transformation

Embers 2: Witness...

Embers 2: Witness...

...The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

Ashes 12: Go home...

Ashes 12: Go home...

So the demons are gone, the man is made whole, the pigs have run off, the crowds are terrified, and Jesus is literally getting on a boat to leave. Our guy, restored and transformed, asks... begs Jesus to come with him. Jesus response is probably the most horrifying piece of this whole story: go home...

Let them see how you've changed...

Let them see who you are, who I made you to be...

Go home and be real, be transparent, be authentic...

Let go of your demons, be free to be yourself, and let your world be transformed just as you have been...

Breath...

Breath...
Love of our neighbor presupposes love of ourselves. We cannot love other people if we do not love ourselves. But we cannot love ourselves if we do not want to be ourselves, but want to be someone else. 'Self'-less love in the literal sense is no love at all, for it has no subject. Self-love is the strength to love our neighbor. Self-love is the foundation for a free life.

Lent 6: Grieving faith...

Lent 6: Grieving faith...

When she says, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," I imagine hers to be a tone of anger, an attitude of contempt. This would not have been a pretty scene to watch. I imagine most of us would have seen Jesus coming, and after seeing the look on Martha's face, would have stepped away, out of earshot. Martha had not only lost her brother, but she'd felt betrayed and let down by her friend—a friend she knew had the power to keep this all from happening. Everything was unraveling, and yet she still manages to maintain her game face.

Respite...

Respite...

I did not come back from Phoenix feeling like my old self. As a person whose introvert/extrovert is fairly evenly split, events where I'm surrounded by nearly 500 people drain me. Although enjoyable, they require significant energy on my part. This year was no different. In fact, it was even more intense. It felt like starting over, and anyone who knows me well knows that I struggle with starting over. Many of us do. Needless to say, right now, I feel spent. I feel weary. I feel like a nomad wandering through uncharted territory, uncertain of my final destination.

Nothing else matters...

Hi, I'm Michael. I'm a music whore...

While listening to Spotify today, I came across a song by Jeremy Schonfeld called "House of Love." It became my evening addiction, listening to it over and over both in the house and outside on the deck. I can't get the lyrics out of my head (listed below). I was singing along and just felt the urge to jump up and down to get my emotions out in the open. Something about this song resonates so deeply with my soul that I can't help but feel it.

I met with an old friend from college tonight for coffee. Also a former seminarian who has experienced ostracism and exclusion from the church because of his sexuality (a small part of who he is), he's fled to atheism and humanism for his faith beliefs, a shift I completely understand.

I don't want to give up on my understanding of God

It's what has always made sense in my head and in my heart. Given my experience the past few months, I'm finding "Christianity" harder and harder to hold onto. All of a sudden, Jesus has shifted from being the savior of an utterly helpless human race to a man sent by the Creator to show us how to live and to let us know, in one manifestation, just how deeply we are loved. No longer is he the only way to know God, and this is a major shift for me... an uncomfortable one. If Jesus was merely a man (albeit somehow divine in nature), then what makes Christianity different.

I feel like I'm losing it. Everything I once believed is crashing down. I'm not really losing Jesus, but who he is for me is changing, and it's painful. I don't know whether I'm right or wrong, and this is one time where I'm fearful of ambiguity. I'm so used to my understanding of Jesus being pivotal to my faith as a whole. If he didn't come to "save" us, then why come... what difference does it make? What about heaven and hell? Why does life matter? Do we matter to God? Who is God, and why does he/she/it/they care about us, or do they?

Things are changing, shifting, morphing, and I don't know what to hold onto

What parts of my faith are so important that I cannot and will not let go of them? That question came up in VFCL today, and the words that came to mind for me were brokenness, wholeness, transformation, redemption, community, and relationship. Neither Jesus nor God show up in that list, which frightens me. I thought they mattered to me. When, why, and how did they manage to disappear from that list?

I know this much...

...The one thing that desperately matters to me is love...

Without it, nothing else matters. But what's necessary for love to be made manifest in the world? Can we do it on our own, or do we need something or someone bigger to give it to us before we can dole it out to everyone around?

