Life Portrait

Posted: August 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

This post was written on Monday, August 22.

My portrait on the 76th anniversary of my birth is a new one, never before seen or described. Today is the day after my my birthday and I feel no older than I did the day before my birthday. Birthdays are signposts on a journey. They are not the journey.

We have other signposts we plant along our life’s road-trip—days we were graduated from various educational institutions, moments of spiritual epiphanies, and significant moments along relationship roads to name a few. Some of these mark a past moment engendering present reflection. Others mark annual progress which we call anniversaries. Reflective in nature, these annual mile-markers also look toward the future. They are markers—not prescriptions but descriptions. They do not define us as much as provide bits and pieces to aid in describing who we are.

We are much more than descriptions of a moment in time. My graduation from a school—elementary school, high school, college, university, graduate school—describes an accomplishment I’ve made but does not define me; I am much more than a high school or university graduate, or holder of a graduate degree. I have had moments of spiritual ecstasies and encounters with the Spirit of God, but I am more than a spiritual being. I was a principle partner in a wedding that began a marriage lasting 45 years, but I am more than a wedding day or the acknowledgement of it in annual celebrations that lasted until Barbara’s death in 2012. Earlier this month, August 13, 2016, to be exact, I recognized the third year sin every the day I began the process of bringing the world into my truth as a gay man; I am more than that descriptor. Yesterday, I marked the 76th year of my life on earth, but that day was a description and not a definition; I am more than a seventy-six-year-old man.

Markers in life help us take account of where we’ve been and map a road for the future, but we are much more than any one of our markers. I venture to say that we are more than the combination of all of the markers—the anniversaries we celebrate and the events the celebrations commemorate—along life’s road. I am more than a university graduate with multiple degrees who is a gay man, has experienced the life-giving grace of God through Jesus the Christ, was married for 45 years to Barbara, and has celebrated 76 years as a human being. There are many more markers along the road I’ve walked that I could add, but no matter how many I add I will still be describing who I am, not defining. The definition of David Wigger is far more than the descriptors.

I am still exploring the depth within and findingthings about myself I never knew existed. I don’t want this “fleshing out” of who I am to stop. Some of these discoveries are filled with joy and excitement about new strengths and the flexing of dormant mental, spiritual, and emotional muscles.

Sometimes the discovery of something about myself I had not known before is tinged with fear and takes me to the edge where I feel vulnerable. There are discoveries about myself that are unpleasant. That unpleasantness is opportunity for growth. Growth doesn’t take place in comfort but in discomfort. So whether new discoveries about myself are pleasant and welcoming or fearful and disarming, they are all good.

I look forward to new experiences when I can plant another marker on my pilgrimage. Perhaps this new marker will be of such import that it becomes an annual celebration, an anniversary like a irthday. Whatever it becomes, it will add another descriptor to further fill in my portrait, which is yet unfinished, but always emerging.

Should I present a definition of David Wigger it would begin with “A creature of God that God made in his image…”

Living in the Deep Places

Posted: August 8, 2016 in Uncategorized
I wrote about deep places when I first described myself on this blog as a gay man a year ago (August 6, 2015) in a post titled Deep Places . To continue the theme of deep places a year later, I believe we experience life more fully by living more deeply.

When I began the journey of entering into the fuller truth of who I am, part of that reality, which I had heretofore pushed aside, was that I am gay. This did not mean a change from who I was, rather it was a fuller picture of who I am. In the afore mentioned post, I brought that dimension of myself into public view to add to everything else people already knew about me. Therefore, I’m no different than I was, just more fully known. That truth came out of the deep places in my life.

I am discovering that I am returning to those deep, sacred places more often after having opened them to the public. They are no longer secret, though no less deep and sacred. The door once opened cannot be closed. I have discovered that living with a door open to the deep places in my life has brought freedom greater than any thing I have ever experienced.

Concomitant with opening this once dark and fearful space to the light of public scrutiny was a public affirmation of Truth (Jesus the Christ) in my life. My daily walk with Jesus has been more conversational while at the same time multidimensional, from casual to formal—Friend, Saviour, Lord, of the godhead One, Confidant.

I have discovered that having once opened the door to the deep places in my life, I am unable to return to daily living without meaningfully incorporating that space. The deep places follow me. I cannot ignore bringing conversations into those deep places while shallowness and superficiality become an effort to sustain.

The deep places in my life were once a basement filled with dusty floors and cobwebbed corners due to the absence of life. I opened the door wide last year, swept the floor, cleaned the walls, and invited you and many other people to enter. I now find myself walking into that space daily. It has become a peaceful place even though there are still nooks and crannies, rooms behind doors yet to be cleaned. I find that, as a result of making my life transparent in this one area, my sexuality, I am able to live more vulnerably in other many areas. I am growing daily and becoming more cognitively and spiritually engaged with reality. Life has a forward energy that is breeding a vibrant self-esteem, which produces confidence and eagerness about engagement.

