Saturday, June 30, 2007

What I wish straight Christians knew...

It's the very last day of what the gay community call Pride Month - recalling the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when gays and lesbians revolted rather than continue to be harrassed and persecuted by police and authorities. In Pride parades and celebrations around the country, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) individuals continue to make the statement that our community is part of "the greater community," and is not about to go away.

I am not one to wear rainbow-flag patches, or march in parades - I am not a gay activist by any means. In fact, I don't talk much about being gay here - primarily because I have another whole blog devoted to my fairly recent journey coming out as gay in late middle age. It will probably be a sign of healing and recovery when the two blogs merge (now there's an image - two becoming one...), but for now, I'm content with a mild case of split personality.

On this blog, however, I've spoken a great deal about my faith journey - and how many aspects of my life have affected that journey. So tonight, as the last minutes of Pride tick away, I've been thinking...

A couple months ago, Peterson Toscano (a new friend I met through the Gay Christian Network) asked the question of fellow GCN members: As GLBT Christians, what would you want straight Christians to know about your experience and your identity?

There are dozens upon dozens of answers - my fellow GCN'ers spilled a lot of bits-n-bytes on this topic. In responding to that question, I'm going use a lot of what I wrote, but also to steal some of their words - the ones that felt like "they were reading my mail," so to speak. In their voices, they were definitely "killing me softly with their song..."

I'd like straight Christians to know that I love God as much as I used to before I came out. In some circles, saying I'm gay is tantamount to saying that I'm an infidel - that I've turned my back on God. I'd want straight Christians to know that I've only made this choice because I believe that I can have both God and my sexual orientation.

Back when I believed that I had to choose, I chose God - which is why I spent so many years hiding in church closets. God is at the heart of my life and I knew that, as integral to my existence as my sexuality is, my relationship with God is even more central. It's only as I've studied the scriptures that I've become convinced.

I would like people to know that I am the same person I was when I was trying to live a hetero life. The fact that I came out of the closet does not change anything about me, except I am more honest. I didn't have to make the choice to either be gay or be a Christian. I am both and I have never felt closer to God than I do now living an authentic life.

I also am grateful that so far, none of my Christian friends have questioned my faith, nor have they rejected me for coming out. Compared to many, many gay Christians, I have had an extremely positive, affirming experience. I believe that this is because those people love me - whatever the hell I am - and knew my faith, regardless of my orientation. (That may very well end tomorrow, of course - but today, at least, I'm grateful for acceptance.)

I'm very grateful for the man who said I want it to be understood that I never quit taking my faith seriously. It's been a long and rough road to this point - but God is still very much on the throne, and many people have continued to affirm the call I heard a decade ago to "lay down your nets and and follow."

I would want straight Christians to know that I didn't choose this. The process to come to terms with my orientation has been agonizing and painful. I was never abused and I had a father who did his very best to have his son turn out right. It wasn't a matter what you've been told, or by whom. It's just not.

I would want Christians to know that the act of accepting gays isn't a moral breakdown or a failure of faith on their part. For gays there is a right and wrong way to live just as with straight people, and their is a striving for holiness, and there can be such thing as sexual purity and committed relationships.

I would love straight Christians to know how much I've tried to "straight-en out." How much I've prayed to God to make me love football and Baywatch babes. And I'd love them to know how desperately I wish that straight people didn't need those 5 stylish gay guys to make ugly straight men they could come over HERE and work on making ME attractive! ('cuz honey, I need WORK done...)

I'd love the other advisors in my all-guys youth group to know that I don't desire their sons any more than they desire each others' daughters. I'd want them to know that advising their sons is as much an honor and a privilege for me as it is for them. And I'd want the church to know that there is a vast majority of gay men who are JUST as disgusted by child sexual abuse (regardless of the orientation of the perpetrator) as church folk are.

I'd love people at church to know that the one thing I'd love to see (almost as much as Jesus himself) is for the church to be as worried about Matthew 25 (the whole sheep-n-goats, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the prisoners thing) as they are about Leviticus. Now there would be a real miracle!

