Monday, December 24, 2007

The gift of right answers

Merry Christmas, everyone. It's been interesting - I've had the chance to interact with a number of gay brothers on the internet, and I find the voices of those who have been my "border collies" on the journey coming through me. It's nice to have some experience, strength and hope to share - for so long, I thought I would be in a perpetual state of taking, rather than giving. This one event showed me otherwise....

So, I have been communicating on and off with Kevin through the beauty of the Internet. I've never met him, but we have a shared history in closeted ministry. He's still in it, as a church musician. This was the pertinent part of a much longer conversation...

I am attending a church that I am, well, very confused about. I thought I could move ahead, but am back at Home Base AGAIN!

Same ole, same ole, if I behave myself and don't end up in the sack with a man, or don't have contact with Gay men, my Pastor is smiling...but if I should do the "naughty" that means, my conscience is wrought up with fear, anxiety and torment, I will go running into his office, and then after fessin up, it will be "discipline" (no playing piano.)

I can't be myself, and I am sadly unable to explain it to ANY of you at GCN, or myself, this fear always in the back of my mind that one being Gay, basically means doctrinally to the church I attend, "you are not truly Saved" and have "back-slidden" and you have "fallen-away" or are falling away, if you "PRACTICE..."
This is not the first, or the third, time he's shared with us about this. People were doing what they so often do - "there, there, it will be all right..." And I just couldn't go along with that (my spiritual mentors in gay life didn't raise me up that way)...and this was the result:

Well, Kevin, some others have shared some great things with you. Here's perhaps a different take...

For much of my life, I have gone to people for help who were almost completely unequipped to help me. I kept going to drowning people for swimming lessons, and then get angry when all I hear is "glub, glub glub"!

One classic example of this was going to straight pastors and friends, in homophobic organizations or churches (or at best don't-ask-don't-tell ones) for help understanding faith in God and Christ as a gay man. And then I'd be left wondering why my faith was so undermined and why I'd stayed closeted for so long...

That's not to say that you can't continue to be a music minister in a straight church - God knows, if we took away all the GLBT music ministers, musicians and choir directors, it'd be pretty quiet in church on Sunday mornings! But in almost every situation, I truly don't believe you can be ministered-to as a gay man of faith by straight people. It's like trying to have a blind man tell Cezanne how to paint a still life - ain't gonna work, baby.

Even the most open and welcoming straight pastors simply do not understand gay sexuality or relational drives. And most Christian pastors have heard, forever and ever, that the worst sins that can be committed are sexual sins (regardless of orientation), and the worst among them are the gay sexual sins.

So when you come to your straight pastor, with his straight community and background, and try to talk about relationships with guys (even platonic ones), he's naturally gonna act like you've run into a gasoline tank farm with a flame-thrower. In many cases, it's not their fault - it's just how they were raised, how they were trained, and how they understand the world.

The hardest thing I had to hear - time and time and time again - is that
what others think of me is none of my damn business. I have had to accept how I am, regardless if anyone else is going to like me or accept me. As a wonderful gay Catholic priest once told me, "God's grace is available to everybody in the room - and believe it or not, you are in the room."

You may be able to continue serving this congregation - but some good advice would be to seek spiritual counsel from a gay pastor or counselor, or at an open and affirming church. And stop going to straight people for acceptance of gay relationships - unless you really, really like getting spanked. Because, in 85-90% of the cases, that's all they know.

Picking up some of the books in the GCN recommended literature will help - especially Mel White's Stranger at the Gate and a copy of The Children Are Free by Jeff Miner and Tyler Conolley. I also found these books which are NOT on our "recommended list" to be helpful -
  • Chris Glaser's Uncommon Calling: A Gay Christians' Struggle to Serve The Church
  • Is The Homosexual My Neighbor? A Positive Christian Response by Scanzoni and Mollenkott
  • Many Members Yet One Body: Committed Same Gender Relationships and the Mission of the Church by Craig Nessan
  • The Church and the Homosexual by John J. McNeill
While Nessan's book is more geared to ELCA Lutherans (leading up to the 2007 national conference) and McNeill's books are heavily influenced by Catholic dogma, they were still very helpful to me in understanding the battles and in helping me to find comfort as one of God's gay kids.

Straight people - and the straight church - only know straight life, and that's all they have to recommend to you, in most cases. I thank God, every day, for the gift of a group of gay Catholics in the community of recovery in Chicago - priests, monks, and lay people - who helped ease me into acceptance of myself as a gay man and as a child of God. And then for a group of straight people at seminary who understood that there was room at the table for everyone, regardless of orientation.

If you're looking for acceptance, check with "family" first. It's easier to live with the rest of the world once you can find peace with yourself as one of us first. That's certainly been my experience, anyway. I never would have made it any other way.

/end sermon/

I'll continue to pray for you, Kevin. Keep talking, keep asking, keep seeking, and pray your you-know-what off.

My dear friend Tom once told me I'd come to understand how the established straight church hurt me, as a closeted gay man, over the years. Guess I'm getting the lesson. Thanks, Tom and Michael, for the gift of honesty about my closeted past. "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free..."

That freedom is the greatest gift of all. And no wrapping required...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Catchin' up on love

Well, it has been a busy month in northwest Ohio, and in Springfield, Missouri, to be sure...

Chris (the formerly completely anonymous Guy) came here the first weekend in November. Stayed at a El Cheapo motel nearby, so as not to spook the Straight Folks I live with. It was an amazing weekend - showing Chris around town, introducing him to places and spaces that were important. When he got in from his fifteen-hour bus ride, we had Tony's Ribs (mm mm mm mm mmmmmmmm yummy) and then went to the Art Museum. Got there late, got to see a cool glass-blowing exhibition, and generally walked around the Museum hand-in-hand (not a lot of places you can do that comfortably in Toledo, sadly).

Saturday, we went for a drive along the Maumee River, talking of everything under the sun. Took pictures of each other - as usual, mine were all eyes-shut (I don't know what it is about that...) but it was good, nonetheless. Then we had an early Thanksgiving dinner, complete with Our Family's Stuffing (somewhere between stuffing and meatloaf, unbelievably savory), and an evening of playing turkey-foot (an old dominos strategy game).

This was the first time my family had seen me with someone in a romantic way in, oh, 16, almost 17 years. (The one exception to that was when my dear friend Norma and I came in to Ohio to see the 40th anniversary Peter, Paul & Mary concert in Cleveland - but that, sadly, was more friends than not.) It was also the first time that they'd really seen me openly "gay" - actually with another man who was more than a friend. Hell, it was only the 2nd weekend in my life that I had been with another man - so it was pretty amazing, all the way around.

And they were absolutely A-OK with it, for which I was thankful. I showed Chris how to make gravy, which turned out just great, and he pitched in just like he'd always been there. He managed to win at turkey-foot, too - which my sisters and brothers-in-law won't hold against him for long.

We went to St. Mark's Episcopal Church downtown - a big ol' Episcopal church with a long history of being gay-friendly. And it was - there were couples of every mixture, and it felt amazing to sit in church and hold my boyfriend's hand and just be in God's family as a gay couple. That was an amazing experience, even if the service itself isn't what I would have chosen. The freedom to be ourselves "in church" was a new experience for me, to be sure.

Breakfast at the Star Diner (a feast, to be sure), followed by a ride seeing the colors in the Old West End. Reveling in God's glory...

And then it was time for him to go.

We sat in the Greyhound station, talking about everything but the impending arrival of The Bus, which was verboten because if we talked about that we were both going to cry, and neither one of us were ready to do that...

It became real obvious that this relationship was something way more than "you're nice company, I'm nice company, and we have fun together." As the bus pulled away, I followed in my car until they pulled off onto I-75...about half blind with tears.

It'd been a long, long time since I've felt that strongly about anyone, or anything. Felt pretty damn good, too...

Flash forward - Chris' housemate was going to be gone the week after Thanksgiving. Both of us couldn't take time off from work, but both of us wanted to spend time together. Since my work can be done from anywhere, the answer popped out of a slot. So back on the bus - this time, MegaBus through Chicago, to St. Louis - and a week of "playing house" in Missouri.

It was more real-life - the work-world stress crept into the relationship, and there were a lot of "what's wrong, babe?..." questions on his part. But there were great times - dinners with two of Chris' good friends, and an evening of cooking up zucchini-sausage soup that was an adventure for the kitchen-impaired boy...

It was magical. And we both knew it was going to be just as hard to say goodbye, if not more so. And then it happened.