I don’t hold on to my feelings, my fears of what people think, and other anxieties—my own perceptions of life and the way I had lived. It’s a radical change from the life of anxiety and fear that truth, which I had kept hidden, would escape and people would know the real me. Truth cannot now escape because it has been set free.

We develop models for our lives in forms that make sense to us. I had built my life on the model of a home. Various places in our homes are designed for certain functions of living. We have space that is personal and private (bedrooms), there areas for entertainment where we invite guests (living rooms, family rooms, patios, great rooms, etc.), and there are areas that are storage areas (dusty, cobwebbed basement closets). That was the model I had for my life. I had personal space and I had areas of my life into which I invited people. Then there was the basement closet, which was closed and locked and I kept the key with me, secure at all times.

That basement closet,  that deep place in my life, has now been opened. By opening it, I have discovered that it is no longer as deep as it once was. Not only does the open door allow light to enter, I have also found a window that had been obscured to block out curious eyes from observing what I did in my deep places. Upon opening the window, fresh winds blow through the once closed up, locked space, and light sweeps across it to meet the light from the open door.

Just because the deep place is now open—and even has a window—does not imply that it is shallow. This place inside me is still deeply spiritual, deeply challenging, and deeply personal. Yes, it’s personal space into which I have invited people to come and sit awhile.

If you would like to engage in conversation about deep places, please leave a comment by clicking the lasso at the top. If you would like to connect with me off the blog, go to the Let’s Talk page. I look forward to our conversations.

Senses

Posted: July 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

The vibrancy with which life is lived when young becomes dulled with age. The senses lose their depth and timber and resonance over time. They become flat and one dimensional, and without feeling and spirit. This flatness of perceiving the world influences everything about living.

I sensed the truth of this in the summer of 2013 while on a nostalgic visit to a small central Texas town where I lived during my preteen years. This small town was built on a railroad (or the railroad routed through the small town just because it was there), which was not so much a demarcation line separating people in the town as it was a symbol of commerce. Most of the locomotives had been converted to diesel fuel for the energy needed to move the behemoths with their long tails that stretched sometimes for a hundred lengths or more. I remember a few of the last “pufferbellies” (steam locomotives) with the smoke puffing high into the wind as they passed through town. Ocassionally a train would pause long enough to drop off and pick up cars filled with cotton, the primary commodity of the area’s agriculture; cattle were primarily transported by truck. All of this, of course is the remembrance of a once preteen boy.

But one memory that is not just nostalgia but is deeply rooted in real sensory experience and brings back those idyllic childhood days is the smell of the wooden creosote soaked ties that fills the nostril with a pungent stinging odor. I loved the smell when, riding my bike from home to the shops and stores that lined Main Street, I would cross the tracks and inhale that wonderful perfume of the railroad.

Bpatist Church where my dad was pastor

I said this has something to do with a visit back to that small town from which I had moved with my family in the fall of 1952—and it does. While on that trip, I drove around the small town trying to match my memory with the places I used to haunt. Such was not entirely possible because my rambling about town then was on a bike, now it’s inside a hermetically sealed car.

I crossed the tracks. They looked not unlike they did when I rode my bike across them 60 years before. I drove on trying to cover as much of the town as I could. I went by the school. The two schools in the town, the elementary and senior high stood next to each other. I remember my last year in town. We kids walked from temporary school buildings, relics of WWII, which we had been using following a fire that had consumed the old elementary building, to a brand new building. It was a proud day. When I saw it on this trip 60 years later, it wasn’t so new anymore. I had to update the mental image of that place.

Texas Ranger Station

Not only did I have to update mental images—all that was left of the hospital was a chimney, the Texas Ranger Station was a nondescript motel, the tired old bank now looked prosperous, the movie theater no longer existed—but I also had to recalibrate the color palette of the town. At the end of June—perhaps that has something to do with the color—the grass was brown; the trees, though they were alive with leaves, looked brown; the streets were dusty brown; the railroad ties, once shiny black and creosote soaked, had turned a gray-brown.

And that brings me back to the one bit of nostalgia that was as vivid to my nostrils as my 11-year-old boy’s experience remembers it. I was ready to drive out of the town and on to Fort Worth and Dallas for more nostalgic visits. I had stopped in at the bank and talked with the president (I’ve had a checking account at that bank for over 60 years). I had been by the church where my dad pastured a loving, vibrant congregation. I had to cross the railroad one last time to get to Main. Streeet, which was also the highway out of town. As I approached the tracks crossing the street in front of me, I had a sudden urge to see if crossing the tracks still smelled the same. I pushed the button and the window slowly sunk into the door and immediately the hot dry air pushed the cool, clean conditioned air away somewhere. The tires rumbled across the tracks and for a second I thought I smelled creosote, but I wasn’t satisfied.

