Guest Blogger, Ab Kastl: Mind the Queue

 

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Several days ago, I asked a few friends to write guest blogs about this divisive, explosive election.  One of the people I asked was my good friend Ab Kastl, who, like me, grew up in the same part of the country, went to Ozark Christian College and has lived in Southern California for over 20 years.  So, we share many of the same influences if not the same perspectives.  We often disagree politically.  But he was glad to offer his reflection on the election, why it went the way it did, and also what his hopes for this country are.  If you are led to comment, whether on here or on Facebook, in agreement or disagreement, I do ask that your comments be respectful.  And if you are inspired to write your own guest blog about this election, by all means, I’d love to hear from you.

 

Mind the Queue

“What has happened to the USA?” asked my good friend from England…the same England that voted for the Brexit. What made them vote for the Brexit? What made the USA vote for Trump? Being from Oklahoma, I hear the grumblings of so many out there in the Mid-west. Oh, stewardess! I speak redneck. There is a sense by so many in the fly over states of things being out of control (borders, spending, security, etc.….out of control). Allow me share what I passed to my friend who lives across the pond in the country where they love showing off their politeness by excessive queueing.

Let me queue up some observations on maybe why Trump got elected ……
1. Bernie Sanders really got screwed. The emails showed the Democratic Party cheated him to push Hillary through. Debbie Wassermann Shultz got the boot because it was clear they sabotaged Bernie. So many are frustrated that he got screwed it was too late to change anything so they had to go with Hillary. So many who were disenfranchised with the system being out of control probably did not go vote for Hillary.

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2. Hillary has more baggage than (name your 3 favorite airlines here). The Midwest folks are military loving diehards. The Benghazi attack on 9-11 was four fresh year ago. That it happened on the anniversary of 9-11 and Hillary Clinton did not respond properly and then blamed a YouTube video puts a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouth. Then she went the extra mile to erase anything related to it while she was under subpoena doesn’t look good. Destroyed computers and phones equals shady biz. One of the silliest lies she told a while back was sharing a false story in a speech about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire (remember how people were turned off when Brian Williams said such things?). She went into specific details and they were all lies. I know it seems like it is no big deal but it does show the extent she is willing to go to lie on something that is not even controversial This is not good when you are trying to get some good ole boy famer out in Iowa to show up and vote for you.
3. The Obama family wins in the “Classiest Looking Family” category. President Obama was not as strategically successful as we hoped. Obama’s health care plan was forced on the American public with zero support from the other side. The numbers did not add up but he did not care…he forced it through. We were told to pass 20,000 pages of confusion and then we will see what is in it. His cabinet begged him to go golfing with people from the opposing side in order to find some common ground. He refused. Instead of doing the necessary leg work all presidents have to do to find compromise, President Obama said “Elections have consequences. I won.” He told the other side they had to “sit in the back of the bus.” Recently, health care rates are starting to double and many, including Democrats are upset and concerned. This probably motivated a lot of the middle of the road voters to go another way.

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4. Immigration feels out of control here. Immigration is the backbone and pillar of America. There has to be limits, rules and lines. Way back, Ellis Island was the first stop for so many. Everyone understood that is part of the process. Not anymore. In a land of many laws, breaking the law as your first action here does not sit well with many. When so many show up, who’s jobs get taken away? Remember that 70’s movie Car Wash? African Americans dominated that works force in the 70’s….not anymore. So many jobs African Americans filled are now filled by our neighbors from the South. More black people voted Republican (Trump) than ever before. 30% of Hispanics voted for Trump. Why would they? Maybe because they have seen what it is like to live in countries that are out of control. Trump definitely tapped into Americans feeling out of control.

