Tag Archive: God

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.


Fall Funk

One of the biggest challenges I face as a man with Bipolar Disorder is that nearly every autumn, I fall into a funk. As the weather gets suddenly colder in the midwest, my mother also battles the same demons, and struggles to get out of bed, sleeping an average of fifteen to seventeen hours a day.

It’s ironic that she and I sleep so much during this time, because there’s even less daylight than usual, but I personally must take even better care of myself during the fall season, lest I start rapidly cycling between mania and despondency. I kind of give myself permission to sleep in on days when nothing is due at school, and I’ve learned to pace myself over time.

Having goals helps immensely. I’m finishing up my final two courses at Northwestern University, getting ready to start my thesis this winter and spring, something that can be done from home, but I’m scared. I’m both scared and excited that I’m drawing near the end of my coursework, getting ready to launch into both the work world and, hopefully, the publishing community. If I didn’t have school to propel me forward, I’d probably watch Judge Judy reruns all day. My father always jokes that when that happens to him, just push him out on the ice floe like the Inuit Eskimos.

The reality is that things are going well, and I’m nervous that the proverbial other shoe is going to drop any day now.

The challenge remains being gentle with myself during challenging times, and keep rising each morning as long as God grants me breath to greet the day.

Gentle James

You simply haven’t lived, dearest, until a straight man has cried for you. I went out with my friend James the other night, and told him about the six times I had ECT–Electroconvulsive Therapy–in late October and early November, and his eyes welled up, but he managed to contain himself, if only for my sake. How often do we do that? Keep ourselves together for the sake of another?

James reminded me of days gone by, and had to tell me his story again, because I’d forgotten the details of his life. Some would call it the detritus of one’s world. I choose to look at it otherwise. Indeed, we do imbue our actions with meaning, but in my mind, there is meaning that goes beyond the mere action. I hold with Soren Kierkegaard, the existentialist philosopher who also happened to believe in God, quite the mind fuck, maybe mind cluster is the more correct term.

But I digress. . .

James reminded me that he himself had had seizures as a child and takes anti-seizure medication. Personal disclosure between writerly friends is always valuable because it is what makes us unique that makes us valuable, yes, but it is also what makes us fully human.

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.

The Seventh Sense

People have long talked about the sixth sense being intuition, what some might call extrasensory perception. There’s a great movie, titled, The Sixth Sense, where a young boy can sense the intentions, wishes and desires of the dead. In many ways, belief in the sixth sense has taken the place of belief in a traditionally understood afterlife. Then, of course, there are those who dismiss the sixth sense entirely.

Never before, however, have I heard of a seventh sense. I’m reading The Once and Future King, by T.H. White right now, about the legend of King Arthur, Lancelot, Guenever, and the Knights of the Round Table, and the book mentions a seventh sense. Specifically, it defines the seventh sense in contrast to a different definition of the sixth sense. White writes, “Balance was the sixth sense, which she won when she first learned to walk, and now she has the seventh one–knowledge of the world. The slow discovery of the seventh sense, by which both men and women contrive to ride the waves of a world in which there is war, adultery, compromise, fear, stultification and hypocrisy–this discovery is not a matter for triumph.”

This seventh sense relates to our need to understand our place in the world, to understand our relationship with a God of our understanding, to make peace with the things we will accomplish and the things we will not live to do. I guess you could call it some kind of ordering principle. The interesting thing about the book The Once and Future King is that it tells the King Arthur legend from a modernist perspective. It references contemporary thought and contemporary belief systems. The author further writes, “Middle-aged people can balance between believing in God and breaking all the commandments, without difficulty.”

One reason the King Arthur legend is so powerful and continues to resonate today is that Arthur established a code of conduct, a code of chivalry. This mythical character believed that people ought to behave decently, and his strongest proponent, his most chivalrous knight Lancelot, turned out to be the one to break the code most dramatically by having an affair with Guenever.

