If we are lucky, I suppose, we get to ride this planet around the sun seventy or eighty times before we have to get off. I wonder how many times she has traveled that same familiar path. I wonder how many more times she will. This column covers one revolution.
I ended my last article with my decision to leave my church. Initially, I felt a sense of relief. I wasn't coughing up the poison yet, but at least I wasn't drinking it anymore. Perhaps use of the word poison is too harsh. But really, that's the way it felt. They taught me some things about God, but what they constantly told me and everyone else was that gay and Christian are polar opposites. Because of that, I try not to use the label 'Christian' as much. The religious right have stolen it and redefined it so that most people think of them when they think of Christians. This situation very closely parallels how the Pharisees thought of themselves as the "real" Jews during Jesus' day. From what I gather from the gospels, it seems that most people would have reluctantly agreed. So what are we to make of the fact that Jesus was so frustrated with the Pharisees that he once said, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you."
Anyway, a sense of relief is what I initially felt by leaving. It would be cool to spend the next few months going around to different churches in the city and seeing how they did things. That's what I did too. I avoided all contact with my friends from my old church. It sucked to walk away from them like that, but you've got to do what you've got to do. It sucked even more so that I wouldn't see Leo ever because he quit work (we both worked at an engineering firm) in order to take a job working with the youth at that church. As it turned out, during this revolution around the sun, I saw Leo but one time.
What surprised me was that, with the exception of Matt, no one from the group that I had hung out with for the last three years really contacted me or even asked why I had left. That hurt, and it made me wonder whether it had all just been a "Christian" clique. In their defense, I'm sure everyone had their own set of problems that occupied their time.
I still had my youth group that I led on Sunday afternoons, so that was something. I put a lot of effort into keeping that going. I scheduled a lock-in and rented a projector and a Sega Dreamcast when they first came out. The church had a huge white wall and we projected a screen that was over 10 feet tall. That made for some really fun video gaming! I took them to Snow Shoe for skiing and that was the best trip ever. There is definitely something cool about driving a 15-passenger van full of teenagers who think you are a pretty good youth minister! Sometimes, though, I had to balance being their youth minister and being their friend. Still, this was one part of my life that was going pretty good.
Perhaps a glimpse of how we really are doing, however, occurs when we turn out the lights and lay our head on our pillow. When the day is over and we are through filling our time with doing things. All we have now to do is breathe and wait for sleep to come. Is there no other time when tears flow so easily? I so just wanted to fade away, to be numb and not feel anymore. I missed Leo at work, even if we did spend half the time mad at each other. I missed that feeling I felt three years ago when I decided to stay in Lexington after graduating college. I missed having hope - when hope was exciting and full of life. Now hope was in a nursing home, and I rarely visited.
I got a wedding invitation in December. Two friends from my old church were getting married. They had gotten engaged before I left. I was nervous about seeing everyone again. I still wasn't prepared to directly answer the question as to why I left. My usual response was, "It's a long story."
I pulled into the parking lot for the first time in months. I saw all my friends' cars, including Leo's. Jot was an usher. His girlfriend was one of the bride's maids. I took a seat in one of the back rows, spotting Leo before I sat down. The girl he was sitting by saw me and waved. I waved back. I witnessed my friends make their commitment and all the other stuff that makes up a big wedding.
When it was over, I got up and suddenly was met with the awkwardness of what to do now. I looked around and saw that Leo had made his way up to the pew I was sitting in (these are long pews by the way). He was saying something to a little kid, but it looked like he was waiting to see what I would do. I walked over to where he was. Matt's dad was there too. He always drove the van on our college retreats. He smiled and called my name. I said hello and we got out a sentence or two before Leo looked at me and extended his hand. I stared into his eyes as I held onto his hand too long.
"What did you do, man? Retire?"
"No, bonehead, I left because I'm gay and it is obvious how our church feels about gay people. You should know, since you're like me."
Oh, sorry. That's not what I said. I think I attempted a laugh or something. Yeah, that was it. We talked a minute about who had taken over his job at work and I asked him how he liked going to school in Louisville. That was about it.
In January, with all that still fresh on my mind, I decided that I wasn't going to let it end this way. The silence would end with the sound of a closet creaking open. At the very least, I would "officially" tell Leo.
After picking up the phone and putting it back down several times, I dialed his number. I got the answering machine, so I hung up. Later, I decided to leave a message. After waiting several days for him to return my call, I made up my mind to tell him I was gay but not that I liked him. I paged him, and a few minutes later the phone rang.
"Hello. Is Angie there?"
"Oh, I thought this was the girl I was talking to on the internet paging me."
"No, this is Jamie."
"Oh? Uh, what's up?"