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5. The media here does slant a certain way. This upsets the people named Jim Bob and Genevieve. That is why they are so loyal to Fox News….They like Fox because they get a sense of balance and control in a topsy-turvy feeling world. Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Michigan strongly voted for President Obama last time but went for Trump this time (Some say this shows the statement “Everyone who voted for Trump is a racist.” is false?). Those are hardworking blue collar states. So, Trump yelping about creating jobs sounds appealing to these states. Americans don’t want to feel so out of control.
I try not to cuss at or around my two kids. I am no goodie-goodie. I just remember as a kid the adults who never cussed and then all the sudden they wanted emphasis would slipped in a cuss word and BOOM, they have my attention. I knew they meant business. I knew I better sit up, pay attention and focus on what they wanted done. But the coaches, old bosses or relatives who cussed at me all the time and everyday…Yawn….same old same old. Who cares what they say? No one really. The same could be said of people who are so quick to call other people who they do not agree with “racists”. The broken record gets ignored. I know Trump said some bold things that have been interpreted as racist. Calling someone a racist no longer has any power or effect. Every Republican has been accused of being a racist. George W Bush was called a racist for not helping Katrina victims fast enough. McCain was called a racist because he questioned President Obama’s black pastor Jeremiah Wright and he referred to Barak Obama as “that one”. Romney was called racist because he used “dog-whistle” language like “free stuff”, “welfare” and “Chicago”. Now, anyone who voted for Trump is being called a racist. It is so overly used it has no effect. It pushed people to vote against the accusers even if the person they are voting for is a mess.
Not everyone who wants a controlled borders hates Mexicans. Not everyone who questions climate change is anti-science. Not everyone who did not get excited about President Obama is a racist. To be accused of these things creates that feeling of a society out of control. If you accused others of such things….maybe you helped Trump get elected?

I told myself before the election “Whichever way it goes, the USA will be just fine.” We have a system that has checks and balances. If Trump or Hillary wins and is a mess, we will give them the boot in four years.
Like it or not, we have some of that deep English heritage intertwined in the DNA of the USA. Deep down, we crave those organized queues. We know we have a good thing going here and to have that sense of chaos is unsettling. Things were feeling out of control. Maybe 2016 was just a sloppy shake up to try to get us back in queue.

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.

The Differences

 

 A couple of days ago, I spent the afternoon with two friends from Bible college, Heidi and Greg, who were visiting Los Angeles with their teenage children. We walked around Hollywood Boulevard and the Chinese Theatre and eventually made our way over to the La Brea Tar Pits. It was a joy to catch up with old friends and show them around my city.

Now, I know how my blog posts have a tendency to unfold. I tell a story and I say, either the people I am talking about are in the wrong or I’m in the wrong or we were both in the wrong. I’ve read the back log, I know the pattern. And especially when I write about any interaction between the gays and the conservative Christian community, I have a history of pointing fingers. Sometimes my diatribes are late night rants that I second guess in the morning. Other times, it’s something more thoughtful, a gentle nudge of “hey, let’s just look at this, how can we do better?”

Well, let me start by saying, that is not the nature of this particular blog. The hours that we spent together were lovely. I never felt a judgement from Heidi or Greg or their children about my life. The words “lifestyle choice” never came up. 

When we met, they had just come from a tour of Paramount Studios and they told me they got to meet Dot Marie Jones from Glee on the lot and Greg took a picture (or 3) with her. I thought to myself, good for them for wanting to take a picture with not only an out lesbian, but also someone playing a transgendered character on television. I honestly don’t know that every conservative Christian would jump at that photo op, but of course, it honestly moved me that these old friends did.

At one point in our afternoon, Heidi pulled out her ticket from the tour. She wanted to give the ticket to me because the quote on the ticket, credited to Cecil B.Demille, said, “The greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling.” There was a bit of awkwardness because I wasn’t really sure she was giving me the ticket or just showing it to me. And then she wasn’t sure if I really wanted the ticket. And then the ticket became a running joke throughout the rest of our afternoon, a punchline really. 

Heidi was one of my best friends in college. I know this won’t translate, how could it, but Heidi and another friend Sheri and I once went to a weekend conference to Lake of  the Ozarks (as glamorous as it sounds) where the entire time we kept singing this three part harmony song called “I don’t know.” All we did was sing “I don’t know” over and over and over again. Like Michael Row the Boat Ashore with significantly less lyrics. I KNOW, I told you the story wouldn’t translate but it made us laugh all weekend. It made us laugh for weeks and months and years after, too.

While I had friends in high school, I never felt like I was part of a tribe until I went to Bible college.  I just wasn’t skilled at making friends until my time at Ozark. And even though I don’t see life exactly the same way as most of my former classmates do, I still feel a connection to them. 