The house Chris and his housemate own, which has been on the market for seven months...sold. "Under contract," as they say.

And the questions began, for Chris. What's holding him there, what would he do? What would WE do?

That's when he asked me...what I thought of him moving to Toledo.

I was blown away. After all, I moved to Toledo because I felt I had to, for the kids. I don't think I would have come here otherwise. But here he was, in my arms, saying he was ready to move to Northwest Ohio...for me. Just for me.

Holy shit, Batman.

My mind, which tends to run to the negative, saw all the reasons why it probably wouldn't work. But arrayed against all the nay-saying voices was the fact that this man wanted to be with me. And I wanted to be with him. Not just for a weekend. And not to "move in together," at least not yet. But I sure didn't want this to continue to be a long-distance relationship (it's expensive, to be honest).

The second movie we saw together was Transformers (which is just a fun piece of film, to be honest). When Sam and Megan (the two teen protagonists) encounter the Autobots for the first time, they are faced with a driverless Camaro whose door swings open to invite them in...

Sam: It wants us to get in the car!
Megan: And go WHERE?!?....
Sam: Fifty years from now, when you're looking back at your life, don't you want to be able to say you had the guts to 'get in the car'?...
Yes. I sure do...

And so it begins.

He is looking for an apartment and a job long-distance. I am trying to help him find the lay of the land, and find a decent (and affordable) place to live in between the Evil Empire's demands. Part of me is terrified - afraid of the weight of my past relational failures.

But a large part of me is singing hosanna's and torch songs and can't wait and is willing to leap tall buildings...

What a day this has been, what a rare mood I'm in
Why it's almost like being in love

There's a smile on my face for the whole human race
Why it's almost like being in love

All the music of life seems to be
Like a bell that is ringing for me

And from the way that I feel when the bell starts to peel
I would swear I was falling, I could swear I was falling
- It's almost like being in love.

("Almost Like Being In Love," from Lerner & Lowe's Brigadoon)
Yeah, exactly like it, in fact.

Maybe this is insane. Maybe you can't find your true love on a first date on a random chance. But for now, I'm ready to seize the day. Carpe diem. Dive in for all it's worth.

And just "get in the car."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Travelin' prayer

Hey Lord, won'tcha look around tonight
Find where my baby's gonna be
Hey Lord, won'tcha look out for him tonight
'Cause he's so far away from me
Hey Lord, won'tcha look out for him tonight
Make sure everythin's gonna be alright
Until he's home and here with me...

So, The Guy is getting on a Greyhound tonight at 11:30 CT to make the 15-plus hour ride to Toledo. He'll be at the station early, but that doesn't mean there aren't at least two more chances (St. Louis and Dayton) to have the "leave the driving to us" folks screwing up travel.

Years ago, I heard Billy Joel's Travelin' Prayer on his Piano Man CD (well, to be honest, I heard it on the LP...). I've always had a love for that song, but never thought I'd ever want to be singing it myself. Let alone singing it for a man, who's as eager to see me as I am for him...

I'm singin' it now, though.

Prayers for traveling mercies and a blessed weekend would be welcome. This will be the first time my family has seen me with anyone - let alone a man - in years. So we have an early Thanksgiving dinner and lots of turkey-foot (a dominos strategy game) to play on Saturday with both sisters and their husbands. It will be interesting...

So here, for "C", is my prayer tonight...

And - hopefully - tomorrow night's torch-song...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Torch songs and Greyhounds

It started off slow.

I'd had my photo and personal ad on a website for "men of larger girth" - cued by a friend from GCN who'd heard me whining about not dating one too many times. And my face - the face I'd struggled so much to accept the looks of, the one in the mirror - caught the eye of someone. (Thank you, Tim B., for that trio of head-shots - they did wonders!)

Actually, the photo and the personal ad caught the attention of a not-inconsiderable number of someones, to be honest. There were lots of folks who wanted to talk dirty, and act dirtier - the typical man-pigs who show up on any dating/hookup site. It wasn't surprising, exactly, except that they found me to be attractive. Despite being sorely tempted to "just do it" with someone/anyone (Hey, I'm not made of stone, here...), I blew off 99 percent of the responses.

But there was one person who did not want to talk about endowment, or positions, or in fact anything physical. It was refreshing:

Well I just finished reading your ad and I have to be honest your pic is what really drew me to it. Then as I read it I was very impressed of what you said. Wow you are a very nice looking man and had so many nice and straight forward things to say in your ad. You seem very down to earth and I would love to chat sometime.
So we did. Chatted first by email, then by phone, then by Yahoo Messenger.

I'm glad we did it that, phone, then visual. We wrote, chatted, then IM'd and finally got to "meet" via instant-messaging web-cam. There was no lewdness (although I admit to considerable teasing on my part), but just friendly chat.

And I really started to feel connected. Connected in a way I had all but forgotten how to feel. It was amazing; in the space of a week I was 50-going-on-16, with every insane impulse roaring in my ears.

I made a decision - a decision somewhere between Carpe Diem and what the hell, why not? - to go meet this person. Problem was, he was in Springfield, Missouri, and I'm in Toledo, Ohio. The first 1400 miles, round trip, were the big problem - but not for a crazed 16-year-old in a fifty-year-old's body, eh? Too much money to fly, too much wear-n-tear on the car (and too much gas) to drive. The answer just popped out of a slot: Leave the driving to us, they said.

Ninety-eight dollars later, I was on a weekend round-trip run via Greyhound Bus from Toledo, to Dayton thru Indianapolis and Effingham to St. Louis, and thence to Springfield. Seize the day, eh?

I left Thursday afternoon, and had a series of not-quite-excellent adventures (the kind you can only have on a series of Greyhound buses populated with oddballs, genteel schizophrenics and good ol' girls, as Gamble Rogers would say). Fifteen hours later - almost 9:30 AM CT, I arrived in Springfield's bus station.

And there he was.

First surprise: he was taller than I expected - he's about 2 inches taller than me. Second surprise: he was much better looking in person than he appeared on camera, which wasn't surprising - 640x480 resolution on those web-cams doesn't do much for a person's appearance.

What I absolutely was unprepared for was the look of delight on his face. Not lust, not let-me-rip-your-clothes off (which, to be honest, I might have accepted at face value, at that point). A look that said, "This is absolutely amazing...just what I have been waiting for..."

I will confess, I have seen that look a time or two. I've seen it on the face of straight men meeting their dream dates; I've seen it on the faces of couples getting married, or going on Marriage Encounter weekends. I've seen it a lot, directed at other people.

But it's been a long, long damn time since I've felt that look directed at me. An impossibly long time. (I admit, freely, that it might well have have been directed at me, but I just didn't feel it in the same way...)

We both had obligations. He went off to work; I set up my PC and spent the day working from my motel room (ah, the joys of a virtual employee!). The delays in bus schedules meant that it was almost 10 AM before I got online. And I tried to stay focused, but I took the time to post this prayer request on GCN:
10-19-07 06:55 PM

Tonight, amazingly, I am having my first date with a guy.

I mean, my first date ever with a man. Ever. Boy, this coming-out late in life stuff is a real rollercoaster! Who'dve ever thunk it?

Our meeting was completely by chance. He's a Christian. Cute as can be. And he sought me out - which is something I never believed would ever, ever happen.

And all of a sudden I'm 50 going on 16. (God help me, even my face has started breaking out again!)

Dinner and a movie. Transformers. Heaven help me, but this is going to be "transforming," alright!

It's really easy to think of this as the breakthrough after thirty-five years of accumulated closeted loneliness. But I'm trying to think of it more simply - it's just dinner and a movie. I've been doing this with women for years.

But there's just one difference, of course. I've never felt for THEM anything like I feel about him.... I feel like a blind man whose sight has just been restored, standing around saying, "WOW! So THAT'S what you meant by candy-apple red! That's just amazing! And look at that!...."

God, grant me the serenity to just be me, to relax and take it easy, and enjoy the night without expectations....

...and to not faint dead away if I get kissed good night...

Pray for me, boys and girls.
In response, I got a lot of affirming prayers, and this little piece of advice from a brother in Delhi, India:
Oh my! How our little ones grow up... I wonder whether it's time for us to worry about them...

