Friday, November 26, 2010

Honeymoon: Day 4

Friday, August 20, 6:40pm
Rochegude

We’ve just returned from a rather full day in which we managed to accomplish everything we set out to do, and without J getting grumpy!  To be fair to my dear husband, he is the one who has had to shoulder the better part of the grunt work, being the only one who can drive stick (and there’s no way we were going to get an automatic with its considerable expense), and who can speak French fluently.  I, on the other hand, must sit back, and trust him to get us where we need to be, and get us the things we need.  I was ruminating last night about how frustrating this is for me, as J was going on and on and on with the 2 clerks at the pizzeria, while I’m just standing there looking stupid.

Eventually, I grew weary of attempting to pick up the thrust of their conversation, as they were droning too fast.  I gave up, sat down, and waited for my report.  Despite the fact that they had a nearly three minute conversation, the snapshot J gave me was about 5 seconds.  Major frustration.  I feel so out of the loop.  But I suppose it’s a lesson in humility for me.  And it’s also great motivation to learn French!  I really hope to take some classes at the community college or something.

It’s not all frustration though.  For the first time today, I felt comfortable ordering my food (I got a very yummy crepe, which I’ve been craving for some time!)  It was at this point that I started to recognize that I generally can figure out what’s what when I read (I’m a visual learner, so this is no surprise . . . I read Spanish fluently!)  But I’m also starting to understand a little bit of what people are saying, especially in context.  Again, no surprise here.  The receptive language centers of the brain are highly developed, so people generally start to understand a language before they are able to speak it.  But I still really on my dear hubby to do nearly all the communicating, and he’s been doing a great job of it!  It’s so sexy to see that most people assume he’s good with the language.  It’s only after they see him speaking with me that they wonder whether or not they should start using their English.

Anyway, the day was jam-packed with cool things!  We set out to Suze la Rousse in search of their open market, which was disappointingly small.  Then we got some brunch (very nice chicken panini from a boulangerie/patisserie).  We wanted to visit the glorious Château Suze la Rousse, but it was closed - as has been our luck all along.  We cannot get used to this French time system!  It would be reopening in a couple of hours, so we walked through the massive campus, then through the town a bit - a very cute village marked by the typical ancient structures, and a few upgrades throughout to fit the modern inhabitants.

Next we went in search of a famed Stone Age village somewhere around Saint Paul Trois Chateaux in a village called Barry.  We, of course, got lost, but managed to glimpse a good vineyard we hoped to return to, and got some groceries along with the aforementioned crepes.  We eventually found our way up the mountain, to the village.  It was - in a word - EXQUISITE!  Not only did we get a good workout with a decent hike up through the various trails, but Jonathan also managed to get me to conquer my maternally-inherited anxiety, and do things I never would have done without him!  For example, the circular trails all pretty much led to the same place, but the way in which we started off was a bit too sinuous without much visual return for the work.  We decided to go the way which was marked "prohibited", due to rockslides.  There’s no way in God’s green earth that I would have ever done this on my own (or with anyone else as prone to precaution as I), but Jonathan - in an uncharacteristically brazen bucking of the law - had us go up that way.
 
The views were - as you can imagine - breathtaking, but what was most fascinating of all were the cave structures!  You can literally trace how man had lived in the region starting some 20,000 years ago in the Stone Age (with simple, carved out structures in the rock), to protohistoric villages built into the mountains!  And even within the villages, you see how they start off as less sophisticated dwellings, to more modern fixtures like hearths, and roofs, and churches.  Out of this world amazing!!
  

By the time we hiked back down, we figured there’d be no way there would be any vineyards open for wine tastings, but to our amazement, the place we had scouted earlier (the Chateau de Borie) was indeed open, and we tasted some delicious Cotes du Rhones!  And then we bought two.  Our plan is to go to a vineyard every day until we leave, and buy 2 wines: one for dinner later that night, and one to take home :)
 
Finally, we drove back through St. Paul Trois Chateau on our way home, and wondered whether the chateau was still open.  We arrived at the gift shop to purchase tickets, and asked whether we had enough time to tour the castle.  She stated we did, and we both wondered if we’d really get our money’s worth (7 Euro) with only 20 minutes left!  But we blazed through that place like California wildfire, and managed to git’er done!  It was actually a very lovely tour, complete with one of the most detailed, ornate courtyards in all of Provence, and we left feeling like we hadn’t wasted a single dime.
 

All in all, this has been a fantastic day!  We’re both bushed, so it’ll be nice to have a nice meal at home (mushroom ravioli with gorgonzola cream sauce - which we got from the grocery store earlier today) with a nice bottle of whine (one of the previously mentioned Cotes du Rhones).

Honeymoon: Day 3

Thursday,  August 19, 11:00 p.m.
Rochegude

It is now almost three days since our last entry. Our itinerary has been so packed that we return to our lodgings after a long day — still not quite adjusted to the time change — and collapse into bed. Tonight my (J) internal clock has me wide awake, and while I wait for the Benedryl to kick in, I thought I’d catch up on our log.  D is fast asleep upstairs.
We spent yesterday touring Chateau d’If and the isle of Frioul. After nagivating our way into the vieux port of Marseille (which was a challenge given all the construction) and finding parking (another challenge), we hopped on the first ferry to the two islands. Our first stop was Chateau d’If, the fortress made famous by Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Christo). The site itself is fascinating for its legendary status, but there really isn’t a whole lot to the island or even the castle itself. There was sadly little information provided about what we were looking at, and most of the castle itself consisted of barren rooms, which we were unable to determine whether they had been prison cells or lodgings (if they were all cells, they were the best prison cells we’ve ever seen!)  BUT THE VIEWS from the top of the chateau were spectacular! Marseille is an amazing city, and the mist rising off the Mediterranean, obscuring some of the cliffs near the city, gave it a mystical air as if we were looking at some enchanted isle undiscovered by the outside world. Magnifique!

We then took the ferry to our second destination, the isle of Frioul. This was more inhabited (they even had a sad little hospital (mostly roofless) and fire station), and offered more exploration than the chateau. Darren and I braved the mountain and hiked in our sandals up to an old fortress at the top of the island. From there we took in breathtaking views of not only the tableau of Marseille, but also Chateau d’If against it. The ancient fort with its stone walls, looked like it had been repurposed at some point in the ‘70s, for there were the ruins of steel cable/cement columns marking the remains of more recent buildings in the fort. We thought it ironic and telling that the ancient stone seemed to have weathered time better than the more recent cement.  There was a gorgeous beach on Frioul, but as we had not brought our suits, we splashed around up to our knees a bit, then took the ferry back to Marseille.

Getting dinner was an adventure! We had decided to try out a place, Café des Epices, recommended by our Guide Michelin — a wedding present from some friends in France. We managed to find the place (not easy in itself), only to discover that it was closed. So we opened the guide again, found another place that sounded decent, and hiked halfway across town, only to discover that it (and most every other restaurant in France) did not open for dinner till 8:00. (It was then about 6:15 and we were starved.) We slipped into a grocery store to slake our hunger and thirst, walked back to Café des Epices to see if it was open closer to 8:00 (it wasn’t), and finally ate at what is probably one of the most touristy restaurants in Marseille, complete with street musicians playing La Vie en Rose on accordion above your table.  The food was fairly tasty though, and we had our first kir of the trip, along with a half bottle of wine.

This morning, Thursday, we tried to wake up earlier so as to get some good time at the beach before we left Marseille, but it seems the time change wasn’t done with us. So we dragged ourselves out of bed around 10:00, made a quick breakfast to use up some of the food we had bought, packed most of our bags, and took off for a few quick hours at L’Estaque once again.  It’s a small community just to the west of Marseille, and it goes down as one of our favorite spots in Marseille, simply because it’s sans tourists!The water was warmer than it had been on Tuesday, which made for great swimming, and our shortened visit meant we could do without sunscreen. A quick nap, broken by the laughing of children. (My favorite interruption was one young boy who proudly claimed, “Je crois que les dinosaures existent ici!” — I believe there are dinosaurs in existence here!) Back to the apartment, our bags loaded into our little Fiat rental, and we said goodbye to Marseille!