Again, more questions, most of which I won't be able to answer anytime soon. I need time and silence... I need to retreat...

Break down the door Slip through the window Climb down the chimney To the house of love

Use every option Try every lock and key Just step inside, you'll see In the house of love

Oh baby take a train, take a train, take an aeroplane Take a bus, take a boat, stay afloat Don't stop believing In the house of love

Oh baby look around, look around, lookin' up and down From the sky to the ground, 'til you've found it Keep on believing In the house of love

Search every angle Check twice for any old clue Hold what is dear to you In the house of love

It ain't no mystery Once known but now concealed True love will be revealed In the house of love

Oh baby take a train, take a train, take an aeroplane Take a bus, take a boat, stay afloat Don't stop believing In the house of love

Oh baby look around, look around, lookin' up and down From the sky to the ground, 'til you've found it Keep on believing In the house of love

You may feel tired You may feel like you've lost your way When you're least inspired Love is going to come and save the day

*This post comes from a journal entry written November 7, 2012*

Hormones...

It's been awhile since I've written about sex. Today, well, it's on my mind, mostly because of a session with Blake (my therapist) this morning. To be honest, it had been awhile since Blake and I talked about the subject either. Between tackling my physical health and my discernment and emotions around leaving the UMC, our sessions went by rather quickly. Today, however, we made it back to the subject.

A week ago Monday, I went in for a follow-up doctor's visit. I'd been to see my new primary care physician for the first time only three weeks prior. Part of taking care of myself, I realized, was seeing the doctor on a more regular basis for a reason other than being sick. My blood work had come back (except for my cholesterol—apparently there's a possibility of mixing up blood work when you see the same doctor as your husband... oh well). Everything came back normal except for one thing: my testosterone levels.

Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you that I'm either middle-of-the-road or more effeminate when it comes to my mannerisms. I've never been "butch," except for that one week during the holidays when I would go home to Kentucky and put on my "straight face" there for a while. But I digress... my doctor decided to put me on TRP (testosterone replacement therapy). It's a clear gel (kind of like hand sanitizer) that I put on my shoulders, neck, and chest every morning. For some people (based on the reading I've done), it takes awhile for the effects to kick in. It would seem that I am not part of that group. I felt effects within the first few days: increased energy, improved mood, and heightened libido.

There are two things in my life that I often struggle with: sex and anger. That's one of the other effects of being on "T"... heightened aggression. To be blunt, I don't feel like myself. Instead I feel like that 10 to 14  year-old boy when puberty finally hits and, all of a sudden, he's faced with emotions and "feelings" he's never really faced before. But I've lived through that once before, and like may people, I don't really want to again, especially when it brings to the surface two things with which I've wrestled.

I know what you're thinking: you're married, so either you're celibate or you've gotten past the "sex stuff" enough to be intimate with your partner. And most days, I have. I've grown a lot when it comes to understanding what is and is not a healthy sex life or healthy, ethical sexual practices. If you want to know more about that, feel free to ask. It's a conversation better served one-on-one than in a post written to the entire wired world.

For the record, when it comes to sex, you will rarely hear me use the word "moral/morality." I'm more concerned with ethics, with how we treat one another in such an intimate setting. I do my best not to make faith-based judgments on what is or is not "right" or "godly." Instead, I try to focus on what's healthy, well thought-out, and beneficial for all those involved. The long and short of it for me is this: if sex (whatever one might define that as) takes place in the context of mutuality and respect for the personhood and humanity of the other person(s) involved, then I think that's a healthy sexual ethic from which to begin. Beyond that, I think anyone who is going to be sexually active must learn for him or herself what works and what is healthy at a holistic level (mind, body, and soul).