Tuesday night, even from the moment we said our goodbyes and our cars took us in opposing directions, I felt a little sad. I couldn’t quite name it, we’d had a great time, laughed a lot. There was still a connection, I concluded. We still have things in common. They are still the loving people I remember and I could tell, they are raising their teenagers to be loving, interesting, sharp-witted adults, too. I didn’t feel like their icky gay friend. (Note to self, HBO series pitch or perhaps just a great Katy Perry song: My Icky Gay Friend.) 

So, if they didn’t do anything wrong and FOR ONCE, I didn’t do anything wrong, why did I feel melancholy? 

It has occurred to me before, that I have spent my entire life feeling I need to explain myself. When I was a fervent, Evangelical high school and college student, there were always people who asked, “Why are you such a Bible beater?” When I came out of the closet, for years, I had people question why I would choose to be gay or choose to live the gay lifestyle. Even still, I get asked versions of that same question. I assume that, to some extent, I will contend with that for the rest of my days.

As I drove home, and later that night, I imagined the conversation Heidi and Greg might have had about me. That it was great to see me (I hope), that I’m not so gray or wrinkled or overweight that I’m no longer recognizable as the Ray they remember. But also, I imagined a sigh, and then, “He’s so special, I just wish he still loved Jesus.” In my mind, I did not imagine a judgement, merely a wish that I might still be a part of the club, or even better, the tribe, they are still a part of. 

As much as we will always have things in common, there will also, always, be differences. And that’s okay. Really, it is.

I’ve thought about that Paramount Studios tour ticket a lot since Tuesday. I did keep it. It sits on my desk now and when I look at it, I smile. This morning I saw that Heidi posted a pic of us with it, joking about my tepid reaction, and it tickled me. Nearly 30 years later, she still makes me laugh.

I always wonder how people see me, too much so.  I know. But I have to remember to think it without overthinking it. That maybe Heidi doesn’t think of me as gay or Christian or not Christian or lost or found, forgiven or I don’t know. Maybe she just thinks of me as a storyteller.

And she is part of my story, as I am part of hers.

Letters, I Do Get Letters.

BzIkodzIcAAfEIg.jpg-largeWell, I suppose by letters, I mostly mean emails or Facebook messages, but from time to time, I do receive privates correspondence from people, usually from people I know, about something I’ve written here.  Just the other day, I received a card in the mail from a junior high and high school classmate full of encouragement.  What a sweet gesture, I thought.  We seldom communicate with cards and physical letters anymore and when you get something in the mail, it’s a treat.  So, thank you, T, you made my day.

Also on the same day, I received a FB message from a fellow classmate from Ozark Christian College.  I have thought about it quite a bit since reading it.  I responded that day and he responded to my response that day, but I really don’t know what to say in going further.  When you read this, you might have your own thoughts on the matter.  For the sake of anonymity, I will call him Andrew.

Here it is:

Hey Ray – I have been struggling for a while to ask you some questions about your life now. I am frustrated because I do care about you as a classmate and brother in Christ but I just cannot reconcile your contradictions. I am not attacking you or trying to start an argument – and I am sure you have posted your story – but help me understand why you think you are right and I am wrong? I am asking this in COMPLETE humility and a desire for compassionate understanding. Thanks

This was my response to him:
Andrew, thank you for taking the time to send me a message. I don’t doubt that I sometimes contradict myself, I believe most of us do at times. You don’t have to reconcile the person I was when you knew me to the person I am now. I think I understand how you see it as your job to help me and I don’t mind that, but I don’t see it that way.

Still, if you would like to write a guest blog, I think it would be a great conversation starter. You really could take any direction that you want. My sense is that you have been thinking and praying about this and I’m sure you have something to say that many people want to hear. Yours is the first message of this nature I’ve received from my OCC classmates and I’m sure you are expressing what many feel and think. I would love to have your POV.

This was his response to my response:

I appreciate that Ray – I will definitely consider that – I do want you to understand that I do not feel it is my job to help you. I think as a friend it is my responsibility to completely understand your POV and choice – if I don’t agree so be it – but I have been wrestling with this because I am angered by what I consider over-reach in the gay community – and the threats against those of us who are Christians. So that is what I am trying to reconcile – thanks for your kind response – I look forward to more dialogue !!