In many ways, White establishes the seventh sense as the “grown up” sense. I have long remembered the New American biblical quote, “When I was a child I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child, but when I became a man I did away with childish things.” I did my undergraduate at a Catholic university, and my belief system then was simpler, more well ordered. I look around at the seeming chaos in the world, and realize that now, the trick is to hang on to faith in spite of doubt. There’s a good reason why doubting Thomas has become one of my heroes. That’s why, I suppose, they call it a leap of faith. To put it another way, an author named Julia Cameron wrote a book called, The Artist’s Way, and she said, “Leap and the net will appear.” She is talking more specifically about creative leaps, but isn’t the same thing required in religious terms? When bad things happen to good people, we are called to use our seventh sense, not to abandon faith, but to embrace it all the more.

Time to fess up. I’m a huge fan of Charlie Brown. So many memorable moments captured on the little screen. For an animated cartoon, Peanuts speaks volumes about the way to find your way in the world.

I’ll always remember the time Charlie Brown went Trick-or-Treating, and his famous complaint, “All I got was a rock.” This lesson can be applied across the board, the whole adage when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

I’m terminally single, it seems, but I make plenty of lemonade. My philosophy is: “I’m looking for someone who laughs more than he complains.”

But I digress.

Easter. The day when a particular, world-changing dead man named Jesus Christ rose, in preparation for his ascendency and the salvation of the world entire. Popular opinion has it that Jesus was the only perfect man, the only man without earthly sin, yet I’ve wondered if this could possibly be true, in particular in light of his final words, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Turns out, apparently, that doubting God or the presence of God isn’t in itself a sin. Think of the trials and tribulations of Job.

Easter, then, is a way to celebrate God’s promise that He will always be there for us.

Happy Easter, everyone, and as Tiny Tim proclaimed, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”

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.

Thanksgiving Prayers

When it comes to God, it’s easier not to believe than to believe (that’s my theory).

This morning I came across an essay in the Sunday, November 11, 2012 Chicago Tribune Parade magazine, written by Anne Lamott. Here’s what she wrote:

Counting Our Blessings

“No matter how you say it, grace can transform an ordinary meal into a celebration—of family, love, and gratitude.

“We didn’t say grace at our house when I was growing up because my parents were atheists. I knew even as a little girl that everyone at every table needed blessing and encouragement, but my family didn’t ask for it. Instead, my parents raised glasses of wine to the chef: Cheers. Dig in. But I had a terrible secret, which was that I believed in God, a divine presence who heard me when I prayed, who stayed close to me in the dark. So at 6 years old I began to infiltrate religious families like a spy—Mata Hari in plaid sneakers.

“One of my best friends was a Catholic girl. Her boisterous family bowed its collective head and said, ‘Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts. . . ‘ I was so hungry for these words; it was like a cool breeze, a polite thank-you note to God, the silky magnetic energy of gratitude. I still love that line.

“I believed that if your family said grace, it meant you were a happy family, all evidence to the contrary. But I saw at certain tables that an improvised grace could cause friction or discomfort. My friend Mark reports that at his big southern childhood Thanksgivings, someone always managed to say something that made poor Granny feel half dead. ‘It would be along the lines of ‘And Lord, we are just glad you have seen fit to keep Mama with us for one more year. We would all strain to see Granny giving him the fisheye.’

“I noticed some families shortened the pro forma blessing so they could get right to the meal. If there were more males than females, it was a boy chant, said as one word: ‘GodisgreatGodisgoodletusthankHimforourfoodAmen.’ I also noticed that grace usually wasn’t said if the kids were eating in front of the TV, as if God refused to listen over the sound of it.

“And we’ve all been held hostage by grace sayers who use the opportunity to work the room, like the Church Lady. But more often, people simply say thank you—we understand how far short we must fall, how selfish we can be, how self-righteous, what brats. And yet God has given us this marvelous meal.

