GayTaylor

LGBT Alumni & Allies of Taylor University

Month: March, 2013

Awakening in the academy

awakening daimeneklund flikr

And I didn’t even know I’d been asleep. But after coming out while at Taylor University, after waking up to myself and the world within, the world around, then I could understand how fast asleep I’d been.

The late American poet Wallace Stevens wrote a long poem, “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction,”  that I recently stumbled upon and through. Some of his thoughts and expressions jarred some thoughts in me.

In one section of the poem Stevens might be talking about the coming out process. He says:

Perhaps there are moments of awakening,
Extreme, fortuitous, personal, in which

We more than awaken, sit on the edge of sleep,
As on an elevation, and behold
The academies like structures in a mist.

—Wallace Stevens, from “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”

Oh, yes. Moments of awakening after a long, long sleep. A nightmare of self-loathing and struggle, of prayer and fasting and flagellation. Of pleading and praying and trying anything that might offer release from incessant sinful desires.Beating oneself up. Being willing to beat God up if one could reach heaven. Why won’t God take this away from me? What did I do that was so wrong? Why must I kill myself in order to save myself?

And then to awaken. Extreme. Fortuitous. Personal.

To come out to oneself as gay. To begin the process of embrace rather than erase. To more than awaken . . . to live, to breathe, to be, to begin.

For me, to stand on a new height and look at the academy—academia, the university, the Christian evangelical liberal arts college that was/is Taylor University—to see it there in the mist. To see beyond it, almost for the first time. To see that there is more than I ever imagined. More than I ever could have imagined. To take the first tentative steps in that direction. Towards the life that is truly life.

About the photo: “The Awakening” at Hains Point, East Potomac Park, Washington, D.C. by damieneklund at flickr.com

What the truth may depend on

courtesy Es+ from flickr.com

courtesy Es+ from flickr.com

I used to pride myself on knowing the truth. On knowing where to find it, who had it. Me. Of course. Us. Us Christians. Especially those of us Christians in my particular denomination who believed the right way in the right truth.

The late American poet Wallace Stevens wrote a long poem, “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction,”  that I recently stumbled upon and through. Some of his thoughts and expressions jarred some thoughts in me.

In one section of the poem I hear Stevens saying we live derivative lives. We didn’t invent life or thought or experience. We come late to the equation and must muddle our own way through. And there is a unique satisfaction in this. He says:

It feels good as it is without the giant,
A thinker of the first idea. Perhaps
The truth depends on a walk around the lake

—Wallace Stevens, from “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”

I hear longing in these lines. Life is (as) good as it is without the giant. Maybe it would be heaven on earth if a divinity were to manifest among us tomorrow and solve all our problems, resolve all our moral ambiguities, direct us in clear and unequivocal ways. (Must I say it? For a long time I tried to make the church my Giant. The church, the Bible, dogma and doctrine—anything that could serve as stand-in for God’s direct giant guidance.)

I hear wisdom in these words. We live life without the giant. We live in the world that unfolds itself around us, and enfolds us in it, every minute of the day. “Truth is a pathless land,” said the spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti. These words echo in a deep place within me. No one has the royal road. We each must find our own way to truth. And find it we must. It will not be presented to us on a silver platter, given us by a giant’s hand.

Oh, there was a time in my life when I believed truth is immutable, unchangeable, _there_. Or _here_, rather. I believed I had the truth—me and my church—and you needed it. You needed to hear it from me. You needed to accept the truth as I had, as I held it, as I held it out to you.

Now I look back at that gotta-save-the-world boy/teen/Taylor student I once was and I cringe. Too, I feel sad and sorry for him, for who he thought he had to be. For how self-righteous he was, how sure of himself, how holy. How willing to pass judgment on himself and others. How very certain he was of truth. How very certain he was that truth could never depend upon something so flimsy and ludicrous as a walk around the lake.

How very far he and I have come. This in itself gives me hope for the future. Mine, yours.

Voldemort and me

NOBODY

“He Who Must Not Be Named” of Harry Potter fame and I had this in common: we were both trying to live without a body. This too: we discovered it was a miserable existence.

Wallace Stevens reminded me of this experience today. Perhaps I flatter myself in thinking I’ve heard of the poet Wallace Stevens before now—after all, he was only one of the major American poets of the recent century; I must have heard of him, right? Maybe not. My ignorance is profound. Vast black holes gawp in my education.