An hour and half up the Autoroute du Soleil, we found our new home for the week: the village of Rochegude, population (maybe) 1600. After locating our house, and knocking on the closed shutters, we were informed by the neighbors across the street that the house was fermée. I responded that we were renting the house for the week, so it could not be closed. The old gentleman leaning out the window said, “Je ne comprends pas,” so I again explained that we were renting the house for the week. His wife then leaned out and said that the cleaning lady was not there, at which point I again explained that we were expected. Finally, in a British accent, the woman asked, “Do you speak English?” After responding that we did, she retorted “Oh, thank God!” at which point we all laughed. The couple very kindly invited us in, offered us drinks, and let us use their phone to call the housekeeper, who met us around 5:00 and showed us around the house. In the meantime, we staked out the town a bit, and found our way to the only open establishment at that particular hour - a little bar called Café du Cours, where we got some ice cream bars to tide over the hunger, and a drink called the Monaco (beer + lemon + grenadine = yummy!!)

We returned to the house at 5pm to meet Ruth (the housekeeper).  It’s a beautiful little three-story place, on a quiet, one-way street. The house, they estimate, is 300-400 years old, and has the quiet, cool feel that the thick, stone walls provide. There are three bedrooms, and it would be a fantastic place to rent with a group of people, except for having only one bathroom.

We decided not to wait around on the French dinner schedule, and instead bought a pizza to go from the local pizzeria. We set up the cafe table and chairs on the front stoop of the house, opened our local, organic wine (which we bought in Marseille at the grocery store), a round of La vache qui rit and some jam, and set to work. It was a perfectly relaxing meal! Our British neighbors, Anne and Keith, came by later and invited us to dinner next Monday, which will be a real treat! They’re also giving plenty of helpful advice about where to find things, what to see, etc.!

Well, it is nearly midnight. I’m hoping the Benedryl will have taken effect by now. And, having just stopped typing to flush a scorpion down the toilet, I think I will leave the house to the lesser creatures and go to bed. Tomorrow it’s up early for the village market at Suze la Rousse!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Ones I Like More . . .

When I was young, my cousin Tiki started dating this guy Marc.  I loved him instantly. He was a really great guy.  When they broke up, I was quite sad, because frankly, I liked him a lot more than most of the people who were in my family!  Much to my surprise, they not only got back together a few months later, but eventually ended up getting married!  I have always considered Marc the best thing that happened to our clan. 

A few years ago, Marc ended up being the second on my dad's side of the family to find out I was gay.  While he was shocked, it almost seemed to make him love me more . . . which only made me love him more. 

You see, my dad's side of the family is conservative.  Very conservative.  In different ways, really.  Three of the siblings (including my dad) are more or less Evangelical.  The other (and eldest) is a strict Seventh Day Adventist.  Needless to say, there have always been religious tensions in the family (especially considering the 2 younger siblings weren't really all that Evangelical traditionally), and this has brought no end of drama to family functions - not to mention the drama that arises simply from personality variances.

This comparatively quiet storm of personality and religious differences crescendoed to full-scale war a few years ago over who was to take care of Granny when her health started to deteriorate.  To keep a long story short, let's just say that we've only had 2 large family gatherings in the past 6 or 7 years.

Any close followers of this blog know what has personally transpired in my life the past 6 or 7 years.  So yes, you've guessed correctly that I haven't exactly felt safe to share my gay tale with one and all.  Through the course of divulgence and grapevine, all of the cousins found out that I was gay, and that I was in a relationship.   Not many of them were invited to the wedding - and there's apparently been some contention that that side of the family was largely uninvited, even though they'll in the same breath admit that they wouldn't go if they were invited!

Whether they knew or not has never been much of a concern to me.  Except for Granny.  She's the one person I wanted to tell, but never knew if it was worth rocking her little world.

Yesterday was Granny's 91st birthday, and her eldest sister (92) along with other relatives from the South drove up for the occasion.  Suddenly, the idea was for the entire family to show up for a surprise party.  And this made Darren a little nervous - because it would be the first time that they had to face GAY Darren, and his partner to boot! 


I didn't even know the relatives from the South!  I've seen them maybe twice in the entirety of my life.  But 2 amazing things transpired.  First, the night before the party, my dad told everyone (including Granny) that I was gay - which is amazing considering he's been a bit bashful about this.  Of course, everyone already knew, but I was proud that he was finally able to say it.  Second, my family was actually civil and decent towards us, and warm to J!  Marc, not surprisingly, was the warmest of all.  He congratulated us, and made sure J knew he was welcome in the family.  The Southern relatives were just as wonderful.  They invited us down to their respective places in the South, and assured us they were quite excited to tour us around.  They even told my Dad after we left how much they loved J. That's so gratifying.  

But I'm still pissed at my dastardly brother.  It was hard seeing him - as he never said a word about skipping our wedding.  It was hard keeping the bitterness in check.  I managed though.  And my aunt was slightly cold, as was one uncle.  But for the most part, they were all OK.

I'm just  not sure whether it's a sweet blessing or a shameful tragedy that Marc (an extension to the family) and the Southern relatives (whom I barely know) are THE ONES I LIKE MORE in my family, rather than the ones I grew up with.  But such is the life for outcasts and pariah like us modern-day leper-gays . . .

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oh Boy! The Holiday Season!

Yes, yes.  You can smell it, can't you?  October is almost here, which means Thanksgiving is just around the corner!  And after that . . . Christmas!  Yay, baby Jesus!  And right on his heels comes New Years!

And yet, as I think about the upcoming holiday season, I have one feeling: DREAD.  Something told me that I would do better not to bring up with J the indeterminable question: "How should we proceed with holidays this year?"  Deep in my gut, I knew this would simply not end well for me.  Not just because it's the one issue that makes my already introverted partner clam up quicker than a lez at a straight bar, thus making me feel all the more alone.  But also because of all the nasty, icky emotions it stirs up inside of me.

I dread this holiday season.  I dread my own family interactions; wondering if my brother will show up this year with the family, or if he'll be the coward he has been for the past year, and find some other place to be.  Anywhere but having to face his filthy, gay brother who's actually happy and alive for the first time in his life.

And I dread having to see J's family.  I think it's pretty clear that there's nothing . . .and I mean nothing . . . I could possibly do to get in their good graces.  If I'm quiet, then I'm somehow at fault for "not sharing my heart."  If I'm vocal, then we're (J and I) clearly incompatible.  I'm damned no matter what I do.  So I've just given up, and don't give a damn anymore (excepting for the fact that I do).  I have to face these people - and pretend that I'm OK.  But really, all that I feel is the sickening, overwhelming sensing that I am not good enough.  Rejection.  Rejection all over again.  And again.  And again.  You'd think I'd be used to the grand story of my life though, right?

I don't even know what it's like for them, but I do know that they are pretending about as much as I am.  But what lies hidden behind those forced smiles?  God only knows.  I'm not even sure they know half the time.  But what shall likely remain clear (and thus completely painful to me at my core) is that we are not fully accepted.  Included at the table, sure.  And all things considered, maybe I should just count my blessings for what I can get.  But what we are not is equals at that table.  My marriage is a sham.  A forgery.  A deluded figment of my confused state of heart and mind.  Our love is "less than" - a cheap image - if it is indeed "love" at all.  Thus, our commitment does not get due consideration.  Where to sleep all the couples doesn't even apply to us.  We're not a couple.  J is a beloved (though benighted) family member, and I am a charity case, who's lucky to be invited, but has little say in what befalls us.  Fair enough though.  If I'm at your house, I go by your rules.  It's how the game is played.  (Hmm . . . maybe next time any of them comes to visit, we tell them how much we genuinely love them, but can't handle their heterosexual deathstyle, so they should remain in separate rooms.  Would this not make for a FABULOUS reality t.v. show?  Let's follow the straight couple living in the gay household, following the roles and rules that would be placed on them if the houses were turned!)

