At First Baptist Miami, the long time teacher of the four year old pre-school Sunday school class was Florence Rousseau. Mrs. Rousseau was one of the saints of FBC Miami. She had taught most of our parents and now a new generation of children. She was dedicated and hardworking and beloved. She was also poor, which most of our members weren't.
One day in pre-school I kissed another boy. It seemed like the natural thing to do.
I've worked with young kids when I was a summer camp counselor at the Shawnee Y. Kids often kiss each other. There's nothing sexual or erotic about it at that age. I think they do it to express affection and because it seems natural. It is a common thing.
I got in trouble. I was told not to do that because that's what naughty men do.
I don't think it was Mrs. Rousseau who said that to me, but some other worker in the class. But that phrase stuck. I later asked my mother what it meant. I remember she gave a vague answer, but reaffirmed not to kiss another boy.
It was a long time before I did.
This is my CoH devotional for next week, but I thought I'd go ahead and post it for you guys.
Last Sunday I preached on fear, introducing a Lenten series we are doing here in Oklahoma City entitled “Releasing Fear.” At the end of the sermon I instructed the congregation that for Lent they should give up anxiety, guilt, uncertainty, and fear.
Well, God has a sense of humour. Though very publicly out, I had never had the conversation with my grandfather who lives in a small town in northeastern Oklahoma. On Monday a distant relative called grandpa and said, “It’s on the internet that Scott’s a homosexual” (that wording just sounds so seedy, like they were accusing me of being a porn star or something).
Now I had all sorts of good, rational reasons for why I hadn’t had the conversation with grandpa. Plus, the rest of the family had decided that unless there was an important reason (like me wanting to bring a man home for Christmas), then we’d probably not tell him.
However, the truth was, I was afraid of how he might respond and what the ramifications might be for my family, which has already gone through a lot of turmoil with my coming out.
So, God provided me the opportunity this week to practice what I had just preached. Funny, God.
And, you know, it went well. Amazingly well. Far better than what I ever expected. Grandpa was not happy about my being gay, but he wasn’t angry or dogmatic or unfair. He said lovely words of blessing like “"Any one that knows you and knows the kind of person you are, and loves and cares about you, to them it won't make a difference." Or “When it is in your own family, you have to think differently.” And, most importantly, “I still love you.”
What was I so afraid of?
God of Grace, help us to be people of courage. We need it. Amen.
Much of that same group, and others, gathered on April 3 when I preached my first sermon at the Cathedral of Hope -- Oklahoma City. It all did seem to be happening.
Of course, not everything played out the way I hoped it would at the end of February. There have been those bumps in the road.
But now I'm home, fully out, and still a minister.
My relationship with my mother is better than it has been in my adulthood. I love my step-dad.
Preaching every week fills me with a spiritual high. I am weekly amazed at the craft of the sermon -- watching it come together from a few ideas into the finished whole.
Participating in this incredible ministry to people in need.
Becoming active in a community, struggling in a civil rights cause.
Talk radio, newspaper interviews, published sermons, etc.
And building a relationship with a wonderful man.
It had been two long, hot days. Though the body was tired, the spirit was full of energy. This was my first Pride Parade; and it was a sight to see. We were marching and handing out water. John was driving his truck with the ice chests of water in the bed (note: this John is a different John than the one discussed in earlier My Journey Out posts). Bill and Christa were handing the water out to us, and they couldn't hand it out fast enough. Those of us running back and forth from the truck to the hot, thirsty on-lookers were running. Next year we'll buy more water, because we ran out before the parade ended.
One reason I love the gay community is the exuberance, especially at an event like this. People are yelling and cheering. The hot, tired people are having fun. You yell at friends on other floats as you pass near each other (the parade intentionally doubles back on itself at one point so everyone in the parade can see the parade).
We were coming along 39th street, heading toward the strip, when we crested and you could see before you people. Many people. Packed all along the streets. I jumped up in the back of the truck to ride and watch. Bill and I were standing as we entered this throng of cheering people. We were waving and yelling at friends and strangers and they were yelling and cheering at us.
My ability as a writer is too limited to convey what it felt like in that moment. Later I said to Bill and Christa that it was one of the greatest moments of my life, that I'd never felt that sort of energy and excitement before. Christa looked at us and said, "Boys, that feeling never ends."
And, so, I wrap up this part of MyQuest. That is my journey out.
In January the ex and I began speaking again. It was off and on at first, but by the end of February the communication was pretty regular, and we would hang out when I was in OKC. Neither of us had any idea where it was headed, but it was good to be talking again. I knew that one way or the other, we'd figure out whether to get back together or not.