I'd love Brian McLaren to write a new book about gay Christian faith based on Acts 10, and call it A New Kind of Gentile. (But I want credit for the title...)

I'd like straight people to know that being gay is not like being a vampire or a werewolf. Not only is it not infectious, but besides - we don't bite. (In fact, like playful puppies, we only nibble where we know it would be welcome. But in an immense advantage over puppies, of course, we don't piddle on the rug....)

One of my straight Christian blogging friends asked the question: Sometimes, I get the feeling that "being gay" is the most important thing in a gay person's life. Is it really that important?

I replied to him that it's like the red thread in a Tartan-plaid fabric - if it wasn't there, you'd still have fabric, but it wouldn't be Tartan-plaid. And, to quote Brendan Fraser's character from the movie Twilight of the Golds, "Every human being is a tapestry - if you pull one thread, or one undesirable color, then the whole thing falls apart and you end up staring at the walls."

I think it's important for straight folks to see is that for homosexuals, the revelation that we are gay puts us at odds with a significant portion of society - friends, family, church, and social structures. In that way, it's not the most important thing to us, but it can become "a" defining thing, if not "the" defining thing to those we care about.

I guess one thing that I really, really wish I could ask straight people of every flavor is this: when I tell you I'm gay, please don't automatically assume you know what that means. When I say I'm gay, it does NOT mean I am some flamboyant, club-hopping, drug-taking, promiscuous queen (though God DOES know that some or all of those things have sounded like a good idea, at various times). Please remember that you are still talking to a human being - not a stereotype.

Once I tell you I'm gay, all that is different about me is that you understand my same-sex attraction. Nothing else has changed. And I'm not telling anyone in order to further some mythical "gay agenda" - I'm telling you so I can be more honest about who I am with you. Being "out," in many ways, is about "not bearing false witness," which God seemed to think was a good thing.

A final thought: I wish Christians could realize some of the cause-and-effect of why some gay people live the lives they do. Christians look at the drug use, gay bars, and promiscuity and then think that being gay can never be holy - but in reality, the Christian church has to take some responsibility for that. The Church has told the world that God does not love someone if they are gay, and would not want a relationship with them "just as they are." Because they have been told they must choose between God and being gay, homosexuals are often led to lives of desperation and depression.

I'm grateful to my fellow GCN'ers for putting into words some of the ideas I've expressed here. And I'm grateful to be able to think about these things in context of a loving, caring, accepting God.

"We are your sons, your daughters, your mothers, your fathers, your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends. We are here to love - and we are here to stay."
  • (Note: The image of the cross surrounded by the rainbow is the logo from Affirm United, a GLBT-welcoming ministry within the United Church of Canada. Thanks to Poor Mad Peter for the hat-tip!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sunshine, great art, great music

The weather this last weekend was absolutely beautiful - high of 80, low humidity, great breezes, partly sunny. It was a day when at just the moment when it felt like the sun was too much, it would duck behind a cloud, and everyone would say, "AHhhhhh..."

So it was that sister Sue, brother-in-law Jeff and I ventured out to the Crosby Festival of The Arts, at what the city calls The Toledo Botanical Gardens - but most of the locals know as Crosby Gardens. George P. Crosby created the park with a 20-acre gift - which has expanded to over 60 acres in the western suburban edge of Toledo. It's a delightful place, even if there weren't hundreds of artists and vendors there for the weekend.

I loved pieces like this - I guess I'm a closet liturgist at heart, because the idea of this as a communion goblet just really sounded like a good idea.

There was a lot of photography, a lot of glass work, pottery, fabrics, jewelry, you name it. It was amazing to see the pool of talent that had been assembled for this show.

Today, as it's 73 already (headed for 90-plus) I'm glad that the festival had such great weather. It was wonderful to get out and walk, although I saw how tragically out-of-shape I am (again).