And so, I wonder: what will be our conditions this year?  In what ways will we have to pretend that we are not as we are -- or who we are -- in order to quell the potential drama?  Maybe we should just make it easier for everyone, and do separate holidays so that it's easier for everyone to pretend like none of this is actually happening.  Or maybe I should just shut up, be the martyr, and do what I need to do to keep the peace.  Or maybe I'm just giving into that all-too-familiar victimhood that has taken residence in my bones the past few years.  Maybe I should just get over myself and recognize that, by and large, things have gotten better, right?  Right?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Honeymoon: Day 2

Tuesday, August 17,  5:00pm
Marseille

Last night, we caught up on some much-needed z’s, slumbering from about 9:30pm until 9am this morning.  We did a little bit of that stuff that only married people ought to be doing, and decided to head to the beach.  Considering the previous evening’s harrowing travel through the narrow roads etched into the hills, we made sure to have our route all mapped out in our heads and on a Google map long before Jonathan ventured behind the wheel of our modest Fiat Panda - a car that (at least from the passenger’s chair) seems without much pep, though nimble.

It’s not clear whether we actually followed the Google route we originally traced, considering street signs in this area are rather sparse, but the myriad traffic circles do a very good job of pointing the way towards various destinations.  So long as one of the markings said L’Estaque, we kept following it.  If we’d had big breakfasts already, we no doubt would have vomited at some point traveling around those circles, but we (fortuitously, apparently) opted to eat once we got to the beach.  The coastal roads were absolutely gorgeous.  I (D) stared at the high cliffs and old bridges as much as possible, steeling myself for our impending car accident given the Mexico-like driving skills of the marseillais.  However, we finally managed to park at the Plages de Corbières, where the highway overlooked the most beautiful, tiny beaches we could have ever imagined!  And the weather was absolutely perfect today!  It felt like it was in the high 80’s, with a steady, light breeze.  The water was crystal clear, though practically frigid.  We didn’t spend as much time in the water, but I find that as I age, I simply don’t need the same amount of time I used to in order to leave the beach feeling peaceful and satisfied.  Frankly, it was nice to spend so much time under the warm sun, feeling the wind traipse across my skin, and being lulled to sleep by God’s creative hand in it all.

We’re back home now, getting showered and dressed.  Tonight, we shop!  We found the  local Devred at the mall last night, and did a little reconnaissance :)  I’ve already mapped out which areas of the store to hit, and the items I’m going to try on!  Right now, we’re feeling very pleased with all those folks who purchased us Honeyfund shopping sprees!

Honeymoon: Day 1

Monday, August 16, 11:12 a.m.
Somewhere over central France

We’re on the last leg of our journey into Marseille — a one-hour flight from Charles de Gaule airport down to the Mediterranean coast where, they promise us, it is significantly warmer and drier than the 50-degree, sopping wet Paris that welcomed us. Our flights have been on time, mishap-free, and relatively restful — well, for me (J), anyway. D barely slept at all overnight. I think we’ll both be ready to turn in early this evening.

We had the unexpected pleasure of connecting once more with our friends, Joe and Topher, who were also connecting through Atlanta on their way home. I love airport rencontres (not the kind that happen in the bathrooms) — the reminder that we’re all not too far away from one another, and the chance that we might just meet up with someone we know far from home.

I’m already experiencing the jitters of plunging back into the language — the anxiety as flight attendants speak rapidly, the worries about finding our rental car, and then our apartment. But at the same time, the phrases and the terminology — carte d’embarquement, cabine telephonique, crème solaire — are starting to come back as I dust off that slightly hardened portion of my brain.

We’ve begun our descent into Marseille, so away goes the laptop. A bientôt

Same day, 8:01 p.m.
Marseille

After 35 kilometers spent traveling the wrong way on the autoroute, two tolls that we needn’t have payed (5 Euros in total), and countless wrong turns down unlabeled one lane roads leading up and down the hills of Marseille at impossible angles, we found our new home for the next few days. The architects of this neighborhood were creative. Rather than build one large house in the center of the hill and try to make it work with the incline, the designers decided to split up the residence into terrasses: the top level houses the main house; about a meter down into the hill, our little one bedroom apartment sits, a stand-alone, but ever aware of its dependence on the main house for things like the high-speed internet cord, which the owner swaps out for his own computer whenever he decides he needs it more than we; below us is a small patio housing the laundry facilities (a trek which almost negates the benefit of having your own lavelinge); below the laundry, a small studio where the owner rehearses with his fusion band; and finally down one more level, the garage, which opens onto the negligible rue Berger. The effect of such a layout is that it keeps one outside much more than a normal day of household chores would in America, which obviously has it’s benefits and drawbacks.

Our plan for the day was to buy a quick lunch and sunscreen, then hit the beach. Unfortunately, by the time we made it through the two-level Carrefour supermarket, discovered that we had no reliable map of the region, and realized that it was already going on five o’clock, we decided to buy dinner and call it an early evening. Unfortunately, in all my theft-preemptive forethought, I had only brought enough cash for sunscreen. Another quick trip up the torturous rue Berger, then back down to Carrefour, and we finally had our dinner: one white baguette, a wheel of delicious chèvre cheese, a bottle of Chateau du Dauphin 2008 Saint-Emillion wine (a Bordeaux), a few slices of salame pavé de poivre, and three of our landlord’s garden tomatoes (the tastiest we’ve eaten all summer!). Every time we go out in our rental car, we see another near-accident which seems to be the way of life for the marseillais. Every time, we pray it doesn’t involve our limited rental insurance.

I (J) have found few dishes more powerful than the simple staples of French cuisine. Were I to eat nothing but a baguette, a wheel of cheese, and a glass of inexpensive French wine every meal for the rest of my life, I’d live a long, happy, and healthy life. This was pretty much my steady diet when I lived in Troyes a few years ago (unable to afford much else, the second half of the baguette would become my breakfast the next morning), and, as might be expected, I lost weight. However, I (D) would probably need a little more spice to life!  (Though admittedly, I don’t think I’d be complaining too much about the savory simplicity of French staple.)

We ate our simple meal tonight out on the terrasse, under the drooping grapes, soaking up the late afternoon sun reflected off the red roofs of Marseille and the Mediterranean, which we can see from the apartment. Does life always seem to move more slowly in Europe simply because we only vacation here? Do les français feel as harried in their daily routines as we do? Or does the fact that they live in a nearly-timeless environment somehow temper the tyranny of the urgent? Are there whispers of ancestors that tell them to drink wine at lunchtime as well as dinner? And do we have any access to similar voices of our own ancestors, or is our new society doomed to its continually recreated and renovated voices of the future to tell it how to live?  Ahhh, the blissful musings of two Americans on a French honeymoon . . .

Good Lord . . .

It's so ironic (in the Alanis Morissette sort of way, anyway), that what inspires me to blog now is actually contrary to the very spirit of my previous post (On Gays, Ex-gays, Unsure Gays, and the Kingdom).  It appears that the Lions couldn't stand next to the Lambs for too long for fear of devouring them :-/

In other words, that very kind ex-gay lady who shared the stage with us at Cedar Ridge's sexuality panel, recently left the church (see J's blog for more on that).  She wanted us to be aware that it was not because of us.  No sir, it's because of the leaders.  She and her husband are perfectly comfortable sharing a pew with us disobedient, lowly gays, but she couldn't *possibly* stay at a church where the leaders supported us!  But again, it's not about us.

REALLY?  Are you kidding me?  So the church you've been a part of for years, the church where you've grown, and seen others grow . . . the church where the fruit of the Spirit was clearly visible is suddenly unworthy of your continued presence because you've just now found out what the leaders believe on this issue??  So the fruits you've been eating all along are what now?  Rotten?  And how am I not supposed to take that personally?  I'm good enough to fellowship with, but not if the leaders aren't willing to de-gay me?  WTF?!  What happened to all that talk about loving each other and having fellowship through disagreement?  Good enough for you and me, but not good enough for you and the pastors?  You'd not deign attend a church where you disagree with the pastor on something theological?

I've got news for you.  The same Bible that you feel condemns my sexuality, also condemns female pastors.  And you've sat under Pastor Patsy for YEARS!!

And just yesteray, another one bit the dust.  I was beckoned by a teary-eyed mother J and I have had few interactions with, as she told us of her family's decision to leave because of the church's stance on same-sex relationships.

