Do I have his nose?
Do my eyes remind you of him?
Do I sound like he did over the phone?
Do I walk the way he walked, even never having seen his stride with my own eyes?
Do we have the same laugh?
Do we have the same smile?
Moment after moment, my YES became louder, stronger, and more resolved. I did not go to Synod with many expectations. I certainly did not anticipate the Spirit opening me up in the ways she did. Nor did I anticipate the overwhelming experience of being loved and welcomed that came my way. But this is who God is, and this is how She works.
It wasn't until I sat down at lunch with Audrey today outside of the Chase food court on the steps next to the fountain, listening to the rush of the water and feeling its spray on my recently buzzed scalp that I realized it's been a decade since I stop saying I was "struggling" with same sex attraction and started identifying as gay. That summer demarcated the era of denial from the era of acceptance. I didn't know it at the time, but nothing would ever be the same.
It is in those moments when I believe something else is needed. Not a savior or a liberator, but something else. Someone else. Someone willing to sit with you in the anxiety and depression and pain. Someone who won't talk your ear off with clichés or platitudes, but will sit there in the absolute silence, awkward as it may be, and wait—wait until you're ready, until you have a little more energy, a little more strength. It is in these times and places, be they deaths, depression, hallucinations, rapes, assaults, or any other moment of sheer agony, that we just might need God to show up and be. No magic tricks. No saving. No liberating. Just sitting down next to us. No consolation. Just presence.
Talking with a friend (and professor) the other day about grief, I realized that part of my own unfinished grief has to do with the remaining desire to be straight. To fall in love with a woman. To not cringe (or feel nauseated) at the idea of being intimate with her. I wonder what it would have been like had things turned out differently, but some questions never get answers. Some fantasies never become reality. Some hopes never stand a chance.
When I was growing up, I remember countless funerals where people would remark on the current state of the person being mourned. "She's with her Savior." "God called her home." "She's not in pain anymore." "It was her time." Back then, blanket statements used to bring me comfort. When your grandmother was one of fifteen siblings, and the generation before had almost as many, you went to a lot of funerals. Back then, I didn't ask questions.
When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved — Mark 13:11-13
Sitting down today with some classmates, we talked about a shooting that happened recently in Evanston. A 14 year old young man was shot through the chest on his way home from a party. Our group leader spoke of a candlelight vigil that was held in his honor for the boy's family. People who gathered spoke of the communal nature of raising children, yet of the 200 people gathered, only ten were persons of Caucasian descent. So much for community, right?
In times of such visible evil, such tangible sin, where is the Creator? Does God take sides, and if so, whose side is God on? What does God have to say about the ways in which we treat each other? I'm not simply talking about the violence and murder. I'm talking about something as simple as responding to the homeless person on the street who asks for some change. I'm talking about giving thought into what purchases we make, not because we want to be thrifty, but because we care about the person on the other end of that dollar bill who makes the things we buy. I'm talking about taking control over the way we think of and perceive those around us... the ways we label and judge and criticize them.
We were talking about what it means to carry a prophetic message into a congregational setting when we came across the dilemma over how to deliver a challenging message while not isolating yourself from those whom you serve. Simultaneously we were discussing how to be faithful to God while honoring the covenants and oaths we make to the denominations who ordain us. In a moment of righteous anger and frustration, I believe I said something like this: "As for delivering the tough message, Jesus said he came to bring life and life more abundantly, and since he's not here in person, that leaves us to do the work, or at least to be a part of it. And since we can't do it alone, nor should we have to, if we don't bring those we serve into a place of action outside the church walls, then we may as well shut the doors. I'm not there to play house... and when I am, I still leave sorely disappointed. Last time I checked, my obligation is first and foremost to the Gospel as I understand it... not to some organizational charter. I understand the reason for being asked to be faithful to a denomination... there has to be some unity. But don't ask me to put your set of rules over and above the red letters." Some of this may have been in my head and not spoken, but that's the blessing of hindsight, right?
