Then Sings My Soul

8bf0d84f2d84e9874773e8820873c99f

Several years ago, I was driving through Utah on my way to a family reunion.  Having never been in the state, I was awestruck by the beauty and the majesty of the landscape.  Mountains and canyons and old bridges and blue, blue skies on a sunny July day.  Over and over, only half aware of it, I would start to sing the first verse of a song that I sometimes sing when I encounter grandeur in nature.

Oh Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds
Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed

The truth is, How Great Thou Art isn’t really even one of my favorite hymns.  I don’t hate it but I don’t think of it as a song that resonates for me.  And yet, here I was driving through Utah and I couldn’t get it out of my head.  I also couldn’t get it out of my head when I saw snow capped Mt. Shasta for the first time.  Or sometimes when I walk through Central Park.

At that particular time in my life, church and God and religion were something that I felt very far removed from.  It was almost vexing that an old-fashioned country church hymn would be so fixated in my subconscious. While I grew up in the church, it was not who I was in my adulthood. But as I drove through Utah, I tried to give myself some grace.  I tried to just enjoy the song and the singing of the song, sung at the top of my lungs, no less.

I’ve written about it before but a couple of years ago, I embarked on a journey back to church.  Not the same faith of my youth, I don’t think anyone ever holds on to that, exactly.  But I found a church that accepted the LGBTQ community and preached about social issues that I care about and told me that all those questions and doubts I’ve always had about God and Jesus and the Bible and Christianity were welcome too.

So I joined that church and then about a year later I stopped going.  Somewhere down the road I might write about it but, put succinctly, I stopped going to that church because even after a year, no one knew my name.

I share that, not to ask for anyone’s sympathy, but only to illustrate that many people have any number of reasons for going to church and any number of reasons for leaving it.

Yesterday, in an effort to take a break from getting into political fights on Facebook, I asked the question, “What is your favorite hymn?” And I asked people to elaborate if they were inclined to do so.

While I was slightly surprised by how many people responded to the question, I was not shocked by the answers themselves.  The classics like In the Garden, The Old Rugged Cross, Amazing Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Ave Maria and of course, How Great Thou Art all made multiple showings.

As I imagined, so many favorite songs had memory tied to its resonance.  Beautiful stories of grandmothers and grandfathers, weddings, funerals, parents, siblings, children.  I know this sounds corny, but it was an honor to read these paragraphs about some of my friends’ most indelible memories.

I wondered why I had even posted this question, was I trying to write a blog?  If so, what was it that I wanted to say?  I didn’t know.

But, then, tonight, a friend of mine, I’ll call him Scott, weighed in.  (I pray he forgives me for sharing this.)   “*sigh* It’s been so long since I’ve invested any thoughts to anything ‘Christ-ey.’ That said, “Abide with Me” has always held a secure spot in my gay soul because it speaks of the promise of love & support when the rest of the world has abandoned me.” 

I feel like I understand where Scott is coming from.  We both grew up in conservative evangelical homes.  We both tried to be straight but came out eventually.  We both spent so much time in churches singing songs and listening to sermons and participating in classes and these experiences, in part, have molded the men we are today.

Not everybody goes to church.  Not everybody that grew up going to church still goes to church.  Church is responsible for many good things and also responsible for some bad things too.  I am not here to make a case for religion. But I do want to say something, and I must confess, it’s a lesson that took me a few decades to learn. If you have a song, whether it’s Sia or George Jones or Tchaikovsky or a song about Jesus that you sang when you were a child, if you love it, that song is yours and it will always be yours.  Nothing can change that.

Inspired by Scott, I have posted a YouTube video of a British (I think) boys’ choir.  A quick search led me to many renditions, even one by Elton John, but this is the one that moved me most.  Young children singing about the promise of love and support. I pray that they will grow into adults who always, their entire lives, know that Love.