This is exactly what I feared.  I've blogged about it before as a guest poster on Andrew Marin's blog (here and here).  This really does break my heart.  It hurts a lot.  It's all I've thought about since yesterday hearing the news of the second family to abandon ship.  I'm angry.  I'm disappointed.  I'm upset.  And I hope that one day soon the Church recognizes that we more powerfully demonstrate the power of Jesus when we do as he said (remain one in the Father- even through our disagreements) rather than splintering every time someone baptizes in a way we don't like, or speaks in a weird tongue, or votes for the other party, or interprets Scripture differently.  Who is convinced by the power of the cross when we show the maturity of three year olds, and make new friends every time someone's theology doesn't line up with our own?

Ridiculous. 

In other news, I'm going to have to blog a lot today, apparently.  My hubby and I were supposed to be synchroblogging our honeymoon, but Mr. Sneakypants that he is, he failed to mention to me that he'd already blogged 2 days worth, and did our 3rd today!  So expect a few from me :)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On Gays, Ex-Gays, Unsure Gays, and the Kingdom

A few months ago, J and I announced to one of our pastors (Patsy) that we wanted her to be a part of our wedding ceremony.  She seemed uncomfortable with it.  I know what you're thinking: "Well of COURSE!  What pastor wouldn't be nervous about a gay wedding!  Her conscious was probably getting to her!"  But that wasn't it at all.  In fact, she has always been one of our biggest fans and greatest supporters.  Patsy explained to us that she felt like it was well beyond time for Cedar Ridge to address issues of sexuality.  She wanted to attend our wedding with a clear conscience, knowing that she was celebrating outloud, rather than in hiding - for fear that some unapproving member of the church would find out.  She was adamant that if the pastors of the church were going to be performing a gay union, then the church needed to know how its leaders approached sexuality.

I was mortified!  Utterly mortified!!  For the past 5 years (since I've been a member of CR), my greatest fear is that *I* would be the cause of a major doctrinal and physical split in the church.  I've blogged about this before here (also see Andy Marin's blog here and here).  In defiance, I retorted "well fine, we'll just get Brian (McLaren) to officiate the wedding!" (the idea being that since Brian isn't officially a pastor of the church anymore, there would be no need for us to push the homo issue).  That pretty much didn't fly with Patsy :-/

Thus began months of planning this new direction for our church.  I don't want to in any way imply that this whole year of the church's teaching has been for the purpose of helping everyone to realize that at CR, we love gays.  Not in the slightest.  Our leaders have long had a passion to express the unfathomable, irrational, extravagant love of Jesus to the world.  So our teachings and discipleship group meetings have all centered around learning how to love "the other", learning how to love in the midst of disagreement, learning how to truly listen to others.  And after months of such teaching, our leaders felt that it was indeed time to look at sexuality.  And not homosexuality as "an issue", but rather how we should approach sexuality being sexual creatures who are sexually imperfect, but who seek to be sexually whole and healthy in the presence of God the Creator.  No one, however, pretended to be ignorant of the fact that if you start talking sexuality in church, you're going to have to talk about gay people, gay love, and gay marriage. . .

We kicked off our sexuality series a few weeks ago (In Pursuit of Sexual Wholeness).  The first week, Matthew talked about "Sex is Great!"  And it was a wonderful sermon about the ways in which Christians have stigmatized sex so much, as to make God's most beautiful human act seem shameful and dirty.  The next few weeks, Patsy and Matthew taught about the various ways in which we as humans can be sexually broken, and gave us hope for healing in the example of Jesus.  Then Matthew finished up with probably THE most moving sermon ("Love is the Greatest") I've heard him - or anyone, for that matter - share to date.  He challenged us all to think about sex from the lens of it being a supremely loving act.  It was profound, thought-provoking, and convicting.

Through all of the planning for this series, the biggest question looming in the back of everyone's minds was how we were going to address the orientation question.  J and I were enthralled by the New Direction Ministries' video "Bridging the Gap: Conversations on Befriending Our Gay Neighbors", and suggested that maybe we could set up a few nights throughout the sexuality series where we watch sections of the DVD as a community, and then have a question and answer period afterward.

Matthew had a concern about the video being an ex-gay production, and in a magnanimous act of empathy towards gay visitors to CR, he didn't want to do anything that might alienate them or make them feel as though we were promulgating an ex-gay approach for all gay people (though, admittedly, New Direction is hardly a "typical" ex-gay ministry with an ex-gay approach!)  The mere hint of association was enough for Matthew and Patsy to consider other ways of discussing homosexuality.  The idea about a panel discussion finally emerged.  There was extreme concern among members of the leadership team that something of this nature could easily devolve into a meaningless debate, and would jump-start a church split if we were not careful.

But I wasn't so sure it had to be that way.  Several of us put our heads together to brainstorm ways to make this happen.  I recounted to Matthew the experience I had at one of Brian McLaren's conferences after writing his book "Generous Orthodoxy", where he gathered a few people who dealt with same sex attractions, and told the entire audience that we were there to listen, and listen only.  No questions, no statements, no debates.  Only listen.  It was an amazing experience!  I was sure that we could replicate the same atmosphere of humility and understanding at CRCC.

In the midst of the sexuality series, Matthew began to talk about the special event that we were going to have at CR: an evening of listening to a panel of people talk about their struggles with their sexual orientation.  Yours truly suggested we call it "Perspectives on Sexual Orientation".

Last night was that special event.  "Nervous" does not even begin to describe my emotions leading up to this panel discussion!  My stomach was churning all day.  When I returned home from work yesterday, I was so anxious that I could hardly think!  I downed 2 shots of vodka in a mixed drink I concocted on the fly, and then J and I set off for CR.  (This turned out to be a bit of a mistake, for though it did temper my nerves significantly, it also - along with the 2 glasses of water I downed previously - made it feel like my bladder was going to explode by the time I reached church!  I peed 4 times within the next half hour while we were all getting mic'd up!)

The panel consisted of J and I, along with another gay couple (K and JP).  K and JP have been together for 11 years, and they were one of the fortunate 18,000 couples that got married in California before the residents of that "great" state decided to rescind marriage rights for gays.  From the very beginning, I felt as if something big was going to happen.  Matthew introduced us as committed couples who were married (or "about to get married" in the case of J & I).  This simple introduction was a supreme act of kindness.  Here was our pastor and friend, affirming our love before the entire church.  Somehow, in that moment, my relationship to J felt substantial in that way that commitments do when an entire community is brought in on it.  It was kind of a like a preview of what our ceremony will be like in just a few short weeks! :)

The 5th person on the panel (S) was probably the bravest among us.  Not only was she the only woman on the panel, but she was also the only one whose tale was more or less "ex-gay" in nature. (It's actually unclear, based upon S's story, whether or not she is bisexual, or more lesbian, but she had significant attraction to women, which has considerably affected her marriage to her hubby R.)

Think about that.  You really did hear me correctly.  My church had committed gay partners on stage.  Before everyone!  And the leaders asked them to be there - out of love, not out of condemnation so as to make an "example of sin" out of them!  The leaders wanted the entire church to know how much they were a part of the community.  AND . . . and there was a same-sex attracted woman - married to a man, and convinced that this was God's calling for her - on that same stage!  Gays and Ex-gays, side-by-side.  Like lions laying down beside lambs.


But what happened next was truly astonishing.  As we began to tell our stories - one by one - the love, grace, and understanding was literally palpable.  As K began to share his story, I looked across the room and saw the faces of friends and loved ones, strangers, agreers and disagreers - but all were faces of love and respect.  My nervousness melted away like wicker in wax, burning. We were not there to compete - or to take sides.  No one was better than anyone else.  No one felt the need to suggest that my love for J was inferior.  No one felt the need to suggest that S's love for R was suspect, or some sort of fabrication.  They just listened - with utmost respect, and supreme humility.  And then, they asked questions.  And the questions were poignant. 

The entire evening, I was fighting to hold back tears.  I was overwhelmed by emotion as I heard the pain from my fellow panel members, as I retold my own sorrowful tale, as I saw tears streaming down countless faces in the audience, as I looked into the eyes of friends who sent beaming smiles my way, as my friend and brother stood and announced his love and support.  By the time it was over, we (the panel) had received standing ovations. 


Even now as I type this, I'm overrun by emotion.  It was truly a divine evening.  Utterly surreal.  I cannot even describe it with words.  Stupendous, amazing, jaw-dropping; these are all imprecise, clumsy words which I would not deign use to describe what it was like to be on such holy ground.