Is Jesus ever really missing from the work we do to build community, to see the world around us redeemed? I don't think so. He's only gone when we ask him to be... when we want to take the credit, as if redemption is our idea. But when we ask him to be present, and to empower the work we feel he's called us to be a part of, then he shows up, loves both on us and through us, and makes it possible for us to change the world around us, and change it in a way where his handprint is visible. But we have to be willing to do it. Even more so, we have to be willing to step outside and across the lines we've drawn that keep us from sharing that work and that burden with those who are also called to catalyze redemption... people of different colors, genders, nationalities, denominations, belief systems, sexual orientations, or any other identifier we use to delineate "us" and "them."
Jesus isn't missing from the world. He's there with both the sinner and the sinned against, loving on both equally. What's missing most of the time is our attention, our conviction to live out the challenge he's called us to. What's missing is our love for his other children. And as long as that's gone, the process of redemption, I think, gets stunted... slows down. I don't want to be the one to put limits on how God changes the world. I want to be the one who is there when God does something big... or little. When something redemptive happens, and I'm there, I get to see Jesus, even if by another face or name than I usually see or hear. Redemption is hard to miss...
Unless you're missing...
A few months ago, I stumbled across what has become one of my favorite cooking sites, smitten kitchen. The creator of the site, Deb Perelman, resides in New York City. Even in the matter of a few minutes, it's easy to see just how much she loves food. This is something we have in common. One of her recipes in particular has become a personal favorite, mostly because it's fun to make with a friend.
Apple Sharlotka. Sounds fancy right? Maybe even difficult. It almost sounds (and looks) like something one might take hours to make and perfect. In reality, the most exciting part of this recipe is the big reveal. It's like Extreme Makeover for your eyes and tummy.
See what I mean? It just looks classy, like something that you'd find in a Victorian sitting room with people holding themselves back from it as much as they might hold themselves back from sexual hedonism. But alas, one can resist only so long. Trust me.
I'd made the recipe once on my own before I decided it would be fun to make with someone else. Mostly though, I just get lonely in the kitchen. I always feel better about whatever I'm making, whether sweet or savory, when I know that someone else will be eating it with me. Don't get me wrong, there's almost always some fulfillment that comes from seeing my own creativity come to life in such a rewarding fashion. But when I stand in our small apartment's kitchen with someone I love, doing the dance that must be done in the tiny space we have, I feel more whole.
One of my closest girlfriends came over awhile back. I'd been craving something sweet, and as is the case with this recipe, something not excessively rich or decadent. After meeting at Target to buy groceries, we headed back to my place and got to work. I started working on the batter, the part of this recipe that makes it a slight conundrum. I mean, it looks like a cake right? Well, it's technically not. The batter lacks both milk and butter (sad face, right?). In fact, this recipe is mostly just apples bound together by a egg/sugar/flour mixture, and topped off with some powdered sugar (also one of the most exciting parts of the recipe... I even got one of the little shakers just so I could go nuts with it). When I told my girlfriend this, like me, she was surprised and intrigued.
While I put the batter together, she started on the apples. Granny Smith apples. Lots of them. Peeling and coring, peeling and coring. Chopping. I was almost tempted to try another method mentioned by a friend whose family is Polish. His grandmother would actually grate the apples like hash browns. I definitely think that would require a certain amount of teamwork. One of these days, I'll give the "hash brown" method a try...
The fun part is coming together, me with the apples and spoon, my girlfriend pouring in the batter... side note — this is my one modification to the original recipe. Deb suggest putting the apples in the buttered springform pan and then adding the batter. Past experience has taught me that it's easier to mix the batter with the apples and then pour the entire mix into the pan. But that's just my take.
Once the sharlotka goes into the oven, it then becomes a waiting game. I usually top it with some cinnamon and even a slight dusting of sugar before it even gets baked, but waiting until after has turned out to be better. I know it may seem that this is a recipe able to be made by one person, and it is. I've done it. But again, I love cooking with friends. It brings a sense of pride and accomplishment to make a good dish or meal with someone by my side. With this dish in particular, especially the first time, it's worth seeing the look on their face as you flip the cake out onto its final serving dish, to see their eyes close as they soak up the scents wafting into the living room from the kitchen. It's rewarding to let a friend go crazy with the powdered sugar. And it's heavenly to let them take the first bite, to see pride well up in their eyes. I can cook nearly anything with a friend. This just happens to be one of the first recipes that came to mind. And here it is...