We talked for a while and I ended up saying that I had something that I really wanted to tell him, but I'd rather tell him in person. He said that he would make it over in a few days. I hung up the phone and I haven't talked to him since.
Writing this now makes me realize just how big a fool I am. There is a fine line between holding on and it being romantic and holding on and it just being damn pathetic. I know that there is a certain degree of making yourself vulnerable in love, but at some point it either blossoms into something real or you realize that it is all in your head. It took entirely too long for me to accept that I was gay and I guess it will take even longer for me to accept that Leo and Jamie will never be.
So a few more months went by. I turned in my resignation at the church where I worked as youth leader. I had worked there for three years and felt it was time. The e-mails from the pastor concerning homosexuals made for an even quicker decision. I told them I'd hang around until the end of May.
After all this, you might be wondering what it would have to take for me to come out. Here is what happened:
On a Friday morning in April, I walked into work and our secretary excitedly proclaimed, "Jamie, Leo has a girlfriend!"
Apparently, she and my boss (Leo's brother-in-law) were just having a conversation about it. He added, "Yeah, I think they are getting serious."
"Can you imagine?" she continued. "Leo might get married."
Then they asked me what I thought about that. I responded with, "Huh? Oh that's... that's great, I guess."
Later, I was upset with myself that this news so affected me. I don't know, maybe I was hoping Leo was buying himself time by not coming to see me - you know, just to make sure for himself that he was gay and all. I mean, sure, there were all kinds of signs that he is gay not straight. But maybe I see things skewed to how I want to see them. And the last thing I want to be accused of is "converting" someone who was "serious" about some girl before I came along. It would just fuel their rhetoric about it being a choice. Maybe Leo is bi. I swear I just don't know what to think.
I was all tore up inside. I staggered around my apartment all weekend. If I didn't hate the taste of beer, I probably would have bought me a bunch of it and gotten drunk. I tossed in bed and the covers felt like they weighed a hundred pounds. It took effort to breathe. Something felt like it was dying inside me.
It was Sunday night and I couldn't sleep. I watched the clock slowly count the minutes until it was past midnight. Not exactly in my best state of mind, I got up, turned on the lights, grabbed paper and pen and wrote a letter to Leo. I didn't care if I ever saw him again, but I'll be damned if he wasn't going to hear me out.
Somehow, I managed to compose myself and write a pretty decent coming out letter.
I sealed it up and went back to bed. At some point I finally fell asleep.
Monday came and went and I didn't mail the letter. But on Tuesday night, with it drizzling rain, I pulled up into an empty parking lot and slowly walked up to a blue mailbox. I stood there looking at it, like it was some secret agent to whom I was about to hand over ultra-confidential microfilm.
I slid the letter three-fourths of the way into the slot, pinching the edge of it between my fingers. The wipers on my car squeaked a few times. Then I let go of it.
A couple of days went by. A week. A month. Nothing.
About this same time, the ACLU filed suit against the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children for its firing of a lesbian employee back in 1998. This caused a huge uproar among Kentucky Baptists. Churches wrote up resolutions and mailed them to our Baptist state newspaper. The first church to do so stated that they had "voted by unanimous consent to give solid support to... Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children in their discharging of a homosexual... In addition to our prayers, we have forwarded to them a check for $5,000 to aid in their defense." Other letters said much the same.
Whenever I get the urge to write a letter to the opinion page of any newspaper, I usually try to wait a few days and see if I still think it would be necessary to do so. More often than not, they are a battleground where words are the weapons. They so rarely encourage anyone to actually think about things. However, we are a planet of humans, not Vulcans, so emotion is natural in our writings. And around here, no topic so stirs up emotions and so paralyzes thinking than that of homosexuality.
I felt that I needed to write something to the Kentucky Baptist newspaper. At this point in my life though, I was pretty much an emotional wreck. I couldn't stay focused at work. Talking to people took energy that I really didn't have. I could feel myself getting more cynical with each passing day.
I was keeping a journal at the time and in it I wrote, "This is it! I just wrote a letter that is going to cause trouble for me." Unbeknownst to me, however, the church where I served as part-time youth minister was simultaneously adopting their own resolution. I wasn't a member there, so I did not hear about the meeting. I wouldn't have had a vote anyway.
I waited anxiously for my letter to appear in the paper. On Thursday, I came home from work and it was in my mailbox. My letter was not in it, but the weekly article updating readers of the situation was there. I laid the paper down and went to run some errands. When I got back, I messed around on the computer for awhile. Then I picked up that newspaper again. In it I read that another church had adopted a resolution calling on the Governor to support the KBHC for its firing of a lesbian worker. I shook my head at this until I read that it was my youth group's church.