It was, indubitably, the Kingdom at work on earth.  As Patsy shared with me afterward, this was a pivotal event in the history of our church.  It is a momentous sign of our vision come to fruition.  This vision that seems so utterly ridiculous on the surface:

"Imagine a community that dares to dream of heaven on earth; a community where everyone is accepted and respected and their journey cherished, regardless of their background, beliefs or place in society; where everyone looks out for the concerns of others and no one is alone."

Honestly, who would attempt such a thing?  I mean, is that even possible?  And that's only the first part of it.  It gets more preposterous as you go on!  And yet, this is what we want to see happen in the world.  This is where our hearts lie.  And last night, I realized just how much I am not alone in effectuating this insanity!  This community has signed on to do the tough work of genuinely, authentically accepting and loving one another - no matter where they are on their journey - and taking that love to the world.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Blessings Abound In Sorrow

Life has been, to put it bluntly: STRESSFUL.  J and I have had innumerable things to do, not the least of which has been planning a wedding and a honeymoon.  Not to mention that Spring is J's busy season at school because he has to coach tennis - which gets him home pretty late.  Now mind you, on most days he only gets home about 20 minutes after I normally do (any other time of year, he actually beats me home by about an hour), but this extra time supremely annoys him.  So, when he does come home, he's grumpy about how much of his life tennis consumes, and then he is consumed by these thoughts for the rest of the evening.  With the family stress we've encountered the past few months, and then the planning and tennis and subsequent fights about all of the above, we've had a really rough time at things.

Fortunately, tennis is over.  His school year officially ended yesterday.  He's a happier camper, but I'm still in the process of recovering from the last few months of living with an unpleasant partner - and I, in turn, have become a difficult partner to live with.  Thankfully, the fights are diminishing, and fatalistic emotions that surround them are dwindling as well.

But here comes the next glitch.  J has to go up to VT for grad school for the summer, and I'm going to accompany him since I have officially quit my job (last day June 18th).  So now I'm looking for jobs, J's preparing for classes, we're both preparing to spend most of the summer in VT, and oh . . . did I mention we have a wedding and honeymoon to plan for?  Plus J's brother is also getting married at the end of the month.  We're going to have to drive down from VT to PA for that, and then drive right back up to VT.  Lots of driving this summer!

Not that I'm complaining.  At this point, much of this planning and these events are exciting!  It's just so much!  And it doesn't help when you're planning a gay wedding as the children of Evangelicals, let me tell you.  We're pretty much doing this all by ourselves without much help.  The silver lining in that though is that everything we do has a personal touch, especially since we don't have a bunch of money.  So for instance, our wedding invitations were done by hand.  All of our loved ones are receiving a piece of our own creativity, time, and sweat.  It makes it seem just a bit more special :)

We're quite proud of 'em!

It's looking like our family contingent at the wedding will be small.  But that just makes those who attend all the more appreciated.  My parents will be there, and maybe a cousin and a brother - I doubt the other one will come with his family. J's brother and his (then) wife will be there, as well as his youngest brother (who I've grown quite close to the past few months).  And a couple of his cousins will be there as well.  Right now, J's parents are leaning towards not coming.

I actually had J invite them down a few weekends ago, because I wanted to hear from them why they weren't coming.  I also took the opportunity to discuss some other things which have been left unsaid between us for the past 2 years.  The discussion got pretty tense for a bit there, but overall I thought it was very positive, for a few reasons:

1.) His parents came down to stay with us in our "den of evil".  (This is really big for them.  They've come a looooong way.  And while I hope we can make up a lot more ground, it's nice to know that the issue of their son being gay isn't so painful and dangerous for them that they feel the need to shun me/us.)
2.) His mom essentially admitted that - while she would not feel good about attending our wedding to "celebrate" it - she would feel OK about coming simply to be a part of our lives. (She is, however, being consistent in support of her husband, and thus is deferring to his decision on the matter.)
3.) Even though his dad is leaning toward not coming, he admitted that he's not where he used to be, and indicated he's still in process.


J's blog covers that weekend far more in-depth than I plan to, so feel free to head over there and read all about it.

I'm not holding my breath for J's parents to attend the wedding.  I've made my peace with it, and I no longer feel like I want to tear into them Poltergeist-style every time I think about them anymore.  It was cathartic to get some of that stuff out.  At the same time, I am still going to be very disappointed and hurt if they're not there :(

Either way, I simply choose to no longer allow other people decide my happiness for this awesome, blessed event!  As one of my favorite Christian authors (John Eldredge) wrote: "Let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it."

Thus, I'm proud to report the happiest news: our honeymoon is set!  It got a little dicey this week, because we planned our lodgings in Provence several months ago (at two places: one coastal cottage for the first 3 days, and a countryside home for a week).  We held off on getting tickets because we were hoping the prices would come down (they didn't).  When we were finally ready to purchase tickets this weekend, we realized that there was NO WAY for us to get to our destination in France in a timely manner!  We would either have to leave the evening of our wedding (probably an hour or so after our reception started) to be there by the following evening, or move the wedding back a few hours (not ideal since the invitations had already been sent out), or we would have to miss out on an entire day and night on the coast (not to mention having wasted a day's rent on the place)!  We emailed both owners, and to our amazement, BOTH were willing to push up our dates by a day, so now we can enjoy our reception, leave the following morning, and not have to worry about missing a day of our honeymoon! :)

The other really great blessing is that we have an EXCESSIVE number of friends and loved ones who want to be at this wedding. We had already hired a caterer to plan food for 100-125 people, but by the time we sent out invitations, we were expecting about 138 people to come!  Needless to say, when people RSVP and say they can't make it, we are both very sad, and slightly relieved all at the same time.  It's really a bizarre combination of emotions.  (I still have about 20 people that I originally wanted to invite, but simply couldn't due to space and money constraints, so if lots of people can't make it, I'm hoping to extend a few more invitations.)  But all that to say, that even though we've had some great difficulty in the past in finding acceptance from our families and previous spiritual communities, we have discovered meaningful and wonderful new friendships (along with a deepening of some older ones), and our cups are proverbially running over! 

So that's where I've been these past few days.  Busy, busy, busy!  And it's not letting up anytime soon. Please pray for us!  I need to find a new job (so far, the best prospect seems to be joining the Commissioned Corps as a pharmacist in the United States Public Health Service.)  In the long run, however, I want to go back to school and eventually become a counselor, which requires me to go back to school.  Thus, I'll be studying for my GREs this summer in VT while J is taking his master's classes.  Obviously much more could be said about these decisions (which may seem sudden and impetuous, but I assure you that the decisions to quit my job and go back to school were arduously investigated).  More on that later.

Until then, my friends . . . 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rejection . . .

They say that ignorance is bliss.

I believe them.

In some sense, I really am hoping that this wedding season that my partner and I are in right now will pass quickly. Don't get me wrong, there is a significant extent to which I want to savor every moment of this process. But then, there are all of the "conscientious objectors" who won't come to our wedding (mostly for religious reasons), and it stings just a little bit more every time we get another one of those letters.

Life was so much easier when everyone thought J and I were just fucking around (and to be honest, I'm sure some of them thought we were out fucking a lot of other guys too - they could not be more wrong, in either accusation). But ever since we've actually made plans to enter into healthy, sanctifying, committed partnership together, many people have suddenly found a need to place their proverbial stakes in the ground. It's their right to do so, obviously. God bless 'em. Most of them can even acknowledge that doing so pains them, and knows that it will pain us. However, most of them have not an inkling what it *actually* feels like to have their love invalidated in such a way. They have no idea how much it hurts to be told by the people they love that they won't attend THE seminal event of their lives :(

People keep saying to me "well, you have to understand how they feel", and frankly, I DO understand how they feel. I was faced with a similar, tough situation when a good friend of mine from college (a girl who attended the Bible study I led, no less) decided to marry a Muslim man. My deliberation was quick, but difficult. I decided my love for her was worth putting my squeamishness aside for an evening, so that I could remain a part of her life. After all, how do you expect someone to trust you to be a part of their life, if you refuse to be a part of their love? It is precisely the sort of decision I figured Jesus would make in the same situation. I think Christians have an infinitesimally small understanding of exactly how scandalous it was for a rabbi to be eating with the likes of tax collectors and harlots! Communion and sharing with someone - even a sinning someone - is not necessarily condoning everything they do. But it is affirming their value and worth as human beings with human hearts and human ways.

