Tag Archive: christianity

A Marriage of Equals

My dad really offended me the other day by circulating an article he had found online called, “How the Left has sabotaged marriage.” His fairly progressive Lutheran church has been holding a lecture series on their evolving position on gay marriage and Christianity. I don’t know if the article my father found was part of that series, I know that I felt alienated regardless.

Having a safe place for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people to worship might be a game changer, yet most traditional churches tolerate alternative sexual orientations, but don’t really go to the extra effort to welcome us into their fold. There’s something especially empowering about a group of people coming together to worship a God of their understanding, whatever religion that is. Unfortunately, traditional churches still have not made a place at the table for those in the minority.

I can’t really go to my local parish and feel welcome, and that’s a shame. I find myself casting about, looking at other religions to see what might fit, but not finding any religion particularly open-minded. Having a place to belong, and knowing you belong there, is life enhancing, yet it’s not something I truly experience.

And now, of course, it’s the political season. I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter, but even Saturday Night Live made fun of the Left for its glacially slowly evolving position on gay marriage. Kate McKinnon, playing Hillary, went for a drink at a bar where the real Hillary Clinton was working as a bartender named Val. Val tried to bring up, “Oh, you’ve really helped out gay rights,” and Kate’s character kept insisting, almost to the point of absurdity, “But I could have done more.”

The democratic position is practically the only tenable position for a gay man to hold unless he’s so wholly self loathing that he likes being relegated to second-class citizenship status. Aside from transgendered icon Caitlyn Jenner, the Republican party rarely embraces the LGBT community.

I look forward to the day when I can get married in a traditional, not entirely alternative, wedding service, but I’m not sure that will happen in my lifetime. Still, we’ve come miles and miles since Stonewall, and the fight has changed from the basic right of being seen at a bar in public to the right to marry and spend your life with one person.


Retreat Home

Conscious living. . .A buzz word in our modern, hyper-fast, race-to-the-finish-line society. People, by nature, seem to seek what they don’t already have, and we have romanticized the notion of slowing down to enjoy the view, lest life pass us by, but so few of us actually achieve a sense of conscious living.

I feel torn, several times a week, by differing value systems. Some gay men worship the body electric, and put all their focus, time, and energy into working out. That, indeed, is but a subset of the whole population, but I’m self-centered and vain enough to want other’s approval, even if it’s only for being in great shape. Then, there’s the value system of the small town, village really, in which I live. There, the greatest emphasis is placed on being a good person where you’re also encouraged to fit in and not make too many waves, and this can sometimes mean not being disagreeable–being liked. In this community, many diverse people are tolerated, but you certainly don’t want to stick out for being too progressive or controversial. Yet another group whose approval I court are the intellectuals and writers and the writing community at Northwestern as well as throughout the Chicagoland area. There’s a subtle sort of competition among my fellow MFA students to see who is the most talented and who has the most potential to go far.

Last, there is the Christian and Catholic community to which I have just come home on a visit, twenty years after I graduated. I went to a small, private, liberal arts Catholic school, St. John’s University, in upper Minnesota, about an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities. I am, in effect, on a retreat home, a retreat to my spiritual home.

I have, in the course of my life, wandered far from my spiritual roots, starting way back when I was a sophomore, and my former Resident Assistant, Chris Agnew, the student who oversaw our development and encouraged us to come to him with any questions, suffered an epileptic seizure and died in the shower early one morning. I really couldn’t reconcile the kind of God who would take away such a caring, loving young man so early in life. I couldn’t even make myself go to this funeral, held in the big abbey church where his life was celebrated. I didn’t want to celebrate his life; I wanted him still in my life. It was a real crisis in faith, compounded by my grappling with my sexual identity.

I have wandered far, over the years, from my roots, but now I am back for a vacation, and I get to look at the campus with new eyes. There is, indeed, an undeniable spiritual energy to the place, nestled among 2,700 acres and Lake Sagatagan, with a vibrant community of Benedictine monks and priests. St. Benedict was celebrated for the virtue of hospitality, and it is this openness and welcoming attitude that has brought me home, the long way around. I notice an innocence, a lack of jadedness, in the eyes of the summer students, and indeed, among the mentors on campus.

A simpler life is not necessarily a simple life, but this retreat has shown me that it’s okay to embrace a God of my understanding, even if it doesn’t fit the traditional Christian model, and still not be considered a cast out. I have spent so much time and energy trying to fit in among various communities, and now I sense is my chance to take two days to ask myself, who am I, where are my roots, where have I come from, and where am I going.

Much peace to you. I seem to be finding a missing sense of quiet serenity and gratitude up here.

2 Corinthians 4:6

“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

“Always carrying about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”

2 Corinthians:16

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

“While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Two images/moments from Schindler’s List: the movie is in black and white with one exception–why do you think that might be?

A simple dusk, blood red coat moving through the crowd, then the coat flung onto an anonymous ash heap. The only bit of color in the stark, yet stirring film that is “Schindler’s List,” originally titled, I believe, “Schindler’s Ark.”

Moment number two: a child jeers at a man passing by, as he’s shuttled along like cattle to some horrible death–the man proceeds with calm serenity in his heart.

The child yells out, “JEW!” His mouth twisted in hatred at the unknown, the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable. How easy for that child to tag along with the angry crowd rather than calm his inner anger at that which he doesn’t understand. Taking an innocuous word, and filling it with venom. How long before the Jewish people were again able to call themselves, JEWS, without cringing in shame? People politely, in politically correct terms, referring to “the Jewish people, the Jewish experience,” but as the saying goes, “Until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes. . .”