I pulled off to the side of the street, raised the window so my dog Paco, who was with me, wouldn’t decide to jump out, and walked back toward the railroad. Sure enough, even though the ties were old and dry and dust covered I could smell it. I walked on. When I got to the tracks, I wondered why I wasn’t riding my bike, I looked down the street toward “home” (1949-1952) and saw the heat rising in wavy lines above the asphalt.

About that time, a boy came flying past me, bumped over the tracks and sped on down the street. I looked behind me to see if Lowell was following him, but of course he wasn’t. Lowell would be 75 years old by now. I had crossed the tracks by this time and walked a space longer before turning back to rescue my dog from the quickly rising temperature in the car.

I walked through the pungent smells experienced by an 11-year-old-boy and was suddenly aware that it wasn’t only the smells that had been conjured up from the past but it was a boyhood of the 1950s that had come to life.

I need community. I am not alone. Rural and small town areas of our nation are replete with stories of community. The proverb—from a hard to verify source—that states “it takes a village to raise a child” is a pithy example of the value of community. Strong bonds of friendship develop on college campuses. Fraternal organizations are often cemented with comradely feelings. Faithful congregants in religious communities describe their connections with one another as family and many sing about being in “the family of God.” Even people who are bent on destruction and mayhem find brotherly camaraderie in the pursuit of evil.

I am defining community as a social, religious, occupational, educational, or other group that shares characteristics in common and is perceived or perceives itself distinct from the larger society around it. A community can be of any size and the common characteristics are felt deeply so as to create a strong bond. The size of the community is not as important as the vitality of connection between members of the community.

Each of us find community in different sectors of society, and are most often members of more than one community. In fact, participation in multiple communities promulgates healthy life balance. The narrow focus of a single community creates energy and purpose but is devoid of healthy perspective and requires constant recalibration from sources external to that community. If these external influences are not strong enough to bring needed correction, personal commitments to only one community result in a life that becomes unhealthy for the individual and, by extension, the community, and the world immediately outside of the community.

This submission to a single community often happens when fanaticism and radicalism take hold and fundamentalist ideologies overpower the autonomy of the individual. This phenomenon is observed in political climates regardless of the niche in the structure of society: government, philosophy, education, religion, entertainment, or science.

Someone may take umbrage with my position. I’m thinking of people who are so strongly committed to one ideology that they feel every one should share their life’s single purpose. This is true in every segment of society and can be documented with a plethora of examples. Consider the politics of government, or religious faith traditions, or the philosophical underpinnings of any human endeavor.

But I digress. Back to my initial statement that I need community. Upon the death of my wife Barbara, I was faced with how much I had grown to depend on her over the 45 years of our marriage. This was particularly true when I examined how she had become my entrée to community, particularly those communities with a social component. My introverted personality depended heavily on her. When I was left to negotiate the serpentine ways of entering into and engaging components of a community, I floundered. But I desperately needed what communities afford: belonging, affirmation, support, purpose, and social opportunities. I persisted in my effort to engage communities in which I had relationships.

Members of my communities were unaware of how isolated I felt in the hollowness of Barbara’s leaving, even while engaged in relational activities among them. I was a master at pretense and masked the difficulty I had in entering new communities. However, I persisted in my attempts because I felt community was critical for healthy living.

The reality of my need for genuine community became vividly real when I began the process of bringing people into a fuller understanding of who I am as a gay man (click here for a post about my coming to terms with my sexuality). I knew from the beginning of this kaleidoscopic journey toward authenticity, toward living a life of integrity, that former communities might disappear and new ones would hopefully emerge. I was not blind to what I was doing. I was cognizant of the real possibility of losing friends and even entire communities in which I had enjoyed the accoutrements of belonging. A huge question mark was superimposed on my communities when I began informing people that I am gay. Would some disappear? Would some grow stronger?

I am on the other side of those initial steps into sharing the truth and reality of who I am as a gay man. I am now able to begin evaluating my world of communities. There are some of my past relationships who may or may not have received this recent revelation about me. I have not, nor at this time do I plan to bring them into the circumference of this knowledge for I have not had a strong connection with them for over 20 years. Nor does it concern me should they hear from some source that I am gay. Truth is not something to fear.

There is still a question mark hovering over some communities in which I have enjoyed relationships in more recent years, though I am not currently active within their circles. In some cases there are community members who now have a more complete knowledge of who I am, but the community at large may be uninformed.

The primary community of family and close relatives has been affirming and I am most grateful for their acceptance. Some of them accept me without affirming, and that’s okay. Each must come into their own understandings in their own way. My children in particular have been wonderful. Their love has not diminished and their acceptance is unwavering. This family community is a source of comfort, affirmation, acceptance and pride for which I am deeply and fully thankful.

There are other communities in which I circulate. For instance, my church is a significant community for me. As such, it was the first one in which I began opening my life. Not the entire church, but valued members with whom I already had a warm relationship. I might characterize these friends as a community within a community. Each time I have opened myself to someone in the church, I have received no condemnation, no negative reaction, only love and gratitude for being considered a close friend with whom I could be authentic. My church community, not in whole but in a large part, is a place where I feel safe, receive affirmation, support, and can live my life with transparency.