Now, let me say, I do appreciate his attempt to have a conversation.  I don’t doubt that he is expressing the thoughts of many of the conservative Christians I know. And I do think it was sent with good intentions.  Is it overstepping the boundaries of what is “polite” to initiate this exchange? It’s possible.  Andrew and I were amiable at OCC, but I never considered him one of my closest friends and I doubt he considered me one of his closest.  Does that make a difference?  Maybe, maybe not.

I think it’s somewhat audacious to talk about one’s perceived “over-reach in the gay community” to someone who knows first hand what it means to not have the same rights as any member of the heterosexual community.  If it appears that fighting for equal rights for myself and my community is an over-reach, I can’t apologize, it’s something too important to me.

Another thing that I’ve thought quite a bit about in the days since receiving the letter is him telling me that he can’t reconcile my contradictions.  And maybe this is just me, but what I heard, whether it was intended or not, is that he sees me as a hypocrite.  I am sure I am.  I think most of us are, but I really try to be a forthright, honest, accountable person.

There is something that I have skated around since I started this blog.  I have avoided talking about my personal beliefs in terms of God and the Bible in specific terms for only one reason, I don’t want to hurt my parents.  They do read this and while I’m sure they know my belief system is not identical to theirs, we do not discuss it.  If they were to ask me, I would tell them, but, we don’t talk about it.  It certainly isn’t rare for parents and children to see the world differently.  But one of the many things I love about my parents is that they focus on what we have in common, the things that do connect us.

I have been torn about even sharing these exchanges from my classmate.  He asked me why I think I’m right and why he’s wrong.  I could ask him the same thing, and I suppose his answer would be that’s what the Bible says.  But I could respond with, “No, that is how you interpret what the Bible says.” Even among people who identify as Christians, there are widely varied interpretations on many subjects. And it must be said, not every person esteems the Bible as the inspired guidebook for one’s life anyway.

I know how I go on and on about wanting to be the bridge between the GLBT community and the conservative Christian community, but there is a part of me that gets defensive when I receive messages of this kind. And I must say, that’s stupid of me, because Andrew really is just initiating an honest conversation and maybe having that conversation can lead to something good. I mean, if Melissa Etheridge and Mike Huckabee can be friends, isn’t there hope for all of us?

I do welcome your thoughts, even if you are going to tell me something I disagree with. And ESPECIALLY if you are going to tell me something I agree with. Either way, it means we are talking, communicating, and somehow that conversation might inevitably be the channel for connection.

I do want everyone to like me, it’s part of my needy nature. I know it’s just a handful of people who read this, most are people I have known in my lifetime. Most I rarely see in person. But if you are one of my old friends in Kansas or Missouri or Oklahoma, you do have GLBT folks that you work with or go to school with or are the parents of your children’s friends. And even if you read my blog and think, you know, I really don’t agree with Ray, he’s arrogant, a jerk, contradictory, hypocritical, not nearly as smart as he thinks, that is okay. My bigger hope is that somehow me sharing my journey creates a sensitivity, an understanding, even a love, for those people, members of my tribe, who ARE in your lives. Many have been rejected by their family or their friends or their church and it’s my belief that you being there for them, really being a friend, would be a good thing for them and also for you.

Lunch With an Old Friend

halfdomeYesterday, I had lunch with a friend from Bible college that I had not seen for over 20 years. I met him and his oldest son Luke at the California Pizza Kitchen in Arcadia. We caught up on our lives, they told me about their impressive trek up Half Dome in Yosemite. I love a view. They showed me the picture of the cables one has to climb to make it up the last 400 feet of the ascent. When I saw the picture of the incline, which looked to me about 80%, I thought, but did not say, “Ohhhh, shit!” Instead, I think I just said, “Wow, that looks scary!”
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I’m sure my friend, who is now the president of my Alma Mater, Ozark Christian College, and his son have both heard people use that word. When ranking expletives, I think it’s one of the more innocuous ones, right? Anyway, we had a nice lunch. It had been prompted by an email I wrote a few months ago. I won’t go into that here, but Matt had reached out to me then and a couple weeks ago, he sent me an email asking if I wanted to meet him for lunch since he was coming my way.