How then to avoid slamming hate back in the face of hate, how to respond with serenity, even with empathy, but without bowing our heads in shame. We have all been shamed enough, all of us, all too long–Jews, Christians, Muslims, Agnostics, Buddhists, Taoists. . .The list goes on ad infinitum. Will we live in shame and fear, or will we “rise to the occasion,” rise to that which is required of us. As children of God, we do not grovel.

My philosophy is to aim high. You may not hit the bull’s-eye, but you’ll have a better chance of hitting the target. In terms of my religion, I try to be faithful, but as a gay man, it can be a challenge. Today, when it came time for the announcement of what the faithful should pray for, we were instructed to pray for the preservation of family values and the definition of marriage as between a man and woman. For this very reason, I consider myself a freelance Catholic, what some would term “a cafeteria Catholic.” These kinds of prayers and admonitions tend to leave me feeling left out, and I am considered by those in the Church to be saddled with a special burden to bear in reconciling my sexuality with my religion. No wonder Reform Judaism seems especially appealing!

I am a hypocrite in the sense that as I sat through Mass, and said the revised version of the Mass (which if you’re Catholic and haven’t been to Church for a while–Church with a capital “C”–you will notice things have changed, sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically), I kept thinking, “Well at least I know the new liturgy,” unlike my neighbor sitting next to me. I took special pride in speaking out all the new parts, secretly gloating while trying to keep my face pious.

In many ways Catholicism is more than a religion. It is almost an ethnicity, something so indoctrinated in your soul as to become a very part of your Being, much like Judaism is both a religion and an ethnicity. It would be hard for me to leave my religion behind for this very reason. It’s a part of who I am, for better or worse.

Speaking of shooting for the stars, and aiming high, I strive to be the best person I can, yet one particular moral failing haunts me. I fear the future, in particular I fear poverty. My very own financial cliff. At one time I was on disability, Medicare, and Social Security, and lived in what could be politely termed a hovel with a man who has both cerebral palsy as well as a mental illness. I hid my impoverishment from friends, didn’t dare date, and grew ashamed of my life circumstances.

Later, my mother’s cousin moved to the area and helped me rebuild my life. I have even gone back to school, grad school at Northwestern for a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing, but somehow, in some ways, have continued to resent my past. I still take Eric, the man I lived with, out to see movies, but sometimes his behavior embarrasses me, especially when he starts talking to himself, often quite vocally (it’s a part of his mental illness). I even, at times, grow embarrassed by my mother’s cousin’s condition. She’s practically incapacitated, and can no longer walk on her own. I take her to church, out to eat, and to movies in her wheelchair, and I love her greatly, yet at times I find myself praying selfishly, “Please let her live until I graduate,” since I could not afford school on my own. Fear of financial insecurity and impoverishment rules my very being.

I pray in the year to come for greater faith, to accept whatever comes my way. This is not an easy prayer, even for someone who went to a small, liberal arts Catholic school as an undergrad. To whom much is given, much is required (this is not something which I naturally consider). I also pray not to resent those around me or the services I perform for them. For the last six years, I have changed my cousin’s bandages, and I hope to be more like Jesus in washing others’ feet, without expecting accolades for my service. I also pray not to be embarrassed by my circumstances, by the fragility of the life I have constructed. Anne Lamott has written a new book: “Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.” She comes from a place of gratitude, but doesn’t whitewash her struggles, most especially her struggle to be grateful.

Please, Lord, make me more grateful this coming year, and maybe just a little neater and organized, and maybe more creative as well, but if you can only make me grateful for my blessings, so be it.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose,” Ecclesiastes 3:1

For some reason, throughout the history of time, people have been fascinated as to what happens after we die as well as what happens at the end of time, the end of the world.  This preys upon the latent fears of those who seek heaven, but are terrified by hell.  In the Old Testament, the rules are pretty clear:  follow the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-17.  I don’t know about you, but I actually had to look up the commandments.  In case you’re like me, here they are:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not worship idols
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord
  4. Keep the Sabbath holy
  5. Honor your mother and father
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor (you shall not lie)
  10. You shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife or belongings

One of my close friends insists that the fear of God is preached to us in order to help us know how to behave.  A kind of fear tactic.  There is also a sense throughout the Bible that we may be running out of time.  Repent, and repent now, seems to be the general idea.  Ever since Christ first appeared, Christians have been prophesying the imminent end of the world along with many other religions.

Recent examples about the end of the world and the end of time include the radio preacher Harold Camping who marked October 21st, 2012 as the end of everything we hold dear, Nostradamus’ predictions about the end of 2012 marking Armaggedon, the inscription of the Mayan calendar, Jerry Jenkins book series “Left Behind,” the movie “Contagion” predicting a virulent pestilence sweeping away most of mankind, the book “The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood, and of course, last but not least, the views of Jehovah’s Witnesses who go door to door with a gleam in their eyes and a sense of righteousness that the time to repent is at hand.  This brings me to another issue:  what’s the best way to circumnavigate those who preach zealously the end of time?  Personally, if you had asked me, I would preach to live not in fear and mortal dread, but make each day count.  Despite all the predictions, we don’t know what happens in the afterlife so we better make our borrowed time on earth matter.

As I mentioned, Jerry Jenkins wrote a whole series of books about Armageddon called the “Left Behind” series.  Despite my reluctance to sign on board any preaching about the end of days, I do feel Jerry Jenkin’s books and personal philosophy share one simple idea that makes sense.  A Jewish friend once told me, “Hell is eternal separation from God.”  Not a pretty thought, and it conveys a sense of desperation and loneliness.  This idea reminds me of the myth of Sisyphus where he is condemned to roll a boulder up an enormous mountain, and each time he reaches the top, the stone falls down and he must start again.  Personally, the God I worship is not so unkind or wrathful.  I’m more of a  Matthew 22:37-39 kind of guy:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

As the hippies once preached, It’s all about love man!