The first time I saw him in ten months was the night of my birthday dinner when nineteen friends and family all came together to celebrate my birthday. It was a spectacular event, if you remember my writing about it at the time. It seemed to be this wonderful celebration at the end of a difficult year. Here was my family, almost all of whom knew and were okay. Even the one's who weren't okay came. And they were even in the same room with the ex, though I didn't introduce them to each other (though they did know who each other were). Mom and Revis met the ex for the first time, too and that went well. Plus here were many of my old friends and many of my new friends (mainly friends made in the blog community). I sat there smiling and so obviously happy. People kept commenting on how happy I was. I was just shocked that after the year I'd had that this event was occurring and that all these people were in the same room together and not fighting.
It also looked as if everything was coming together. Months before it looked as if my life was falling apart. Now, it looked like everything was about to fall together, beyond my wildest dreams. That scared me, because it just seems like things never go that well.
The night before I had interviewed with the Pastor-Parish Relations Team of the Cathedral of Hope. At the start of the week, Michael Piazza had called to see if I was going home for my birthday. If I was, he wanted me to meet with the committee. He told me that I was one of two finalists. My meeting with the team had been fantastic. When I walked into the room, I felt like I knew all these people, though I had never met them before. Other ministers have told me that they have had similar experiences. For almost three hours we talked. Quickly it had turned from an interview into dreaming and sharing of vision. It was so exciting that I left with the feeling that it would be an honour to be their pastor.
Thirty-one seemed destined to be a better year than thirty!
In the fall I began dating again. It was very difficult at first, and nothing really got off the ground. The funny thing was that I was set up by a church member, and I wasn't even "out" to the church member!
I started reading new stuff. I called this my "intellectual phase." I began with Gay Unions by Gray Temple, which argues for gay equality within the Episcopal Church. It said some interesting things about the history of sexuality, so I bought and read all three volume of Michel Foucault's A History of Sexuality. While looking for copies of that a Half-Price Books, I picked up a volume on the history of Gay Literature and another book of social commentary from the queer perspective. Both were eye-opening to me. They taught me a lot of history that I didn't know and really gave me a sense of pride that I hadn't had before. They also made me even stronger about our rights and what was unique about the gay experience. So I began to buy even more books and read even more, especially some of the classics by gay writers or with gay themes.
After the Thanksgiving experience, I felt even more confident. December was a period of reflection upon the year that had just passed. I made some important resolves and tied up some loose knots. Writing my Christmas letter is always an important exercise that compels me annually to reflect. This year I had long puzzled how to write the letter. Unfortunately the only thing I could decide to do was to write two versions. One version left off everything related to my coming out. The second version added that on at the end. When I sent them out, I realized how many people I was close to who still didn't know. I felt I had told so many, but there was a long way to go. One high school friend found out about version B, though she had received version A, and felt hurt.
The e-mails, cards, and letters related to my coming out journey were beginning to pile up. So I spent a few days collecting and organizing all of it into a binder. That had been the plan all year, but I had not gotten around to it. The process was very therapeutic and allowed for incredible moments of reflection. Reading through the thing was, at times, sobering or exciting. In the process I realized all the mistakes I had made in my relationship and sent a card with a simple apology. About a month later we began talking again.
The night the Village Station re-opened as S4, I went. I had never really been out on the town in Dallas. While there I ran into the first gay person I had known, the friend from OBU who had been kicked out for being gay. We hadn't seen each other in a decade.
The week after Christmas I spent with Mom and Revis on a fishing trip and then back in OKC. One night I celebrated my anniversary of being out. The odd paradox of my life at this time was that in Oklahoma I was fully out. Here I lived more of a gay life -- for example, everytime I was in town I'd meet up with Timothy at the bars. Whereas most Oklahomans are closeted and are out when they are in Dallas, I was the reverse.
The new year began with me more confident, more self-assured, and more fully experiencing and enjoying the newness of life.
So, I had decided to make a change, but I didn't know what. Linda and I had a long chat that fall, actually many chats. She played devil's advocate and was right about a lot of things. I had told her that when I went to church, I wanted to go to church and not work -- I worked at my office during the week. She understood the distinctions I was making, but said I just needed to play the game. I told her that I was done playing the game. And I was.
Yet the weird irony is that immediately I felt better about things. I was consciously trying to not do the ministerial-role-playing thingy but be more authentic and natural about my thoughts and emotions even while around church folk. Oddly, I began to immediately fall back in love with my work again. My therapist and I discussed this irony. The first Wednesday night after my avowal not to play the role, I found myself more casually and easily chatting with folk and doing so much that is normally the role playing.