Matt and I worked together in recruitment at our college when we were students. It was a great job, mostly we just sat on the phone talking to kids we’d met at summer camps and youth rallies in our time at OCC. While it was a sales job of sorts, I loved it because, more than anything, we were talking to kids a couple of years younger than us, about what they thought God’s plan for their life was.

Yesterday, we reminisced. I asked him about his wife Katie, whom you might know, has had some health challenges in recent years. He asked about my parents. He asked about Eric. We talked about the Joplin tornado of 2011 and the way the community came together in the aftermath. We talked about my blog and my not always successful hope to be a bridge between the gay community and conservative Christian community. We talked about movies.

At the end of the meal, he told me that he would like to pray for me. Then he asked me if there was something specific I would like for him to pray for, he suggested my job hunt and what the future holds for me. I said I would appreciate that. He also asked if there was anything he could pray about for Eric and I immediately thought about Eric’s Dad and how losing him is still, naturally, a source of sadness and weight. So we bowed our heads, and Matt offered our burdens up to the Lord in prayer. We said our goodbyes. They were going to a movie. I had to go to my Italian market before I drove back to LA. Like I said, it was a nice lunch.

Later when I met friends for dinner, I told them about meeting with Matt, my former classmate, now the president of my college. When I told them about him asking what he could pray for, one friend asked if I felt like that was condescending. It had not occurred to me, but I pondered John’s question. Was it condescending? I don’t think so. If you are a Christian or believe in the power of prayer, there is no greater gift, saying, “God, this is someone you love, this is what he’s going through, please give him direction and comfort.” And I must say, it made me feel good that he asked to pray for Eric, too.

Is it possible that in his more private prayers, Matt has prayed for me to turn away from a homosexual lifestyle or return to the conservative Christian fold? Yes, it’s probably likely that that has been his prayer. If his Biblical interpretation is that homosexuality is a sin, his concern for me would mandate for him to pray for me in that way. I am sure he went into this lunch, not with an agenda, but a hope that I would somehow return to the faith of my youth. I had my own hopes going into the lunch as well. I hope that knowing a bit more about my story, he might have more compassion and understanding when he meets other gay people, that he might see the similarities before he sees the differences.

I keep thinking about that climb up Half Dome though. (And those cables!) When he showed me the picture of him and Luke, atop that crest, sky so blue, the surrounding mountains so majestic, I marvelled at the beauty of the planet. It’s hard not to think of a Creator when you see vistas like that. And in his way, Matt, by meeting me for lunch, breaking bread over barbecue pizza and a Thai chicken salad, was saying, I still want you to climb this mountain, I still want you to see this view.

God’s Pen

Vintage-ink-pen-and-cursive-writingFunny story.  Several years ago, back in Bible college, my friend, who for the purposes of this story, I will call Dwight, was in the school’s library doing homework.  He needed to use a highlighter for something and he saw that a fellow classmate, I’ll call him Parker, had a highlighter laying next to him as he sat at another table doing his own homework.  Dwight walked over to Parker and asked if he could borrow his pen.  Parker, who we thought of as self-righteous, but in retrospect, was just perhaps a little on the awkward side, looked up in confusion.  “Is it okay if I borrow your pen?” Dwight repeated.  After a moment, Parker defensively answered, “It’s not my pen, it’s God’s pen.”

For some reason, that anecdote resonated with my circle of friends, the guys who lived on my dorm floor, we fancied ourselves young men who loved God, but did not fit the ideal mold of what Ozark necessarily wanted.  Parker, on the other hand, was evangelical catnip to the faculty and administration.  He always wore slacks and a tie, he was always so serious about God.  

Last night, I wrote a blog about my Bible college and my perceived lack of compassion to the passing of a fellow alumni, another gay man like myself.  It ultimately turned into an explosive piece.  I heard from many of my former classmates today as well as a few people from OCC that I’ve never met before today.  I revisited this missive and I thought, did I really write all this?  Did I then really post it for anyone in the blogosphere to read?  Well, I did.  And just 24 hours later, I can admit my error.  There are things I said that I wish I had not said.  There are things I said that I wished I’d said with more eloquence and most importantly, more compassion.  