My parents are coming to our ceremony. I am in no way deluded into thinking that this somehow means they agree with our sexuality being God-ordained. I understand their attendance to be the sign that they want to continue to be a part of our lives. God forbid if they did not come, and something were to happen to J. Do you think I would actually ever feel as though I could trust them anymore? With my hurt, my loss, my heart, my feelings? No, I couldn't. They made their decision. Not being a part of our love means not being a part of my life. That's how I feel about the matter, simply put.

And so, I want the days of ignorance back. I want to go back to the days when everyone pretended to love me perfectly well when they thought we were just fucking, and getting this out of our systems. I want to get beyond the wedding, so that people can revert to the simple life.

Can you tell that this past week has been hard for me? :)

I guess I'm just feeling the weight of being rejected so thoroughly by J's family. Of course, things could be a lot worse. As it is, they smile in my face, and secretly pray that I go away, while ignoring me whenever they can . . . I guess it's easier that way. Maybe I'd do the same in their position. But they *could* just be rude, evil, vindictive, and spiteful to me to my face. And that would probably feel worse than this. But this feels pretty shitty all the same . . .

Saturday, March 20, 2010

To All the Sincere Christians (Pt. 2) . . .

So I have gotten some very good responses to my previous post "To All the Sincere Christians Uncomfortable With Gay Relationships . . ."  I am grateful to my friends Jeff and Christina for their very thoughtful, graceful, humble, and respectful questions and critiques of my post.

Unfortunately, I do not allow anonymous responses on my blog, and she's too stubborn to get herself a username and password, so my beloved audience cannot be privy to the exchange we've had.  But let me assure you, it's been VERY good stuff!

Jeff, on the other hand, responded on the post.  His first response seemed quizzical to me, so I pushed for clarification, and he offered the following:

DJ, thanks for the follow-up. I would've responded sooner but life got busy.

My initial comment was not meant to be focused on the "sex part". It was meant to be focused on your statement "If it is love, then how could it be sin?" From a scriptural standpoint, it is a weak argument, and since your blog post was titled "To all the sincere Christians...", I thought you need to have a better foundational question to your argument, since I know many evangelical Christians that would jump all over that question if you addressed it to them. Teenage couples having sex, unmarried Christian couples living together, bigamists, polygamists, incestous relationships, adulterers, all could ask the same question - "If it is love, then how could it be sin?" It does not leave any room for making the case that some relationships are disobedient to the Word.

That being said, I have read arguments (including one Xanga blogger that I can no longer read because he gets me too riled up) that no gay relationship could be considered true love, and I find them hard to take seriously, although I still hold to the belief that Christians should not be in same-sex sexual relationships (let's just agree to disagree there). I have loved other men, and I love other men now, and I know the strength that love can have. I long for a couple particular friends even now, and sometimes wish there was more to our friendship. It is a strong emotion, and I cannot doubt that two men or two women love each other in very real ways. Heck, David even said his love for Jonathan was stronger than his love for a woman. So I am not a "dissenter" with you on that point. Christians who argue that two men or two women cannot truly love each other just have to get past their "ick" factor to understand and see them as individuals in a loving relationship, whether they approve or not. To say that someone cannot love another is just avoidance of the fact that it really happens.
I really feel like Jeff has addressed some very important issues here, and I think in some sense he's speaking more on behalf of the average Evangelical, than 100% for himself.  But since other average Evangelicals have not responded, I'll have to take those points seriously and reply despite their silence, because I agree with Jeff that most Evangelicals would minimize my question in a similar way that Jeff describes.  Since I respond somewhat thoroughly, blogspot chided me for having so many characters, so instead of breaking it up, I'll just post it all below:

Ahhh.  Ok, Jeff.  I see what you're saying.

I think your comment still missed the mark in a couple of very important ways though.

1.) The comment is predicated upon a presumption that the question is "an argument", when in fact, it is a question.  And a very deep question at that (which I think you will see once you begin to seriously answer the question.)  Which brings me to my next point . . .

2.) The "argument" you use (or rather, that perhaps a conservative evangelical would use) to state that the question is invalid, doesn't actually answer the question.

Thus, any Evangelical who jumped all over the question, would no doubt bring up some of the same points that you did (teen sex, domestic partnership, incest, polygamy, etc.)

The big problem with those things is that they are all "answers" to the question that don't actually address the question.  It’s a classic straw man argument: talk about some OTHER sexual issue which is a priori assumed to be "wrong", and thus demonstrates that the question at hand must be wrong too.

Only problem is, straw man arguments are on philosophical, logical, (and in this case, theological) shaky ground at best.  For example, the a priori judgment that teen sex is wrong STILL must be shown WHY it's wrong.  If the 2 do in fact love each other, and they are having sex, then what's wrong with that?  If it is in fact sinful, then there must be a reason for it.  so you either have to support a theology which states that there are some kinds of love that are bad/wrong/sinful (which is impossible to prove Biblically), or you must posit that there is something ELSE wrong with what they're doing, but that the love is fine and beautiful (if it's love at all, beyond the emotions of "falling in love" - M. Scott Peck gives the best distinction I’ve ever read on the issue in The Road Less Traveled).  

I would imagine that most reasonable evangelicals would choose the latter (i.e., that there's something else in the relationship that's sinful), and they are thus stuck with trying to explain why the SEX ACT is wrong, and thereby establish that everything else about the relationship is absolutely fine.  (Do you see now why I came to the conclusion that your answer to the question is really focusing on sex, and not the actual question at hand?)

However, if you try to extend that same line of reasoning to the gay couple, Evangelicals start to get very uncomfortable, b/c they don't in any way want to affirm that gay people might actually love each other.  It’s easier to answer the sex question, and make the judgment about the sex question absolute for all aspects of the relationship.  It’s intellectually inconsistent, dishonest, and fallacious.

They might similarly feel uncomfortable in the case of incest.  It’s an interesting example to look at.  What exactly is "wrong" with incest?  I think any Christian who takes the Bible seriously would have to say that NOTHING is inherently wrong with it.  That’s right.  There is NOTHING INHERENTLY WRONG WITH INCEST FROM A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE.  Why is that?  Because if there was, then why did God create all mankind from only one couple?  If the population is to proliferate, then Adam and Eve's children must then procreate either with them, or with each other.  That’s called incest.  And God created a world that required incest to get it off the ground.

So if there IS something wrong with incest, it's not in the act itself (or else you're admitting that God forced mankind to sin), nor is it in the love that the family members might have for one another.  It must be something else.  Personally, I feel it's more a cultural necessity to avoid incest, but you start to see the problem as we get to this point . . . you either have to evoke "Divine Command Theory" (as it's popularly called in the philosophy world - i.e., it's wrong only b/c God said it was, even though it was right before), or you have to evoke some other moral/ethical theory to explain why it's wrong. 

So let's return to the gay couple.  Most evangelicals would say that a gay relationship is sinful.  We then must ask WHAT is wrong with it.  The friendship?  The emotions? The longings? The affection?  The attraction?  The commitment?  The love they have for one another?  Or just the sex?

Biblically speaking, you can only make an argument about gay SEX being wrong (and I, of course, would debate that particular issue), but I don't think any Evangelical has a leg to stand on if they assume that all aspects of my relationship w/ my partner are wrong .  Why? Well, b/c the grand majority of the relationship is based on love.  And there is no law against love.  Anywhere. In. The. Bible.  Or in any other ethical metanarrative thereof, or elsewhere.  

This is why folks like your (former) Xanga buddy must insist that there is NO love b/w gay couples - b/c if you affirm anything, it becomes a bit more difficult to talk about why gay SEX is wrong - you no longer have a straw man to fall back on.  And most Evangelicals will have to fall back on Divine Command Theory, which is quickly becoming insufficient for most of Christendom.

