Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

What Do I Feel About Orlando?

Posted: June 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

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.

An Amalgamated Christmas

Posted: November 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

I’m sitting in Starbucks across from the northeast corner of the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, listening to “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” Christmas, with Thanksgiving still a couple of weeks off, is already assaulting my ears. Commercialism—the grand American experiment—is on schedule this year while there are people all around the world, including the United States, who struggle to accumulate enough resources for food to stave off starvation and shelter to keep away the cold.

Once a year, Christmas comes as a jolt. Attempting to bring together the birth of Christ 2,000 years ago, our childhood holiday memories, and the reality of today’s rootless, we find ways to celebrate the mystical experience. Celebrations and rituals—family, religious (particularly those directed toward Christ as in Christ’s Mass), and cultural—come together this time of year in a common experience expressed in a multitude of ways. Although there seems to be a clash between ancient and contemporary, everything coalesces in a dynamic experience that brings families and friends together to share a shard of life that otherwise would be discarded as another sliver of painful experience .

A shard is a piece of broken pottery or glass typically having sharp edges. We each have brokenness in our lives and often bits and pieces of life become lost, discarded or taken from us in the midst of our brokenness. We hid them, try to ignore them and push them away. During the Christmas season, those discarded, distracted, and with a toss of our heart, unimportant, or so we want to believe, bits of life are lifted out of the basement where we’ve attempted to lock them away to become the centerpiece of enterprises and endeavors—family dinners, gift exchanges, obligatory church observances—sometimes undesired and engaged in only out of obligation. The shards of life—we all have them—fill Christmas with something, which, under the surface, often isn’t merry.

We take these bits and pieces of brokenness, often a mixture of past home life, encounters with friends, and former religious experience, all of which may contain pain and hurt, those fragile pieces of life that have been discarded voluntarily or involuntarily, and, grudgingly and balkily bring them with us into Christmas present.

The key to redeeming the Christmas season, so it isn’t something grudgingly entered with anticipation of yet more brokenness, depends on us, not other people, not circumstances, past or present, but us. The truth of past experiences does not determine what happens this Christmas.

Since we can’t forget the past, run from it, or hide it, the kinds of questions we must ask ourselves at family gatherings, parties with friends, or invitations to religious observances include: How can I give myself to other people without expecting anything in return? In what ways can I demonstrate happiness without demanding the same in other people? These kinds of gifts to other people will in turn become gifts to myself. I don’t expect customers or clerks in the stores, family around the dinner table, or friends in regular meeting places to act any differently than they have in the past; I don’t control them. I control myself and therein is my gift, not only to other people but also to myself.

So, I enter the Christmas season, and what I receive from the amalgamation of what makes Christmas is dependent on what I take into it: my expectations, how present am I, How much I give of myself. Am I depending on someone else for my experience? It is up to me to bring all of my past into the present and allow the fusion to create something new for today.

Commercialism is only part of today’s expression of Christmas. I will not allow it to dominate nor dictate my experience. I will acknowledge the reality of it and recognize the pieces of it that can be good for my total Christmas experience. But along with the commerce of Christmas, we can bring childhood memories along with last year’s memories, we can bring the good and the bad, the joy and pain. Even if we have been hurt by religion, we can bring that too. Let’s bring broken shards of life to Christmas this year.

Christmas can be a unique time of bringing together the brokenness of our lives. As the vessel is repaired, a line where the broken pieces are joined is formed. Although life has been restored to usefulness, the scar of pain and hurt remains as a faint line where the pieces are joined, and light can shine through that scar. If Christ resides in your life, it is, as my pastor recently pointed out, the scar of pain and hurt that allows other people to see the light of Christ within us shining through, the Christ of Christmas, the religious part of our celebrations this time of year. The religious message of Christmas is that the light of Christ shines best through the brokenness of our lives.

And so, in our amalgamated Christmas, with the words of the song now playing here at Starbucks, I say “a very, very, very Merry Christmas to you.”

Flourishing

Posted: August 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

PROLOGUE: As a result of my last post, I have received a few questions but mostly affirmation and support. If you didn’t read it, you may wish to check out Deep Places before reading this one. A few of the responses can be summed up in the word “why.” In this post I am attempting to describe how a life must flourish to be fulfilling. In a simplistic way, I’ve used the life-cycle of trees and my experience with an ivy as a metaphor for my life.

The corner of Grand and Arsenal in Saint Louis, Missouri, was busy, not unlike a normal spring day this past April. The gray overcast sky foretold expected rain in the afternoon. The grass was green again in Tower Grove Park, which was filled with a filigreed bright-green canopy as the fledging leaves erupted in profusion, and the dark evergreen cedars stood stalwart and eternal in contrast to the freshness of grass and trees.

The seasonal cycle expectedly returned to spring with nature’s fresh budding rampantly trying to become full-fledged summer. I forced my English Ivy on the window sill at home to assume a semblance of spring-like characteristics.