OK, here are the rules:
  1. At the theatre, if he uses the *yawn - stretch - hand behind your shoulder* move - let him
  2. Don't finick about who pays for what (not on the first date)
  3. Footsie under the dinner table is acceptable (but no fondling crotches with the toes)
  4. No need to go "all the way" on the first night - leave some mystery for the next one
  5. But for God's sake, if you HAVE to, use protection
  6. If #4, then you'd better be back by midnight, young man!
  7. If #5, I'd suggest making breakfast together the next morning
It was remarkably good advice, it seems.

As I told my prayer partners, apparently it was the answer to all of their prayers. It certainly was the answer to mine!

Transformers was sold out - so the alternative was the latest Harry Potter movie (dodges lightning bolts from Christian right about THAT, too). The movie was great - and he did insist on sitting close to the screen, so he could hold my hand during the show. (I can hear the collective "awww..." coming here.)

Dinner was fancy Chinese, swapping stories from our youth, our family, our coming-out adventures, with enough similarities to make things amazing. We were the last ones out of the restaurant...

And yes, he kissed me good night. And yes, the temptation to pass out was there, but I summoned enough strength to invite him into my hotel room to return the favor...

No protection was needed, and there's plenty of magic still to explore - but it still was unbelievable. I'd preloaded my iPod with every torch-song in my collection - everything from Mama Cass' classic "Dream A Little Dream of Me" to Ethel Merman's "I Got Lost in His Arms" from Annie Get Your Gun, which scored an "O" for over-the-top romantic. It was nice to see I still had it in me...

One particular romantic fantasy I had fulfilled that night was one I'd seen at the tail end of the British coming-out DVD Beautiful Thing. The two boys who'd fallen for each other end up slow dancing to Mama Cass's classic Dream A Little Dream of Me. And it felt every bit as good as it looked...

Before the rest of the weekend's gathering the next day, he DID take me out for breakfast, and later on, a drive out into the country around Springfield. And it just got more magical every moment. Saturday after events were over, we finally got to see Transformers, and to indulge in what my British "mates" might have called "a bit of a snog-fest."

Sunday, we were at worship together, followed by breakfast and Steel Magnolias. (Yes, I just admitted that I'm gay, 50 years old, and hadn't seen Steel Magnolias yet. Deal with it. I can check that box now, my gay card is secure again.)

The good/bad part is that I now know what I've been missing for 30 years - which will likely make me more of a coming-out advocate than ever before. The good part is that my date weekend proved that all the thoughts I had about having "missed the boat" relationally was, well, hogwash. "I Got Lost In His Arms," indeed...

The bus-ride home got off to a bad start - the 5:00 PM bus was sold out, so I didn't get rolling home until 12:30 AM. We went back to his house, where we saw Steel Magnolias and tried to find a way to say goodbye. (It was not easy, by any means.) He took me back to the Greyhound station (a nice one, as GH stations go), and we talked until 12:30 AM, when I finally got on the bus. A farewell kiss - or 12 - and he was on his way, and I was on mine.

This last week has been more conversations, more love songs, more of what a friend calls "moogly googly behavior" in spades. I'm utterly astounded; as several people would attest, I was absolutely certain of my complete physical undesirability. Now that this guy has spent much of a weekend with me, and video-chatting nightly, and has not run away screaming (in fact, has been more affectionate than ever), I have objective evidence that, as a friend says, "I Was Right, I Was Wrong All Along."

So he calls me the middle of last week: "How about me coming up for Thanksgiving?"

How will that work, I ask. You're a retail manager at a hobby store - you're not going to get the day after Thanksgiving off! Well, let me do some checking, he says. That night, he says, well, actually the schedule has changed, and I won't have Saturdays off after November 10th. So how about next weekend?

Well, how 'bout it, indeed...

So he is poised to take The Greyhound Adventure to Toledo, arriving this Friday afternoon. I'm once again astonished. And giddy. And scared. And delighted.

I know - the conventional wisdom on long-distance relationships is that they rarely end up happily. I know, this might be considered unseemly behavior for someone I've known one weekend. On the surface, it sounds insane. But I've had two friends in sobriety die in the last month - one just dropped over walking out of a meeting last Thursday. I don't know if I have the time to be prim and proper and "go courting." I've waited 30 years - 16 of them sober, 12 of them completely celibate - for this to happen. So I'm in "full-speed ahead" mode.

If this were just unbridled lust, I wouldn't have to do this. After all, there are plenty of people who are on That Website from right around here who would love to "just do the nasty." And I mean this way, that way, every which way but loose. But it just ain't that; it's just not about "tab-A and slot-B" (although I would be lying if that were not a component, and several caring friends have already had The Talk with me about "safety").

If it was just physical, it would have ended last weekend. The combination of my diabetes and high blood pressure made sure that my animal-passionate responses stayed mostly in my head and heart, sadly. And I wouldn't call it "true love" yet - it's not been long enough to even know about that. But there are hopes in that direction...and only time will tell on that one. Like a good souffle', it won't be rushed.

But I think what comes closest is what The Eagles called a peaceful, easy feelin.' Our communications are open, and honest, and I'm not holding anything back. Our internet contact is not (as one friend calls it) "typing one-handed," and our conversations are about both fun and serious and teasing and affectionate.

The quest for torch-songs and slow-dancing continues; he wants to attend an open AA meeting to see what that's all about (he will never, ever qualify, that I can see). We will have a turkey dinner (an "early Thanksgiving") with the family, which will be interesting in itself - they have not seen me in any kind of relationship (straight or gay) since my divorce 16 years ago, and have never seen me express any affection for a man in public. So this will be a revelation, in more ways than one.

Back when I first came out to my Christian friends on my other blog, I used the chorus of a song by worship leader Chris Tomlin, called The Way I Was Made. I believe that I'm doing now what I really wanted to do back in high-school, back in college - what I spent so much time, effort and wreckage hiding - living the way I was made. I can only trust that the One who brought me this far has not brought me to this point to drop me on my fat white butt.

So any prayers - for discernment, for restraint when needed, for abandon when appropriate, for peace among the family, and for travel mercies for The Guy - will be deeply appreciated.

Monday, October 15, 2007

To dream the impossible dream...

Hi, I saw your personal ad here and I must say you're a very attractive man - just my type.
Well I just finished reading your ad and I have to be honest your pic is what really drew me to it. Then as I read it I was very impressed of what you said. Wow - you are a very nice looking man and had so many nice and straight forward things to say in your ad. You seem very down to earth and I would love to chat sometime.


I know a lot of men who have heard those words.

But I have to admit in all honesty - and my friends Tom and Michael can attest to this - I never in a bazillion years expected to be one of them.

Half on a dare, half out of a sense of desperate, desperate loneliness, I succumbed to a friend's suggestion and posted my picture and a statement about myself and my level of experience with men (zero over the last 2 decades, plus or minus 10%) to a men-for-men website, and hit "submit."

And then the responses started pouring in.

And now I'm 50, going on 16 all over again. Even my acne is acting up again - it's unbelievable.

Guys wanting to meet me. Dating - what the hell is that? The last time I had a date (with anyone of either gender) it was with a woman in 1994. The last time I went on a formal "date," George W. Bush's father was president, people.

And I find myself in the same place a lot of 16 year olds would be - should I be 'good,' or should I 'have fun'? Several guys - strangely good looking ones - have proposed doing things with me (and to me) that I wouldn't have imagined outside of a porn site. If I spend any time channeling the inner 16-year-old, I get my answer pretty quick...

But I'm 50 - I know better. Sex without some kind of friendship/relationship is just masturbating into someone else's body. But I'm 50 - and celibate - and that doesn't sound so terribly bad, right now. "If you're going to sin, sin boldly," I guess....

But my celibacy has probably also bought me my life - we were talking at our GLBT AA group how awful it was to be sober and GLBT in the 80's, when huge portions of the gay community were wiped out by AIDS. "Safe sex" isn't just about not having babies, as it was with women - it's about not having an awful, fatal disease. Compliance has a MUCH higher price, these days.

The answer is "take it slow, think it through - meet 'n' greet, first, then think some more."

And pray...God is in this mess, somewhere...I'm sure of that. There are just days when I'd really prefer He not be, sometimes.

Growing up - yet again - in public is never a fun thing. But, as Keith L. was asked by his sponsor 20 years ago, on a similar topic, "Of all the problems you have, which one is going to be more fun to work on?...."

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What have you done today....?

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

This week marks National Coming Out Day, October 11th. That makes it an appropriate time for me to coming out from under my gay blogging rock, and step back into the sunshine. There will be more, but this is a baby-step back out of the darkness...