A flood of emotions swept over me. On one hand, this church has been very kind to me. They liked me very much. I have "sacrificially given my time and money" they say. I have made friends there and I will always have fond memories of youth group. But the people of that church did not know that I was gay. And I really think that their opinion of me would turn 180 degrees if I told them.
It was 8:15 p.m. on a Thursday night. All I could figure was that I had to talk to someone. So I abruptly decided to grab all my books that I'd been reading about the issue, throw them into a gym bag, and drive across state to where my good friend Curtis had moved a few months ago. He had taken a job as a part-time youth leader at a church out in the middle of nowhere. It took over three hours to get there and I almost hit a deer, a possum, and a dog taking a dump in the middle of the road.
I couldn't believe that I was finally going to tell Curtis that I was gay. Telling Leo seemed like a dream or something because it hadn't been made "real." I hadn't seen him or even heard from him since writing that letter, so coming out to him was different. Now, a month later, here I was driving over 200 miles to tell another friend that I was gay - in person.
This too did not seem "real" until I got off the parkway at the exit to his town. Let me tell you, it got really real when I pulled up to his trailer late at night. I was half delirious, had only been there once before, and now a different truck was parked there. I concluded that this wasn't it, chickened out, and drove down the road to a Shell station. I filled up with gas, cleaned the windshield, and drove back to the trailer. I got out and knocked on the door.
This was it. After a moment the door opened. Curtis' facial expression revealed his surprise. I said that I needed to talk to him. We made small talk while he got off the internet and turned off the television.
I stammered a lot. I said that there was something about me that I needed to tell him, about how I had sort of tried before but I couldn't, and that there comes a point in friendship where you need to be completely honest about things. Then I said what I had been so afraid of saying.
"What I need to tell you is that I am gay."
I pretty much told him everything. I told him about the letter I had sent Leo, but I kept it a secret who Leo was. He probably could figure it out since he knew many of my friends from that church. Overall, I guess he took it pretty well. He said he had actually suspected that I might be gay. One time when I was over at his place in Lexington, he and his roommate kept pestering me to reveal who I liked at my church.
When I wouldn't answer, he said, "I bet it's somebody forbidden - like Jot's girlfriend or somebody."
Yeah, somebody forbidden, I had thought to myself. When they wanted to know who was the last person I had asked out, I brushed them off. They insisted, so I said, "Well, I guess I thought it was APPROPRIATE to ask a girl, so I asked..." Apparently, the way I had said 'appropriate' had caused him to wonder about me.
We talked for about two hours and then I drove back to Lexington. He offered to let me stay, but I had to be at work in the morning. Well, I got so incredibly sleepy on the way back that I had to pull off at a rest area and sleep for a few hours. I got back to Lexington around the time I normally get up to go to work. I crashed on my bed and skipped work. They could fire me for all I cared.
Sometimes I am brave and sometimes I am a coward. I wrote that letter to the Baptist newspaper, but I didn't follow through and tell anybody from that church that I was gay. I didn't tell the pastor and I didn't tell any of the kids that I had worked with for the last three years. Instead, my letter happened to appear in the newspaper the week after the news of their adopted resolution. My going away dinner had been the Sunday before.
In my letter concerning the KBHC's firing of a worker simply because she was a lesbian, I really didn't attack anyone. Every other letter supported the KBHC's stand for moral absolutes. I chose an indirect approach to the situation.
The Western Recorder
May 30, 2000
For whatever reason, God chose the period in time that he did to live a life as one of us and save the world in the process. Yahweh's humanity occurred two thousand years ago, but sometimes I wonder what if that miracle had happened during our time.
Certainly the name Jesus would not be plastered everywhere, because we would not yet know who he was. Would the Messiah still travel around mostly by foot in Israel? Is it possible that Jesus and his disciples would board an airplane and come to America for a few weeks? Perhaps in the fields of Kentucky, Jesus would take a child's McFish sandwich and feed fifteen thousand people.
Wishful thinking aside, the majority of people could not follow Christ around all day. Life would go on while God lived among us.
The historical Jesus told parables in an attempt to get the people to understand grace. Many times, Christ's storytelling pulled from circumstances in his day. Sometimes he would put a twist in the story and it would offend many of his listeners. For that reason, I do not think it inconceivable that a "modern" Jesus would compose the parable of the good lesbian. Such a story today would cause outrage among many in the religious community, much like the idea of a godly Samaritan - a people held in contempt by ancient Jews.
A month later, I came out to my friend Matt. He said he was surprised, but that we could still be friends. I didn't mention Leo, but I figured Matt would probably tell him that we had hung out. Then in August, I went to my first-ever gay gathering. It lasted four days and was near Chicago. It changed my life. I'll write about that experience next month.