Advertisements

A Neverending Negotiation

 

IMG_4593

Today, Eric and I celebrated the 7th anniversary of the day we met. Pretty cool. I don’t think I post a lot about Eric on FB or IG, but today I posted a cute picture of my dog Millie and Eric around the time Eric entered our lives.

IMG_2240

The picture got over a hundred likes on FB, a big hit. Now, what I am going to say, it is not a judgement, merely an observation. I promise. But, whenever I make a reference to Eric, even the most innocuous one,  I sense a hesitation that comes from some people who I went to Bible college with. I can just feel them hovering over the blue thumbs up button thinking, I want to be supportive as a friend but I also don’t want to make a statement that would indicate that I don’t interpret the Bible conservatively.  I get it. It’s all good, really.  I truly believe that the evangelical Christian has a challenge today negotiating what they believe is scriptural truth against how they interact with the LGBTQ friends and family that they love.

Something happened to me when I was home in Kansas. I was visiting my friends who run a business in my hometown and they asked me if I knew a person. For the sake of the story, we’ll call him Jimmy Roberts. I said, “Yes, I know Jimmy Roberts, he is a very good friend of my parents.”  They proceeded to tell me that Jimmy had written a letter to the editor in the local paper expressing his dismay that the public library was one of the sponsors of a recent Southeast Kansas LGBTQ pride weekend.

img_1891

I wasn’t exactly shocked that someone would write a letter to the paper expressing disagreement with the festival, but it did strike me as somewhat extraordinary that this dissenter happened not only to be my parents’ friend but really their best friend.

I do not live in Independence and there is no one I know in this world who has done more for my parents in the last year than Jimmy and his wife.  They have checked on them regularly, taken them to doctors appointments, cooked them meals, spent an afternoon with them at the ER. You get the idea.

When my friends told me about this letter, I had to track it down.  Of course, I found it at the library, which was the impetus for Jimmy’s letter in the first place.  Jimmy did not feel that a government funded entity should support something LGBTQ because not everyone in the town agreed with that “viewpoint”.

I will be honest, when I read his letter, it bothered me.  First, that anyone would write those words, second, that this was a good friend of my parents and third, I wondered if perhaps my parents felt the same way about the LGBTQ community and the pride festival that Jimmy did.

I went home and asked my parents if they knew about the letter.  They had not heard about it or read it.  My Mom asked me to send her a copy so she could read it and I did.  We did not talk about it.

A couple of hours later, Jimmy and his wife, came to my parents’ house to visit them.  They knocked on the door of the back room where I was sitting watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (gay) on Netflix (also kinda gay).  My dog Ricky barked and they let themselves in.  Jimmy’s wife, who Ricky had been quite taken by on their last visit, bent down to pet him.  As he barked, I tersely said, “He’s really worked up tonight, my parents are in the living room.”

Jimmy and his wife went into the other room and for the next 45 minutes I could hear them talking to my parents, about what I did not know.  Although I was pretty sure I knew what they weren’t talking about.  I will say this, but I have a fantasy, all of us LGBTQ offspring do, I sat there in my parents’ den wishing that they somehow could have said to their friend, in a loving but firm way, “Hey, that letter, that’s not so cool.  Especially since you know our son is gay.”

I wrestled if whether or not I could say something.  And if I could say something, what would it be and what should it be? I decided against it and then I thought about the pictures I’d seen, posted on Facebook, of the SEK Pride festival. It had been held weeks before I came to town.  These twentysomethings, just kids, many dressed in various forms of drag.  (There was a lot of glitter.)  For one night, they were free and celebrated and fierce and loved. And I just wished there was a way that these kids, my tribe, could have a better time living in my hometown than I did. But how could I say anything in a way that would make Jimmy see how utterly special and desperately needed something like a smalltown pride festival is?

In the end, wise or foolish, as Jimmy and his wife were leaving, as Ricky was both barking at him AND allowing him to pet him, I told Jimmy that I had read the letter.

He gave a nervous laugh.

