because I miss the community, and I really think my friend Mike is right.

Forgive the (not-so-mini) mini-sermon, Penni. Know that you are not alone, and that "should I stay or should I go?" are just the two opposite extremes of a wide and rich rainbow of faithful participation and faithful resistance.

God's loving presence will continue to surround you, and your faith will uplift you, regardless how your relationship to "the religion" ends up. I believe that for you - because I believe it for me.

And my prayers will be rising up for you.

Friday, September 08, 2006

GCN Radio 1 - responding to stereotypes

"The Carpenters? Now that I get."

"You like the Carpenters....well, congratulations on your first OGT - 'obviously gay trait.' Mine are culinary skills, love of the Carpenters, and fear of all blood sports."
(Kevin to Dennis, in The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy)
On the website, there is a feature called GCN Radio. GCNR hosts Justin and Brian have been doing weekly internet broadcasts for several years, addressing issues for people who are both gay and Christian. About the last two years worth of their podcasts are available through iTunes, and more are available on their website.

I have a 45-minute commute from "the 'hood" (Chicago's Pullman neighborhood, at south 115th St. and the Dan Ryan Expressway) to the Evil Empire downtown by Union Station. So between going to and from work, and the 4 hours each way from Chicago to Toledo, I've found much to both smile about and reflect on from their broadcasts. It's not NPR or anything, but there's nuggets of fun and truth in each podcast. And as part of each broadcast, Justin and Brian ask a "question of the week" to encourage their listeners to reflect on a particular facet of gay life (especially gay Christian life).

Of course, I'm listening to these broadcasts in retrospect. So responding to the GCNR crew's questions-of-the-week a year or more later seems a wee bit stupid (or at least terminally behind-the-times). So I'm taking the time to respond to a variety of these topics over the next couple weeks here.

An interesting discussion on the November 11, 2005 GCN Radio podcast talks about a bunch of gay stereotypes. Their discussion barely more than breaks the surface - they start a list, which has a lot of the widely-discussed stereotypes:

- Music: of course, all gays love show tunes, Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Cher, Melissa Etheridge ...I'm sure you can add to the list
- Fashion: all gay men have a special gene that makes them fashionable, neat, organized and star hosts/hostesses - a' la the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy team
- Fitness - all gay men either are gym bunnies, or want to be
- Sex - promiscuity as the gay "gold standard;" all gay men are overly well endowed; all gay men in relationships want to be married; again, you can add to the list.

One of the references on the broadcast that made me snicker was the reference to lesbians and Home Depot - especially since more than one gay man has referred to that chain of stores as Homo Depot. I have to admit that if you're into "manly men," you can find them at Homo Depot - although I've never found anything yet to compare with the twink boi's of CDW (who share the building with the offices of The Evil Empire). A virtual sea of hotties...

Today, I had a personal "close encounter" with an old gay stereotype. I had worn a pink shirt - not because pink is "gay," but because I thought it looked good on me. (And, to be honest, it was clean, unwrinkled, and on top of the pile.) But one of my co-workers made a comment, basically saying, "Boy, Steve, you look good in pink - not that that makes you gay or anything." I smiled at her, and said, "Honey, I sure didn't need a shirt to tell me I was gay..."

I thought her jaw was going to hit the floor, bounce back and break a couple teeth. "YOU??" she all but yelled.

Yes, me, honey. It's not that big a deal...

Which gets me back to the topic. Let's face it - stereotypes are at least partially anchored in truth. That's how they get started. But an awful lot of all gay stereotypes are pure trash - and many of them really do a grave disservice to the gay community. An awful lot of gay stereotypes are fueled by traditional anti-gay fears and misinformation.

But so long as a significant portion of the gay community is hiding in the closet, what will endure in people's minds will be the stupidest of the gay stereotypes. There are some people (both straight and gay) who still really believe that I'm not gay - because I fit so few of the "traditional" stereotypes (being older, greying, heavy-set, definitely not overly-endowed or fashion-gifted in any way...). And, God help me, I bought into those same lies - that I couldn't be gay, because I didn't fit my own homophobic picture of what "gay" was...

That's really the central point of all this.

People won't know how far-off that the gay stereotypes are, and how fraudulent the idea of a "homosexual lifestyle" or "homosexual agenda" is, until we show them what gay life is like, by coming out and staying out and proud. Only when people see the truth - that we literally are all around them - will they stop believing in the old fantasies about gays and lesbians.

In this way, telling the truth really will set us free...