Another community is the condominium where I live. I have discovered an enlarging group of friends who have warmly accepted me as a gay man. Some of them are gay while others are not. An interesting thing about this community is that almost all of them could be either my kids or even my grandkids! I am grateful for them, their affirmation, their support and the social opportunities they afford me.

I live in a downtown neighborhood not unlike a neighborhood anywhere in the country—rural, small town, or suburban. I know the store owners, restaurant servers and even cooks, policemen, street sweepers, mail carriers, and homeless people. Many, though not all, know I am gay and, because of my transparency, my relationship with them has even been strengthened.

I am a “member” of a community of people who habituate a coffee shop. We greet each other warmly, call each other by name, and all of us enjoy coffee. A member of this community stopped me on the street today to ask if I had made my trip to Dallas yet. I hadn’t seen him for several weeks yet he was interested in me and showed that interest by mentioning something specific about my life. And so it was when a friend entered the coffee shop today and I encouraged him to tell our friend the barista what happened in his life over the weekend: he had gotten engaged to a wonderful girl. This is another example of a community of people in my life.

I have not gotten involved in a “gay community,” though I’m not averse to doing so. Because so many people, gay and straight, have affirmed and encouraged me, I have not felt the strong necessity for such a single purpose community, which has been a felt need for many gay people. I have participated in a few activities with some of these communities and do not feel as awkward doing so now as I did when I first began revealing my gay sexual identity. I have yet to feel the need to depend on them as once I thought I would.

There are times when I identify with certain communities for specific purposes. As an example, the mass murders in Orlando, Florida brought me into the gay community emotionally and spiritually. I feel a kinship with the survivors of that awful atrocity. Though not organically so, I am a member of the community and feel the loss. This is not unlike when I was an international missionary in Southeast Asia and heard of the accidental death of a missionary in another part of the world. Even though I had not known the one who was killed, I felt a part of me had been injured and I grieved. So I offer prayer and tears for my gay community in Orlando.

I need community, but not just one community, a variety of communities. These communities provide perspective to keep my life in balance. My communities increasingly enrich my life and fill it up with novelty and growth, with spirituality and courage, with peace and contentment. I need community and am finding it in many places. You are reading my blog and I count you as a member of this virtual community. Please leave a comment below to spark community conversation, drop me a note in the “Let’s Talk” tab, or can click the “Follow Life’s Design” button at the top left of the page to receive an e-mail alert for the next post. Let’s build this community together in this space.

Forty-nine people were murdered in an Orlando, Florida gay club. Much has been reported and editorialized about this atrocity. It’s my head and heart that I am still trying to fill. With meaning and empathy. I can understand it from certain perspectives, but that understanding is on an objective, factual level, a level that perceives how people act toward and react from certain stimuli. On that level I can incorporate how someone has the capability to commit such a heinous act into a framework that is logical. I will not chalk it all up to the original depravity of the human condition. Although that certainly is a factor—everyone is infected with that depravity according to my faith commitment—not all of us murder 49 people.

There are a few uncovered facts, however, which paint a young man who is gravely emotional and unbalanced: He had a twisted and false understanding of his religion, the leaders of which have denounced the atrocity. He had a lack of clarity about various radical religious groups, the sum of which does not comprise the whole of the religion of his faith tradition. (The young man was treating the various Islamic factions as different extensions of the same movement; whereas, in practice, these factions are antagonistic toward each other. In practice, an adherent would identify only with one of them and not three or more as he did.) He had a lack of moral compunction, which even allowed him to abuse his wife, who should have been the object of his love. And a fact that is murky and may only be rumor is his reported frequenting of gay venues, which possibly included the one in which he murdered 49 people and injured almost as many, though this fact has been disputed.

Discounting the last of the puzzle pieces just listed, this young man’s mental and emotional state is a picture of a young man caught in the grip of a narrative promulgated by a few fanatical clerics. He surrendered to the narrative thus locking his mind in a box. He was no longer free to think; therefore, he set his mind on a shelf, and filled the vacuum with thoughts, words, and actions scripted by the few fanatical leaders and not from his religion, Islam. The results were devastating.

But consider the last of the pieces above. It was a gay bar. There were other venues where this atrocity could have taken place. Should there be more truth than rumor—time should bring clarity—that he had frequented gay bars, another set of puzzle pieces emerge: Was he genuinely homophobic? If he was, it may have come from the way his religion had been twisted and thus presented to him; it may have come from his sense of what it means to be masculine; or, it may have come from a fear that he was gay himself. If he had latent gay feelings, was he struggling with accepting his own sexuality in that he didn’t want to be gay and lashed out at those who were the living witness to what he himself feared he also was—something he loathed, which loathing again was the result of a fundamentalist religion?