I told him how when I was growing up here in this town, when everything I knew, like my church and my school, were telling me something was wrong with me, I was grateful for that library.

He reiterated his point, that a government funded entity should not support a viewpoint that not everyone believes in.

It was a very awkward 5 minute conversation. My mother and his wife quietly bearing witness to it.

He told me that he didn’t think he’d ever treated me differently than anyone else and I agreed with him. He and his wife have always been kind to my face. But, when he was the minister of my parents’ church, on every occasion I was in town visiting the congregation where I grew up, on every occasion, he brought up the “sin” of homosexuality from the pulpit. At first, I thought it was a coincidence, but eventually, I started tracking it, and well, every time I was in the church, homosexuality was addressed.

I’d like to say that our conversation that night was cordial. I was impassioned and nervous and scattered and loud. At one point, Jimmy started to suggest a book or a video I should read or watch, and I shut him down. (I guess he thought gay people had never had a Christian offer a book to fix them before.) I said, “No, I’ve read exactly what you have to say on the topic and it is heard and it is noted.” (Dramatic? Me?)

They left soon after and his wife meekly offered, “Thanks for taking care of our dog the other day.”

“You’re welcome,” I muttered. I had been happy to help them with their dog earlier in the week. I had been happy to lend a hand to thank them for all they have done for my parents. And then I’d snarled like a pit bull at them.

After Jimmy and his wife left, I told my Mom that she probably didn’t appreciate me confronting him. She said she understood where I was coming from. I told her that I felt like I had to say something to stand up for all the kids growing up in Independence who feel like something is wrong with them. I told her about my friends’ friend, not being accepted by his parents. And I started to cry. “Are you okay?” my Mom asked? “Yes, I’m fine.” “I know you didn’t have an easy time of it growing up here.” I could tell she wanted to hug me and a part of me wanted to hug her too, but instead I went in the other room.

After a few days, because that is what we do, my parents and I, we moved on.  The letter was never discussed.  I did not see Jimmy and his wife again and I don’t really know what I will say the next time I do.

If you are reading this and feel compelled to leave a comment, please do not bash Jimmy.   My parents read all comments.  Goodness knows, Jimmy will probably read this too.  Our conversation did not go the way I hoped it would and I must admit, I bear the responsibility for that.  After he left and I was still emotional, still seething, it hit me that the decades of rejection I’d always felt from my little town had welled up and he had been the somewhat unlikely victim of my eruption.

If the evangelical Christian has a neverending negotiation with how to show their love to their LGBTQ friends and family, I suppose we LGBTQ friends and family have an eternal negotiation as well, of how much to feel safe in that love, how much can we share, how much we should expect to be accepted.

My Mom probably doesn’t know this but of all the beautiful things she has written to me in my 49 years, and I have a cornucopia to draw from, it was three little words that touched me the most.  Three words I will carry with me until I take my last breath.  In Christmas 2010, after just meeting Eric for the first time we went to a restaurant and the waiter took a picture of my parents, Eric and myself.  I posted it to Facebook and my Mom was the first to comment beside it, for all the world to see.  “Nice looking family,” she wrote.

And we are.

166564_10150106972407755_4238902_n

 

 

For You Are With Me

church-in-the-wildwood-todd-hostetter

According to family legend, in the weeks before my father’s mother died, she had a conversation with my mother that changed the course of our lives.  At that time, my parents did not attend church.  I was still a baby so you know how long ago this was.  “Find a church,” my Grandma said, “Any church, I don’t care what denomination, but find a church and become a part of it.”

And in the months after her passing, my parents did just that.  They found a church.  As long as I can remember, church was always a central part of our spiritual and social lives.

When I was in my twenties, I left the church and in my forties, I returned.  A very long in the tooth prodigal son.

Last night I wrote about the events of the last week.  As I published the post and ran out the door to my friend’s party, I felt a lightness.  Eloquent or fumbling, I put into words what I had been feeling.  I tried to approach it with kindness, not always the easiest task when talking about polarizing subjects.