Adapted from Alex’s mother, who adapted it from her mother, and so on…
Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing pan 6 large, tart apples, such as Granny Smiths 3 large eggs 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour Ground cinnamon, to finish Powdered sugar, also to finish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Peel, halve and core your apples, then chop them into medium-sized chunks. (I cut each half into four “strips” then sliced them fairly thinly — about 1/4-inch — in the other direction.) Pile the cut apples directly in the prepared pan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in vanilla, then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick.
Pour over apples in pan, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter so that it covers all exposed apples. (Updated to clarify: Spread the batter and press it down into the apple pile. The top of the batter should end up level with the top of the apples.) Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of batter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on rack, then flip out onto another rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it back onto a serving platter. Dust lightly with ground cinnamon.
Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar. Alex’s family eats it plain, but imagine it would be delicious with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped or sour cream.
My partner Frankie and I had been dating for over fifteen months when he finally met my grandmother, Nanny. He'd first met my parents the spring before when they came up for a weekend visit, and while that was an important encounter, him meeting Nanny was much more important to me.
Nanny raised me. My mother and birth-father (often referred to as sperm donor) had met, married, conceived, separated, and divorced all within the course of a year. After mom became a single parent, we moved in with Nanny and Papaw (my grandfather). He was a full-time Southern Baptist pastor of a church in Campton, KY. Mom found a job. This left Nanny with the responsibility of being my primary caregiver, a role she gladly filled.
After Papaw died in '90, both Nanny and mom worked. Being older and living on savings, Nanny was able to take more time to be with me than mom. Sure, other extended family members helped, but if Nanny could be with me, she was. Even after mom remarried when I was nine, not only did we have weekly conversations with Nanny over the phone, but whenever school was out, I was in KY staying with her.
During college, we talked nearly every day. Coming out to her was not easy for either one of us, but deep down, I believe she always knew who I was and in what direction my life was headed. Finally, after Frankie and I started dating ('09) and things became serious, we knew it was time that she met him.
It took Nanny awhile to feel comfortable with the idea of having my same-gendered partner come to stay with her. She really wrestled with it. Being a Southern Baptist herself, there were certain beliefs she maintained about relationships and sexuality; but when the rubber met the road, her love for and relationship with me meant more than dogma or doctrine.
Three days before Christmas, Frankie and I loaded up the rental car for the six-hour drive to Falmouth, KY where she lived. Knowing that having Christmas at my parents' home would not be a wise idea, Nanny opened her home to us, on the condition that we slept in separate rooms... a compromise I was willing to make for the sake of having her meet the man I loved.
It was a Wednesday night when we got there. Not too cold. Not snowing yet. As expected, Nanny met us at the door, hands full with suitcases, bundled up in our coats. I wasn't sure what her demeanor towards Frankie would be, but when she introduced herself and offered him a hug, I was both surprised and comforted. This was huge for her, and I had made it clear that I didn't expect it to be easy.
None of had eaten dinner yet, so in good Southern fashion, we went to the nearby Lee's Famous Recipe to pick up fried chicken, biscuits, and all the fixin's to bring home. We sat at the table after spreading everything out, and Nanny said grace. Here I was in my childhood home with the woman who made me who I am and the man who meant the world to me. It wasn't awkward. There was no tension. There was simply just... family.
Mom and Dad (my stepfather) arrived the next day, and while they were kind and cordial, there was a marked difference between their interactions with Frankie and Nanny's. For those two days, she set aside her beliefs and biases and simply just loved on him, making him comfortable, feeding him, hugging him. When we left the next day, during our goodbyes, she told him she loved him, giving him a hug as big and long as the one she gave me. So much more happened those two days, but these are the moments I remember most vividly and hold most dear.
Unfortunate to say, that was the only time she spent with Frankie. The following June, she died in a car crash two days after I'd returned home from a visit with her. When Frankie and I got married this past April, we asked a friend to bring a lantern with a Kentucky blue candle inside to be used to memorialize her at our ceremony. I'd like to think that as the years went on, she'd grow to love him as I have. I'd like to imagine the Christmases and the phone calls, the cards filled with coupons, the meals around the table. While these are but dreams that will remain unfulfilled, I can rest knowing that, at the very least, she met him and she loved him. As far as "meeting the parents" goes, I could not ask for more.