Brain washing, scams, scriptural expose, exit interviews, shunning and reunification with a little bit of verse at the end. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover this week, so let’s get rolling…
I think it was C.S. Lewis who wondered if one of the Devil’s best hiding places might well be inside the church. I think he may have been onto something. And yes, not all religions, or even the denominations within them, are identical. If fact, there seems to be so much religion that all we do is argue about who’s right while the world blows apart. I don’t think that’s what the Creator had in mind. Since we’re all His kids, I can almost hear Him telling us all to “cut it out…play nice and use your inside voices”.
In my church, everything I ever learned about being gay equated to ‘sin’ that bordered on unforgivable. The years of brain washing had been so insidious that I sincerely believed God had made a mistake in creating me the way He had. How could God know what He knew and still let me slip through Quality Assurance on my way to being born? “Lucky for God I am here to pick up after Him and do His job for Him”. And with that, I was off to build a false idol named ‘me’ with me as the bloody sacrifice.
What can I say? I believed that those who were teaching me this line of thought had my best interests at heart. Yet I quickly came to understand my interests had very little to do with the party line. So the best way for someone like me to stay in the Flock, was to privately punish myself at every opportunity, and in every way imaginable. I would tell myself that it was the only way to stay ‘humble’ and headed to Heaven.
Looking back, my line of reasoning wasn’t tragic because it had become mine. The real tragedy is the very same kind of scam still snares so many of us, in so many ways – weight (lots or too little), alcohol, sexual recklessness, skipping school, prescription drugs, being chronically late for work, bad money habits or never cleaning out the inside of your car – so many options for self-punishment…so little time. This was usually where someone in the pews (or around someone’s kitchen table) would say something about hating the sin, but loving the sinner. Hearing their ‘talk’ while I watched their ‘walk’ made it very difficult to believe either was true. Hypocrisy.
But 28 years ago, standing there in the delivery room, looking at my squirming bundle of boy, I couldn’t think of anything more true. He was perfect. How could I have been any less on my first birthday? But if I had been born ‘love perfect’, then I must have chosen to be ‘this way’. But when did I make that choice? I think I would have remembered being there that day. Think about it. Who says: “Oh I know what I’ll do. I’ll turn gay. And if I do it right, there’s a good chance my family will throw me out on the street and I’ll be a social outcast. Who knows…if I’m really lucky, I’ll get beaten up or worse. Yep, that’s the ticket. I think I’ll be gay.” It doesn’t happen. We don’t choose whether we’re tall or short; we don’t choose our skin color; we don’t check a box to indicate the shape of our eyes and we don’t choose to be straight or gay or something in-between. Nope. The real choices are found once you have new information…what do you do with it? Perspective.
One of my Grandpas’ favorite expressions when I was a little kid leaning to work a hammer was: “Good carpenters don’t make mistakes…they make adjustments”. Wait a minute. Wasn’t Jesus a carpenter? Can I make adjustments? Maybe I can make this ‘square’. The questions took on a whole new imperative as I felt the game clock winding down on me and my marriage. And all of it, came from finally, for the first time in my life, understanding what love was…what it looked like…how the pitch of it resonated so perfectly with the strings in my heart. Maybe now, it was time to learn to love myself the same way I now knew my Creator loved me. What I didn’t know was, how much is that going to cost?
On the one hand, I was already devouring university libraries, finding evidence that everything I had ever been led to believe about being gay was wrong.
Climb into the Way Back Machine with Mr. Peabody and Sherman and take a look at life some 4,000 years ago. Back then, there was no concept (much less language) to describe sexual orientation like there is today. There was no Dr. Phil of Pella, no Kinsey Report and certainly no nineteenth century taboos, many of which still live resident in many of the church doctrines we labor under. Yet one of the ‘favorite scriptures’ of those often quoted to denounce homosexuality is in Genesis 19…remember Sodom and Gomorrah?
“Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we might know them”. Instead of “know”, some bible translations use the phrase “have relations with them”. Either way, the preachers I listened to every week consciously intended us to interpret the passage sexually. And time after time, the congregation would gasp, as if on cue. It was more like watching Jerry Springer than worship on the Sabbath. Perspective.
What the preachers didn’t go on to talk about was Lot. He was a resident who had come to Sodom from somewhere else. Sodom, being a pretty rich city, made it a point to keep a pretty close eye on its aliens. Citizens were anxious about the strangers that Lot was extending his hospitality to. They wanted to know who the strangers were. The Hebrew verb “yadha” (to know) is used 942 times in the Old Testament. Only 15 times is the word used in a sexual context and not once, not once, is it used to refer to same-sex relations.
And the word ‘sodomize’? With the work of modern day linguists, another definition of “yadha” has emerged that might be helpful here. “Yadha: To tame or quiet”. This definition has everything to do with breaches of mid-eastern rules of hospitality, mob violence, rape, and humiliation of captives. It is not even remotely linked to describing natural attractions (gay or straight). And remember, back then, women didn’t count. Men ran everything. So when the old writings referred to rape, it was a male thing. Peter Berger ( co-author of The Social Construction of Reality) speaks to the mindset when he said, “One beats up the Negro to feel white. One spits on the homosexual to feel virile”.
The crowd around Lot’s house not only wanted to know who the strangers were…I think they were there to put the visitors in their place (so to speak). Odd when I remember reading about an Iraqi family who had their store ransacked after 9/11. So I ask you; “Who was feeling threatened that night in Sodom?”.
The sin that night had nothing to do with being gay. It had everything to do with straight men doing things that weren’t natural to them. Flip that statement around and you’ll see an interesting perspective; namely that the sin would have been identical had the crowd been a gang of gay bikers surrounding a couple of straight guys…gay men doing something that wasn’t natural to them. Hypocrisy. Acting in ways other than who you are.
And Augustine (354-430 A.D.) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.) or the personal choices of King James (of King James Version fame)? We’ll have to talk another time about their roles and all the other scriptures used to incite hatred of people like me
At the same time, it was getting tougher to perpetuate the lie at the heart of what I said was my commitment to my family, my wife and now, my son. Perspective.
I knew I was already in the process of refusing to become some sort of caricature of an evangelical pastor embroiled in a sex scandal after 20 or 30 years of suppression. What would the look in my son’s eyes be in that moment? I couldn’t go right, I couldn’t go left and there was no way I was going to submit to having electroshock ‘save me and my soul’. Having spent so much time working on figuring out what was – and wasn’t, I knew if I didn’t do something, I was either going to die or go insane.
But before I did any of that, I knew I had to make sure my son was taken care of in order to get out of his life before he was old enough to form any firm memories of me. It was the most singularly difficult and tragic thing I’ve ever done.
Another thing I knew was there was no compromise on the part of my family, my friends and my church. No one in my family had ever gotten divorced, much less come out for being gay. Shunning (in the literal sense) was a heart-beat away. The war began one afternoon in the form of an ambush. I was upstairs when my ex-wife called for me to come down. As I rounded the corner to see what she wanted, there was my dad sitting in my living room in suit-and-tie with a clip board in his lap. My best friend from the church college I’d attended was there too (he’d also been my best man at my wedding). I don’t remember much of the transcript, but there was my dad conducting a formal exit interview from the family, every friend I knew and the life I had led up to that jagged afternoon was being withdrawn.
It got worse. My parents and my ex-wife created an alliance. They spared no expense and took no prisoners as they banded together to insure that no fag was ever going to raise their grandchild…not on their watch. “You’re going to Hell. Look at what you’ve put us through.” Thanks mom.
Five or six years of ‘rough road’ later, a Kansas court agreed with all of them and stripped me of my parental rights. My son was instantly whisked out of the courtroom, into a waiting car and literally driven out of sight and then, out of the country. He wasn’t quite nine years old.
While I had complied with the Court and did not make contact with my boy in the years that followed, that didn’t mean there weren’t people out looking for him. And while I knew where in the world he was from one several years to another, I was floored to find out that he was now attending the same church college I had attended…and my parents had attended before me. It was within driving distance!!!!