This morning,  I looked forward to church.  I got there early and sat in my pew.  There is a thirty minute organ concert that precedes every Sunday’s worship service.  You can judge me, you probably should judge me, but I tend to spend that time on my phone, checking Instagram, texting and emailing.  As the prelude began it’s final chords and the organ began to swell, I put my phone away.  In the time that I had been looking down on my phone, the sanctuary filled up.  This morning, it wasn’t average Sunday in November full, it was practically Easter full.

We stood to sing the opening hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.  The oft-mentioned beauty of my church comforted me and yes, even surprised me a little.  Every Sunday, I can’t believe how at home I feel on my little pew in this grand, old sanctuary.  I was grateful to have a place where I could bring the sadnesses of the last week.

I touched on it in my last blog, this complicated navigation many of us are attempting with family members who did not vote the same way we did.  Like I said, my parents voted for Trump.  I voted for Hillary.  And for the last week, I’ve tried to figure out what these opposing positions mean about our relationship.  How can we see life so differently?

Big surprise, I cried in church.  Believe it or not, it was my first cry this week that was about the election.  Yes, I am disappointed that Hillary lost, but my tears were not really sad ones.  Well, maybe melancholy.

See, I cried this morning when I realized here I was in church again, after a twenty year break, because my parents showed me the value of it.  That church is a place to bring your heartache.  That church is a place to look at your heart and see what you need to change.  That church is where you have a moment to acknowledge what you are grateful for.

I thought about my ailing Grandma Avis who asked my Mom to find a church, any church, 46 years ago.   And maybe the ANY part is what I was thinking about in February, when I attended a worship service solely on the basis that I thought the church looked pretty when I drove by.  And when I walked into the church courtyard, I saw a poster that read, “Inclusive.”

The Scripture reading today was David’s Psalm 23.  When the man read, “I will fear no evil for you are with me,” I thought about how, like God, my parents are always with me, even when I feel there is a distance.

On Friday, when I spoke to my parents, my Dad stated that if someone ever asked him to deny Jesus, he would let them kill him.  He would die defending Christ. I assured him that that would never happen.  “You never know,” he insisted.  “If I die tonight, I have no regrets.”

Today was the first day that I prayed for Donald Trump and his impending presidency.  I prayed that God would give him wisdom and compassion and guidance.  With my head bowed and my eyes closed, it struck me that I have more in common with Trump than I’d like to admit.  I sometimes say cruel things. I sometimes make bad decisions. I can be self-serving. I grow my hair longer than what is ideal for my age/weight.

I loved that my church was packed today.  I looked around and saw faces I’d never seen before.  I imagined that maybe, like me, they had grown up in conservative churches in the Midwest or the South.  Maybe they had left the church in a huff or snuck out a side door.  But maybe, this week, this crazy week, affected them in a way that they said to themselves, I’d like to go somewhere to find comfort, healing.  Maybe they thought the church looked pretty.  Maybe they had a Grandma who begged, “Find a church, any church.”

That parable of the prodigal son, maybe it resonates because some of us feel like we’ve squandered riches and long to return home to a father that welcomes us with open arms.  Today, I thought about the time when my own Dad was a prodigal and the events that drove him back to church. Surely there are differences, big differences, but for now, maybe it’s best to hold to what we have in common, to cherish what we share.

More Than We Deserve

img_9012

Last summer, at a family reunion, my Father was asked to say grace before the evening meal.  Even though it’s my Mom’s side of the family, he is always the one who is called upon to pray.  He is a godly man and a good man. As our heads were bowed in prayer, one of the things he said to God was, “You’ve blessed us.  Some more than others. Some more than we deserve.”

I was glad we all had our eyes closed, so no one could see me crying.