And that's how the holidays and the winter proceeded. When I was home in OKC over the holidays, friends asked if I was really moving back and I said, "Yes, unless something changes." But even then I was feeling less interest in the idea (proof positive that Greg was right). As January proceeded I was deep in preparations for summer events and began to get really excited about camp, the mission trip, my summer intern, the hiking trip, graduating the seniors, the college group, the June Adult Summer Classes, etc.
Plus I found myself procrastinating on my "plans." I headed into February not having done anything to prepare for a possible move. I had no firm ideas of what job I might do. Various friends had discussed ideas with me, but nothing excited me. As I had prayed since summer, I was waiting for God to show me the path ahead and nothing seemed right.
No longer was I sure that I wanted to leave ministry. Maybe I had just been through another one of those seasonal bouts that we go through. In January a friend contacted me wanting to submit my name for a pastorate on the east coast. The idea was exciting to me, though I ended up not following it through. The episode caused me to think, "If I was really ready to leave ministry, I wouldn't be as excited about this possibility."
So though I was still far from certain about anything, I entered February with the assumption that I'd be in Dallas and at Royal Lane throughout the summer.
We had a full house staying at Mom's for a couple of days. Family was in town for Thanksgiving. In my family we rotate hosting (I've done it twice); so this year it was being hosted by my uncle at his new fiance's house. I rode over with my liberal aunt and uncle from Missouri.
Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. It is so much simpler than Christmas because it is about eating, family, and falling asleep watching football. I was not looking forward to anything special this year, but I always enjoy Thanksgiving. At this point only my Mom, Revis, my sis, and her husband knew I was gay.
We got to the house; I had never been there before. Though I'd met the fiance, I'd never met her kids. Two of the three were there. Timothy was doing most of the cooking and had clear control over the kitchen. Hmm, I wondered. We all were sitting around munching on appetizers, drinking, and chatting. Timothy and I began this verbal dance of searching out clues about each other. When he said where he worked, I went Hmm even more. Then when his "friend" David arrived, I really went Hmm. After dinner when the neighbors came over for dessert, it was a gay male couple. Here I was at Thanksgiving with two gay couples!
My family began to leave. I was supposed to go back to Mom's with the same aunt and uncle. I told them I was staying to hang out. They looked puzzled, but left. We stayed at my uncle's and his fiance's for a couple of hours, all of us drinking, chatting, and having a good time. I then went out to the bars with Timothy and David and came home after two a.m.
The next morning my liberal aunt from Missouri came in while my Mom was making coffee.
"So, Scott was supposed to ride home with us last night, but he said he was going to stay and hang out with those guys. Tom and I talked about it on the way home. I told him that Scott had had gay friends since college, so he was probably comfortable."
"Is Scott gay?"
"Oh, okay. Well, I've wondered."
Mom and I still laugh about that day. I never expected Thanksgiving to turn out that way. So most of the rest of the family got to figure it out without my ever having to sit down and tell them.
After I told her, Mom wanted to come visit. But our schedules were such that it made it difficult to find a weekend that would work. She was worried about me. She wasn't worried about my being gay; she was worried about what people might do to her little boy. She went into protective mode. It was cool to watch.
Mom and Revis were heroes to my gay friends, and the friends all wanted to meet them. Ben & Leland wanted to have Mom & Revis over to dinner the next time they were in town. So, when the visit was finally planned and on the calendar, I spoke to Ben and Leland.
I wanted them to have a party and invite a bunch of our friends. They throw great parties. This particular party would have a purpose, however. Mom was worried that I didn't have a support group. Plus, Mom had never really known that many gay men and women who were in longterm, monogamous relationships who were professionals and active church goers. I wanted her to see that side of gay. And the best place to do it was Ben & Leland's -- they live in Plano for goodness' sake! You can't get more boring suburbia than that.
So Ben sent out invitations to our friends explaining the importance of the party and its purpose. His event planning side kicked into high gear, and we had various conversations about the menu. He decided on a buffet of soups with appetizers and desserts brought by the guests.
I told Mom we were going to a party at Ben & Leland's. "Is this a gay party?" Yes, there will be mostly gay people there. I want you to meet my friends and see that I have a support group, that I'm okay. "Okay." Come to find out, she and Revis started bragging to their friends that they were going to their first "gay party." Someone told them the food would be good.
I must admit that I was a little nervous. It ended up that none of my straight friends that knew I was out and who knew Mom and Revis were able to come to the party. So, they were going to be the only straight people there. I was hoping they wouldn't get overwhelmed.