This approach to understanding what happened in Orlando can be structured as an academic exercise. Scientific study from the fields of psychology, anthropology,  biology, sociology, and theology can all be brought to bear on it. But using an academic approach leaves me numb, empty, almost as though I had received a news report in an ordinary day. I don’t live in Orlando. I didn’t know anyone who died or was injured at the gay club called Pulse.  Nor, to my knowledge, do I know someone who knows someone who was even in Orlando on that fateful night, much less at the club.

But I can’t push it away, consign it to a think-about-later box, and thus eventually forget it. What it means to be human in the middle of such tragedy keeps coming back to the front of my thoughts, not dysfunctionally, but persistently. I think about being young and losing a boyfriend in such a sudden, tramatic way. I can’t wrap my head around that because I have never had a boyfriend—but I was young once, and so I try to imagine it. I think about what it must be like to have survived the experience, maybe even lying in a hospital, and be filled with guilt that I survived. I think about the anguish of a parent learning of the death of a son and also, at the same time, and perhaps for the first time, hearing that he was gay (either news may be traumatic to hear), and I wonder how it would feel if I were the surviving boyfriend and met my friend’s parents, perhaps for the first time, after such a tragedy. I sometimes wish I could have been there with open arms, with a shoulder, with an ear—arms for hugs, a shoulder for tears, an ear to listen. I hope each survivor, including relatives, was able to receive these gifts. Even now, as I write this, there is a tightness in my chest.

I am limited by not having a personal connection and by not being there. So I do what I can. I allow my heart to swell with grief,  my mind to sort my thoughts, and my spirit to voice my prayer. The spiritual power of God’s Spirit connects me with many in Orlando in a powerful way and that encourages me and I trust brings solace to hurting souls in some way, large or small.

Connections

Posted: May 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

Human life is designed around connections. The ways, degrees and breadth of our connections are significantly important to how we value the fabric of our lives. We cannot dismiss other people as being unimportant regardless of how they measure against the various measurements of life’s values. We need people, all people.

There are very few of us who would prefer a hermit’s life. Even if you desire to live alone, I suspect that you don’t live in total absence of interaction with other people. In the creation story found in the Jewish Scriptures, “the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.'” Thus one interpretation is that humankind needs relationships; God’s human creation needed a companion, someone with whom to connect.

We find meaning in life through the human connections we have. The proliferation of social electronic communities gives evidence to the value society places on connection. Facebook even calls everyone with whom we connect a “friend” whether or not we actually know them. Some of our connections are very minimal, just a slight acknowledgment of each other while passing on a sidewalk; some are life-long, and intensely intimate

While walking the streets of. St. Louis, I have connected in many ways both verbally and non-verbally. If connections like those could be measured, we could learn much about the ways we connect and how they impact our lives. I’ve imagined a diagnostic tool such as a meter, not unlike a galvanometer, that would measure the energy that passes between individuals when they meet or pass each other on sidewalks. It would measure the connection of people who are very close friends or coupled to total strangers. It would cross all the different strata of society: ethnic, social, cultural, educational, economic, sexual orientation and gender identity, political persuasion and religious. These and other variables would be factored into the results to discover how they impact the importance and depth of our interactions. The results would only be descriptive, not prescriptive.

The meter would register the energy expended in both brain activity. It would also register emotional responses, both positive and negative—joy, anger, or increased heart rate and Palm-sweating from fear or emotional/sexual attraction. It would register physical responses including sight recognition, a slight nod of the head, or a hint of a smile to a fist bump, a hug, or even a kiss. On the negative side it would include a facial scowl to brandishing and even using a weapon.

The data, untraceable to specific individual but rather creating patterns of connections—active or passive, engaged or distant, feelings of attraction or avoidance, gain or loss—could help us become more aware of our interactions and communicative connections, however important or insignificant they may seem.

We need to embrace and honor the our connections, even the casual passing of a stranger on the street. All people are gifts to us; they each enrich the designs of our lives.

Experience

Posted: May 3, 2016 in Uncategorized
Prologue: Experiencing joy as a sexual being is part of what it means to be human. Societal folkways, accepted without question, have smothered opportunities for gay people to understand, through the normal maturation processes (afforded straight people), what it means to be a sexual being. Here I write about that process and my reaction having gone through it as a gay man (see Deep Places) and emerged on the other side healthy and whole spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. The first three paragraphs are about the relationship between experience and knowing. Feel free to skip down to the fourth paragraph if you wish. Please accept my apology for the length of the post.

Coming out as gay was my first step in finding wholeness, and psychological and emotional health; it was the beginning of experiencing joy as a sexual being. I write out of the wellspring of personal experience, who I am, and not from scholarly research, or from a psychological, biological, or even a spiritual viewpoint.

