Ruminations

The chewy thoughts of a queer Christian

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

God of Israel

Exodus 3:5-6 “Do not come any closer,” God said [to Moses]. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The ancient Israelites were supposed to worship the God of Israel because he founded their people. Yahweh was the god of their fathers. But who is the god to whom we are praying? Are we praying to ‘the god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, and the god of Jacob’? I can’t help but feeling that today such a parochial view of God doesn’t apply and may even be redundant. We certainly don’t pray to the god of our nation or of our tribal ancestors.

To whom should we pray? What kind of God do we need to inspire awe so intense as to avert our faces and feel His holy presence as Moses did?

Idle Worship

Then this weekend I heard a sermon on Acts 17. This is a really beautiful passage in which many profound thoughts are communicated. Out of all the wonderful things said in that sermon, I managed to pick up on the theme of idolatry, somehow. Paul’s rebuke of idolatry matches the sentiments of many in the Old Testament: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.”

Read more…

My Story: An End to Vagueries

I have decided it is time to stop being vague. There are reasons for this. The first is:

The second is:

These videos remind me that there is meaning in openness and honesty. It is important to tell your story so that others can learn that it gets better. This will be the first time I have told or written my entire story – in publishable form – and I hope that someone, someday will find it, and that it will help them. Even if it is just one person.

So here it goes. This is my story.

I grew up in the Unification Church. The Unification Church is not Christian; it is Christian in the way that Christians are Jews. It takes the ideas and sacred texts of Christianity and makes something completely new out of them. Ask a Christian if they follow the laws of Moses and they will almost certainly say no; ask a Unificationist if they have been saved by Jesus and the answer will almost certainly be no. The Unification Church follows the teachings of Sun Myung Moon, whom they believe to be the messiah who has come to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Followers of Moon are known as ‘Moonies’ by most people: it’s one of those derogatory terms that has become mainstream, like Quaker or Mormon.

I was a really good Church member. I’m an obedient and good person by nature, and Church was what I was good at. They love thought in the Unification Church. If you can understand and explain the teachings, then you are special – you can teach others the Truth. Because the teachings of Sun Myung Moon are the Truth. The thing that is special about the Unification Church is that its teachings are logical, rational and complete: no other Church can explain things like our Church can. What’s more, some of the bolder members say, “if I found a better system, I would simply go elsewhere. It’s not about the organization, it’s about the teaching.”  Well I was good at thought – I got it, I understood. Not only that, I was really in love with God, and I had tried really hard to inherit the faith from my parents and make it my own. I was quite sure I really did believe it of my own accord and by my semi-independent reasoning. Not just because it was written down. I knew God was real in my heart – I loved God, and I did my best to love others.

There is one goal in the Unification Church. Much like in the Mormon Church, the goal is to get married and have a family. The main difference is, in the Unification Church, the goal is to create ideal families centred on God. The ideal family is the basis of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth – and the very purpose of our lives, the very reason we are created, the very way of expressing God on Earth is to be married and have children. This enables human beings to resemble God: male and female come together and unite as one, and then create children who resemble them. Just like God.

I first noticed being attracted to men when I was about 11 or 12. I remember looking through the TV magazine when my eyes stopped on an advert for cologne which had a muscular topless man in moody black and white. I had no idea why, but I liked looking at that picture and I concretely thought in my head that looking at that man made me think about sex.

Yet at the same time that I was developing feelings for boys I was also having some early crushes on girls. My feelings for boys were compartmentalized as I went through some teenage struggles with liking girls. One thing that strikes me in hindsight is that while I would occasionally be attracted to the odd girl whose attention and company I liked, I never developed a liking for the category of ‘girl’ and never really desired an intimate relationship with them. In the Unification Church I was taught to treat girls like sisters: this came so naturally to me, I thought I must be doing great! It was another reason to throw myself into religion and build my identity around my Churchiness.

My first kiss was with a boy. I remember that when I was around 14 my friends were actually obsessed with the idea of homosexuality. It was almost a game, a test or an assertion of one’s heterosexuality to call one another gay and even to mimic the actions of anal sex with one another. This made me incredibly nervous because by calling one another gay, we were really denying each other the possibility of actually being  gay; and in mimicking the actions of gay sex, we were denying that interest in sex with men was permitted. I thought that my desires for men were a result of this strange cultural paradox and piled denial on top of them in the hope that they would disappear. It was during this time that I started flirting with my first love in a ‘we don’t really mean it’ way, and he flirted in a ‘we don’t really mean it’ way back. He invited me over to his house, and that night we kissed.