My goal with that blog was to open people’s hearts, it’s my goal always when I talk about the relationship between the church and the homosexual community.  I read my post and think that what I said was so important, but I approached it so judgmentally.  So, for that I apologize.  This evening I received a kind message from OCC’s president, my former classmate, Matt Proctor.  He did not have to extend an apology, but he did. 

Today, one of the many Ozark friends that I heard from was my friend Dwight.  We talked briefly about my blog and then I asked him if he remembered the God’s pen incident.  He told me he totally did, in fact, he and his wife still talk about it from time to time.  I told him that I always try to tell people the story and it never quite translates.  I wondered to myself, why did this story about God’s pen stick in my mind so prominently for so long.  What does God’s pen even mean?

Maybe it just means that God is the only one of us who can afford to use a pen, the only one who says it right the first time.  For the rest of us, especially for me, it’s better to stick with writing with pencils. Because the good thing about a pencil is that you can erase it and try again and erase it and try again until you say exactly what you want to say in the exact way you want and need to say it.

Dear Ozark Christian College,

imageI am writing to inform you about the passing of one of the young men who attended your institute of learning a few years back.  I sent a note to whoever runs your Facebook page, asking them to share his obituary with his classmates who might have remembered him.  I received a genial, “Thank you!” But several hours later, no one has shared the news of his passing.

It’s been an interesting few days and if I seem angry, I assure you, it is related to the treatment my friend received from your institution and the products of your institution.  If a Proctor or a Scott or Weece had passed away, Meredith Williams would have been all over it, but for some reason, my friend’s passing mattered not.

I posted something on my own Facebook wall about my friend’s death on Tuesday, I wanted people that went to school with him, people who knew him and loved him to know that he was gone.  Several people offered condolences and wishes for peace for his family.  Very few of those who responded were actually Ozark alumni.  I’ll tell you right now, I was surprised on Tuesday by the lack of empathy.

This morning, I posted a blog about his passing, referring to him as Charles.  I probably did not need to change his name, but I thought that if his parents somehow found out about my blog, it might hurt them.  You see, my friend was gay.  But you probably know that, that’s probably the reason why his death means nothing to you.  

After I posted this blog, an attempt to tribute this friend who became my friend only in the past few years, only via Facebook, that I really saw the alumni at Ozark, the people I once counted among my best friends, as the people they really are, the people you taught them to be.  With few exceptions, and YES, there were a few exceptions, the several people that responded, that offered condolence or prayers of peace were people who never knew him at all.  They were friends of mine from high school or New York or Los Angeles.  I was moved that these people, many not Christians at all, did not need to know the guy to respond compassionately. Only a handful of Ozark alumni seemed to care.  

And then I went to my friend’s Facebook page, it was flowered with hundreds of messages of love that my friend will never see.  People telling him how funny he was, people thanking him for always being there for them, people who loved him.  Only one comment was from an Ozark alumni, it read, “Does anyone know what caused ________’s death yesterday?”  In my opinion, a genuine “I’ll miss you” would have been better.  Someone else from my school private messaged me asking about Charles’ real identity.  I felt like saying you don’t need to know his identity to pray for him and his family.  God is expansive enough to figure it out.

If it seems that all of this has unhinged me a little, you are correct.  As much as this is about my friend, it’s also about me.  I know now that when I go, you people will not care.  Oh, some, hopefully many, people will care, but the Ozark Christian College community, as a whole,  will not.  And that’s okay.  I finally figured it out.  Now I know why after 15 years of trying to get the Alumni News sent to me, the administrator keeps telling me my address is, and I quote, undeliverable.  I know.

In the 24 years since I graduated, in the 21 years since I came out of the closet, I always had a certain pride about going to Ozark Christian College.  I have many fond memories and I always thought that I learned a lot there.  I was on a camp team, for pete’s sake!  What I did not realize until today is that the moment I sat in Gary Zustiak’s office, a couple years after graduation and told him I was gay, I ceased to exist to you. I was too much of an embarrassment.

I will not forget this, I will not forget my friend. I will not forget the scores of other men and women, homosexuals, that you would like to pretend were never a part of your institution. We exist. We will not go away. And if anyone ever asks me again about my college education, instead of smiling and saying, “it’s a funny story…” I’ll say, I went to Ozark Christian College were they tried to beat the compassion out of me. They failed.