Professionals of these disciplines might question my ability to be objective about my own experience. A psychologist might say that I cannot accurately understand my own experience without external observation; therefore, any interpretation I draw from my personal experience without such external observation is inadequately based. A biologist might say that understanding my reactions to specific stimuli as a human animal is critical in understanding my personal experience; therefore, an in depth biological study is required. A practitioner of spirituality might say the human experience cannot be fully understood apart from spiritual experience; therefore, a spiritual understanding is required before I can accurately interpret my personal experience.

I agree with each of these three perspectives to a degree, and do not question the truth that they inform my experience as a gay man: Psychology is the scientific study of the mind that, particularly as it influences behavior, helps me understand why I do what I do. With that understanding, I can affect change that would enhance the way I experience life. Biology is the study of living organisms from several specialized areas, anatomy and behavior being two. A study of human anatomy and behavior can instruct me in knowing why my body functions as it does. Spirituality relates to my spirit or soul as opposed to my material or physical body. Understanding my spirituality informs my character, emotions, and spiritual sensitivities thereby increasing the likelihood that I can understand the deeper, sensitive side of my experiences. As a Christian minister, and son of a Christian minister, I particularly agree that a spiritual understanding informs personal experience.

These three disciplines are indeed helpful for enriching my understand of myself. However, as I acknowledge the importance of these disciplines—yes, I have indulged in such studies, which therefore influence, however subtly, what I write—I want to talk about my experience. I am a human being, first because I experience life. Without experience, I cease to exist. And it is at that formational level that I experience my gayness.

My world is as big as my experience, and no bigger. It is only through experience that I can say I truly know. Knowledge that affects belief and practice is acquired through experience. This existential approach to epistemology, experience in real life, provides confidence and security for action. Without experience, knowledge is sterile, devoid of energy and life.

Experiences in life often precede knowledge. As a teenager, I instinctively tried different things to discover my individual identity. Through experience, I began to know myself. However, because of a huge barrier to understanding my sexuality, I had yet to discover the fullness of who I am. Societal conventions as I came of age were dramatically skewed toward heterosexuality (Gay sex was actually illegal when I was a teenager and young adult).

My straight friends openly expressed their sexuality; society expected it. (When speaking of expressing their sexuality, I’m speaking more broadly than “having sex.”) That is, my friends engaged in activity with the opposite sex—holding hands, arms around shoulders, kissing, dating—and thereby gained experience. They had not read sex manuals, books on establishing sexual relationships, or otherwise searched for knowledge. Their knowledge came from experience compelled by an instinctive desire. I didn’t have that particular desire, which was born out of heterosexuality, and therefore I wasn’t drawn to opportunities to experience my sexuality—social expression of gay sexuality was taboo. I walled it off into a room and locked the door.

My instinctive desire was for experiences with boys. The attraction had a sexual nature about it but was not overtly sexual. I wanted to be around them, I roughhoused with them; the physical contact was stimulating, often to a point of physical excitement, which I didn’t understand. When I saw an opposite-sex couple together, I instinctively saw why she was attracted to him. When a good-looking guy walked by, my head often turned and I would discreetly watch him pass and sometimes catch another look over my shoulder.

As the years passed, I availed myself of opportunities for more serious exploration of these sexual feelings, yet did so without admitting to myself that they were expressions of a gay sexuality. It was as though I was operating on two tracks, a pretend heterosexual one—a pretense that lasted from 1953 until 1998 but was not fully released until 2013—and a real gay one. I forced myself to entertain opportunities to engage in the former (the pretense of being straight), and suppressed the desire for and denied the reality of experiences I had in the latter (the reality of being gay).

Later, after embracing my gay orientation, I could look back with greater understanding, recognizing that, in the normal course of maturing, I missed experiencing my sexuality due, not to my own failure, but the failure of society to recognize and embrace the reality and legitimacy of a gay sexual orientation.

I am writing from a personal perspective, but not a shallow one. The psychologist, the biologist, and the spiritual leader would each have something to say: that my experience is rooted in their specific discipline—that it is a base biological phenomenon, that it is rooted in the mind’s automatic responses to stimuli, or that it is wrapped up in a connection with a higher power (My spiritual connection is with the Christian God and his Spirit through Jesus the Christ). I do not quibble with these disciplines. However, regardless of their intellectual understanding or interpretation, it is still my experience. I own my feelings, my responses to stimuli, my acknowledgment of attraction, my desire for interaction and relationship.

Identifying myself as gay was the beginning of a grander depth of self-understanding. Through the years, I read voluminously and studied deeply all aspects of homosexuality from the perspectives of many disciplines, particularly the disciplines of psychology, biology, and spirituality (most specifically Christianity in which there is both straight and gay Christian perspectives in scholar research). But it was not until I embraced my gay sexual orientation, self-identified as a gay man, that I felt the freedom of joy in my sexuality begin to settle upon me. Once again for clarity, I’m not talking about gay sex, but rather the fullness of what it means to be a sexual being.