Of course, I know quite well that there are some good debate points that both sides could make for why gay sex is right or wrong.  But that's a completely different issue from the one I asked about.  The question is about gay love, and SPECIFICALLY about gay LOVE for a reason.  As I said previously, the sex question is peripheral, and must be viewed on both sides of the cultural divide through the lens of the love question.  The love question is absolutely preeminent, and THAT is the reason the question is there.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

To All the Sincere Christians Uncomfortable With Gay Relationships . . .

J and I both have a number of dear friends and loved ones who emotionally range anywhere from befuddled to dismayed about the nature of our relationship.  Many of them are very loving, compassionate, graceful people . . . but they have a hard time reconciling gay relationships with the (Evangelical) lifestyle.  Certainly I understand their hesitancy . . . after all,  I didn't come out of the lifestyle until about 5 years ago myself.

Last night - by referral of a friend - J and I watched a wonderful French gay film called "Just a Question of Love" ("Juste une question d'amour").  Now, if you are at all familiar with gay cinema, you realize that they are generally full-on camp, with sparse acting talent, and far too much sex not to be considered soft (sometimes hard!) porn!  That's why we generally stay away from gay films.  But this film was absolutely refreshing: there was very little nudity (and what nudity there was, was actually a woman . . . and you know how those French are more artistic about human figures than stereotypically sexual), it was done rather tastefully, and the acting was pretty darn good.

The story follows a young man (Laurent) during his coming of age, and his coming out to a family that previously rejected a nephew when he came out of the closet.  Since losing his cousin, Laurent has been having a hard time relating to his family (even resorting to pretending to date his roommate and friend, Carole, just to fit in), and a hard time in school.  He is subsequently forced to work an internship, or be kicked out of school.  His tutor, Cédric, is older, more seasoned, and clearly disinterested in falling for someone with the kind of baggage Laurent has.  Yet, they do fall in love, and in a heart-wrenching turn of events, must find a way to deal with the messiness of human relationships.  It's really quite a beautiful tale.

Aside from the many parallels that this story has with our own (e.g., Cédric's "I'm gay; take it or leave it" approach with his family, compared to Laurent's more deferent approach with his own), what I really walked away with was the masterful way the film underscored the issue of love as being foundational to the moral and relational questions that come to bear when discussing gay issues.  So, in the spirit of humility (having previously seen the world from the lens you currently own, and living the subsequent lifestyle), and in the spirit of genuinely wanting to understand those that disagree with the current lens I own, I would like to offer some questions to those sincere Christians who are uncomfortable with gay relationships:

1.) Would you describe the relationship that J and I have as one that is based on love (i.e., do you think we love each other)? (Unfortunately, this question requires you to know us - but if you don't have that privilege, relate it to any other long-term gay couple you know.)

This question was rather salient to me last weekend, when J's family (his brother B and his brother M along with M's fiancee) came to visit us.  Not having had the opportunity to ever really broach "the gay issue" with them directly, I facilitated a conversation about their approach to our relationship, and why it's different from their parents'.  At one point, B stated "you guys must love each other", to which I replied "we absolutely do; otherwise, we wouldn't have gone through all this mess!" 

*Editing note - I should be clear that J's brothers have been really quite gracious.  While they do hold a more conservative view on this particular issue, they have NOT let that get in the way of relating to us, and loving us very well.  They're pretty cool :) *

Had the conversation not gone in another direction, had I more time, I would have followed that up with "if you acknowledge that we love each other, why exactly do you think that our relationship is sinful?"

Think about that.  As Derek Webb says "Love is not against the law."  When I was living the Evangelical lifestyle, I could never say that a gay couple actually loved each other.  By definition, their relationship was sinful, thus any apparent "love" was surely some form of counterfeit love . . . maybe even lust.  I knew the second that I thought of this as love, I didn't have much theological ground to stand on to call it "wrong."

Perhaps a more conservative-leaning postmodern would say that I am errant for posing such an "either/or" query (i.e., "either you say that we love each other, and we're thus living a Godly life together OR you say that we are sinful and therefore couldn't love each other").  The pomo Christian might say "I think there are indeed many ways in which you genuinely love each other, but the physical aspect of your relationship is lust, or at the very least 'not-quite-love'"  And to them I would say "very well, then support and affirm our relationship in all of the ways in which it is loving: comfort us when we've hurt each other; advise us when we are confused about each other; attend our ceremony when we pledge our undying, Godly love to and support of one another; accept us; and relate to us as kindred spirits and brothers in Christ."

But the question is there for you.  If it is love, then how could it be sin?  If it is lust, then are you not blind? ;)

2.) If Jesus incessantly demonstrated that relationships and loving people supersede religious rules and customs, why do you place heavy burdens (that you don't have to ever bear, mind you) on LGBT people, instead of submitting your fundamentalist religious beliefs to God?

In other words, if you've gotten to know any gay people at all - at all - you would be well-acquainted with the grief that comes with having the worst of all crosses in the entirety of the Bible: being gay.  (I'm being somewhat facetious, but unfortunately, this is what many people feel in their heart, even though they confess with their lips that "all sins are equal.")  Why then - knowing the anguish that this "struggle" causes, and the number of LGBT who have committed suicide and/or were suicidal in an attempt to "not be gay" - do you insist that your religious leanings on the issue must be correct?  When the Pharisees placed heavy burdens on the masses with legalistic rules about the Sabbath, Jesus declared that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  In the same manner, if Jesus were to speak on the issue of homosexuality today (considering he said nothing on the issue - at least nothing that made it into the Gospels), would he not say to us that sexual mores were made for man, not man for sexual mores?  And in that way, wouldn't the definition of "sinful sex" be those practices which are inherently unhealthy, and thus lead to lust, greed, selfishness, objectification, and all other manner of evil?  Wouldn't healthy living for the gay person be to relate in such a way that lead to the fruit of the Spirit (love, patience, kindness, etc.) in their lives?

In my own life, even my parents acknowledge that they've seen the manifestation of these very fruits - not to mention a lot less depression in my own life - since harkening to the voice of God and accepting my sexuality.  They now see me living the "abundant life" that John speaks about in his Gospel - that I'm experiencing "everlasting life" (i.e., "life of the ages") more now than ever before.  And yet, they insist - despite clear evidence of the Spirit - that their interpretation of the Bible is true, and lasting, and could not be incorrect.  Is this not the true sin?  Aren't people who do such things modern day Pharisees who hold to the supremacy of their religious rules at the expense of relationships and loving people? (Thanks to Brian McLaren, whose thoughts on pluralism as illustrated in his exegesis of the Gospel of John inspired much of the thinking behind this question.  See A New Kind of Christianity)

These are, of course, open questions.  Feel free to answer or not.  But if we're ever to see any bit of the Kingdom here on earth, I'd say this is necessary dialogue to have.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jennifer Knapp is back!

Last Tuesday evening, J and I had the opportunity to hear Jennifer Knapp at an intimate venue in Annapolis (Ram's Head On Stage).  She apparently picked up her guitar again in 2008 (after a nearly 7-year hiatus from the CCM scene, and probably Evangelical Christianity itself).  She's been writing songs for the past year, and is set to release her new album, Letting Go, on May 11, 2010.

This album is a marked departure from her previous ones, with cuss words and provocative lyrics.  Perhaps that's why she's paired well on this tour with Derek Webb, who's also been a controversial figure in the Christian music scene, with songs like "Freddie, Please" - a direct challenge to Fred Phelps and his ilk - on his new Stockholm Syndrome album, as well as the bonus track "What Matters More" (vid here) - a compelling exposé of Christian hypocrisy, which was apparently too edgy for Derek's record label (you can download it for free on his site).

Knapp has managed to retain the sonorous strum of her guitar, that unmistakable sultry voice, and those signature deep, bare-bones-honest lyrics which make you ponder the ethereal world of the soul.  For pre-ordering Letting Go, she gave away a free album (Evolving), with simple, acoustic versions of some of the songs on the new album.  Tracks like "Inside" give us a glimpse of some of the pain that she's faced while finding herself, and anticipating some opposition for coming back differently.  She admitted during the concert that she's had to deal with a bit of a guilt complex about not writing "Christian songs" anymore - for fear that it somehow made her less "Christian". 

Our favorite song was "Fallen", with the hook:

Even though they say we have fallen,
Doesn't mean that I won't do it twice.
Given every second chance,
I choose again to be with you tonight.