In my own life, sex has often been used more often to become detached or disconnected than to become intimate or transformed. It's been a way to both face and escape the shame that has come from being a gay man who does not feel called to nor has the strength to be celibate. I have always felt at my best in a relationship, even if said relationship was not the healthiest. But since being with my partner, Frankie, I've been able to experience sex—physical intimacy—in a different, healthier way. I've been able to connect rather than detach. I've been able to face my fear and shame instead of running from it. Now that my hormone levels are stabilizing and I'm back in the "prime of life" as I've heard from so many others, I'm learning how to not turn to sexuality or sexual intimacy as a coping mechanism or a distraction, but instead to use it to show affection and learn something new about myself in every instance. Rather than wrestling with my fear, shame, guilt, internalized homophobia, or anything else that might keep me from being a self-loving whole person, I choose to embrace myself as a full person, hormones and all.

Millennium

Recently , Frankie and I went to New York for our official honeymoon. A dear friend let us stay in his apartment just south of Central Park since he was on vacation from work and was going to be doing some traveling. We had a general sketch of everything that we were going to do during the time we were there. We probably stretched ourselves a little thin, but some things just had to be done. One of those was visiting Bethesda Fountain near the middle of Central Park.

My first memorable encounter with Bethesda was watching the movie, Angels in America, an HBO miniseries with a stacked cast based on the Pulitzer-winning play by Tony Kushner. Bethesda shows up in several key scenes in the movie, not to mention the opening credits. The end of the series brings together: Justin Kirk, an HIV-positive man, Prior Walter,who is living in the early 90's and the show's most prominent character; Belize, played by Jeffrey Wright, Prior's best friend and former drag queen compatriot; Louis, Prior's ex-boyfriend who ran off at the early onset of prior's HIV-related symptoms, played by Ben Shenkman; and Hannah Abbott, the conservative Mormon mother of a closeted gay lawyer , played by Meryl Streep. It's wintertime and the four are gathered around Bethesda for a picnic, talking about politics and change, bickering like old friends do, and Prior slips away to talk directly into the camera about Bethesda being his favorite spot in the whole of New York.

According to the quartet, the story about Bethesda goes kinda like this: during the time of the Second Temple, the angel Bethesda touched down in Jerusalem. From that spot, a fountain welled up, a fountain with healing properties. Anyone who bathed in this fountain was healed, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. When the Temple was destroyed, so was the fountain. However, when the Millennium comes—the thousand year reign of Christ on Earth—Bethesda will spring up again. Hannah, now close friends with this ragtag trio of gay men, promises that they will all bathe and be healed.

Seeing the movie, I was touched deeply by this pre-ending. Hell, the miniseries has grown to mean so much to me that I watch the entire six hours in one sitting at least once a year. This past January, I went to visit New York for the first time. Naturally, my first full day was spent in Central Park. It was cold, overcast, and I knew that Bethesda would not be running. I still had to see her. As I wound my way around roads and paths, I finally came upon the plaza that holds her. I couldn't help but cry. It had been just over six months since I'd lost Nanny, who I always talked about taking with me to see New York. Though she was not there in person, her spirit was palpable.

During my trip back with Frankie this time, I was determined to see her in her full splendor, surrounded by life. We took our time walking through the park, exploring parts I'd not seen and visiting parts that I had. I wanted to share Bethesda with Frankie. I wanted him to see her in person at the peak of her season. Neither of us was disappointed. We came upon the plaza, now filled with two different high school tourist groups that I refused to let ruin my encounter. When you're walking along Terrace Drive and hit the north end of the Mall, you can see her over the top of the veranda above the lower corridor. Wings spread and head tilted, she is glorious regardless of the season. In January, I'd seen her "sleeping." This time, she was vibrant and awake.

Although the true history behind Bethesda is that she was commissioned as an original installation in the park to represent those lost in the American Civil War, I still like Kushner's representation best. Bethesda symbolizes healing and wholeness. In a world riddled with brokenness like ours is, she is an ideal that sometimes seems distant, untouchable. Yet I imagine a time when the cycle of brokenness has been halted and is replaced by an age of grace, mercy, love, and redemption. A time when the powers that be, whatever you would call him, her, them, or it, see fit to catalyze creation's return, humanity's return, to its original state. It's a dream that I hold on to tightly. It's a hope that one day, my personal struggle with depression will no longer be paramount to my identity. Even more so, she stands as a call to those who want to be agents of change, healing, and transformation in the world. She's an image of love and protection, of remembrance, and of restoration.