Back to hump-day (Wednesday) - I have two deadlines that I'd rather eat ground glass than work on today. But it's like anything else - it won't get better if I don't work on them. So I'm off for my morning walk, and then into the day!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Silence Around Indiana's Matthew Shepard

Click on the post header to follow the link to this unbelievable story. Why has there been media silence, outside a few blogs crying in the darkness? How the hell is it that it's the 4th week of June, and I'm just now hearing about this?
The victim in this new outrage wasn't called Aaron 'Shorty' Hall for nothing. Shorty was 5-foot-4 and weighed a mere 100 pounds. In beefy rural Indiana, that passes for almost invisible.

On April 12, Shorty was allegedly beaten to death by Coleman King, 18, and Garrett Gray, 19. They subsequently confessed to police that the beating began when Shorty allegedly made a gay pass at them while they were all drinking beer at Gray's home.

The description of what happened next is horrific, a savage assault that eerily echoes the tortuous death of Matthew Shepard. This time it took the form of a relentless beating that went on for several hours at Gray's house before Shorty was finally dragged down the wooden stairs, his head banging loudly on each step.

King and Gray told cops they beat Hall again at the bottom of the stairs, threw him into a pickup truck and continued beating him as they drove down a remote dirt road.

Once there, one of them had the audacity to send a friend a cellphone photo of the dying Shorty. Then they dumped him, naked but still alive, in a ditch. According to weather reports, it was 39 degrees that night.

The next morning they returned and found Shorty's broken and lifeless body in a field near the ditch. He had apparently crawled out for help, found none, and died alone in the dirt.

A few days later they returned, wrapped the body in a tarp and hid it in Gray's garage, where police found it after being alerted by the recipient of the cellphone photo.

A sensational torture/murder hate crime like this seems like a slam dunk for major media attention, but so far it has received almost none.

Perhaps part of the reason is one of the case's odd twists: Some have publicly suggested that in fact Shorty made no sexual advance on Gray and King and that he was not, in fact, gay.

Instead, it's been suggested that the two teens cooked up the gay angle because they believed that in homo-hating Indiana, it would help excuse their murder.

They beat him, stripped him naked, and took a cell-phone picture of him? Talk about "man's inhumanity to man..."

Seems there needs to be a hate-crimes law in Indiana after all, folks. And I'm gettin real, real tired of the media doing this selective-vision thing...

Other links:
Why Won't The Star Cover The Hate Crime Killing Of Aaron Hall?
Post details: Aaron Hall: killed twice, second time by media?

No surprise here...

Online Dating

Here's the reason:
This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words: hell (16x) dead (9x) pain (8x) hurt (5x) kill (3x) gays (2x) suck (1x)

Want to rate your blog? Click on the rating block above.

Friday, June 22, 2007

$3 worth of God, please

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Source: Wilbur Rees, Leadership, Vol. 4, No. 1
I originally found this quote on Erin's Biscotti Brain, where she had gotten the hat-tip from Inward/Outward. I've seen this quote spring up a number of places since then, and it's evidently pricked a number of consciences of their respective readers. I'm not entirely sure why, but I have, perhaps, an inkling.

There is a medical term - prophylaxis - which (aside from the birth-control usage, which makes teenagers smirk) simply means preventative. If I step on a nail, I get a shot as a prophylactic for tetanus.

I think that many of us have had church training which presented church life - church membership, weekly worship, and other practices - as a prophylactic for Hell. Certainly I never saw my church life as "fire prevention," but more as "fire retardant." Especially in my youthful, legalistic (and wildly inaccurate) upbringing as a rule-bound Catholic, I saw everything I did - from crossing myself with holy water, to eating fish on Friday, to daily Mass, to weekly confession - as layers of fire retardant standing between me and Hell.

(I now know Catholicism differently, thankfully.)

I've come to see that somewhere between 50% and 90% of traditional American Christendom is precisely the same way. We want just enough God and just enough grace to qualify for the get-out-of-Hell-free card. I believe it's the reaction to this same minimalist idea of "$3 worth of God" that's driven every single act of renewal in the church - from the Protestant Reformation to the Wesleyan movement, to the Azusa Street revival, to Willow Creek and Saddleback, and the entire postmodern/emergent conversation.