Because I live several states away from them, I only see them a couple of times a year.  When I am in California and they are in Independence, in the house where they raised me, I can imagine them still being the couple in the pictures I have displayed in my home.  I can see them as high school seniors, or a young 1970’s Kansas City family, or the way they  looked when they visited me while I lived in New York and we went to Atlantic City for the day.

And then I go to them or they come to me, or sometimes we meet in the middle.  Within minutes, my Mom will tell me whether my hair is too short or the appropriate length.  And I will be shocked with the reminder of something I manage to forget when we are only talking or texting to each other from 1500 miles away: they are old now.

This weekend, I met my parents in Denver.  After they picked me up at the airport, we went to lunch at a Panera Bread.  And as we sat in a corner and ate our food, they told me about all the doctors’ visits they had made in the last few weeks.  They both retired this summer and now, like so many others, their days are filled with negotiating doctor and dentist and optometrist appointments.  As casually as they could, they shared the news of these visits and I sat there, with concern and sadness, as I gobbled up what might possibly have been the worst turkey club sandwich I’ve ever encountered.

For the rest of the weekend, as we drove around Denver and went to the Museum of Nature and Science and to dinner at my cousin Valerie’s house and services at historic Trinity United Methodist Church downtown, I tried to take as many pictures as possible, to document and memorialize our time together.  I’m not the biggest fan of the way I look in pictures these days, but I tried not to judge my wattled neck or squinty eyes too much.  Each moment together is something to be treasured.

I’ve tried to dissect why my Father’s prayer last summer has stuck with me in these last 14 months.  Part of it, I know, is that he reminded me of all of the challenges we have been through as a family, and the challenges he’s been through and the challenges my Mom has been through, and somehow, we are still here.  They are still here.

Maybe it’s the Kansas in us or the church in us, but I fear that we go through life worrying that we don’t deserve the blessings we have.  Or that suddenly all those good things might go away. I know that I am lucky that I know my Mother and Father love me.  I know that I am lucky that there are still things to laugh about, still things to see.

When I got home on Monday, and I presented Eric with the butter pecan cookies my Mom made for him, it struck me what a gift those cookies were from her.  Even something like making a batch of cookies is not as easy as it used to be.  And it doesn’t means she won’t make them anymore, it just greater reflects the deepness of her love. Also, probably a day will come when she won’t be able to make me cookies and a part of her will wonder, how does he know I still love him?  But I’ll know. In the 48 years I’ve been on this planet, everything she’s ever done for me has revealed that love. I’ll always know my Mother loves me.

I’ll be honest, I have been sad in the days that I’ve been home.  I miss my folks and like a spoiled child, I miss the version of my folks I see when I close my eyes.  And with each step and each breath and each blink, their lives will only become more challenging.  And back to that prayer, but I wrestle with this feeling that my parents deserve more.  I know, deserve is probably the stupidest, most egotistical word in the English language. Nobody deserves anything.  Except my parents, they do.  They deserve every blessing imaginable.

The truth is, God has blessed them.  While aching, weeping, and praying for more for them, I am grateful for every good thing, every good day, every good meal.  And certainly, I must hold to another truth, as I grapple with what our futures hold. If you are lucky enough to know them, you already know this, but I’ll say it anyway.  In giving me these two as parents, God has blessed me beyond measure.  More than I deserve.

 

Not Only Does Jesus Love You

jesus-wineMy friend and co-worker Judy has never really gotten over me writing a blog about another co-worker. I know this because about once every five days, she brings up that blog and asks, “why don’t you write a blog about ME?”

And this blog is about her, sort of. It’s about her in the way that it’s also about me and, I hope, anyway, it’s about you too.

Judy and her fiancé Travis have been attending church with me this summer. When our church announced a few weeks ago that we would have a night called Beer and Hymns, Judy and I both got really excited. We love drinking. And they promised it wouldn’t just be beer, but wine also.