This English Ivy is over 23 years old. It was given to my mother by William Jewell College when she and Dad attended his fiftieth anniversary of graduating from that venerable institution of higher learning, “the ivy league school of the West,” so it bills itself. She lovingly and graciously gave it to my wife Barbara not long after that event. It has sustained three long-distance moves, pruning several times, and often extended mistreatment.

It almost died in January when I was away in Portland, Oregon, for over a week. It had reached the top of the windows and was hanging out a foot making some of the branches approximately eight to nine feet long needing drastic attention.

I examined it over a weekend and discovered only two long branches and a few shorter ones that came out of the maiden trunk. I decided now was the time. I began cutting, severely, until the longest of three or four signs of life were less than ten inches. I thought, I’ve either killed it, or given it renewed life. In either case, it will be better than watching it struggle to live.

I suppose I doubted the ivy would survive. I could call it a lack of faith. Sometimes life provides surprises that are not dependent on faith. God is not dependent on his creation to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he limits himself to provide the possibility for humankind to discover on their own how life works, and thus grow and flourish so he can have a genuine, mature relationship with them.

The ivy has not only survived but flourished. Today, four months since the severe pruning, I counted at least nine new branches. Doubt has been erased by evident reality. The 23-year-old English Ivy will again be a flourishing bush with multiple branches spilling over the pot and rising up to greet life-giving rays of light through the window.

As the calendar morphed into the 21st century, I had come to a point where creativity was dry and withering away. There was only one branch that had life: my commitment to Christian faith resulting in spiritual nourishment, which was reinforced in and through my church.

I had stepped away from my work with the North American Mission Board (formerly Home Mission Board); I had come out to Barbara but was immediately returned to silent confinement by her desire that no one know about my gay sexual orientation; my stab at a church consulting initiative never rose above dry ground; the only friendships I had were connected to NAMB and were no longer in reaching distance; and I was searching for a way forward. Like the ivy, I was not flourishing.

A little hope came when I served for a couple of years as regional director for academic affairs for a small Indiana university, and for four years as pastor of a Baptist church in the southeast Missouri Bootheel. I was active. I had “stuff” to do. But I wasn’t flourishing. Life was flat.

I would not say that what has happened since leaving Atlanta has resulted in a radical pruning, the kind I did to the English Ivy. However, by the process of physical relocation from Atlanta to Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and from Poplar Bluff to St. Louis, connections with people and former activities have weakened. This has not been so much the result of conscience action as much as neglecting initiative to remain connected. The effect has been pruning away some life connections and failing to maintain those that had been a source of fruitful growth.

But, like the ivy, there remained in my life continuing growth, and the extension of a couple of living “branches.” Then growth would stall, but always something would indicate there was still life and thus hope. I was never without hope. And faith was always present. I didn’t feel that God had forsaken me. I was just on a treadmill of living without creativity, novelty, genuine joy, and empowering peace.

Then Barbara’s sojourn under the cloud cover of cancer provided purpose and direction for a spell: to “play the hand that had been dealt us” with cholangiocarcinoma. Following Barbara’s death, life paused for a few months. Then came the desire and energy for the kind of change that would result in freedom and growth—the kind of “free indeed” and “abundant life” the Christ of Scripture promises. So I contacted a counselor—someone with whom unhindered questing could help me sort out my thoughts and feelings—and began weekly conversations with him.

These very helpful sessions with a counselor, a committed Christian, allowed me to discover what I needed to do and how to go about it. Like the ivy, I discovered life with new and fresh meaning. In the summer of 2013, with the counselor as a resource, a mirror to reflect my thoughts and feelings, I began intentional work on life issues. I focused primarily on my sexuality, a part of human reality with which I had been wrestling since 1997.* I wanted, needed resolution to living an abundant, free life as a sexual being.

In the process of seeking integrity, vulnerability, and transparency, I began discovering evidence of new growth; and encouragement returned affirming the direction I was traveling. Invigorating expressions of the new growth and a heightened sense of hope have appeared like the newly emerging branches on the cared-for ivy. A recent evidence of new growth is a sense of normalcy as I come out to people revealing my gay sexual orientation—normal in that I experience little or no anxiety preceding such conversations and I do not dwell on them or worry about them past the experience. I say “normal” because it is a simple statement of fact about who I am. Being gay is a very normal for me.

I have stepped away from the counseling, a decision that doesn’t mean I “have arrived.” I don’t think any of us arrive at a full and perfect way of living this life. The process continues. I have made a public statement about my sexuality on the pages of this blog. Public knowledge allows me to fully live my life without constantly walking in and out of people’s perceptions.

I sum up this brief reflection with the word “flourish.” I’m comfortable with life right now, while at the same time I desire more. Life is good. The God, the author of life, has graced mine abundantly. It’s my responsibility to take care of it, my “ivy.”

Fall is approaching and the trees have a sameness about them. The leaves look heavy with the heat of summer and tired from the life-giving process that has coursed through their veins and into the fullness of the tree. Soon they will lose an ability to perform the function for which they were created just a few months ago. The trees however, have other life-nurturing tasks for the winter to maintain growth in their relentless quest for maturity. And so do I. The ivy at my window is flourishing—healthier than it was last year. And so am I.