Nonetheless, I ran across a reference to Wallace Stevens today and followed up on it. And arrived at Steven’s long poem, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction.” And I read it. What follows are a few unstudied reactions. No scholar of poetics, I am reacting to words and phrases, thoughts that stimulate more.

 

From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves
And hard it is in spite of blazoned days.

—Wallace Stevens, from “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”

The poet might be talking about my experience of living in a body I refused to claim as my own. My evangelical upbringing taught me to regard the things of this present world as passing fancies, insubstantial, hardly worth noticing. What was real, what was important was the unseen, the yet-to-come world. So you’re in a body. So what. Pay it no heed. Don’t listen to its yammering desires. You’re not of your body, you’re not really even of yourself, for that matter. Give it all over to God and let go your claim on it.

These messages may have their place in the grand scheme of things, but to exclude the body forthwith, to write out of the picture our enfleshed selves—well, this way does not health lie.

No wonder it’s hard to enjoy one’s body, sip the savor of youth, enjoy the blazoned days . . . There’s nobody home or at home in the body enough to be present to what going on around.

Our neighbors to the north

north

I scan the internet, searching for conjoined references to Taylor University and gay. I might as well be looking for my mother in a gay bar on a Saturday night.

Taylor is mentioned in a post included in the archives of The Huntingtonian, student newspaper of Huntington University, Taylor’s neighbor to the north in Huntington, Indiana, and a liberal arts college similar in focus and faith practice. This three-year-old post notes that Taylor, like Huntington, prohibits homosexual behavior on campus. A recent graduate is frank about his struggle with same-sex attraction, and clear in voicing his opinion that students put up false fronts. (I have a hard time imagining my alma mater admitting as much in print.)

Another related article reports on a panel discussion which included a former Taylor student who chooses not to honor his same-sex attractions, but to devote himself instead to Christian service. These are not such earth-shattering stories as might disturb the faithful or compel them to cut off donations to the school. But at the very least, they serve to publicly recognize that lgbt issues are abroad in the world and can serve as a topic of discussion for today’s students.

OK, so what most catches my eye is an opinion piece by editor-in-chief Tabitha Truax in which she calls for meaningful engagement and dialogue on the subject of homosexuality. Bravo, Tabitha. Bravo, Huntington University for publishing a call to think. A little step, and from such little steps long journeys are made.

Mighty big erasure you got there

silenced

 

It bothers me that Taylor University maintains a frosty public silence on matters lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans. In my view, the university sacrifices people for the sake of image, fund-raising appeal, dogma and a forced homogeneity. Erasure becomes institutional policy. Let a gay alumnus donate to the school, let him ask that he and his male spouse both be recognized as co-donors, and see how far that goes. (About as far can you shot put a bronze statue of Samuel Morris, in case you were wondering.) As an alumnus, the personal news items I send in for inclusion in the Alumni Notes section get sanitized. Any reference to my being gay is stripped out. For my alma mater, the man I love most in life does not—will not—exist.

We are one

alone

WE ARE ONE

Wouldn’t take long to count the number of openly gay students at Taylor University last year, and wouldn’t take more than one one finger, according to the testimony of one current TU student. “Last year, we had only one “out-of-the-closet” homosexual student as far as I knew,” says a Taylor student who reviews his college on the college resource guide website, unigo. The author (a third-year physics/math education major) says:

He lived on my wing and I didn’t act like anything was different about him. The sad part about it was, a lot of students felt like it was taboo to talk with/about him since he was openly gay at a Christian school. I didn’t like this, because Christians believe all people are sinner, and in that light his “sin” was being homosexual. In a biblical sense this doesn’t make him any different than me or the people that ignored him. I became upset with the fact that some “christians” treated him differently than any other kid on campus. Thankfully, the majority of the student body agree with how I felt about the subject, and treated him no differently.

Tough to be in the spotlight. Tough to be singled out as the gay poster child on a conservative evangelical college campus. Hard for me to fathom what that’s like, me who hid so effectively from myself that I stumbled along a long, long while before admitting the truth to myself, let alone to anyone else. I wonder what it would be like to be so self-aware so soon. I wonder what it is to be an openly gay student on Taylor’s campus nowadays. The openly gay student.