I freaked out and did penance, or in the language of the Unification Church, ‘made conditions’. I confessed – rather awkwardly –  to my dad and explained that I thought I might be bisexual. He reassured me that I was going through a phase and anyway that no one was really bisexual, because bisexuals ‘say they have  to have sex with men and women and they can’t be faithful’. So hold on, wait, and it will go away. This wasn’t really very helpful and I decided never to tell anyone ever again.

It was just around this time that I also began to get incredibly depressed. It is not simple to say that either one could have caused the other. But I later figured out that I was depressed because I couldn’t stand the idea of being gay – both spiritually and socially that was entirely an unwanted thing. So for the next 5 or 6 years of my life I covered up my feelings for boys. I had crushes on girls, but I noticed that my attractions to men were different. I often had, and still do have, trouble defining what the difference was between my wanting boys and my wanting girls. I’ve often felt – and it sounds silly – with girls there is attraction. There is something. But with guys: it’s wonderful. There is wonder in men, it’s just better. Maybe that means it’s more intense? Maybe that means there is more emotional attraction in men? Maybe I’m more physically attracted to men? Maybe I’m only emotionally attracted to women? I don’t know. But as I grew up I began to realise that I am more generally attracted to men and only occasionally attracted to women. And I also thought that perhaps I was less interested in girls because I was so into religion. Perhaps I was just sexually repressed because I was so good at treating girls as sisters.

Either way, I loathed myself. Even as I realised how I felt and even as I played with these ideas I hated and hid the consciousness of it. I compartmentalized these feelings. I became addicted to (gay) porn and masturbation as I couldn’t handle the pressure of being secretly gay, which piled on the guilt associated with my orientation. All of this added to my understanding of homosexuality as a perversion, as sexually depraved, sinful and wrong. In my own words written at that time, I could not get over how ‘messed up’ I was.

After high school I went away for two years of mission, much as Mormons do. I decided that in order to receive the Blessing (marriage), I would have to sort myself out, confess my attraction to men, overcome the problem and stop masturbating (again). I organised the confession early on in my mission time and told the elder about my attraction to men. He wasn’t very helpful and it wasn’t as momentous as I thought it would be. There was a ‘thank you for telling me that’, but he didn’t know how to help and seemed, even, a little awkward. Every time I have approached elders in the Unification Church the response has been the same: it’s good that you’ve told me, but what do you want me to do?

No-one knows. And the reason is that gays and lesbians and bisexuals don’t fit in to the worldview of the Unification Church. We don’t exist, and when we realise that we do, no-one knows how to handle it. ‘Stop existing’ is the only appropriate response; by which they don’t mean, ‘go and die’ but rather, ‘go away, stop messing with my worldview’. Gay people are not gay; they are just straight people who have forgotten they are straight.

The reason that gays are not a significant problem in the Unification Church is that marriage, for the Unificationist, is not about falling in love. Marriage, in theory, is about obedience. Early members of the Church did not fall in love and then get married; they were matched by Rev. Moon and then expected to make family life out of it. The attitude was and is that one should use the experience of marriage to grow in love with your partner and become a better person through it. In the modern day, second generation Moonies are matched, mostly, by their parents but the attitude to be cultivated is still to be ready to ‘accept anyone’. Marriage was not about ‘get what you want’ but rather, ‘want what you get’. I think the implicit message of the Unification Church is that everyone should just get the Blessing and then everything will be fine.

During my mission I decided I was ready to be matched. It took some time, even after I came home, for this to happen but it did. A match was proposed, and I was unhappy. I faced a problem. Was I supposed to work through the problems and love her anyway in order to become a better person? Or was I supposed to reject her, ask for someone else and be potentially happier? Well, so far as I could see it I had no reason to follow through on the second one. I wanted to be a perfectly good member and good members go through difficult matches regardless… there was a lot of pain. I got depressed. And so I started seeing a counselor. And then I began to come out to myself.

