Thursday, October 11, 2007

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

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?

(Heather Small, "Proud")

Today is National Coming Out Day - a day when gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals are encouraged to "come out," to share our identity as GLBT persons with the rest of the world.

By acknowledging on this day that I am a gay man, I am not "flaunting" what I am. I am not "recruiting" others to some mythical "gay lifestyle" (whatever that mythical thing is). I'm not saying that I have a boyfriend, or a promiscuous sexual life, or that I am a drug-using club-hopping playboy.

In fact, it means exactly the opposite.

"Coming out" means that I am all the things that I was before - as well as gay. I'm still a follower of Christ; I still am kind of an outsider in organized religion (and there is some good in that!); I am still a storyteller, I am still a recovering alcoholic; I am still a 50-year-old, heavyset, graying man. I am still, hopefully, a man with a great heart, and great dreams, and a desire to be of service to my God and my fellow human beings. None of that has changed.

And I am a gay man.

There is much of me in that regard which has changed, certainly. I am not the desperate-for-approval, please-accept-and-love-me person that first came out two years ago. There is still one area in my life - my youth-group activities - in which I am not out. I made that choice because I wanted to be of service to the organization. But I also told them, when I started, that "don't ask/don't tell" would work, until someone asked - because I wasn't going to lie. No more.

Until I find a friend/boyfriend/partner who's willing to put up with me, there just isn't a lot in my life to deal with. But on this day, if none other, I need to let people know who I am...what I am...and Whose I am. The song lyric at the beginning of the post, used in the very last scene of the 5th seasons of Queer As Folk, reminds me that to "step out of the ordinary" is what I'm called to do. And that I'm called every day to do something "to make me feel proud" - as a brother, friend, man in recovery, and Christian who just happens also to be gay.

If you are interested in coming out, or know someone who is struggling with it, there are vast resources to help. Here are just a few:

The HRC Coming Out Project - including stories of those who have come out, and all kinds of information for GLBT's and their families. - a site started by a mother and father whose son came out to them, and their journey to acceptance.

A Letter To Louise - a former chaplain and Civil Rights Commission worker responds positively to a friend whose son is gay.

Accepting What Cannot Be Changed - an article by Dr. David Meyers of Hope College about sexual orientation.

Why Come Out? - Tom Scharbach's very sensible and common-sense advice to me (and many others) about the benefits of coming out. An excellent bit of experience from a very sharp mind.

The Gay Christian Network - including messages and discussion threads on all aspects of gay Christian life by more than 7,000 online members who are both gay and Christian. A podcast called GCN Radio has some great information, including a great interview with Patti Ellis of Family Acceptance (above).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Looking back, looking ahead

There has been a long silence in the camp of the squires. As I climb back into the light of the digital community, a look back over the last month wouldn't be out of place....

October 1st marked one year in Waterville - 365 Chicago-traffic-free days. Despite that joy, it's not entirely a comfortable anniversary, because much that was challenging on that day (even the physical state of the household) still is unresolved.

I spent some time over the weekend trying to figure out what to do with some of the stuff I've accumulated - and part of me wants to just throw out massive amounts of stuff and start over. There are books on the shelves that are good books, but books that I may never read again - and some books that are like Oreos, that I go to as comfort food or candy, just for diversion. If I cleared those off the shelves and took them to the library as donations, I'd have more shelf space...

Finding the discipline to pick up anything - papers, clothes, anything - and deal with them once would be a blessing. Hell, finding discipline, period, would be a blessing, these last couple weeks.

November 17th will likely be my brother-in-law's last day of work until March or April - he's been designated as "seasonal worker" after 30 years at his job at the country club. Of course, he's spent 30 years at a job with no benefits, no retirement - and finally no assurance of re-hiring. So that's scary. We cannot survive another winter of him only receiving unemployment for six months.

And there is the looming deadline of January 31, 2008 - which will is latest possible date for outsourcing my job, and the rest of our jobs, to India. That's an entirely separate post - so much of that is tied up in asking, "Well, when are you going to find the job you WANT to do, rather than the next-lifejacket-job?"

I've made a set of what I consider very positive steps, however.

The first is that I'm trying to do something - every day, even a little bit - to improve my conscious contact with God. That's been something that's been sliding downhill for a while. Writing, praying, yelling, something - anything. Because that's at the heart of it all. If that ain't happenin', ain't nuthin' much good gonna happen.