And I’m not going to lie, for the last few weeks, I’ve really looked forward to this event, which is tonight. (7:00 pm! First Congregational Church, 6th and Commonwealth) Did I mention I enjoy drinking? I know I joke about my alcohol consumption but I don’t really drink the way I used to when I was younger. And yet, with a nice glass of wine, or a bit of my favorite Maker’s Mark, sometimes I can go on a journey that’s warm and sentimental and kind of funny and deeply emotional. Some say we become someone else when we drink and others say we reveal our truest selves. And I think both are true and both can be true.

One of my happiest moments was a few years ago, drunk at the Amy Grant concert at the Greek with my friend Richard. We had grown up in the church and with Amy’s music, and in our adulthood, for our own reasons, moved away from the church. Now that I have returned to church, the memories of that night are sweeter. I did not realize I was inching back to a spiritual journey at the time, but I was. And I have both Amy Grant and a bourbon distillery in Kentucky to thank for it.

Judy and I have been talking up Beer and Hymns to our co-workers and other friends. Every chance we get, we ask someone else, “Do you want to go?” And you know, as it turns out, the idea of drinking in church is a little provocative.

A few days ago, Judy and I asked one particular friend if she wanted to go to Beer and Hymns. I don’t want to embarrass her, but she really is my favorite person to work with. (Sorry, Judy.) She is always the one to help me when I’m in a bind. In an environment where someone is always in a fight (or feud) with someone else, this person is liked and respected by everyone, no small feat. We met working together at the same restaurant downtown and as I tell her often, she is the only good thing to come out of that place.

When I asked this friend if she wanted to go to Beer and Hymns, she said with a sad little laugh, “No, Jesus doesn’t like me.” And I don’t want to spin this out too much because she was making a joke. But, somewhere I do believe it came from an honest place.

And I understand it because it’s the kind of thing I’ve thought, probably even said.  Jesus doesn’t like me. How does one derive at that conclusion when it’s the total opposite of what the Bible says?

A few nights ago, I had the recurring dream that I was back at my Bible college. Years ago, I wrote about this phenomenon, that I would dream I was at Ozark and I was afraid they would find out I was gay and that they would kick me out. And I’d wake up anxious and sad and conflicted. For years, every several months, I would have a variation of the same dream.

This time, when I found myself back at Ozark, in my nocturnal journey, it was different. I was happy to be there and then I was surprised to find myself so happy. I thought, they all know I’m gay and I’m here and we don’t exactly believe the same things and we all want to understand God better and really, it’s all okay.  Wonderful, even. No doubt, my dream was influenced by the reception I received several weeks ago at an Ozark reunion in Anaheim, where I reconnected with old, dear friends and we laughed about the good times, and I remembered, there had been many good times.

2016 has been a truly bumpy year for me. To be honest, I think I only do bumpy years. But, being in church again has brought me so much joy.

I don’t know if church makes me a happier or more peaceful person but I know that church is a source of happiness and peace for me.

Let’s be honest, the church is the reason many people go around wondering whether or not Jesus likes them.  If you’ve been along for any of these blogs the last few years, you know that I have held resentments toward the church, hostilities for the way my friends or family or myself have been treated.  And now I find myself back in church.  I’m the one asking my friends to join me for fellowship and comfort and unity and peace, again.

And how I treat every person I come into contact with, is a reflection of my faith, my journey.  And that sucks because I am really not always a nice person.   But I’m trying.

But this blog is for anyone and everyone who ever wondered if Jesus liked them or loved them, even for everyone who ever wondered if Jesus existed.  It’s for anyone with questions about why we are here or what happens to us when we die.  It’s for anyone who truly does not understand why cancer exists.  It’s for anyone who has been hurt, not only by the church, just hurt.  Is that everyone?  I hope so, simply because it’s better if we remember we are in this together.

And while I know that I do not know all there is to know about Jesus, there are things that I believe.  And you know maybe someday I’ll be proven wrong, and if that’s the case, that doesn’t seem so bad either.  But I believe that not only does Jesus love you, he likes you too.  And if you want to join Judy and me tonight at our church and drink a little sauvignon blanc or IPA and sing about God, we’d love to see you there.  Like so much in life, it’s an open invitation.