This YouTube video is both a tribute to the Showtime series Queer As Folk and a showcase for Heather Small's great anthem, "Proud." The first time I heard the song was the remix version in the very last scene of the last season of QAF. Judging from the output on YouTube, it has become a gay pride anthem since it came out - though the original video was more focused on racial pride than not.

I have to admit that, while QAF embodied much that was near-pornographic, and was hardly the best model of gay life for much of the gay community, it was also one of the first "mainstream" depictions of gay culture that I'd ever seen. It was one of the first really clear cracks in the wall of my denial. After all, how many straight men are willing to admit they've even watched a scene from Queer As Folk, let alone owning an entire season's DVDs?

So as we start this week, I offer you Heather Small's "ballad" version of this great song, along with this 5 season retrospective from a ground-breaking cable TV series...

I look into the window of my mind
Reflections of the fears I know I've left behind
I step out of the ordinary
I can feel my soul ascending
I'm on my way
Can't stop me now
And you can do the same
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
(It's never too late to try)
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
You can be so many people
If you make that break for freedom
What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Still so many answers I don't know
I realize that to question is how we grow
So I step out of the ordinary
I can feel my soul ascending
I'm on my way
Can't stop me now
And you can do the same

Monday, August 27, 2007

The ELCA, gays, and Camp Out

Well, it has been a busy and challenging month in the wilds of Waterville, Ohio, boys and girls. I've been dealing with a rather untreated case of life, and so my writing on this blog has suffered. (I haven't done so hot on the Ragamuffin side of the house, either - but I've done better over there...)

So here we are, catching up on a couple big-ticket items that happened in the almost 2 full months of gay life that's gone by since my last post.

Camp Out - This documentary is about the first-every gay Christian bible camp for teens! It's a great story - full of angst and hope and joy. It was broadcast on the Logo gay network a while ago, but for those of you who (like me) are Logo-channel impaired, here is the link to see the documentary online!

It's fascinating to see this now, because one of the primary movers behind this camp is Rev. Jay A. Wiesner, a gay ELCA pastor, and his congregation, Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN, is the home base for "Camp Out." (See more about Pastor Jay at Bethany's staff web-page, including a link to his participation in the LCNA's Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP).)

I haven't watched the entire special yet - but what I have seen gives me hope. And I haven't had much of that with the ELCA on this topic for a while.

The ELCA decision - as it's being called - is an attempt to do something while at the same time appearing to do nothing. There has been great celebration over this topic, and yet, I'm not sure it isn't premature...

Here's a quick precis' from the Lutherans Concerned/North America website:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) decided to encourage its bishops to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in the discipline of rostered ministers in committed same-gender relationships. While the assembly deferred outright elimination of its policy that prohibits LGBT ministers from living in loving, lifelong family relations with their life partner, asked the church to prepare for such decision at its next assembly in 2009.

On the surface, I can see how this makes sense. How does one keep the old church law and yet do the right thing to start to overcome thousands of years of prejudice? The Church has said, "Yes, the behavior which you desire is still a sin. But now the bishops don't have to punish folks in 'unnatural relationships.' The rule still stands, because we believe it's based on Scripture - but we can offer the chance for mercy."

But then you have people in the church like Bishop Ron Warren, the antagonist in the case against Rev. Bradley Schmeling. Bishop Warren knew full well that the question of partnered gay clergy in the ELCA would come up at the Churchwide Assembly in August. Nonetheless, he knew that the church rule against Schmeling was iron-clad: "Practicing homosexual persons are precluded from the ordained ministry of this church."

Warren had every justification to delay, to give the voice of the church time to act - but he and the staff of his Synod chose to press forward, evidently to make an example of Pastor Schmeling. And he did it despite Schmeling's clear record of service, and the love and acceptance of his congregation.

So Bradley Schmeling got his verdict in February. The LCNA webpage about the verdict says it best: the 14-page verdict essentially says

...what is wrong is neither Bradley nor his committed, same-gender, lifelong relationship but the policy that brought him before them in the first place. They called it "at least bad policy," at worst a violation of the constitution and by-laws of this church. And they were just shy of unanimous in that conclusion. Nearly unanimous… Think about that…
In short, "we think the rule sucks, but de' rules are de' rules."

Yes, it was appealed. But in the end, Bishop Warren pushed, the appeal failed, and Bradley Schmeling was slated to be removed from the roster of ELCA clergy on July 2nd - five weeks before Churchwide. The press release from Schmeling's church said it best:
The Committee on Appeals said that Bradley's removal was effective immediately with this decision, since the Discipline Hearing Committee (DHC) had no authority to delay the implementation of its February decision further than the end of the appeals process. The DHC had delayed the removal from the clergy roster until August 15. And, the Committee on Appeals said that the DHC had exceeded its authority by suggesting that the policy might violate the ELCA constitution, and further by suggesting ways to change the policy.
The problem with this ruling is that people like Bishop Warren are still in the church. And while they don't have to punish "practicing homosexuals," they still can.

The bottom line: church leadership still have the gun in their hands, and it is still very much loaded. They have received a "memorial" recommendation saying that they do not have to pull the trigger. The question is, how many will be motivated by hate and ancient prejudice...and how many will be motivated by the love and acceptance that this Jesus person had for the woman at the well?

It will be interesting to see whether the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will follow Jesus, or their long-standing tradition. My hope is with Jesus (in more ways than one); my fear is that the church often known as "the frozen chosen" will stick to their much-beloved tradition.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A public-service announcement

The creators of the documentary DVD God and Gays: Bridging the Gap are putting on a series of phone broadcasts and interviews. If you are interested in this, click on my profile and the "email me" link, and I'll send you the information. (I don't want to post the call-in number info on here, as unscrupulous people have tried tying up all the lines for other gay call-ins... /sigh/)

(Frustratingly, I will be in Van Wert with my young charges Thursday night, so won't be able to hear this...)

Hear from the Reconciliation Movement father himself, Rev. Dr. Mel White, in what he has to say about the recent Ex Gay Survivor's Conference, the state of homosexuality and religion post-Jerry Falwell (his former boss), and so much more as our next guest on the God, Gays & You Live Interview Series, Thursday, July 7th, 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern.

Rev. Mel White will be a key speaker at our God & Gays Gathering. His background is a complicated one. He was a ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell, worked with the religious right leaders all the while undergoing shock therapy, exorcisms and a personal hell trying to rid himself of being gay.

He finally came to acceptance to who he is created to be and co-founded Soulforce, an organization based on Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi's non violent, universal spiritual principles to bring about social change. He is a world renown speaker and author seeking to eradicate spiritual violence on the gay community. His first book, Stranger at the Gate is documented to have saved thousands of people's lives from suicide and his most recent book tells the horrific behind-the-scenes stories of the religious right, Religion Gone Bad.

Since this topic is rarely openly discussed, you never know who you could be helping by forwarding this email around to your networks, blogs, myspace, facebook, groups and lists. Invite 10 people you know to be on the call right now!

There are only 497 spots available on this call. Call a few minutes early to be sure you get in.

Thursday, July 7th, 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern

Phone Number: (email me for the call in and password #)

Email us your question in advance
for Mel White:
and during the call,

It's free to attend the call, normal long-distance charges apply.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Here's a switch....

...cross-posting from the formerly-all-str8 blog, for a change.

Given that a lot more straight people read that blog than this one, I thought it appropriate for Pride to post over there about what I'd like straight Christians to know about being a gay Christian. I was inspired by my GCN friend Peterson, and the dozens of responses he asked to the question a couple months ago: As GLBT Christians, what would you want straight Christians to know about your experience and your identity?

I don't think it's possible to be all inclusive on this answer - but being a man who believes 3,000 words are better than 300, I tried...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Parting shots for Pride

Somehow, I have managed to miss every single Pride celebration within 300 miles of Toledo. This is not the way I planned for June to end...

Still, there is much to celebrate. This weekend marks the first Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference in California at UC-Irvine. Sponsored by Beyond Ex-Gay and Soulforce, it should be a fascinating first weekend. Just to see Mel White, Darlene Bogle, fellow GCN members (and BxG founders) Peterson Toscano and Christine Baake, not to mention a concert by Jason & DeMarco - that would've been worth the trip by itself. Though they are meeting in the shadow of the much larger Exodus conference, I think in years to come the numbers will flip-flop.

As part of the XGSC, and to speak out against the Exodus conference, three former Exodus ministry leaders apologized for their role in promoting the ex-gay message. Read about it here.