Roaring over the mutterings of "$3 worth of God" religious minimalism is the sense of fully-on-fire, burning, sold-0ut faith. I've had that faith; I've lost it several times - and right now, I'm struggling back toward it.

I know that "on-fire" is where I want to be; not blazing and incinerating everyone around me - but burning brightly, letting "my light so shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:17, NIV). I want my faith to be bigger than that prophylactic dose of grace and salvation. I want it not only because I know it feels better there, but because God calls me there, to be present there.

I can't speak for the others who have reacted to this quote as I have. But I suspect that they either see where they are, and want to be elsewhere - or see themselves where they were, and are grateful not to be there today. Or perhaps they see that their capacity for faith might well only hold $3 worth of God today, and they see the need to open wider, to grow in capacity for faith.

That, I hope, is where I am today - a large man with a small capacity for grace, seeking to be stretched and opened wider (in a spiritual sense only, please - I'm wide enough otherwise). I can hope, anyway...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Need one more reason to stop the war?

Happy Fathers' Day.

Sadly, the actual story here encourages us to continue on in the battle...

For myself, though, I just can't bring myself to believe that the slaughter over there is worthy of scenes like this.

I honor this man for his conviction, and the sacrifice he made. But I think the time for continuing that sacrifice is over. I hope to God that in 30 years, this boy's son is not weeping over his own loss in a war we never should have started.

Imagine this kind of world....

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role, the White House said on Wednesday.

The United States has had thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea to guard against a North Korean invasion for 50 years.

(See the rest of the article here.)

I'm sorry, but the idea of our soldiers - our sons and daughters - my neighbors - being shot at, blown up, and maimed for the next fifty years is absolutely unacceptable. I heard it last night on the BBC, I read it today on Reuters just to make sure I heard it right.

I heard it - but I won't accept it. This has to stop, and the people in Washington need to hear fro us that we care for, and support our troops - but not the mission they are being asked to lay their lives down for. Every report that I hear says that we are making things worse, instead of better. It's time for that nonsense to end.

There are several blogs who are featuring links to this article, asking for emails supporting the troops. I'm glad to post a link to it here. My problem, of course, is that I am proud of the men and women in uniform who are serving - but I can't support their mission, and I want them the hell out of there and back home safe. But I'll encourage anyone who has a mind to click on that link, read about the call for emails to the Marines, and add to the stream. If you're going to link to something, link to the original site, though...

If ever there was a need for a nation to be restored to sanity, now would be the time...

I dare you.... watch the video of this young man, and tell me that he shouldn't serve in our military.

Watch it again, and look at the list of nations that allow GLBT folks to serve. And then tell me that somehow, we're smarter and more secure than all of them, combined. I don't think so...

If you agree with him, follow the links. Do something. If we want a volunteer military, let's let 'em serve. All of 'em.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why advisors get grey hair

Here's at least one reason why...

For the record, while I was down in the fellowship hall of the Masonic Temple taking tickets for our group's spaghetti supper, two of my young charges (who had said they were going out to walk the streets of the town promoting the meal) were, in fact, hanging their feet off the fourth-story roof of the building, holding up their sign for the crowds gathered for the parade to see. (The shot was captured by a photographer for the town newspaper.)

I never heard about it, of course - until the fellow on the right (a normally sane and rational young man) emailed me with a "see the cool picture in our local paper?" note.

Of course, I'm fifty - so my first thought was, Oh, my God - what if they fell? What if that 100-year-old mortar let loose, and dumped their brains onto the sidewalk? How the hell did they get up there, in the first place? How the hell does this happen? I'll kick their teenaged butts right into orbit!! Thoughts of funerals, police inquiries, and insurance adjusters raced through my head.

Then I thought, almost in the same instant, This is the stuff that memories are made of. Being crazy. Being wild. Taking risks. It's about being 15 and bulletproof. Just like you were. Relax. And I was reminded of a guy who regularly does things like parasailing and jumping out of airplanes that are still running, who said, "I'd much rather have a short and amazing life, than get to the end of my life and realize that I'd never actually lived."