*Actually, I had subliminally felt that I was different in 1952 when I was twelve years old, and sexuality didn’t crystalize for me until sometime after I reached 50 years of age. Out of fear and confusion, I didn’t consciously begin dealing with it until 1997.

Deep Places

Posted: August 6, 2015 in Uncategorized
PREFACE
In my last post, I dropped hints and postured innuendos, but didn’t make a personal statement. In other posts, I’ve talked about honesty; and I do value honesty. It’s time for me to be honest and invite you into one of the deep places within me. I can imagine many of you who read this will have difficulty assimilating what I am about to tell you. Some of you have known me for a long time, others for only ten to fifteen years, and yet others have met me only on this blog. Nevertheless, it’s time for me to engage you in conversation in a personal way.
 
The Deep Places
 

There are deep places in my life, wells of thought, experiences, feelings that lie deep within. These are sacred places. It is here where I walk with God, where he and I struggle with the meaning of life in the moment. Sometimes these places are shrouded in darkness and other times they are as bright as the sun at noon on a cloudless day.

It is here in these deep places that I live unhindered by anxieties engendered by what I fear people may think about my choices in any given moment, choices that may or may not affect anyone else but God and me. It is here that I joy in his acceptance of my differentness, whereas the joy would be tarnished at the least and possibly even be transformed into pain should I live out my differentness freely before other people.

The deep places are not, by their location, relegated to darkness. I live in the joy and brightness of beauty in these deep places of my soul. The light-filled, lyrical, sublime patterns and designs of the life around me often strike chords deep within and demand to be let loose in my soul to sing.

I fit in or relate to the world out of these deep places. They provide the foundation, strength, knowledge, vision, desire, commitment, and courage to be the person I am and the one who is seen by and relates to other people.

These deep places are not walled off into separate compartments; they interact with, influence, and enhance each other. It is the wonderful place from which my life, as it’s lived out in the world, finds its foundation for meaning, purpose, interest, and vitality. It is only when I place a lid on one compartment, close it up and not allow it to interact with the rest, that I lose integrity and the deep places of my soul become diminished and that particular compartment gnaws away at the well-being of my soul. It becomes a secret that I won’t let out and begins to fester contaminating the whole of my being as a rotten apple does to a peck of that delicious fruit.

My sexuality is one of those deep places that is the foundation for a significant part of how and where I fit in the world. My sexuality—to whom I am attracted, what romanticism means and how it works, how I view the world, how I make and nurture relationships—is a gay sexuality. Before coming out as a gay person, I felt as though I was living a lie, that I wasn’t being honest about who I am to people around me and that I couldn’t live into truth. As with any person, straight or gay, my sexuality is a significant part of what is undeniably and uniquely me. Leaving that part out in my relationships with people, leaving it out when I knew it was there, left me feeling inauthentic  and my integrity was degraded.

Some LGBT people, out of their desire to be authentic, to gain a sense of integrity, to be who they were intended to be, but not wanting to out themselves with words, begin finding ways to telegraph their sexuality through speech patterns and mannerisms. I didn’t take this route of expressing my sexuality in ways people would unmistakably identify me as gay. I kept it hidden in a compartment in the deep places within. Out of anxiety and fear, I not only kept the sexuality compartment closed, I closed the door on most of the deep places of my soul; I lived my life on the surface and forbade anyone access to my life within.

I didn’t invite people into the deeper places of my life because I didn’t feel safe enough to do so. To extend the invitation would have opened a door I had closed in early teen years and I was afraid of what would happen if I opened that door. To my astonishment, in coming out as a gay man, I have discovered safety in truth and that I can invite people into those deep places where I live, and can do so with integrity.

Since I have opened the door—two years ago now—to that long-closed (locked?) compartment where my sexuality lived, I have found freedom to invite more people into the deep places of my life. My walk with God becomes more transparent and my witness to him more authentic; I am able to share anxieties I may have; and choices are made without fear of what other people may think.

The deep places have not become less deep but rather they have in turn deepened my life, particularly my relationships, as I invite people to join me there. And with this post, I invite you into these deep places.

EPILOGUE

Some of you may not have read this far; others will dismiss me without desiring to engage in conversation having already confirmed their truth for me. However, you may be conflicted because you have known me and this news seems in opposition to what you know. Perhaps you are confused but desire more information and maybe conversation. Or, you believe, accept and embrace me because you know people who are gay, or have a family member who is gay, or you have engaged in a rigorous study and examination of literature and Scripture, and engaged in prayer and discernment and thus have arrived at an affirming place, or maybe because you are gay yourself. Perhaps you will accept this information because you trust me and because of the love with which God has graced your life, the love that you extend to other people, and now you extend it to me. 
 
Out of respect, love and deep appreciation for each of you, and with a desire to honor you with honesty from my heart, I have opened a deep place within me and have invited you in. May God grace our lives with love for each other and thereby honor him.