I've been kinda knocked flat by work, by my family's health and financial struggles, and just life - so my "fabulous" flame is not burning as bright as it ought, this Pride month. But I give thanks for every person who has brought me along to this point!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Maybe there's something to the gay bomb, after all...

In fact, maybe it's already been tested!

This in from, reporting about the looting of PLO leader Arafat's home:

...The homes of several other Fatah leaders have also been looted over the past few days, Palestinian reporters in Gaza City said over the weekend. Among them are the homes of Muhammad Dahlan and Intisar al-Wazir (Um Jihad).

"...the (Hamas) attackers also raided the second floor of the house and stole the personal belongings of his widow, Suha, and daughter, Zahwa. "They stole all the widow's clothes and shoes," he added."
"Wazir complained that looters stole her jewelry, furniture, clothes and family albums and the personal belongings of her husband, Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), a top PLO leader who was assassinated by Israel in 1988 in Tunis."
Manly Hamas operatives? Stealing women's clothes?...Yeah, maybe the silly bomb worked after all...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Special wishes for Father's Day

I posted this on GCN earlier today, but I wanted to share this more publicly as well.

Father's Day hasn't been a big deal for me, since my dad died nearly 30 years ago. But this year, there's a couple groups of fathers I'd like to give thanks for, this weekend...

  • First, the gay fathers who continue to love and care for their kids when it would be so much easier to just abandon them and pursue "the lifestyle." Your faithfulness is an example worthy of emulation.
  • The fathers of gay kids who work hard to love and accept their kids exactly how they are. You folks - and there are a bunch of you on GCN - are an example of Christ's love in the world. God bless you for your loving hearts.
  • The fathers of straight kids, who teach their children that sexual orientation, race, creed and disability are no reasons to hate another human being. You are an example to the world.
  • The gay men who end up being surrogate dads to those of us who are coming out - especially those of us who are coming out late in life. Your mentoring and sharing "the ropes to skip and the ropes to know" is an incredible blessing!
  • The pastors, ministers, and "friends of the family" who welcome and accept GLBT people of faith into their congregations. I'd like to especially give thanks for Dr. Tex Sample and Bishop Fritz Mutti, who continue to be an incredible example of love and acceptance, both to the United Methodist Church and the greater Church in general. Long before I was ready to come out, they were an example of the open arms of Christ to me.
And I'd like to say a special prayer for every gay father who is struggling with relationship with his family this Father's Day. May you find hope, strength and endurance to continue to walk the road, despite all the obstacles ahead of you. God bless you all on your journey.

Wishing every day a happy - or at least a peaceful - Father's Day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A little different look

Yes, I've been playing with my template. The colors were getting a bit dull for a blog with "rainbow" in the title...

I converted to the new "layout" in Blogger, and on both blogs, if I've inserted a quoted section, it always changes my spacing after I end the "block quote" section. Hmmm... any ideas, anyone?

Friday, June 08, 2007

My epistle to Christian

Not to Christians, plural. Just one in particular.

Back a year ago, I was following a series of blog links that took me to Christian Cryder's See Life Differently. He's a minister, a church planter, a husband, and a writer. On one of his posts, he'd posted a question about what a church should do with a talented organist and musician who happened to be both gay and non-Christian who was part of the worship-leader team. I put in my comments, which included more than a bit about being gay in the church. He responded with this comment:

What I'd like to learn more about is your struggle with homosexuality. So please bear with me if these are are stupid questions - I really want to understand how you see the world, and you have a lot to offer me here.

I need to share that Christian Cryder appears to be one of the more sensitive, willing-to-listen Christian men I've met in the blogosphere. So I took his questions at face value, and I'm glad to talk about them. I'm sure that I've addressed pieces of his questions scattered all over this blog, but I'm going to address them here (recognizing that this little epistle may well end up being closer to Romans in length than 1st Timothy...).

So here are his questions, in bold:

a) what's your view on the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality?

I don't see homosexuality as wrong. I see it as different, like left-handedness. I certainly don't think it is incompatible with Christian teaching (to quote my United Methodist brothers), because I spent ten years seeking a ministry career while hiding as a deeply closeted gay man. I don't think if you went back and read any of my devotions, any of my sermons, any of my theological musings over here at Ragamuffin Ramblings, that you'd look and say, "Yeah, he's gay."

(Well...ok, maybe this one....)

But 99 times out of a hundred, the faith is the same; just the outward orientation has changed.

Part of the question of "is it wrong,"I think, is conditioned by the idea that this was a choice I made. If I "chose wrong," I could make another choice, eh? But for me, and many others, it's just not a choice. As actor Jason Stuart said in the DVD God and Gays: Bridging the Gap, "How could I possibly convince someone to be gay? What would I say? 'Ach - we have no rights, everyone hates us - come along and join us! Live in my personal hell - with Madonna!' "

Homosexuality is not "how I feel." This is "who I am." In fact, in my very first coming out post, I asked myself, "How can I both be 'abomination' and 'fearfully and wonderfully made'?" The simple answer for me is, I can't.

I'm also going to introduce some unfamiliar shortcut terms for groups that you're already familiar with: Side A, Side B, Side X. Each group has their own view on "right" and "wrong:"

"Side A" gay Christians believe that God can and does affirm homosexual beings (those with unchangeable same-sex orientation), and can and does affirm committed same-sex relationships.

"Side B" gay Christians believe that God affirms homosexual beings, but does not affirm homosexual activity. Their call is to being openly gay, and openly celibate for life.

"Side X" - an inclusive term for gay and straight Christians - believe that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered," "incompatible with Christian teaching," and believe that the only alternative for GLBT persons is transformation/conversion to a heterosexual orientation and lifestyle.
It's just easier to talk about Side A, B and X rather than explaining forever what we think we mean...

b) how do you understand Scripture to speak about homosexuality? Does it say that it's wrong (and if so is it correct), or are we misunderstanding Scripture? or do you even care?

I'd almost take offense at that last part of that question, br'er Cryder - except that I know it was asked honestly, with a desire to understand, so I'll let it slide.

But you have to understand something. I'm a Christian.

I mean, really. Honestly. I mean, saved. Washed in the blood. Once lost, now found. A kneeling, praying, Jesus-loving Christian. A Romans 5:8 Christian. A Romans 8:38-39, John 3:16-17 Christian. And I find incredible power in Scripture as the guide of my life. Do I always follow it? Hell, no. I have managed to sin badly, and then sin boldly. But I know what's right.

So yes, I do care. I cared enough to come this close to ending my life, more than a couple of times, over it.

In this post, I wrote more about my feelings on the text - along with a great resource on the topic (Many Members, One Body by Craig Nessan). Forgive me quoting myself here, to pull out the heart of the topic:

Nessan suggests that the Old Testament writers had no knowledge of sexual orientation, versus sexual preference - any more than they understood astrophysics when they wrote that the earth was the center of the universe. So the concept of a created, inborn desire for the same sex was impossible for Biblical writers to understand. And the concept of committed same-sex relationships was an impossibility in a world where property and the social order depended on siring male heirs.

You see, I will agree with Levitical writers and with Paul - from a "survival of the people of God" standpoint, hetero men jumping the tracks and having sex with men, back then, was a bad idea - for the same reason that risking eating improperly cooked pork was a bad idea. The "people of God" weren't gonna last long in the desert that way.

But what many hetero Christians cannot understand (in fact, cannot even conceive) is the fact that for a number of men and women, they have not "exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones" (Romans 1:26) because they never had those "natural" desires to begin with. Those men and women never "abandoned natural relations" with the opposite sex - for them, those desires were simply absent, from the beginning.

They not only did not choose homosexuality, they actively fought it. One man I know, Peterson Toscano, spent $30,000 and ten years trying to be straight - shock therapy, two exorcisms, plenty of life in the ex-gay movement. And in the end, he (and almost everyone I have met) ended up either (a) asexual - dead to any kind of sexual feelings (the reaction most people from folks who have left ex-gay ministries) or (b) surrendering to the fact that this is how we were made - gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered.

Trying to enforce those rules on homosexuals today makes no more sense than having church officials persecuting NASA employees for saying the earth revolves around the sun. We simply know better, now. And the conditions that threatened the survival of the nomadic tribes of Israel simply no longer apply.

The trouble, Nessan says, is that both sides of the debate are appealing to different parts of the Bible, and both hold the Bible in esteem (though certainly to different standards). What you end up with is two mutually-exclusive hermaneutics - two seemingly irreconcilable ways of understanding the Bible, and "those passages" in particular. And so both sides stand on either side of the Biblical chasm, shouting at the other side, with a large portion of each side caring less about what's being said on the other side.