“It turns out that my two brothers and I all grew up to be middle-aged believers. I’ve been a member of the same Presbyterian church for 27 years. My older brother became a born-again Christian—but don’t ask him to give the blessing, as it can last forever. I adore him, but your food will grow cold. My younger brother is an unconfirmed but freelance Catholic.

“So now someone at our holiday tables always ends up saying grace. I think we’re in it for the pause, the quiet thanks for love and for our blessings, before the shoveling begins. For a minute, our stations are tuned to a broader, richer radius. We’re acknowledging that this food didn’t just magically appear. Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, baked it; wow.

“We say thank you for the miracle that we have stuck together all these years, in spite of it all; that we have each other’s backs, and hilarious companionship. We say thank you for the plentiful and outrageous food: Kathy’s lox, Robby’s buche de Noel. We pray to be mindful of the needs of others. We savor these moments out of time, when we are conscious of love’s presence, of Someone’s great abiding generosity to our dear and motley family, these holy moments of gratitude. And that is grace.”

(Anne Lamott has a new book out this month, “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.” For writers, her book on writing is seminal, titled, “Bird by Bird.” The first book of hers I read is called “Operating Instructions,” about her life as a single mother, just getting sober, and her discovery of God’s presence in her life. She’s a wonderful writer, definitely worth getting to know through words on paper).

The Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou has written a novel called I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but she doesn’t explain the title.  It actually originates from a Paul Lawrence Dunbar poem titled “Sympathy.”  He lived from 1872 until 1906, and lived in a period where Blacks couldn’t expect to be treated equally or fairly.  Their best possible option was to be ignored, yet their poets cried out, singing songs of hope and lament.

Dunbar intones, “I know why the caged bird sings, ah me/When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore–/When he beats his bars and he would be free/It is not a carol of joy or glee/But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deepest core/But a plea, that upward to Heaven flings/I know why the caged bird sings.”

Not so very long ago, slaves sang spirituals to a God above, a God who would make everything right in heaven.  In the Color Purple, Celie claims, “This life soon be over.  Heaven lasts all ways.”  Indeed, all ways, not always.

Maya Angelou takes these sentiments, and turns them on their head, saying that even in sadness there is freedom, even in loss and inequity there is beauty to be found in a life well-lived.  At the very beginning of chapter fourteen, she talks about the residents of a small, rural town in Alabama called Stamps:  “They showed me a contentment based on the belief that nothing more was coming to them, although a great deal more was due.  Their decision to be satisfied with life’s inequities was a lesson for me.”

She wrote her own poem of hope:  I Rise.

“Out of the huts of history’s shame/I Rise/Up from a past that’s rooted in pain/I Rise…/I am the dream and the hope of the slave/I Rise/I Rise/I Rise.”

Despite the limitations of the time period where open prejudice, hostility, and mistrust flourished, Blacks have found a way to make their life on earth matter, a great difference from their past where hope was an afterthought.

No matter how big or small our life is, there must still be gratitude that we are afforded a life at all.  That seems to be Maya Angelou’s belief.  She names and renames Black people as Negroes, Coloreds, Blacks, and the slur word White people use.  I asked a friend Rosie what term she prefers, and she said that Black seems perfectly acceptable to her, although other Black men and women use the term African-American.  The difficulty, she claims, is that most names assigned to Blacks are terms Whites have created to differentiate themselves from a sense of “otherness.”  Blacks therefore have to find a way to reclaim their heritage through whatever appellation they use.

What do you call me? I have already used all those words and they are useless to me now, Maya Angelous seems to challenge.  She insists on being accorded a life of dignity, a sense of a life well-lived.

Many Black people that I have run into answer the question, How are you, by saying simply, “I’m Blessed.”  White people that I encounter very rarely respond that way, and I’m not sure why.  Maybe Whites are afraid of seeming too overtly spiritual, almost as if religion and religious sentiments are something to be embarrassed about. I personally think we should learn better what makes us alike rather than what makes us different.  I think it’s perfectly alright to be blessed.  As children of God we do not need to grovel.

“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!