So when I see them on Thursday, I will tell them that it was a nice photograph.

And that if they do it again, they won't have to worry about the fall killing them, because I will, first.


I am becoming my father and mother.

When you fall off that swing and break your arms and legs, don't come running to me. (Erma Bombeck's mother, to her as a child)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Still alive...

...if not particularly happy about it.

A triple witching hour meant that I ended up having most of a week of being sick - physically and mentally - at the same time that my sister and brother-in-law both were up-n-down with back problems. I had a bout with a devastating stomach bug, followed by combinations of ear-infection, eye infection, and way-elevated blood sugar conspired to keep me dizzy, unable to sit up, and basically unable to do much of anything. Needless to say, between the three of us we didn't manage to put one healthy adult together, and the wreckage of the week has been tough to clean up.

Today is yet another one of those "fresh start" days, and I keep trying hard not to beat up on myself for falling apart, but accept the old Phillips, Craig & Dean lyric that says "You make Your mercy new, every morning." So I am leaving in just a minute to go do the walking that I had abandoned some time ago, and try to do what the doctors are telling me.

Then I will face whatever wreckage I can at The Evil Empire, and try to pick up the pieces there. I dread even thinking of what that looks like, but I need to take care of first things first, and that evil will come when it does.

Ah, the joys of "trudging the road of happy destiny..."

Monday, June 04, 2007

Valleys fill first

Down in the valley - dyin' of thirst
Down in the valley - it seems I'm at my worst
But my consolation is that You've baptized this earth
Down in the valley - valleys fill first.

(Caedmon's Call, "Valleys Fill First," from A Long Line of Leavers)
My friend Ted and I were talking about mountaintop experiences. One of our youth-group members had come back from a conference, and was all fired-up with enthusiasm for the organization and its causes. He remarked that this had been exactly the same case a year ago, when he had come back from the last conference, too.

I smiled, and talked of the number of people I'd known who had gone every year to Promise Keepers' conferences. Not a few of them went every year, searching for that "salvation moment," and kept giving their lives to Christ, seeking a renewal of the "mountaintop moment."

I told my friend of the image of this song by Caedmon's Call that I'd heard several years ago. I have always loved the idea that the presence of the Spirit was like rain from Heaven. And that when I'm dying of thirst, spiritually, it's best to be in the valleys, because when it rains, it's the valleys that will fill first.

A liturgical aside - it's funny to me: we spend so much emergy and time as a Church focusing on the Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter seasons. Yet there is so much in the liturgical calendar of what we call "ordinary time" - the time between Pentecost and Advent. It's there that I spend most of my life, actually (even as I stand in the light of both Christmas and Easter).

And it's in those times that I sometimes find myself "dying of thirst." And waiting for the Water.

God, I'm grateful for this understanding- the knowledge that when the rain of the Spirit falls, I'll find relief for my thirst in these spiritual valleys. Help me continue to seek your Living Water, even in the times when it seems my thirst cannot be quenched. Help me remember that I am in the valleys for a reason.


(the image is of Mountain Lake in New Zealand, from

Friday, June 01, 2007

It was forty years ago today....

It was twenty years ago today,
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
They've been going in and out of style
But they're guaranteed to raise a smile.
So may I introduce to you
The act you've known for all these years,
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band...

Sorry, but this is one bandwagon I just can't help jumping on. I heard the news actually at about 11:45 (4:45 GMT) listening to BBC World News Overnight that June 1, 1967 was the official release date for the amazing Beatles album.

And yes, I admit, I was only 10 at the time.

But the music - especially With A Little Help From My Friends, which has been kind of a life anthem - has played an integral part in my journey.

It's been a long time since I've been a real Beatles geek. Once upon a time, in my misspent youth, friends of mine and I would sit in a local park in Niantic, Connecticut, drinking ghastly things like Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill and singing along to the Beatles on my buddy's new cassette tape player.

There's a great article about it here, and there are now internet guitar charts and lyrics available here. (Stuff we would have killed for as kids, I might add...)

Happy 40th, Sgt. Pepper...