We talk about "the six (or seven) texts," which the gay Christian community often refer to as the "clobber passages" (because so many have been clobbered with them from time to time). I find that those are indeed accurate in their cultural context - but again, completely out of place in light of committed same-sex attraction.

I'd also like to point you to this post, which discusses homosexuality in the context of Acts 10. It is a alternate hermeneutic that most folks are not willing to even consider. But I am grateful to Jeffrey Siker, because as a result of reading his essay, I have come to see myself (with apologies to Brian McLaren) as a new kind of Gentile.

It's funny - and a little snarky - but I guess if folks are going to get literal about Biblical passages, then they need to address the questions in this post, too. Or the passages about slaves obeying their masters, and how many white men used that to argue that slavery was Biblical, and therefore as right in the 1850's as it was in Biblical times. Or this loving passage about how to treat one's rebellious son.

As an aside - One of the things that has always annoyed me about Christian wedding ceremonies is how often they use the story of Ruth and Naomi in them...completely ignoring the fact that the language of Ruth mirrors the language of Genesis 2 about cleaving to one another. The love between two women (and it is love, not "deep friendship," if you're willing to read it as literally as we read other passages) is held up as an example for Christian "traditional" marriage. But no one ever questions that. I've just never understood how the love between two women can be an loving, faithful example for straight marriage, but somehow not applicable for a loving, faithful gay marriage...

There are other passages that many GLBT folks cling to, like the acceptance of the eunuch (a group despised in most scripture) in Isaiah 56. Or the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Or the Gentiles in Acts 10. All despised. All ritually unclean. Sinful even to talk to, according to the "established church" at the time.

But welcomed by Christians.

I posed my favorite question about the Bible to the straight church over here, three years ago this month. Funny how no one's been willing to address that one in all the ink spilled on how Christians should act...

I guess I'd just like the Christian church to be as literal and as faithful to the rest of the Bible as they would like to be to those "clobber passages."

c) do you make a distinction between homosexual practice and homosexual desire?
Absolutely. In fact, I get particularly annoyed with those who don't. I have not "lain with a man" since 1983 - and have been completely celibate (no contact, male or female) since 1994. So I get more than a little peeved when people understand that I am gay, and start telling me to "repent of my sin," or to "forsake the sins of the flesh," when they see how I am as the sin, and not what I do (or am not doing). My initial reaction always is, "WTF do you know about my sins? Maybe I should go out and rent myself a boyfriend for a weekend (nah, a month...), just so I have something to repent of!"

d) do you think there's a distinction between your homosexual lusts for men, and my heterosexual lusts for women?

Let's compare, shall we?

Think of your best-looking male friend. One that the ladies all find attractive. A handsome, attractive man. Then ask yourself - do you have any physical desire for him? Any sexual attraction to him?

(I'm willing to bet not.)

That's exactly how I feel about desire for women. I recognize their beauty, even as you might recognize that a male friend or co-worker is good-looking. But there is absolutely no desire, no attraction. I won't go into details, but while I can and do notice a rather voluptuous lady, and admire her physical perfection, there is no sexual desire whatsoever.

There is a local cafe' in Toledo - the Star Diner. Their specialty is great breakfast - but their attraction is the stunningly attractive, and rather briefly-clad, group of young ladies they hire as their waitresses. (Folks around Toledo have nicknamed the place "Legs & Eggs.") I notice the beauties - and the effects they have on my straight friends. But when an attractive man walks in, he always catches my eye. Every time.

I trust that if you and I were to watch Baywatch, for instance, I would find the male stars as physically attractive as you might find the female ones. I find the mostly-naked male leads as desirous and stimulating as you might find the females. And while I don't think I am any more likely to bed any of the male stars than you are to have a night of rapture with Pamela Anderson, I'm sure we would have reactions that would be similar in scope - if opposite in polarity. I believe it's exactly the same, in short.

I recently recalled something I'd forgotten for years - a conversation my former wife had with her out gay cousin before a family wedding. They were comparing attractive men - some well-known, some just mutual acquaintances. I remember sitting there, having my own opinions on the subject, but unable to respond or participate because a straight man wasn't supposed to have those thoughts. And I really, really wanted to not think those thoughts. I was married, for God's sake - and despite everything else, I wanted to stay that way. So I lied, and died a little more, that day.

There's another thing - a corollary that most straight people don't understand. Think of a teenaged girl you know - a reasonably pretty one. Do you, as a reasonably young man, find any sexual desire for her? Does she leap to mind as a potential sexual partner? (Again, I'd bet not.) While there are always a few people who might do so, the vast majority of straight men would not seek out teenagers as sexual partners. They might fantasize about them - they might even envy the young bucks who actually do end up bedding "the pretty young thangs." But very few straight men would seek out under-aged female partners.

For a similarly vast majority of gay men, the exact same situation exists in reverse. Which is why having gay Christians men in church is no more dangerous to boys than having straight men in church is dangerous to young girls. Even in the Catholic church, there are thousands of faithfully celibate gay priests, without which the church would simply collapse. The number of offending priests, compared with the size of the Catholic church, is no worse off than the rest of culture - gay or straight.

e) when you mentioned that you never abandoned natural desires, because you never had them, how do you see Romans 1? - was that culturally conditioned? or was Paul simply wrong? (I'm really seeking to understand your hermeneutic for approaching Scripture here).
I already addressed that up above. (Beat it to death, more like...)

f) like you, I've heard many homosexuals say that they simply can't change because that's the way they are. At the same time, there is a small but real minority of ex-homosexuals out there that would beg to differ. What do you think of their perspective? Have you actually talked with any people like them?

I have talked with several people from the ex-gay movement who believe they have changed. And I'm grateful for them, and their success. Because, while I am growing more comfortable with my role as an "out" gay man, the simple fact is, I could have been re-married at least twice, and lived a much more comfortable life, if I could have done that. But as much as I tried desperately to manufacture desire for these women - and mutual friends encouraged me to marry them - I couldn't do it. I couldn't do that again. That would be more sinful by far than the very few same-sex acts I've engaged in.

My perspective on ex-gay recovery almost exactly parallels my perspective on faith healing. I know of a couple of people who have experienced spontaneous, miraculous healing from debilitating illness. I also know a whole bunch of people - including my faith mentor - who were devoted, prayer-warrior, servant-hearted, 100-percent sold-out-for-Jesus Christians, who nonetheless found absolutely no healing from ultimately fatal health conditions. You could try to tell me it was because of their weak faith, or their failure to pray just so or any one of a hundred other excuses.

And then I'd have to hurt you...bad.

I'd have to hurt you, of course, because it just wasn't so. Their faith was mountainous; their prayers were mighty; their lives were as righteous as anyone this side of Heaven can be. Prayer services, faith healing services, anointings with oil, you name it - accompanied by the fervent prayers of thousands of people across the country. Yet they still sickened, and they still died.

At some point, each of these mighty faith warriors had to admit that the answers to their prayers for healing were something along the lines of "no" or "not in the way you want it, no." My mentor Pastor Tom lost his mighty preaching voice, then his ministry, then his mobility and ultimately his life to Parkinson's disease - even as in Lindsborg, Kansas, another ELCA minister with Parkinson's experienced an amazing remission in his disease.

At some point, Pastor Tom recognized that he was not going to be one of the ones who were spontaneously healed. So he accepted what and how he was, and made the very best of the rest of his life. And he was a voice for faith, and for Parkinson's sufferers, for the rest of his life.

That's what I'm doing. I'm glad for the few special ones who are transformed. But for the vast number of the rest of us, acceptance seems to be the answer - even if we don't like the damn answer, for a while. I believe that my "healing" is the gift of coming to accept that I am "the way I was made," and to perhaps build bridges across the divide between gay and straight Christians.

g) Which do you want more - to no longer struggle with homosexual desires? Or to have the church accept your homosexual desires as normal and ok? Or something else?

Christian, I am done "struggling with homosexual desire." As I've written elsewhere, as best I can recollect, I started recognizing boys as desirable when I was 14 or 15 - and started shutting down emotionally and sexually then. I have loved several women - but it was always agape/filios, never eros. I tried desperately to love the woman I married, and instead ended up lying to her - first about sex, then about everything else. My life became one long lie that ended up in destruction of the marriage, our finances, everything.