You can imagine how my partner and I must have felt hearing such words that night.  It captures our experience, and our love, so well.  I can't stop listening to it :)  It's clear to me from her songs that this is a woman who is well-acquainted with the grief, sorrow, and redemption that I have found in Jesus.  I can't wait to get the new album, and I look forward to hearing more from J-Knapp in years to come!

A Must Buy . . .

If you call yourself a Christian, or are in any way interested in it as a religion, then A New Kind of Christianity is a must buy!

First, I will make my appropriate disclaimer: I am a huge Brian McLaren fan, and he seems to espouse a view of Christianity that Phyllis Tickle calls "orthonymy" , or "right harmony/relationship" (see The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why - another must buy, which pairs beautifully with A New Kind of Christianity).  As this authoritative structure makes most sense to me, I am generally in agreement with a lot of what Brian says (though this book more than any of his others has me unsure of his conclusions, but I find them to be fascinating nonetheless).  So with that in mind, you can dutifully take my words with a proverbial grain of salt.

Brian is very clear about what this book is not.  It is not a book of answers for all of the major questions facing Christians today.  But it is a very insightful, relevant, propitious, and succinct conversation-starter for what ails us as a society trying desperately to make sense of the world around us, as we've outgrown the modernist answers that worked in centuries past.  What Brian is a genius at is seeing the abstract picture, and cogently re-painting it for the masses.  He adeptly weaves current scholarly thoughts ranging from fundamentalist to ultra-liberal (think Jesus Seminar leaning) into a coherent, past-future understanding of the Gospels, and the Christian faith.

Something else Brian adamantly says the book is not: "right".  It's not an attempt to say "Ahhh, this is what we've missed all along, and now we've finally gotten Jesus' message correct; we have arrived", despite what some of Brian's critics (like Kevin DeYoung and Scot McKnight) have asserted. (Those 2 reviews are actually some of the more gracious ones, and I think both raise some very good questions worth discussing - I only wish they asked them in a slightly more graceful tone which garnered discussion, as opposed to dismissive ignorance and vitriol by some of their "followers" and colleagues.)

In short, Brian has once again shown me - through his thoughts and his humility - that there is perhaps something powerful and meaningful to this man we call Jesus, and to the Way in which he called humanity to live.  He makes me want to understand the mystery that surrounds the Man, and be enveloped by the "Kingdom" of which he spoke.

Oh yes, and to my friend Christina, who specifically asked me to write about what Brian says about the so-called "Second Coming of Jesus".  No, he does not at all deny the second coming, but he does place the verses that speak of it in what I think is their proper context.  I would summarize it, except that I don't think I could do justice to it.  I'm still trying to wrap my mind around his poignant thoughts, and the many ways in which Scripture seems more harmonious to me than ever before.

Go buy the book.  Read the book.  Highlight it, ear mark it, and take copious notes.  And maybe, read it all over again, just to properly imbibe these thoughts.  Your mind will churn and crank, and you (perhaps your spirituality?) will be better for it.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Milestone . . .

Last night, I officially ended my counseling sessions with Lance.  I thought I'd be crying a lot, but I think I got most of my tears out a month and a half ago at our previous session when I first articulated that I felt it was time to move on.  But last night was more a night of remembering and reflecting.  We talked about all the ways in which I have grown.  Wow.  Seriously amazing.  Especially when I go back and read over my Xanga entries from 2004 - 2005.  As Lance so aptly noted last night at the start of our session: "You were a mess!"

Amen!  Truer words were never spoken!  I used to think that you had to be pretty fucked up to have to go see a counselor.  And then I realized, "I'm pretty fucked up!"  So I went to see one.  Last night, Lance recounted (from notes he took) that I said to him that I wasn't sure if he could handle my mess.  He doesn't remember how he responded to me, but I told him that I'd never forget.  He looked my right in the eyes and said "Darren, I would be shocked, if you could shock me."  Those were exactly the words I needed to hear.  Lance was the first of three counselors that had been referred to me by Exodus.  But after he said that (and after discovering he actually knew who Brian McLaren was, and really liked some of his work), I knew this was the one for me, and I abandoned my intro meetings with the other two counselors.  Lance and I connected pretty well, fairly quickly.  Perhaps because we're both NFP's (of the Myers-Briggs variety) :)

But after my first year of therapy, I started thinking that things should end.  And then I was there for two years.  That's when I started to get really nervous.  I always figured counseling would be a very temporary thing, ya know?  After all, only really fucked up people need counseling for years!  And then I realized, "I'm really fucked up!"  And after awhile, I started to get comfortable with that concept:  I'm not perfect, I don't have it all together, I have some major wounding, and I have a lot of stuff to work through.

I also started to get nervous around that time because Lance began to consistently bring up how closed I was to him.  I kept thinking "What the hell is he talking about?!  I've told this guy every single detail of my life!  Everything from family shit, to sexual depravity!"  And thus began the slow process of learning the profound difference between being open, and being vulnerable.  To be sure, genuine healing takes place in being open, but the real heavy soul work is in the place of vulnerability.  I still have trouble with that today.  Let's face it, the world is a scary place, and there are a lot of people out there who don't deserve to have you heart.  But as Lance shared incessantly (did I mention how patient this poor man is??), when you build walls to keep all the bad out, you keep all the good out with it. 

Truth be told, I'm still a pretty messed up guy.  I've still got a looooot of growing to do.  But, I think it's the kind of growing that happens in the every-day-ness of experiential living.  God's been really good to me, methinks.  And Lance was one of the best gifts he's ever given.  Thank you, Lance.  I'll always remember you as my greatest, most reliable help in the darkest of dark days.  You instructed me in the ways of the heart, and you faithfully walked with me as I learned how to live them out.  You are a treasure.  Look for me again beyond the horizon.  I'm sure there's more darkness to beckon me in days to come, and I'll be running right back to you when it does :)

Oh My God . . .

I don't know what it is about Jars of Clay's "Oh My God" that makes me cry nearly every time I hear it (Find a sample at Amazon here, or listen to the whole song on my buddy Mike's Xanga page here).  Perhaps it's because more than any song I've ever heard, it most adeptly captures the tension of the "not yet and the already" of the Kingdom.  Perhaps because it demonstrates the beauty of the morose, and the wonderful tragedy of this thing we call "life".  Perhaps it has extra power today because of my own emotional struggles with my partner and our dealings with his family.  Either way, it brings such peace to my soul.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Good News!

So first, J and I went shopping last night and bought nearly $500 worth of alcohol!  No, i'ts not what you think.  We're not lushes.  (Well, J is, I'm not.)  Twice a year, one of our local (and favorite) wine shops promotes "Dollar Days" - when everything in the store is $1 above cost!  Wow!  So we decided this would be an ideal time to purchase our Champagne for the ceremony.  So $300 of our spending was for 3 cases of Champagne :) Only $200 was for our personal consumption.  Our liquor cabinet is well-stocked for the first time in a looooong time (we had no money for the last "Dollar Days" 6 months ago).

In other ceremony news, however, MD is one step closer to actually recognizing our union!  Today, Attorney General Doug Gansler released his long-awaited opinion regarding out-of-state same sex marriage recognition in  MD.  And it looks good for us!  His opinion is that there is really nothing stopping MD from recognizing out-of-state same sex marriages, even though MD law states that only male-female, monogamous relationships are recognized.  His opinion, however, is based on past precedents: 1.) Common law marriages - which are not legal in MD - are recognized when the couple has a common law marriage from a previous state of residence, and 2.) A Rhode Island uncle and niece have their marriage recognized in MD, despite the fact that MD law does not allow for blood relative unions.

While this is great news for us - it's just the beginning of an uphill battle for sure.  No doubt Republicans are already working hard to create a bill that would preclude this decision from getting off the ground.  Likewise, the Democrats are no doubt crafting bills which will ensure protections for out-of-state same sex married couples.  We'll see.  One thing's for sure: this is a good step in the right direction!

I do wonder what Ron George thinks of all of this? :)  I just sent off the email (a slightly edited version of what I posted in my last post) to him this morning, complete with an attachment of a 2008 Swedish study that showed differences between gay and straight brains.  I'll let you know if he responds!