The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

A Grudge to Keep

Jim was a frustrated by the conviction I stated in a previous post.

This stance just frustrates me. I would imagine a good reason for not going to church is that you’re a Buddhist, not because you want to nurture your grudge.

Well, I guess it is. Some people have “a charge to keep.” I have a grudge, but I think I’ve come by it honestly. I’ve written before about my issues with religion, but it wasn’t until recently that I was able to be honest with myself about how deep those issues run and how personal they are. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the middle of my father’s funeral that I even thought about the resolve I mentioned above.

It was there that I made the decision to absent myself from anybody’s church henceforth. I’ve even considered putting my own funerary wishes (no funeral/memorial in a church or other religiously dedicated building, no hymns, no biblical readings, no sermons, no mention of “god” or “christ,” etc.), much the same way my father did before he died. It was there that I think I touched a personal bedrock of sorts.

There was, naturally, a lot of sadness attendant with with my father’s death and with going home for his funeral, and I was overcome with that as I entered the church and led my mom down the center aisle towards my dad’s casket. And I felt it as I sat on the front row as the funeral service started. I felt it when it was my turn to speak, as I placed Parker’s picture on the podium next to my remarks and touched the ring my husband gave to me on the night he proposed; to have them there with me.

Because, you see, they couldn’t be there with me. Because going home for me has always mean going as a stranger in a strange land. Because home is drenched in the faith of my father and everyone else who populates that place.

Thus, somewhere between the second hymn and the end of the eulogy, my tears dried and sadness solidified into an abiding anger. Because I realized then that, though I would bury my father on that day, I’d actually lost him 25 years earlier — and lost home too — when I realized who I was and decided to live as honestly as I could. And it was because of his faith that I lost him, lost home. It didn’t lose me his love or his pride, but it did lose me my parents’ acceptance and more. It meant that no matter what I did with my life, I would always be deficient, not good enough, in one aspect.

That faith marred my last moments with my father. It commanded that my last words to him should be a lie.

That faith required me to return home leaving my family behind, because of the many relatives and family friends that I would encounter while there, whom my parents hadn’t told (out of shame, I presume) about my “lifestyle.” So, while they all knew I was a father, I played the part of a single parent in order not to add to the emotional burden of the occasion. (Everyone else’s emotional burden, that is. Not my own.)

That faith required me to lie to one person after another on that trip home. I looked into the faces of people who’ve known me since birth, who asked why I didn’t come home more often. And, again to keep the peace for everyone else, I held my tongue and didn’t tell them that the reason I don’t come home more often is because home is full of people like them whose faith makes them averse to the reality of other people’s lives. And as a result, though they’ve known me all my life, they don’t know me, don’t want to know me, and can’t do so without threatening everything they literally believe.

I didn’t tell them that the reason I don’t come home more often is because it’s centered around the worship of a god who according to them on the one hand says that people like me can’t exist but on the other hand keeps churning us out. I didn’t tell them that, in my opinion, that means their god has a sick sense of humor at best (to borrow a phrase from Depeche Mode) and at worst makes him one sick sadistic son of a bitch. I didn’t tell them that I don’t have any room in my life for people like that, however much they might claim to “love” me, and I’m not about to do so when it comes to their “god.”

Because if a person caused me that much pain in my life and yet claimed to “love” me, I’d be inclined to think they were lying. To say all of that would have hurt someone, and probably caused them pain. So I swallowed it all, because it was easier to do so and I was used to it. That faith had required such of me most of my life.

As I sat there hearing praises sung and saw that faith — which had, supposedly in the name of love, taken from me things I should never have lost — being celebrated and comforting everyone else, I got angry. And I guess I’ll stay angry for some time as I don’t begin to know how to resolve all of the above. Nor do I know how to simply “get over it.”

I wouldn’t find it easy to forgive or make peace with a person who was responsible for even a portion of what I described above. But such a person might actually take a first step towards reconciliation. As it stands now, if I never darken the door of a church again, I probably won’t be missed anyway. After all, I never was before.