My one and only male lover shot himself, rather than deal with the wreckage of his addictions, his finances, and his fears about sexuality. Two nights ago, I sat in my car after an AA meeting and listened as a 28-year old man haltingly admitted that he, too, might be gay - and he was more than ready to go steal a gun and blow his brains out rather than face his parents. He's a strong, sensitive, caring, God-seeking young man - ready to end his life because of who he's attracted to.

I am a faithful Christian gay man, looking for a David-and-Jonathan, Naomi-and-Ruth, committed, where-you-go-I'll-go loving relationship with another man. As such, my prayer is that people of faith would at least ask the questions:
  • Is it possible? Can someone be gay, Christian, and in a committed relationship?
  • Is it possible that, like slavery, like women in ministry, like so many things, we need to examine how the church sees homosexuality?
  • Does the Church have the courage to set aside the monster/abomination syndrome, and see GLBT as human - loving, caring, broken human beings? Perhaps even people of faith?
Christian, at the end of your questions, you wrote this:

I am really looking forward to your answers here - if any of this rubs you the wrong way, please let me know so that I try to find a less offensive way of asking.

I am grateful, br'er Cryder, both for your asking the questions, and for doing so in a calm, open and reasonable way. I'm not sure that I've responded entirely in kind - obviously, the topic generates much emotion for me. I will make the same pledge - if I have offended, please let me know as well.

And I'm not sure I've done the best job of explaining everything. There have been hundreds of thousands of pages written affirming gay Christians. No one person can do it all, I think - certainly not in one blog post. But perhaps this epistle will open the discussion up a bit - and give us some common ground on which to share.

I think this conversation about God, gays, and faith is one that will last a lifetime. And I have to admit that the more I am "out" about this, the more I am at risk of suffering casualties for these words. But I am reminded of the passage which was the of my former seminary class: Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. (1st Chronicles 28:20, NLT)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Something blessed, something cute...

It has been some interesting times. I am backing up on my blogging topics, so I need to do some writing.

But the most pressing thing on my mind right now is a blessing I received from a commenter on this post about the God and Gays DVD. The commenter wrote:

I'd be very interested in seeing that DVD too. I'm one of those homophobe Christians who'd really like to relieve myself of my ignorance in this matter for a number of reasons.

I was curious - was this person being serious? So (since she provided her real email address) I wrote back and questioned her - did she really want to hear more? If so, I gave her a couple of links to posts on here, and a link to Justin Lee's talk about GLBT ministry that he gave at the Evangelicals Concerned conference a couple years ago. I apologized for a lengthy answer, said a quick prayer, and sent it off.

I got back this response:

Thank you very much for your response. I appreciate the thought that went into it!

I was serious with that comment :o/ I am a bit of a homophobe. I've been taught that homosexuality is a sin. And we have to "Hate the sin but love the sinner". But I want to know if it really is that cut & dry. I really do want to understand all the facts.

So you've given me more than enough reading material to keep me going for quite some time! Thank you very much! :o)
I've been praying for that kind of response to this blog ever since I started it - that someone would get here, by whatever hook or crook, and say, "OK, I'll bite - tell me more." To be honest, it brought tears of joy to my eyes. I guess I am still more than a little touched when folks are reached by what I write.

So that's blessing one.

Blessing two was actually seeing the DVD God and Gays. It's a worthwhile effort, though not flawless, by any means. The DVD's opening theme, "What's It Like to Be Gay and Christian?" was over-the-top sweet (not in a good way). But once you get past that, it is full of people sharing their experience of being gay and Christian, and it was worth the money, overall. I'll do more of a review on it later on.

Through the video, I got introduced to Jacob Reitan, the young adult coordinator for Soulforce and a sophomore at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. The link takes you to an open letter from Jacob and his bio, as well as an overview of the planned "direct action" at the Southern Baptist Conference meeting in St. Louis. Wish I could be there. I'll be keeping my eye on young br'er Reitan, and not just because he's dazzlingly cute, either. /smirk/

OK, now for the something cute. Go here and listen to this.

I don't expect to hear that aired on PBS anytime soon, but it's still funny...

For now, th-th-th-that's all, folks!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Building bridges via video?

How could I possibly convince someone to be gay? What would I say? "Hey - we have no rights, everyone hates us - come along and join us! Live in my personal hell - with Madonna!"
The quote is from gay actor/comic Jason Stuart, in the trailer for God and Gays: Bridging the Gap. (I'd post the YouTube thing here, but I'm not as smart as that yet - so you have to just follow the link. Sorry...)

I'm not quite sure how I found it (one of those link-to-a-link things), but it looks to be a fascinating thing. The DVD is available but for $24.95, so I ordered a copy. (I've wasted more on a month of online porn, so it seemed like a good risk.) The onlines reviews seem good - my own review to come.

I do love Jason's last line from the trailer, though....

Come on! It's the year 2004, straight people! If you let us marry each other, we'll stop marrying you!

This is stupid - especially given my own history - but I'd never ever thought about gay marriage that way! Talk about preserving the sanctity of traditional marriage!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

That behavior is not acceptable

Warning: this post contains considerable vulgarity. If you find this distateful, you might want to go over here, instead...

One of my AA sponsees has both a considerable anger problem and a habit of throwing vulgarities and epithets around. He comes from redneck stock, and it shouldn't surprise me. But it still does.

I am out to this guy. He knows my story - both as a drunk and as a long-term closeted gay man. But despite that, he still hasn't figured out that "faggot" is not an acceptable term, no matter who he's talking about. So when he's spouting off about one of the many people he still resents the hell out of, the phrase Goddamned fucking faggot still flies out of his mouth.

And when I sit bolt-upright and say, "Oh, really?" he still tries (at least at first) to give me this "Come on, you know I don't mean you" line. "Nah, you're gay, man - he's the Goddamned fucking faggot."

"Oh, so this is evidently Oz, and I'm the Good Fag of the North, and this guy's the Wicked Fag of the West? Is that how it works?" I shot back, the first time he tried pulling this crap. "Sorry, that crap just doesn't fly here, bucko."

It's exactly the same argument I used to hear about "black" and "nigger." It didn't fly with me 30 years ago, and it ain't flyin' today, neither.

I watched with amusement pompous press like The Advocate declaring that the "F-word" dead - that no one would dare touch it. I don't know what little gay campus they're living in, but here in northwest Ohio, "the other F-word" is alive and well, thank you boys.

"Sorry to tell you, bucko," I told my sponsee the other night, "but when the rest of the world says faggot, they're talking about me. And regardless of what spin you try to put on it, when you say faggot, you're affirming that their use of the word is correct. You say faggot when you think of a despicable human being; so do they. You think you can put your good gay friends in some bubble, but you can't. Going around calling people faggot is unacceptable. Period."

(end rant)

Now there is a beautiful image...

This is the logo of Affirm United (or S'affirmer Ensemble for our French-speaking family), an organization within the United Church of Canada which works for the inclusion of GLBT people into the life and ministry of the church.

I found it by following a link from my friend Poor Mad Peter, and you need to click here to see their rainbow cross used in their congregation's ceremony of affirmation.

I love the imagery of the rainbow and the cross - the rainbow given as a sign of hope in Genesis, the cross as a sign of hope in the Gospels. Here in the Republic of Jesusland, we'll take hope wherever we can find it.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Musings about "gay identity"

It's fascinating to chase down "bunny-trails" in the blogosphere. One link leads to another, and another, and all of a sudden you're thirty blogs away from where you first started - and my reaction usually is, "Now how the hell did I end up here?"

One recent trail started at Gay Christian Network, on Christine Bakke's appearance both in Glamour magazine and Good Morning America talking about her struggles with the ex-gay world, and the start of the Beyond Ex-Gay website. Her partner in Beyond Ex-Gay is Peterson Toscano, who is known for his one-man show Doin' Time in the HomoNoMo' Halfway House and his blog, A Musing.

That led me to Jay at Adventures of a Christian Collegian, and from there to Disputed Mutability, a Christian woman who identifies herself as ex-gay. And that, for now, is where the bunny-trail ends, because I got hooked into the discussion of DM's concept of "gay identity." I started half a dozen comments between the two blogs, and then realized I had enough for at least one, if not two, posts back here. So DM and Jay, here's at least a first volley.

Before I begin (for those who are reasonably new to this blog) I have to admit first that I am no spokesperson for whatever the heck passes for "gay culture" or "the gay lifestyle." (In fact, I really dislike both of those phrases, because I really feel they are simplistic and sweeping generalizations about something more multifaceted than a diamond.)

