At the conclusion of my happy little three-mile run in the new Newton shoes, I spied my friend and neighbor Ray walking into his father’s house with his longtime companion Joseph. We’ve known each other 20 years now, Ray and I. We’ve shared many life events during our association. His father has been through everything from strokes to West Nile disease, and is still living past the age of 90 years old.
Ray is a serious, faithful, Catholic man who has taken care of his parents all these years. He does their yard work and gardening. For years, he took his mother for walks until she grew too old to go very far. Now he drives her to church.
When his companion Joseph joined the extended family, Sunday barbecues became animated affairs, for Joseph is a man with a rich and playful sense of humor. He’s tall and boisterous, made from joy and focus.
The two of them make an interesting couple. This weekend they’re heading to the Madison, Wisconsin area to drive around visiting small towns and enjoy the food and fall weather, they hope.
Ray was close with my late wife Linda. They stood together between our yards many times discussing their respective gardens. Ray would often tour her work with admiring eyes, asking questions about how she got certain plants to prosper.
When Linda took ill with cancer, Ray always checked in on us all the time. He told me that if there was ever a need for someone to sit with her at the home when I was away at work, he was available. He hugged her, and he hugged me when we needed it. And that was often.
Ray and I often talked theology. That was one of our connections. He shared books with me, and we’d discuss them. Ray’s faith is straightforward and true. He values the love of Christ above all else. He shows it in everything he does.
When my son came out as gay in college, I beckoned Ray over to let him know Evan had discovered his true self. It was a serious time for all of us in our family. My wife was back in cancer treatment and struggling some with the effects of chemotherapy. Evan’s acknowledgement of his orientation had come as a surprise to her. When Ray arrived at my door, he looked worried, thinking something bad had happened in her treatment. I thanked him for swinging by to talk and told him, “My son came out to us last night.”
Ray smiled, and let his shoulders sag in relief. “Oh,” he somewhat joked. “I thought it was something serious.”
That’s how wise and aware a man my friend Ray really is. He understood the social concerns with our son’s coming out, yet he knew that would all be fine.
The interesting thing about a same-sex orientation is that once you know someone is gay, it brings about a series of assessments in other aspects of life. Does being gay affect one’s role as a human being? Does it define your ability to do any of the things you want to do in life?
It surely did not limit Ray in any way that I could see. His compassion and care for his parents was exemplary. He often sacrificed his own time for them. He was a great neighbor in every respect, and his companion likewise.
Such is the case with millions of gay people in this world. There are no limits on what they can do except those imposed by people uncomfortable with the idea that their love for another person is somehow exceptional. Well, it is exceptional in a very remarkable way to be gay. In religious terms, love outside the boundaries of social limitations is exactly what Jesus Christ calls us to do. Ray recognizes that.
Yet there is still a segment of society that cannot accept that being gay is about experiencing love. As a result, there have been political legislators determined to prevent gay couples from having the right to social protections such as power of attorney, the right to share in health insurance benefits and all sorts of other normal, everyday aspects of life.
All because some people cannot accept the power of love to attract two people of the same sex together.
Love versus fear
There is nothing I want more for my son than to find a person who really loves him. It’s the exact same goal I have for my daughter. When my son came out, my wife asked my daughter what she thought about it. “I think we both like really good-looking guys,” she quipped.
This hatred of gays that still exists in the world is largely a twisted product of a religion that cannot control its own theology. Yes, there is prejudice against gays outside the realm of religion. But that’s only an element of proof that homosexuality has been a part of human culture ever since it began, and that there are always some people who cannot deal with differences in human diversity. That same fear and misunderstanding also drives racism, another false doctrine of difference versus some preconceived norm.
All the human race is the same species, and supposed differences in race and sexual orientation are simply expressions of human diversity at work. Being part of a species does not mean all individuals act, think or behave the same way.
But perhaps that’s because too many people, as many as 44% of Americans, do not even accept the notion that human beings are a species at all. Their worldview excludes the theory of evolution on a simplistic notion that a literally interpreted Book of Genesis determines that all types of living creatures were created instantly, and that human beings were “specially created” in monogamous, heterosexual form. For many people, that definition also goes to another level, with a transfixion on the white race as the only true expression of God’s creation.
So you see, all this determination about what is normal stems from an abnormal fixation on a brand of truth that is really based on ignorance. To defend this horrific approach to scriptural fealty, generations of so-called Christians have persecuted all those who defy the literally accepted notion of bible stories. For centuries, the Catholic church punished scientists for daring to question an earth-centered universe. That was all the product of this self-centered notion of humans as specially created beings at the center of God’s focus. And it’s wrong.
One by one those myths have been dissolving under scientific and theological scrutiny. As biblical scholars have peeled away the layers and the language that serve to protect these fears over loss of control of the theological narrative, we’ve discovered that stories like Sodom and Gomorrah are not about the ostensible sins of sexual orientation at all. They are instead about abuse of others for any reason, and about engaging in excesses. The leveraging of that misappropriation of a biblical narrative is the real sin in this world.
Fortunately, America is waking up to these facts and moving toward equality for all rather than allowing some anachronistic definition of Christianity (or Islam, or whatever) to dominate its civil rights dialogue. The passage of legalized gay marriage acts as a catalyst to greater acceptance, but in truth it is just the beginning. Churches now need to engage their congregations in discussions of what it means to embrace theology that does not just tolerate gays, but welcomes all people into the family of God.
Perhaps you have experienced events in your life where you explored your own orientation. Those who claim that being gay is a “choice” like to mine this process for the contention that being gay is a “lifestyle” and not a hard-wired genetic reality. Well, let’s accept the fact that not everyone is hard-wired in any respect. That does not mean that people can necessarily be converted from straight to gay. It simply means that human diversity is by definition far more subtle than forcing choices on ourselves.