We got there and Ben was busy working in the kitchen, as he usually is. Leland welcomed them at the door and embraced them. Then he gave them a tour of the house, explaining what work they had done and were about to do, pointing out various objects of furniture and decor, etc. Your typical first-time-in-a-house-tour. He even showed them the master bedroom and bathroom. Mom and Revis were polite and interested. Then all the guests began arriving. Almost everyone showed up. We ate and talked. Revis told stories of Vietnam and surfing when he was a kid. We spent most of the conversation discussing college football (which some of us have continued to laugh about months later). I went around and hugged and thanked everyone for coming and helping me out.
We were driving back to my house in the car. I'll encapsulate the conversation. "Did you have a good time?" "Yes." "What did you think?" "They are wonderful people. It was a nice party, and a nice house. It looked just like a normal house. Even the bedroom." "Sure." "Thank you for doing that, Scott. I had never seen gay people like that. They are all in longterm relationships. Some of them have children. They have professional jobs. They are all really nice, wonderful people." I was grinning from ear to ear, my purpose having been achieved. "Well, that's why I wanted to do that, so you could see that I have a support system and that I'm okay." "And Ben and Leland are so nice. I thought it was funny that the kitchen is Ben's territory and Leland is supposed to stay out of it. It's just like a real couple." I smiled, "Because they are a real couple."
Of course Ben and Leland and I had to get together that week to debrief the event. They were so honored that it was a huge success.
So not all those days during those months were dark. Many were wonderful, like this one. Thankfully I did have a support group of incredible friends, a loving mother, and a step-dad who is a gift from God.
I actually don't blog many of my thoughts on ministry. Tim does that a lot, but I generally don't. I'm not sure why I haven't; I just haven't.
Being a minister is such a strange thing. The only other real job I can compare it to was being an academic philosopher where my duties were studying, writing, and teaching. I loved that job and was pretty good at teaching intro level classes. I'm not a great researcher or philosohical writer. I'm not an original or creative philosophical thinker. I did my job, enjoyed it, but it was just that, a job. Life was other things.
But ministry is different. It flows from your religious faith, so it is an elemental part of who you are. It is a calling and not simply a profession. That means a couple of things. The compulsion and drive to do it is different. You are not merely fulfilling an interest or getting a paycheck. Also, if you are called for it, then you are granted some measure of spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit to fulfill that task. That's what we understand theologically, but it is a scary concept to actually consider in practice. Yet I can also feel it at times, not all the time, but sometimes, when what you need to do in the moment just seems to flow without thinking or planning. Ministry is also different in that it calls for you to give some of yourself away in order to carry out the ministry. This can be dangerous, because you never know for certain how much of yourself to give away. Nor can all people be trusted to receive parts of yourself; you are opened up and can be damaged.
I have not yet developed the ability to easily defend against or bounce back from those moments when vulnerability is taken advantage of. My Dad was afraid this would be a problem for me, and he was right. It is one reason why I spent a decade planning to do something else. I had seen ministers beaten up and broken by the job. In my late teen years I finally really saw the workings of churches and was appalled. That played a big role in my deciding to do something else.
One time David B. and I were attacked for something where neither of us felt we had done anything wrong. We cared deeply for and respected the person we had upset. But as is often the case in church, someone else really made the issue of it. David and I disagreed about how to handle the situation, and part of that was because there are differences of role for pastor and associate pastor. He did the whole mea culpa thing. I was worried that he did this. I warned him that I was afraid he would reveal a weakness that would be exploited later. I never apologized to anyone, but instead went on about my work (though with far less joy and enthusiasm). A few months later I was invited for dinner in the home of the person who was originally offended, and the two of us worked together on projects in my remaining months in that position. David ended up having a difficult time there after that incident. He often was challenged again and again. I saw him sink into melancholy, and he lost the joy of his calling to that place.
I love spending time with my ministry colleagues from around the country. When ministers get together they let their hair down and have a good time. They open up to each other about their struggles and their joys. They help each other. Almost every good and great minister I know well is regularly on the verge of quitting. Many that I know keep their heads "close to the oven," to quote one of them. And these are people of every personality type and every sort of different style, theology, talent, etc. Plus I have plenty of friends who have thrown the towel in. Some of those have horrible stories of what they experienced at the hands of church people. Others just got burned out or gave up.
Not many ministers talk openly about these things outside of their small groups who get together for times of restoration. Blogging has probably made it more common to discuss it, especially with a blog like Gordon Atkinson's.
I think the Book of Jeremiah speaks to this. Jeremiah really didn't want to be a prophet. But the fire in his bones compelled him to. Often he was angry at God for his calling.
I've never had the intensity of emotion that Jeremiah reveals, but I understand what's going on there. I love what I do, much of the time. But sometimes it hurts. Everytime I come close to quitting something keeps me going. Sometimes it is because I discover a new joy or love for my work. But sometimes it is because I am compelled by the calling of the Holy Spirit.