But I really struggle when I hear phrases like "gay-identity." It seems like a dodge or a feint around the topic, and here's why.

I've come to believe that homosexuality is much different than homosexual activity, and much different still than homosexual activism. One, in my experience, is an orientation toward potential mates or sexual partners of the same sex. One describes basic "tab-A/slot-B" sexual acts; and one falls into the "marching in parades" category. (And yes, these are probably also simplistic generalizations, which are more or less proof of Mark Twain's ideas about generalizations in general.)

Here's where I'm coming from - a blunt confession: I haven't had intimate relations with a man since Ronald Reagan's first term. (That's 1983, for my younger friends.) ( In fact, I have't had any intimate contact with anyone since Bush The Father was president.)

But not having had sex with a man doesn't mean that I haven't wanted to - nor does it mean that I didn't spend years fighting the acceptance of that as fact.

In my simplistic mind, that means that I am a homosexual (adj; sexually attracted to members of your own sex - WordNet).

I am not (nor ever have been) a Romans 1:27 kind of guy, because I have never forsaken God for idols, nor have I ever "abandoned natural relations with women." I've never had what people call "natural desires," no matter how hard I tried to manufacture them. I tried telling folks I wasn't gay. I did a lot of things (which hurt a number of people) to try to change how I was. I wanted to change.

But wanting something and getting it just aren't the same thing. I wasn't acting like a duck; I wasn't swimming like a duck, or quacking like a duck. But I was thinking like a duck...

...and most importantly of all, I was physically attracted to other ducks. And in searching and fearless moral inventory, I find that even at times when I should have been physically stimulated by female sexuality (whether it was physical intimacy with a woman, straight porn, even Baywatch...), it just wasn't there.

Doesn't get much simpler than that, does it?

I don't (can't) argue with Disputed's discussion of her experience with "gay identity" over here. But I think it's important to testify that my experience has been completely different.

Being gay wasn't something that was important; in fact, for me it was especially important that I not be gay. I didn't find "gay" to be cool, or tribal. In fact, the only reason I looked in the mirror and saw myself as "fag" or "queer" or "homo" was because that's what I heard growing up, time and time again. Come on, Steve, don't be a pansy - time after time. It was exactly NOT what I wanted to be.

And I surely did not feel "a part of" as a result of being gay - largely because I didn't fit any of the other gay stereotypes. (Well, except the ones about show-tunes and Barbra Streisand...can't miss 'em all, I guess.) But I definitely felt like the anti-QueerEye guy - unstylish, unsophisticated, complete un-self-assured. Blah, blah, blah. (Yeah, we better just revoke his gay card....)

The part of DM's discussion that I found most foreign to my own experience was this:

I used to think that my gayness lay at the very heart of who I was. That it was somehow tied to my essence, in a way that was unlike almost any other desire or trait. More essential perhaps than even my gender/sex. (Gender was a collective social fantasy, but sexual orientation, now that was real. That was BIOLOGY.) Certainly on an entirely different plane than any other kind of sexual preference or taste. I can hear the voices in my head even now: "How dare you call it a taste? How dare you suggest that it is a preference? It's at the core of your being! Your bones are gay! Your soul is gay!"
Again, I am not denying DM's experience. But or me, gender had nothing to do with "a collective social fantasy," but instead was all about parts. My parts as a male were far different than their parts as female. I have always been a male, and have had no "transgender" desires whatever. My being gay was not at the core of my being - in fact, it was something that I shunted aside and denied for years.

I remember distinctly a discussion with my "coming out mentor" Tom S., back more than two years ago. I was telling him that it didn't matter whether I was gay or not - because gay or straight, I believed myself physically undesirable and (as such) more asexual than homo- or hetero-. As I told him that , it didn't matter if I was straight or gay - I was still going home alone. Game over.

At the time, Tom tried a number of different metaphors (none of which clicked at the time) to show me that whether I liked it or not, my sexuality was part of every facet of my life - my work, my faith, my recovery, as well as my personal relationships (romantic or otherwise). It was a bigger part of some parts of my life than others; it was almost non-existent in some spheres. But while it was not at the center of any part of my life (other than my lack of sexual activity), it definitely was a part (however small) of every part of my life.

Today, I get it. Sexual orientation is a part of who I am; it is absolutely not all of who I am, or even the center of who I am.

The first image that stuck on this topic was that my sexual orientation was like the chili powder in chili. While being gay is a very small part (by weight or volume) of what I am, it flavors every part of what I am. And when I've tried to neutralize that part, it made my life flat, bland, and utterly devoid of any spice whatsoever. Furthermore (exactly like the chili powder), it's not something I can scoop out (like you could with beans or onions or chopped peppers). Like Prego, it's just in there; it's a part of the mixture - period.

Another image I've used is that my same-sex attraction is like the blue in a tartan-plaid fabric. You could (with a great deal of effort) remove the blue from tartan-plaid fabric - but in doing so, it would cease to be tartan. Possibly, it could still be fabric - but most likely it would probably just fall apart. Being gay is not a dominant part of me - but it's a thread that's shot through the fabric of my existence.

This image of threads in a fabric is particularly interesting because I recently watched the movie Twilight of the Golds. The basic premise of the movie is that a woman named Suzanne who has a gay brother gets pregnant, and during some advanced genetic testing on the fetus, the woman finds out that her fetus will likely be gay. (While this level of genetic testing isn't fact yet, it's not very far from fact. In fact, it's much more science than fiction at this point...)

No one - not her husband, not her mother - no one will say "the baby might be gay;" the closest they can come is "It will probably be like David" (the gay brother) or "it will likely have that trait." The rest of the movie is about what the couple's decision will be: will they keep the baby? Will they abort? If Suzanne keeps the baby, will her husband stay? It brings up (but doesn't club you over the head with) topics of genetic testing, eugenics, and some troubling but prevalent images of gay as a defect/disability versus the understanding of gay as just another facet of personality.

In one powerful scene, David (the gay brother, played marvelously by Brendan Fraser) confronts his sister Suzanne about the choice before her. He shows up at the upscale clothing shop where she works:
Suzanne: "What are you doing here?"

David: "That seems to be the question, isn't it? What if Michaelangeo's mother thought the same way that you do? What if Tennesee Williams' mother thought the way you do? Or Herman Melville? Cole Porter, Martina Navratilova? What if Stephen Hawking's mother didn't want a handicapped child? What if Orson Wells' didn't want a fat one? The point is, you have got to stop looking at this as some kind of curse. It isn't. What it is, is a challenge..."

S: "...Look, David, I know how hard your life has been. I've heard you tell me how lonely and scared you have been. I've heard you talk about people with AIDS, people getting bashed - now I'm not going to put someone else through that -"

D: "Don't make me regret sharing my life with you! Everybody else has problems!"

S: "Not like that, they don't! Now why isn't it more humane for me to wait until I bring a child with no disadvantages into the world?"

D: "Because we'd lose too much!! Everything that you love about me is tied to that one element that makes you queasy. Every human being is a tapestry - and if you pull one thread, or one undesirable color, then the whole fucking thing falls apart, and you wind up staring at the walls."
While I understand the reason for people like Disputed to discuss their ex-gay experience, and I wish her (and so many others like her) well, I can't go there. I am done waiting; I am done questioning what would happen if my faith was somehow good enough to be cured. These are the cards I have been dealt.

One of the songs I always hated in the so-called praise-and-worship music genre was a song called Change My Heart, O God:

Change my heart, O God
Make it ever true
Change my heart, O God
Let me be like You.

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray...

For years, what I thought that song meant for me was, "Fix me, change me, take this ugly pottery and smash it down so it can be remade the way it should be, the way everyone says it should be."

Now, I hear it differently: Change my heart, God. You've made me this way; help me see myself as your creation, as the child of your heart.

Way too many people have told me that they've been touched by my understanding of God, of Christ, and of faith for me to believe that I'm the useless piece of human sewage I used to think I was twenty years ago. Today, the song of my credo is Chris Tomlin's The Way I Was Made:

Made in Your likeness, made with Your hands
Made to discover who You are and who I am
All I've forgotten, help me to find -
All that You've promised, let it be in my life

I want to live like there's no tomorrow
I want to dance like no one's around
I want to sing like nobody's listening
Before I lay my body down
I want to give like I have plenty
I want to love like I'm not afraid
I want to be the man I was meant to be
I want to be the way I was made

May it be so, Lord, today and always. Amen, and amen.