6 Comments

  1. I get it, deeply.

    I attended the funeral of my partner (we had dated for a year) after his suicide. His brother didn’t find out he was gay until after he died, and his elderly mother never did. In the year before he died they still hadn’t moved beyond the denial stage in their grief over his divorce. While he and I had been out and about together a fair amount, he hadn’t told his ex-wife that he was dating.

    Too many more complications to spell out here…

    The family had asked his ex-wife to make the funeral plans (not unreasonable given that they had been married for 22 years). And they asked that the divorce not be acknowledged during the service.

    She was in a tough spot, and yet entirely welcoming towards me. We ended up connecting in helpful ways during the hour-plus trip from the church to the family cemetary. I was thankful for the friends who were with me that day.

    But, as folks from his church — the choir he had led, his fellow musicians, folks he had loved for years who mourned the loss of his musical gift in their midst for the previous couple of years — sang Amazing Grace, I broke. “I once was blind, but now I see,” they sang, and I could only think, “No, you don’t.”

    Theirs was the church where the pastor was outwardly sympathetic but advised that he would probably be better off finding a more welcoming venue within which to worship and share his musical gifts. Theirs was the community within which he could not imagine being honest because he could not bear the thought of being looked down on, of being challenged to fix what had never been broken.

    Other friends of his invited him to visit their small country church. He brought live accompaniment back to the hymns they cherished on a few Sundays (lacking a church musician, they had been using commercial CDs as their accompaniment) and he helped out with a special Easter performance by church members.

    He and I attended those services and events together without explanation. The members kept asking him back, and their desire for music seemed to be a good match with his aptitudes. They started talking about setting a standard schedule for his participation.

    While not ostensibly out to his friends (I wouldn’t be surprised if they recognized the bond between him and me for what it was), he wouldn’t take that step without coming out to the pastor first.

    The pastor’s response, perhaps predictably, was to rescind all invitations to contribute his music to any events at the church. He offered counseling and literal scriptural interpretations. He was welcome to attend the church, the pastor said, but not to lead.

    Three days after that conversation (several email messages in which Dale asserted himself beautifully) wrapped up, he placed an online order for information from a right-to-die group. I didn’t find out about that until after his death, of course.

    Something about the exchanges with the pastor, I suspect, was the final hurt. He lived another 3 months, but was careful not to let anyone know that his long struggle with depression and feeling cast aside by loved ones were winning at the expense of hope. He made his plans, acquired the means, set it aside, and hid his growing desperation to me and everyone else he knew.

    I returned to my church a couple more times, where I had been welcomed and integrated unconditionally since coming out. I couldn’t put it all together, though. I couldn’t deal with the fact that interdenominational fights were raging over what Dale and I had together. I didn’t want to listen to thoughtful, reasonable interpretations of the same scripture passages others used as weapons against Dale.

    It’s been 5-1/2 years now, and there are still no easy answers. Dale bears some responsibility for the steps he took, for the anguish he hid. My sense of trust was broken, though, that the church folks — especially those who reach out to the most vulnerable souls in their midst — will reach out compassionately.

  2. I’m an atheistic, buddhist pentecostal Episcopalian Christian Jew, and I see no inherent contradiction in any of those strung together ideas. To be all those things well, the first thing you have to do is to accept contradictions. Also, be kind in accepting the limits and contradictions of others. The American Episcopal Church just expressed its sincere regret about something they know is breaking it up. I would expect them to express regret.

    We S.F. Episcopalians didn’t elect a Gay or a Lesbian last month when we chose our new bishop. We didn’t even choose a woman. We chose a white guy from Alabama, but you know what? The Holy Spirit chose him. How can someone who doesn’t even believe in god say that the Holy Spirit chose someone? See my earlier comment about contradictions.

