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."