We Need to Talk About Ray 

Yesterday, my friend Louie called to tell me that our mutual friend Angela had been messaging him about me. It seems Angela is worried about my recent involvement in church. I pressed Louie for details and then stopped myself. The whole thing kind of irked me and I felt the more I knew the angrier I’d get. 

“Are you worried about me?” I asked Louie. Louie said he wasn’t. And then I wondered if Louie was just saying that to placate me. I have an active, bordering on paranoid, imagination and ever since talking to Louie, I’ve had this image of every person I know, by text, email or Facebook messenger, communicating with each other with the subject line: We need to talk about Ray.

Never mind that I’m sure Angela’s intentions are pure, that she just cares about me and wants me to be happy.

When I lived in New York, one of the young men who had been in my youth group when I was a youth minister came to visit me. He was a freshman at an East Coast college. I had worried a bit about our trip. I had come out to myself and most of my NY friends knew I was gay but I had not started the process of telling the folks back home, so to speak.

In our time in New York, we didn’t talk about my sexuality. I didn’t really think he’d figured it out. But a few days after he left, I received a late night call from one of the girls, now in college,  who had been in my youth group. “Ray, I’m just going to ask you, are you gay now?” “What?” “Gary just called us and he thinks you’re gay now.” I told her that this wasn’t the way I wanted her to find out, but yes, I was gay. 

It was one of the saddest phone conversations I’ve ever had. This girl who called, even though we’re not supposed to have favorites, was one of my favorites. I felt I’d let her down, I felt I’d let the entire youth group down. Also, I was mad at Gary, I questioned his intentions for sharing this piece of information before I felt comfortable with others knowing. And if he’d been so sure, why hadn’t he asked me if I was gay while we were together in New York?

In the months after that phone call, I found that this girl gathered all in the youth group, my youth group, who attended this particular university and they all prayed for me. Presumably, they prayed for me to stop being gay. But also, I think they prayed for me that I would know God’s love, find my way, find peace and joy.

Later, when I found out about that late night prayer session, I was conflicted. One one hand, it was an example of how much they loved me, that this little group dropped everything and came together to beseech God on my behalf. On the other hand, it was also kind of like when Sandy walks into the bedroom after the Pink Ladies have been singing an entire song about her and sadly asks, “Were you talking about me, Riz?”

All day, I thought about Angela. For years, I was the source of concern (or gossip) because of my lack of faith and now I’m the source of concern because of my (perceived) return to it. And the irony is, I still don’t know what I believe. I just missed church and decided I wanted to find a church that affirms me, my people, and I found it. And I really like going.

I do know this, I know what I have to remember. Angela loves me. Louie loves me. Those kids in the youth group loved me and even Gary loved me. They all just want the best for my life. They want me to be happy and joyful and at peace. 

I could spend a day or weeks or months or years ruminating about how people are talking, worrying, and texting about me behind my back, or I can just say, “They love me. I know they love me.” And move forward.  

Life’s too short and I don’t even know if heaven exists. 

Oh The Love of God

  

It’s one of my favorite memories and surely, it’s one of the simplest. 1989, sitting in a field on a college campus in Central Pennsylvania.  It was a church camp, I was there with the youth group I’d worked with on my summer internship at a church in Liverpool, New York. It had been a good summer, my senior year of college was weeks away.  

At this camp, part of the evening’s activities was a time allotted for each person, camper or counselor, to spend 30 minutes or so, in quiet time with God, reading their Bible, praying, journaling. While I was generally a person who did my “quiet time with God” in the morning, here we did it around 5:00 pm, when everyone had cleaned up for the evening but we hadn’t eaten yet. To be honest, and I do mean this in the best way possible, it was a little like a pre dinner cocktail. 