My partner in particular (who witnessed the culmination of the 6+ year ordeal) had kept up the drum beat when the pain of it all would get really heavy for me. “He has to know you fought for him…that you fought to stay in his life…that you didn’t abandon him”. It wasn’t till he was 21…almost to the day of his B-Day that I wrote (and mailed) him a very long hand-written letter. I was very clear about a lot of things…none of it hateful and most of it having to do with me never having stopped loving him. I told him about the man-to-man conversation I had with him before he was 2 (just before I moved out of the house). I also made it very clear that if he didn’t want to have anything to do with me, that would be the way it was. But if this was going to be the only time we ever communicated, he needed to know, from me, that I never lied to him, not once. Further, I wasn’t about to start now. It was time someone gave him a choice about that which he had none – up until that moment. It happened…I wrote.
In less than a week, I got a letter back. I was trembling as I paused and breathed a prayer before I opened the envelope. Pictures fell out…pictures of him! He told me how he had retreated to his dorm room and cried for a day and a half after getting my love letter. Wow…so had I.
So after a lot of letter writing, e-mailing and then phone calls between us, we finally met in our living room. Talk about a reintegration and Easter Morning all rolled into one!!! Without saying a word, we quickly came together in a hug that lasted 100-years. I whispered into his ear that I loved him. He whispered the same thing back. And his eyes! They were the same ones I’d known when he was learning to walk. But don’t think me some super human. I had lots of support from my partners’ family – immediate and extended (e.g., ‘my family’). We even retained professional help to guide us and provide counsel to the whole long-lost process. For more than a year, we conducted a clandestine re-discovery. It was like learning to walk all over again…and yet, other parts of it were as easy and natural as breathing. “I love you”. No one in my old life knew anything about his new interest at driving into the city. Perspective.
We spent almost the entire next year getting reacquainted. Music, afternoon meetings around Chicago, meals, long talks and equally comfortable periods of just sitting there – together – neither one of us feeling the need to say anything at all. It was during that time I wrote him the following little piece of poetry I’m about to share with you now.
There’s a whole lot more we could talk about. Once he let it be known that we were reintegrating, the holy war started all over – but now, he wasn’t the golden boy. He was the target. Both my mom and his mom let him know, in no uncertain terms, him wanting to know me, was being disloyal to them. Deja vous all over again.
I hate this ride, but we’ll get through it because Hatred never wins in the end. Light always has. My kid is now married with a daughter of his own. I don’t know what the journey for the two of us will be or where it will go – now or in the future. I don’t need to. I love him – as him. Down deep, after all this time, will he be able to find his way to love me as openly as I love him? I don’t know, but I have learned to trust the Truth. It needs no defense. It stands on its own merits…as now, do I.
For now, let me leave you with a short verse I wrote for him on August 22nd, 2004. He loved it.
Vespers, My Own
Tonight, my Soul sits, in crag of dear Old Tree, looking up at Heaven, looking down at me.
New stripes earned this day, in Lord Love’s service.
One stripe lands, “You are not me”. This, a must.
And if with, or without me, does he live like mural in flux – still being cast – with me, ground in with his dust?
Another stripe, wincing. “I am not you.” So true.
But without him, a lesser fire I am, burning dimmer, cooler, but maybe not past. Precious embers for a new morning, perhaps.
So I walk on with Spirit fire, burning smoky in places where shadows still vex and screams have ceased to bleed. No more red where it used to be.
The glove of the Cosmos smarts my cheek, daring me to duel. “How much do you love him? Show me, I dare”.
My answer? “I am”. For he, who is my Only own, it is he, the silent offering made in dear Old Tree. This, my vesper prayer, for the one like me.
Perspective. Because the eyes, as they say, have it.
Opening Painting: Clouds At Vespers by Donna Aldridge
And special post-posting thanks to KF for bringing this tune to my attention…authentic stuff. Thanks KF.