I've restarted exercise. (Yes, again. And again and again, if need be.)Well, i wouldn't even call it exercise, so much as cessation-of-sloth. I become such an inanimate object, working and blogging and posting to online communities - it really is an act of discipline to push away, walk away, and do something (anything) physical. Walking around the block twice has become one of those "just do the next right thing, dammit!" things.

I'm looking at the "stuff" in my life, and trying to look at what I can do to "keep current" - little bits, every day. Not world-changing stuff, but do something, dammit.

The last one will be a bit of good news. For more than six months, I've been struggling to find a framework to put so much of my writing into some kind of book format. My friend Ted gave me some inspiration for part of it - but finally the spirit spoke in the words of a song by Ken Medema titled "The Call."

Can you hear it down the ages, like a mighty trumpet sound
A call to leave the night and step into the morning
It's a call to joy and gladness in a world of war and pain
And yet it sounds a note of danger and of warning

It's a call to leave your treasures and your trinkets on the road
It's a call to join the weeping, and to bear the sufferer's load
It's a call to live like fools, by another set of rules
Well, it's a call to take your cross in hand and follow

Yes, it's a call to take your cross in hand and follow
Well, yesterday I sent a email to Ken Medema, asking for his permission to use the song lyrics in a book tentatively titled A Call To Live Like Fools. (I actually attached an audio file with my background and request, since Ken's sight-impaired.) Without his permission to use the lyrics in the introduction and the title, the whole concept wouldn't be worth much.

So while I'm waiting for his reply, I'm working on the outline of what I want to include in this. My hope is that it can be snapshots of life along the road to (and through) faith, a kind of my personal credo or "this I believe," and yet I want to make sure that I include enough of my own brand of humor and irreverence to make it palatable.

So the process is begun. We'll see what brother Medema says.

That's all for now, folks....

Monday, October 08, 2007

Shut up, get on the bike, and ride

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
(Matthew 4:18-22, NIV)

Imagine this. You're in a minivan, or a sedan. You've just dropped the kids at soccer or the YMCA, or maybe you've just left work. You pull up to one of those long traffic lights, and you look to your left - and see a familiar face.

Now most of the time, you've seen this face in paintings, or drawings. The long hair, the graceful, radiant face. This is the face of Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.

Jesus. Savior of the world. Right there, next to you, at the light.

On a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Not a huge one, but a Harley, nonetheless. With those big ol' mufflers that don't really muffle much sound. He's wearing those black leathers, and his hair in a ponytail. Worn, callused hands on the handlebars. The saddlebags are mostly empty, because Jesus doesn't carry much with him.

The fenders and the leathers are dusty - he's been on the road a while. But you feel the know you have to speak. So you roll down your window, and before you can say anything, he smiles at you, motions to the empty seat behind him, and says, "Come follow me...come with me for the ride of your life. The ride of a lifetime..."

That's the theme of my friend Jeff Jacobsen's book, So I Go Now: Following After the Jesus of Our Day. Jeff describes how time and time again, the Rider appears, and motions to him to park the minivan, turn off the cell phone, ditch the job and the church work and the Boy Scouts and reruns of "Friends" and Monday night football - all of it - and just RIDE with him. How marvelous the ride has been, when he's been willing to do it...and how much he's regretted each time he's let the chance slip away.

Now imagine pulling the minivan (the sedan, SUV, you name it) over at the corner - say at 95th & Metcalf in my former home in Overland Park, KS, or at 75th and Cicero in Chicago. Imagine shutting off the key, leaving the van there in the parking lot of the Home Depot, getting on the back of the Harley, and riding away.

THAT is what the Gospel writers are talking about when Jesus said, "Come follow me," and they left "immediately." Or "at once." Leave your fish, your nets, your father...your van, your responsibilities, your commitments. "Follow me."

It brings me to tears to think of the number of times I've watched that Harley ride off - the seat behind my Savior empty, and me sitting at the light, cars honking, with a heart full of "Yeah, but's..." I'll follow you - as soon as I lose a hundred pounds (fat men NEVER look good on Harleys, no matter how cool it might be). As soon as I get my finances in order (gotta take care of business first). As soon as the family is settled (they're my number one priority, now - who will take care of them if I don't?). Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jesus....soon. Just not right now.


God, help me to see where God-as-I-understand-God is in my life today - and give me the strength and the willingness to just shut up, say, "Yes," get on the motorcycle, and ride, whatever that will mean today. Amen.