How ironic it is that the so-called “choice” so many people fear is not so much a choice as it is remarkable indication of the spectrum of human emotion and diversity. The same holds true for all human qualities from intellect to interests and professions. If we were all wired the same, we’d all be Stanley in Accounting, who watches Third Rock from the Sun on Thursdays and prefers his hamburgers medium well.
But despite the apparent desires of certain political parties and religious zealots to insist that we’re somehow “all the same,” which makes us “normal,” we’re not all Stanley from Accounting. Thus we need to discuss repression and the vicious effects it can have upon the human soul. Because quite often it turns out Stanley in Accounting, for all his supposed normality, longs to break out of that role he’s created, or others have created for him.
In fact, we find that all sorts of people living in denial and repressing their true orientation sooner or later get “outed,” but not in a positive way. Often a closeted gay man or woman or transgender person is scandalously exposed with their formerly “dark secret” impacting their lives on many fronts.
But let’s be clear here: we all recognize that genuinely dark secrets such as pedophilia are not socially acceptable because they exploit the innocent lives of children. Homosexuality is not parallel to pedophilia in any respect, for the relationship between two consensual adults is very different than taking advantage of a child for sexual gratification.
We can turn back to the Sodom and Gomorrah story in the Bible for affirmation of that fact. We learn from this story that the intent to take advantage of another person is a dividing line in theology. The act of forcing sexual acts on another person is not about sex at all, but power. That’s what the people in Sodom wanted, to commit violence as an expression of their nasty proclivity for power. Incredulously, Lot offers his own virginal daughters up as ransom to protect the two “angels” taking refuge in his home.
The mob is never sated, but their motivations stemmed from the tradition that their laws perversely allowed the abuse of strangers who arrived after nightfall. This reflects the fact that the people of Sodom were themselves likely an oppressed and abused people. The social structure of ancient societies was much like a dysfunctional family, with slaps being handed down from father to son to sibling. Abuse was rampant.
Cycles of violence and hatred and fear and abuse are handed down in society. When someone is oppressed, as they are in a prison cell, they look for ways to release that anger, tension and feeling of violence on someone else. It is a method for maintaining a feeling of personal power in this world. All wars and many of our laws supporting violent weaponry are a product of these violent cycles having to do with fear of abuse and/or repression.
By contrast, let us examine the brilliance and care of consensual love between two caring adults. All care and love begins with respect. Respect leads to trust. Trust leads to love. Sex that emanates from all such relationships is good. It doesn’t matter what the acts between two adults are at that point. Love is the driving force of all true intimacy.
It is difficult for some people to accept that something such as anal or oral sex between two men is anyway acceptable to God. Those tricky Bible passages about man-on-man sex or woman-on-woman sex being an “abomination” keep cropping up. But again, all such contentions are a matter of context and nuance. In the societies toward whom those accusations were directed, the primal directive was patriarchal in nature. Marriage was a monetary transaction as much as it was an expression of love. So the argument that homosexuality was an abomination was more about the money than it was about consensual acts between two adults.
Taking a hit
The fascinating thing about all such contentions is that Old Testament law took a big whack to the balls in about 70 C.E. That’s when Rome rolled in and leveled the temple in Jerusalem. This forced the hand of both Judaism and Christianity and its fealty to an order of priests whose privilege of God’s authority was handed them by tradition and patriarchal lineage.
It has taken a long time for the faiths of the world to come to grips with the fact that nothing in this world is fixed in place. Not the religious practices and beliefs people claim as bedrock, nor the very God we worship, who it turns out is widely open to interpretation and change.
I have loved the faith that sustains me in life. All throughout my running journals from the earliest ages, I have sought answers from God. Some of this was to help me accept who I am, and who I was to become.
There were moments in my teens when my hair was long and I chose to wear tight running shorts that people shouted at me from street corners. “Is that boy or a girl?”
And another catcall that hurt me in a way that I did not well understand. “Keep running, faggot.”
So it was with some irony that when completing my run the other day, my gay friend Ray made a comment that I took as both a rib and a compliment. I was wearing a bright coral shirt, a fluorescent yellow cap and shorts, and bright orange Newton shoes. “That’s a lot of color on one guy,” he teased. “You look gay.”
I laughed and trotted off chuckling to myself. That wasn’t an invitation by Ray to have sex with him or his companion Joseph. It was a compliment of sorts that he understands that I know who I am, and also that the world is a colorful place.
All you need is love
Over time I’ve had ample opportunity to discern my orientation in this world. But the fact that I am not sexually attracted to men is not some signal of superiority in my mind. In fact, I’ll often comment to my girlfriend that a particular man is handsome. I can certainly appreciate why and how men find each other attractive and want to have relationships with one another. Same goes for women. I hope that transgender people can find love too.
None of that destroys my faith in the world. In fact it magnifies it. It’s all about the love, people. As John Lennon once wrote, and it’s still true. “All you need is love.”
Those of us who run, ride and swim should know better than anyone that our bodies are instruments of expression. As cyclists, we don’t need to hate runners in order to feel normal, but I suppose that happens. As runners, we don’t need to look down on swimmers, but that probably happens too. It’s one of the tarsnakes of existence that some people lie in wait for all those they fear. They want to trip them up and cause them pain if for no other reason than it makes them feel alive and powerful. But they’re nothiing more than tarsnakes, a rubbery rut in the road of progress.
There is still a long road to travel before some people can conceive the idea that love is more important that power and hate. In the meantime, those of us that have evolved our worldview in loving ways will just have to stand by our gay friends and relatives when others seek to attack or deny them the rights of everyday existence.