Now I have joy in being gay, even though sometimes it is difficult to give freedom to that joy because of society’s continued resistance toward full acceptance, which, however, has moderated quickly over the last few years. Even when overt expressions of my sexuality are difficult due to societal mores, I still find an inner peace and experience personal satisfaction.

Whether or not I am sexually active—What constitutes being sexual active? Is sex to be reserved for marriage whether it is opposite-sex marriage or same-sex marriage? How does belief about marriage influence practice? Should people both gay and straight wait until they’re married before having sex? What does responsible sex mean?—I now have joy as a sexual being. I fully accept who I am as a gay man and find expanding freedom in doing so. Being gay is far more than sex, and I now understand my gay orientation through the joy of my sexuality.

The City–A Sacred Place

Posted: April 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

When I first walked out of the condo this morning, it was nine o’clock and the street was nearly empty, even two thirds of the parking spaces were missing their usual wheeled occupants. I could count the pedestrians on one hand between home and Blondie’s Wine and Coffee Bar. As the day warmed up, so did activity. At 1:00 (Yep, four hours at Blondie’s this morning! It’s one of my writing studios.🙂 ) the traffic is steadily traveling both east and west. Young entrepreneurs were walking with energy singly or in clumps eagerly talking about their projects. More and more start-ups, particularly of the tech variety, are finding a fertile place on Washington. It gives a vitality to the place.

Such vitality and energy is part of what keeps me young, or at least feeling young. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to know what I should feel like as one who is on the downward side of a septuagenarian. It is the raison d’être for living where I do and not moving to a retirement village, particularly one in a pastoral setting. I do grant that there is something redeeming about being in touch with the soil and living things it produces. Many lessns can be extrapolated from an ecologically natural environment.

There is also something to be learned in the interaction of people when one is submerged in life as it is lived in cities today and not as people encountered it in the past. Even though I am in an urban environment, I am not disassociated from living things. Not only are people everywhere, as I looked out the window at Blondie’s, I saw newly green shrubbery surrounding Rosalita’s Cantina patio, reddish new growth on potted rose bushes, red-leafed maple trees at Sen Thai restaurant, and the filigreed effect of new oak leaves in the park. In a few days I suspect the hanging planters all over downtown will be filled with flowers, greenery, and other beautiful living accents. I’ll take the vitality, energy and progressive stimulation of an urban setting to the quiet lethargically pastoral rural setting that is focused on conserving the past.

I am talking about personal choice and in no way intend my comments to be taken as normative for all people. To examine this problem theological, there is a strong theology of place to be found in Christian Scripture: Jacob’s well, the altar on the other side of the sea, Mount Sinai, cities of sanctuary, Golgotha, the empty tomb, (these can be developed into a salvific theology rife with symbolism, metaphors, and typology).

I could talk about the theology of place in pastoral settings, but I live in a city and so am reflecting the place where I am. The theology of place is redemptive when one’s spirit connects with the Spirit of God. I left Blondie’s and walk along Washington Avenue. An old lady with a scarcity of teeth looks up at me from the bench she’s on. She was dressed in clothes that last had been refreshed with water and detergent long ago. She smiles widely revealing a couple of teeth and says, “Good morning, sir. Isn’t God good today”? As I walked on my mind touched my heart; God spoke to me through her. I choose not to judge the instrument through which God spoke, nor his message. I heard her voice again and looked back over my shoulder. She was blessing the next pedestrian to walk by her.

Over on the corner of Ninth and Olive a handsome young man was strumming a guitar. I almost missed a moment of spiritual reflection when I walked passed. I was about to dismiss him as just another homeless youth begging for a dollar. He wasn’t. He wasn’t homeless, nor was he begging. As I listened, I discovered not an untrained strumming of strings but rather the beautiful sound of a trained classical guitarist blessing people through his music. People weren’t passing him by; they were stopping to listen. He made that city street corner a spiritual place.

My walk included the Mississippi waterfront. From there, I turned toward home planning to stop at a coffee shop I frequent. The young barista was sitting on a stool gloomily looking out the window. “Afternoon, Shawn,” I said. “How are you.”

He slowly moved off of the tall chair and just as slowly walked behind the counter as he muttered “Okay.”

He wasn’t. I said, “You don’t look like you’re okay.”

After a moment’s hesitation, he said, “You gotta take the hard times with the good ones,” and began making my decaf latte. He handed it to me and said, “Ya know? The good times wouldn’t be nearly so good without the bad ones.” And smiled. His energy picked up and he was quickly back to his usual pleasant manner. When I suggested that he not push the bad down and not deal with it. He quickly responded that that doesn’t work; he’d tried it. “Ya gotta look it in the face and work through it,” he said, and smiled broadly as he handed me my latte.

There is something sacred about the mosaic of God’s created people rubbing souls together in the space we call a city.