Coming out to myself. What does that mean? It means, not rejecting myself for being attracted to men. And it means, understanding that being attracted to men is a part of myself and it is not going to go away. When I first understood that, I could actually feel the tectonic plates in my head shifting. I felt my world being turned upside down. I was off my radar screen; I had walked off the corner of the map. I didn’t know who I was any more and yet… I knew, more perfectly, for the first time who I was. I was – well, I wasn’t gay. But I was attracted to men, and I was at peace with that. I felt so free and light. It was going to be difficult to communicate, I knew that. I had no idea what it would mean in the long run, but for the first time I felt completely comfortable with these feelings I had been ashamed of for so long. I stopped compulsive masturbation, which was something I had been trying to do for years. I took this as a sign from God that this realization was necessary for me to continue moving forwards in life.

First I told my match. We broke up, and that was incredibly painful but was definitely worth it in the long run. And I told my dad, who was matching me, and it blew his mind as much as it did mine. But he still loved me, and our response was to figure it out. He, of course, already knew about my foray into same-sex relationships at the age of 14 so he was somewhat prepared.

So, I was attracted to men. But why wasn’t I gay? Well, at that time I thought I could change. I will post a blog on this some day [which I now have, in three parts!]), but I did a lot of research and ultimately had to come to the conclusion that 1) Gay people don’t become straight and 2) gay people should not marry regardless in the hope of change or a magically good relationship based on religious ideals.

As I began to gradually figure out why I couldn’t change I had to come to terms with my faith. I realized that the Unification Church is unrepentantly anti-gay. There is no scriptural sleight of hand that can be made when the founder of your Church has openly called homosexuals ‘dung-eating dogs’ and when he considers homosexuals to be destroying the family and destroying society. Homosexuality is among free sex and drug abuse in the list of things destroying the youth of today. And gay marriage, the loving union and commitment of two loving people, is ‘decadent’. On the other hand, sexuality in the Unification Church is good, celibacy is bad, and loving relationships between man and woman are not just good but are quite possibly the best gift God ever gave humankind. They are natural, holy and good. We virtually worship the ideal of marriage. But not for gays. No marriage for the gays. Moon claims, ‘bring them to my hands and I will heal them.’ So far as I know, this has never happened. He also seems to think that gay people stop being gay when they come to his church. Well… it didn’t work for me…

I found that the one system I had based my entire life around, the one thing I had been assured would never let me down, the one thing I could trust, had utterly and completely failed me in my hour of deepest confusion and deepest grief. I didn’t have to let it go: it collapsed from underneath me.

And that, funnily enough, is when I found Jesus. Or rather, Jesus found me.

When I realized that the world outside couldn’t fix me, and the Church didn’t have a solution, I realized that it no longer held anything for me.  I could not comfortably continue being a member of a community that for the most part silently but sometimes vocally condemned me, and held an ideal which I had no desire to strive for. I also did not care for being a part of a community which clearly did not understand Jesus the way I did.

I had become a Christian, and I had adopted a self-understanding as gay. These may be the two best things I have ever done. (I now self-identify as queer. But for the sake of communicating something meaningful to people, I say gay.)

It’s not an easy life. But it’s a whole lot easier when you’re not hating yourself for long periods of time for reasons you don’t entirely understand. Sometimes the internalized homophobia comes back and I wonder if it will ever go away entirely. But I do feel that it is love that makes life worth living, and I know, now, that love is something beyond my control. That is what makes love beautiful. You are beautiful, no matter who you are, or who you love.

Friends and Lovers

I came out to one of my friends just a few days ago. I told him ‘I’m sorta gay’ by text message, to which his response was, ‘Thanks for telling me! This does in no way affect our friendship!’ I was very, very happy. It was the right time to tell him.

‘Sorta gay’ has meaning. I’ve been trying to figure out over the last few months just what I am. I don’t easily identify as gay – I’m not exclusively attracted to men. I’m not effeminate, and I don’t have a supernatural fashion sense nor an eye for interior design. I certainly don’t identify as straight – I’m not much of a bloke, to say the least. Bisexual is an overstatement because that might make people think I actually want a relationship with a woman. I consider myself a 70% gay, a diet gay, an almost gay. I’m halfway between bisexual and gay.

This puts me in an odd place in terms of friendship. I have never been effeminate enough to really get along with girls in a ‘gay best friend’ role. I’m not one for relationship counselling given that I’ve never been in a relationship and have a tendency towards over-rationalizing. And I’m not one for fashion advice nor boyfriend talk. And I have never been masculine enough to get along with guys who will talk about football and sex – especially given my fear of coming out or being ‘discovered’. Nonetheless, growing up I usually stuck with a select group of male and female friends with whom I felt comfortable.