You and I know there are many more lgbt students on campus than one lone student the author refers to. Too bad the term “lone” suits them as well as I suspect it does.

Against marriage

Clair Sharpless

Today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments that may lead to a legalizing of same-sex marriage in this country. Tonight I finish a read-through of an article by a professor at Taylor University, published nearly 10 years ago, in which he wrings his hands and predicts the inevitability of same sex marriage in this country.

After pointing to widespread cultural shifts that will bring about this change, he tosses off almost as a given the statement, “Most of us agree that such unions are immoral….”

I wonder if the good professor changed his mind in the intervening years. I wonder if his heart has been touched, if his arms have been opened to embrace a close friend or family member who has come out gay.

Early on, I resisted the notion of marriage to the man I now call husband. Both he and I came out of heterosexual marriages we thought were to be forever. Divorce opened our eyes to the frailty of any human intention. Why should we again buy into a heterosexual institution? I didn’t see same-sex marriage as immoral, but as empty, puffed up on so much hot air and high hopes, devoid of real substance and practical value. Then I had the very personal experience of watching my father lie on his deathbed in a southern Missouri hospital, attended by my mother, his wife of 50-plus years. I listened as my parents sang simple love songs to each other.

I felt a pang that my partner and I will never live long enough to be able to look back on 50 years together.  I bade my father goodbye, knowing I would not see him alive, and began the long drive back to Indiana. En route I turned to my husband and asked him to marry me. For better or for worse, marriage gives shape and form to the kind of relationship he and I share. It’s shorthand for “this is how and how much I love you.” It was a personal experience that changed my mind, not an experience I wished for, but one I profited from and was open to learning from.

May we all be open to growth and change.

In the photo: Clair Sharpless from Miami takes cover from the snow with a rainbow umbrella as she waits in line outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, in Washington, on Monday March, 25, 2013, a day before the case for gay and lesbian couples rights will be argued before the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

 

 

Live the questions, love the questions

questionmark

My niece wrote, asking my perspective on a friend of hers who came out gay while attending a very Bible-thumping college. He was the perfect Christian before he came out, she says. He’s witty, funny, talented, smart—and described himself as an atheist.

She asked him to help her understand his intellectual and spiritual journey.

“He responded with a 16-page letter,” she tells me. Where should she go from here? She doesn’t think he needs to be drug back into the fold of religion—not yet, anyway. Her friend traced his growing-up experiences, the ways he cried to God for deliverance from being gay, the radio silence he received in response. “My goal is not to bring him back to God…not at this point, anyway,” she says. What light might I shine on the situation, she wonders.

My response:

Dear one,

Bless your heart for making connections with people (your “once-perfect Christian” friend, for one, me for another) and for asking questions. There is such a healing power in having people interested, in having them ask questions rather than deliver pre-packaged answers. Really.

I note this man cares about you and has pent-up energy that’s not being given outlet anywhere else. I see this in his sending a 16-page reply.

You very much honor his heart and his journey by refraining from preaching to him or trying to save him or tell him how and why God is still there for him and why he needs to reconnect with God. In my opinion, this is *not* what he needs right now. The process of coming to terms with one’s being gay within a conservative church environment is not easy, not lightly undertaken, no lark in the park–it requires a depth of soul-searching and painful self-examination and questioning and working through one’s faith and beliefs (or lack thereof) in a way very few people are ever called upon to do or willing to undertake . . . and the place at which one ends up is to be honored, not denigrated, judged or dismissed because it’s different than where one started, or different than what others believe. Who am I to place myself as the authority over someone else’s heart?

You say he’s well-reasoned, bases his beliefs on reason and his own lived experience. Honor that. Embrace that. Listen to that. Hear him. Ask questions, Do not offer answers. Reaffirm your love and care for him. Offer him acceptance and understanding. He’s human, after all, as are you, as are we all. At base we want to be loved. We want to be affirmed in who we are, in our struggles, in our making it through as best we know.

Who he is as a person, at heart, is no different than who he was when he was “Mr. SuperChristian.” If anything, he’s changed only for the better, is more reflective, more compassionate towards others who are struggling with issues of faith and belief, has let go of some of the judgments he carried about others when he was in the thick of things at the church school.