A Living, Dynamic Design—The City

The wind blows
The clean team sweeps
The guides walk
Baristas create
Traffic hums
Leaves flutter
Buses put in order
Workmen focus
Shops open/close
Dinners eat
Drinkers imbibe
Street crews dig
People pray
Construction workers build
Families play
Leaves fall
Entrepreneurs negotiate
Homeless gather
Bicyclists pedal
Trash trucks gather
People walk
Dogs pee
People talk
Emergency vehicles speed
Congregations worship
Police officers patrol
Rain falls
Postal workers carry
Children play
Workers mow
Passengers ride
School children study
Lawyers debate
Ferris wheel turns
Children slide
Dogs bark
Conversations hum
Servers attend
The city–a living, dynamic design
always changing
always the same

On Giving Thanks

Posted: December 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

You might think that I’m engaging life in a confused order. My last post was about an amalgamated Christmas and now I’m reflecting on Thanksgiving, which we celebrated less than two weeks ago. I’m not out of alignment with the calendar, today’s culture is. Hints that Christmas is coming have crept earlier and earlier so that Christmas promotion begins before Thanksgiving is even a thought.

But Thanksgiving is for thinking. There’s more to the celebration than roast turkey, pumpkin pie and everything in between. The obvious thinking for serious Thanksgiving celebration circles around the words “giving” and “thanks.” Expressing thanks cannot be dismissed with a few words, albeit well-chosen ones, prior to reaching for the nearest serving bowl filled with delicious Thanksgiving fare and dishing out an unhealthy amount to begin the process of covering a plate with portions of the bounty that covers the table.

While spending five days with my daughter Shayle in her home in Eugene, Oregon, far from my home in the beautiful fly-over hidden gem that is St. Louis, Missouri, there were many moments of being thankful. Did we ceremoniously talk about “what I’m thankful for this year” and attempt to construct lists of such things? No. We did bow in humble gratefulness and thank God for life and blessings before eating more than we needed of turkey, dressing (stuffing, if that’s what you call it) and gravy, green-bean casserole, steamed vegetables crescent rolls, and assortment of condiments/trimmings. Oh, of course there was pie, pumpkin pie.

While I drove a rental car from Portland to Eugene when I arrived on the western shelf of the country, I was in quiet mode contemplating the beauty—God-made and man-made—around me as I explored the Willamette Valley channeled by two mountain ranges. God’s grand experiment for the west coast and man’s care for and nurturing of that experiment have produced beauty that inspires the soul and productivity that enhances life for the region. I felt thankful.

The verbal thankfulness, which we expressed in prayer prior to eating our Thanksgiving feast, was not our only experience of thanks-giving. Some of our thankfulness was directed toward God and some was expressed to each other. Shayle had projects with which she could use some help. I was thankful she felt free to ask for help and she acknowledged her thankfulness for my help. I had thoughts and silent words to God, the author of life, for the gifts of my children who do not sequester their thoughts of thankfulness; saying thank you comes easily for them.

On Sunday, Shayle and I worshiped with Christian believers known as First Christian Church of Eugene, a congregation that takes truth, peace, and justice seriously. Together we marked this first Sunday of Advent by following their beautiful traditions: lighting a candle, stretching stars across the sanctuary expanse above the parishioners heads, children with chrismons attacking the Christmas tree and then draping garlands on pew-ends. Scripture that inspired, music that lifted, and a sermon that challenged provided fodder for thankful hearts, mine included.

As I think about these reflections on Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that giving thanks is not so much an action as it is an attitude. The Christian life is a thankful one. We not only do actions—give gifts, say words, serve others—that express being thankful, we live our thankfulness out of a natural attitude toward life that arises from being grateful people.

My life is lived as a gift of thanks to God in response to his grace-filled gift of the Christ, which is a gift of hope for life today and life to come. With a thankful heart, I share my life and its story with joy and pride for it is my unique story that gives hope to people with whom I share it.

While with Shayle in Eugene we had lunch with two of her colleagues. Somewhere in the robust conversation one of her friends extended her appreciation to me for posting a personal story in two of my previous posts on this blog. In the ensuing conversation I filled in more  details than were included in the blog. Again, words of thankfulness were expressed.

Then the other lunch companion at the table with Shayle and me told how thankful she was and how much she appreciated my story, particularly how my spiritual path was interwoven with coming  to terms with my sexuality. These words of blessing made  me feel good even though they came from  someone whose current spiritual pilgrimage  does not include participation in a Christian congregation. I in turn was thankful that I  had given witness to the pervasive Spirit of God in my life. I am thankful that God’s Spirit communing with my spirit does not pick and choose which part of my life will be touched in a spiritual  way. Even my sexuality is synced with  the communion between God’s Spirit and my  spirit.

Giving thanks, to be genuine and meaning-filled, is who we are in all of our living, not just what we say, or even what we do, but in who we are. Authentic persons will be thankful in both expression and practice in all ways and at all times. No, I’m not out of alignment with the calendar. I will be observing thanksgiving as I celebrate the birth of Jesus, and his victory when he walked from the empty tomb, and throughout the year.