But here I was on this verdant hill, remembered now, even greener in my 27 year memory. Perhaps I was even on a bit of a bluff looking as far as the eyes could see, at the hills and valleys of Pennsylvania. It was 70 degrees, the heat of the day slowly replaced by evening’s relief.

And as I prayed and read and journaled that day, I was struck by just how much God loved me. Not only did he have mercy on me, not only did he forgive me, but he LOVED me. Had I always known that he loved me, yes, of course. But  this was different. Nothing noteworthy had occurred that day, good or bad, but suddenly, maybe it was the stunning vista, but I was overwhelmed by great emotion. God Loves Me.

On Sunday, in church, the minister, who was preaching about the Pentecost, and Acts 2, said that sometimes people are cruel to others because they can’t believe that God actually loves them. In the months since I’ve been back, I’ve thought about God’s love quite a bit.

I know that one could make a case that all songs about God are about His love, most anyway, but my two favorite songs when I was very little were Pass it On and a perhaps forgotten gem called, In My Heart There Rings a Melody. I loved both for different reasons. Pass it On was a song the teenagers in my church sang and, at 6, I really wanted to be a teenager. The other song I loved because the title made me think of my favorite cartoon character, Melody from Josie and the Pussycats. What unconsciously drew me to these songs, though, I suspect, was the reminder of how much God loved me.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going

And soon all those around can warm up to its glowing

That’s how it is with God’s love

Once you’ve experienced it

You spread your love to everyone

You want to pass it on

Also, 

I have a song that Jesus gave me,

It was sent from heav’n above;

There never was a sweeter melody,

‘Tis a melody of love.

And you know the very first song we learn in church, if we grow up in church, is Jesus Loves Me. So the hope is that as we grow up and go through life, this feeling, this assurance of God’s love is supposed to be what sustains us and bolsters and encourages us through the peaks and the valleys that is our life’s journey.

So, I’m just going to say it: I don’t know that I feel loved by God.  And the only reason I even type out such a vulnerable confession is, I think there are a lot of people sitting in pews every Sunday, probably even more spending their Sundays outside of church, who struggle with whether or not they feel loved by God, too. (Maybe I’m wrong.) 

I am so happy to be back in church. I love thinking about God and praying and trying not to cuss at my fellow drivers while I’m driving. I do feel God’s mercy, His forgiveness, His majesty. I just can’t say, at this moment in time that I feel His love. 

I’m such a stereotype, but I still get angry at God when good people suffer from cancer. I don’t understand why life is so hard for some people and just really easy for others. 

If I wanted to look closely at when I stopped feeling God’s love, ask myself when did I leave that mountaintop in Central Pennsylvania, I know it was way back when I first came out of the closet and left the church. 

I believed then that if God truly loved me, he would have made me straight. 

And I think that a few of us, we might go to church every Sunday, but something holds us back from the love of God. Like, why did You let my brother die or my Mom beat me or my Dad leave or my wife divorce me? We sit there in these pews with our broken hearts and maybe we feel like we can’t even admit it because admitting reveals our own faithlessness.

Maybe in a way, I’ll never get back to that mountaintop, maybe those big emotions are mostly emblems of youth. Like I said, I am happy to be in church. And yes, I do know God loves me. I believe God loves me. And I know that feelings can get us into trouble sometimes anyway.

I’m just, you know, putting it out there. Maybe it’s something you struggle with and hearing someone else voice it, might lighten your load. Why shouldn’t we be hungry, aching, and needy in our desire to feel Him whisper in our ear and touch our heart and call us beloved? 

I don’t have the answers. My blogs of late have mostly been a series of questions. If the day comes when I  see my sexuality as a gift from God, is that when I will feel His love again? I don’t know. 

Maybe, though I don’t think it is the case, but maybe, the closest I will ever get to feeling God’s love again is what I feel when I look at the ocean, or a mountain range, or snow, or a star crowded sky. After all, they are from God, clearly gifts, and I just don’t think One would bestow on me such a treasure if He didn’t really love me.