But. Being gay, and spending time with men, has a certain side effect. I fall in love with the men I befriend; or, I end up befriending the men I fall in love with. Falling in love with straight men is devastating. It hurts, and I’m tired of it. I consider coming out to my new friend a major step because it demonstrates the first time I have come out to a person I befriended conscious of my own identity. It represents a line: I am gay, you are straight – we are friends, and not lovers. That relationship is safe, and close, and incredibly valuable to me. But it is queer. It is not ‘we are friends’ – there is a caveat: ‘and not lovers’.

The settling and acceptance of my identity has made me keenly, painfully aware of my desire for a partner. A boyfriend. A lover. A man with whom to share my life. By life I mean not clock hours, but the force which animates and makes me human. Each time I meet a new man I am usually thinking, is he gay and available? Would we make a good couple? My friendships have an agenda. It is disconcerting to start with, though it usually passes when I become sure of their heterosexuality. Friendship across the divide is hard – but it does make for good friendships.

Yeah. I need some gay friends.

Life Paths

I just logged in to facebook and found out that a young man I knew a few years ago has passed away. He was engaged to be married. He was intelligent, funny, innocent and, in the last few posts on his wall, made incredibly deep commentaries on spirituality. I am in shock.

I’ve been meeting and making so many friends recently, while also recognising that many of the connections I have made in the past are being severed. Our life paths diverge, cross and end at unexpected times. When people are born or pass on the Source is watching over it all. What does it look like? A perfect system, or maybe more like a tangle of threads?

God bless you my friend.

In the world/of the world

I’ve been ruminating. Ruminating means chewing things over and over again. Cows spend most of their day ruminating. But it also has a metaphorical meaning of thinking over things. I’ve been thinking some things over recently, and I hope this blog turns out to be a good portfolio of well-thought out things.

Romans 12 instructs us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In this we find the “in the world/of the world” dichotomy that I have been making great efforts to figure out.

I only very recently let go of a huge amount of self-suppression. I would have called it self-control, but I think I was not happy enough to call it that. I was afraid of the world, and I am indeed still afraid of the world, a little bit. There were two things about my conservative belief system that affected me most: sex and alcohol. In my life until very recently I had neither been in a relationship of any sort, nor had I ever drunk. I was petrified of the world outside because I felt sure that if I had too much contact with it I would have to explain why I was engaging with either of these and I had no good reason. This latter fact I had hidden from myself and can only appreciate in hindsight.

When I started to realize that I’m gay, everything changed. Huge amounts of restriction from my faith were dropped and suddenly I realized that barriers which had kept me from the world were gone. There were no ties, no moral codes to follow. I was free to go into the world without fear; I was actually quite eager to get to know it. Not being in the world is incredibly lonely. The problem is, how can one avoid “conforming to the ways of this world” without becoming separated from it?

Not yet being ready to embark on a same-sex relationship (stay tuned for that one, folks), I was determined at least to drink with people. I had to prove to myself that I was no longer afraid of alcohol, nor of the people who drink it.

So I decided to work my way up. One drink, two drinks, three drinks…

That brings me up to date 🙂 It has indeed been Halloween of late. And at this one Halloween party I was a little drunker than I had yet been. I have come to the conclusion I do not want to get much drunker than tipsy again. Alcohol is not good, and this is a conclusion I have arrived at myself by trying it out. The main reason I have for this is: getting drunk makes you horny and reckless and this is a bad combination. I firmly believe that short-term relationships hurt people. I still hold on to that silly conservative dream of being with one person for your whole life. If not your whole life, at least a good chunk of it.

To be honest, I am scared of what I would do if I were really drunk. I want to be responsible.

The other thing is, our bodies are big bunches of chemicals. When you fill yourself with alcohol you literally become someone else. And the aim of a spiritual life is integrity. I can feel multiple persons within me forming, and I don’t want to be different around different people. Although I don’t know if that’s actually problematic or not. I don’t want to wear masks or pretend or hide: I want to be proud of my life and hold a clear conscience. Alcohol is not good for this, and “I was drunk” is not an excuse. We are accountable for our drinking.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that drinking just enough to be social with (the right kind of) people is good. Drinking for the sake of getting tipsy enough to bring your social barriers down at least has some positive consequences. Drinking to the point of losing self-control is not good.

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