When I came out as a gay man, precious few people would even talk to me, let alone listen or ask questions. It seemed everyone had a ready answer for me, for my struggle, for my questions, without even taking the time to find out who I was, what my struggle involved, what my experience was, what my questions were. I gotta tell you, I trust people with questions WAY more than I do people with answers.

I believe we’re all on individual and collective journeys. I believe not a single one of us has a one-size-fits-all answer. I don’t believe Jesus is the answer to everyone’s problems. It’s reductive to assume that. It dishonors the individual journey, sets us up as the know-alls who can slap the name of God on people like a Band-Aid.

My heart goes out to this friend of yours. And you will be truly friend to him is you listen, reflect and ask more questions; if you are present to him, if you listen far more than you speak, if you can withhold judgment and instead accept and affirm him, honor and value him and his journey, his experiences, his thinking things through, his deep struggles.

Some years back a friend from my growing-up church youth group wrote me a letter that included questions, no judgments, no answers. I was SO relieved, so heartened by her response. I did my equivalent of your friend’s 16-page letter. I was so happy to find someone from my past (I thought they’d all rejected me) who signaled understanding. I wrote back at length, explaining my story, the things I had learned, the wonders that had opened to me. She immediately wrote back to assure me that I had taken her initial letter the wrong way: she hadn’t meant to come across as accepting or affirming of me. No, she believed right along with he church, that I am doomed to hell and misguided, misdirected, and missing out on God’s plan for my life. I was disappointed if not altogether surprised. I’d let myself hope that she was willing to hear me out. I so longed for that.

If you can truly offer your friend a listening ear without judgment, if you truly do care about him, if you truly are willing to let go the evangelical dictate to reach out and snatch from hell those like him who believe there is no God, then you are on good footing to reach out to him in love and earnestness. If you have a hidden motivation to save him from himself, then it’s probably best for you and him both that you own up to this and wish him well on his journey and let him go.

It’s hard for me to read your heart on this. I want to hear openness, and that’s my need. You follow your heart on this one, and I think you’ll do the best thing in this moment, at this juncture.

I am encouraged by your asking.

Love to you and all good.

Helloooooooooo

Bell_Tower2

Radio silence. That unnerving sound of nothing where one expects something, reason to eventually change the channel, go in search of the sound of something.

I experience the internet equivalent of radio silence each time I search for “Taylor University” and gay.

Today I received a note from my niece, referencing a friend of hers who came out as a gay man while attending the conservative church school I almost went to instead of Taylor.

She describes him as the perfect Christian before he came out gay. He subsequently reexamined his religious beliefs, converted to a world religion other than Christianity, and now describes himself as an atheist. “I know his story is not yours,” she writes, but I’m wondering if you can offer me some perspective on how to respond to him.”

She’d contacted him recently to ask his help  in trying to understand how the once-on-fire-for-God man she knew had become a person who no longer believes in the existence of God.

“He responded with a 16-page letter,” she writes. Her friend traced his growing-up experiences, the ways he cried to God for deliverance from being gay, the radio silence he received in response. “I don’t want to convince him to come back to God right now. I don’t think he needs that.”

I wrote back to her at length, and quickly, and noted the energy I have towards people who come out to themselves within a religious setting. I know what it was for me to make such a journey while at Taylor University. I know how very alone and abandoned I felt. I was met with condemnation and/or pat answers. No questions except, “How could you?!”

Taylor University has taken a public stance against lgbt persons. From my perspective as an alumnus, that’s about as far as they wish to take it. They say little else, are content to keep a low profile on the issue. Their choice. But this doesn’t mean I can’t make some small gesture towards raising awareness of the issue, towards pointing out that there are other ways of looking at the issue, that there are those within the larger Taylor family (or on the outs with it) who have personal experience and histories that veer wide of the official line.

My initial energy in creating this blog is to break the silence, be a voice crying in the wilderness of cyberspace, to say to other lgbt Taylor University-affiliated persons “you are not alone.”

Reminds me of Stephen Trask’s song “Midnight Radio,” which includes these lines:

Breathe  Feel  Love

Give  Free

Know in your soul

Like your blood knows the way

From your heart to your brain

Know that you’re whole

And you’re shining like the brightest star

A transmission

On the midnight radio