    Don’t give up in your quest for Spirit. If the answers were simple you wouldn’t have to keep looking for them. In this next year, work on forgiving your father by giving the best of him to your son.

    Be blessed, Terrance. Be blessed.

  3. I echo your feelings.

    Much of the reason I don’t go see my family in Alabama anymore is for the same damn reasons. I miss them immensely sometimes…or rather the image I had of them as a child before being a lesbian even was an issue.

    Only recently have I been able to tell my old “christian friends” who so wanted to see me as a whole and straight individual that I no longer accept the drivel they spout.

    I hope we both find healing from the past.

  4. T.,

    You couldn’t have said it any better… I have long since rejected religion. Damn me to hell. If I have to choose between loving men and God, then loving men it is.

    Your post also describes my alienation from the world, that is, the heterosexist norm. I harbour an pissed off, righteous anger that won’t quit.

    All I can say T., to your post, is AMEN!

  5. I am not a gay man. So I cannot pretend to be more than empathetic to the feelings folks here have expressed. I do know that I made a conscious decision, many years ago, to forgo the ephemeral comforts of organized religion. I remember the Rubicon was crossed on the day that I was considering being baptized into the Reorganized Latter Day Saints (now called the Community of Christ).

    I was doing archaeology in the small western Illinois town of Nauvoo. Nauvoo had been a major population center of Latter Day Saints, in the 1840s, before the move to Utah. My mother’s side of the family is heavily Mormon, so I had an historical, if not religious interest. The site, of Joseph Smith’s hotel, was owned by the “Reorgs”, who had formed their own take on LDS religion after the death of Smith.

    I was impressed with the faith, and spoke to a bishop about joining the church. I had one problem; my great-grandmother, then in her 90s, was a very devout Mormon. To her, I would be an apostate, were she to find out if I had been baptized as RLDS, condemned to burn in hell. I asked if I could be baptized in secret, only to “come out” after her passing. No way. That was my last serious flirtation with finding a church which could accept me as I was.

    Having a spiritual life is important to me. In order to reconcile my essential antipathy toward organized religion, I have come to an accomodation which satisfies me. I look for people who are comfortable in discussing spiritual matters. I then use them as a sounding board to bounce my spiritual ideas off of. It is important to me to have people in my life who are comforable with spirituality. A couple of the folks with whom I have had this dialogue are considerably more conservative than I am, but I view them as folks who “practice what they preach”. In other words, they are active in their love of others.

    My brother is gay. For many years, he denied it to himself, and lived a life warped by denying it. After several years of sobriety and therapy, he was finally able to admit it to himself and us. I knew. I had know for a long time. I didn’t know how to help him, as he struggled to maintain a fiction which cut him off from true intimacy with a significant other. Even now, after many years as an openly gay man, he struggles from the effects of this twisting of his true self.

    I have concluded that no consideration should be given to another’s sense of propriety. The damage to the individual who concedes or conceals their reality in order not to ruffle the feathers of others is surrendering what should be an inviolate part of themselves.

    Terrance, I respect and admire you, so it pains me to ask this. But how is your failure to acknowledge your reality, in order to not rock the world of those who would wish your reality to be otherwise, if they knew of it, different from the failure of those in that bigot bishop’s church in DC from standing up while he mocked them?

    I come back to the point I have made here before. How can those who are ignorant be changed, if they are allowed to remain ignorant? Now, I admit, if you had gone with your husband and your son, and mourned your dad as the family you are, it would have likely caused a ruckus. But perhaps one or two people, who knew you only as a loving son, might have had the scales removed from their eyes.

    I know, that’s easy for me to say. I haven’t been in your shoes. All I know is that nobody is allowed to define who I am, without my permission.

  6. I am so very sorry to hear about the cruelty and injustice you and your family have suffered from Christianity. As a clergywoman I apologize on behalf of everyone who has been part of it, and renew my dedication to change Christianity into something Jesus would support and not be horrified by.

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