The other day I got a notion that I might write a memoir of my faith. I don’t imagine anyone will beat down the bookstore door to read it, but here’s a possible Chapter 1. See if it’s worth your time, and feel free to comment pro or con.
The picture above is my parish church, where I was confirmed, became an acolyte and then director, and served for innumerable weddings, masses and funerals, before going off to New York and the National Institute for Lay Training at General Seminary. Two years later the Bishop of Indianapolis commisioned me an evangelist with a national preaching license in this same church. It looks like an old gray lady but it acts like a vital community.
This may be one of the most presumptuous books you will ever read—but don’t give up on me yet.
The presumption comes, first, from my lacking certain traditional credentials. I am not an ordained priest or minister. (I am a commissioned layman.) I do not have degrees in theology and I’m not an academic. So who am I to speak for God?
That answer plainly is nobody.
But I’ve learned some things over the years that may be useful to people; and even more, I’ve been given a fairly amazing relationship with the Holy One. At least I think so; you may not.
The good news is that you get to decide. I’m an Episcopalian; we don’t tell people what to think or believe, we let you decide for yourselves.
Instead, we affirm what we do believe. And this is my little stab at telling what I’ve come to believe, based on that incredible relationship.
My thesis is fairly simple, then I’ll expand it from here. Gay and Lesbian people raised as Christians, or brought by God to the Church in later life, belong with Jesus.
And no one else; not wicca, not astrology, not Unitarianism or “We Are the World” feel-good sentiment.
We do not belong with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, anti-abortion wingnuts or the pope. We belong with Jesus, unmediated by TV cameras.
It’s not only possible but fairly easy to have a direct relationship with the Man from Nazareth. It’s he who makes this easy by way of his great Helper and our dear Comforter.
Jesus completely approves of Gay people and always has. He aches for you to know that, because he knows how much it costs you to be so thoroughly slandered and libeled, maimed and slaughtered by politicians and preachers the world over.
Jesus doesn’t need your approval; he wants to give you his, so you know what God is really like.
I’m not going to spend much time in this book debunking the lies told about God by TV preachers and megachurch hucksters. I figure you’re smart enough to know they’re not telling the truth. If you need the debunking because of your religious programming, there are other books out there; they’ll take you Bible verse by verse. That work has largely been done. My contribution is different; I describe one Gay disciple’s relationship.
This is not a book for committed atheists and their puerile denunciations of the Big White Man in the Sky, based on superficial scans of Scripture, television and the internet. I like Bill Maher, the comedian, but he has nothing insightful to say about God or faith. His entire knowledge base comes from pop culture and he uses it in his act.
Nor am I impressed with the angry rants of various scientists who really don’t know their material.
It is possible to explain the known physical world without God, and possible to explain it with God. The explanation one chooses depends on having “eyes to see and ears to hear.”
One thing Jesus was quite certain of is the difficulty of believing in a One we cannot see. He spoke of that many times as a principal stumbling block. In his humanness he wondered how to overcome it; so he went about performing signs and wonders that people of faith call miracles. He seems to have operated on the notion that providing physical evidence is the best way to overcome skepticism and introduce people to the Invisible.
But of course people can be skeptical about that too. So he only reached a slice of market share.
It’s since grown a lot since then, but still. We live in a doubting and skeptical age. The Church itself is responsible for much of that, along with every other failing institution in society. Now in the midst of a global depression, it feels like no one can be trusted.
I do not fool myself that my paltry words will be sufficient to overcome institutional collapse. Instead I hope to speak to people, LGBT folk especially, who do know “there’s something out there.”
Here’s my first insight: God’s not “out there.” S/he’s in here.
Inside our bodies; in the depths of our soul, in the uniqueness of our personality. God lives and loves inside your body.
What follows is my halting and fumbling account of a homosexual’s discovery of one true God inside his body, and all our bodies. If you’re Gay, so’s he; if you’re female, so’s she. Straight? God invented it—and knows all the dirty things you get into. Filipino, Potawatomi, Dutch, Nigerian, God knows your skin and wears it with you.
Maybe this isn’t definitive proof, but it’s the best I can do right now, lifting up the example of the heroes of 9/11. Police and firefighters and EMTs rushed to help, and hundreds lost their lives to assist others.
That heroic impulse is direct from God inside their bodies; that willingness to sacrifice comes direct from the Crucifix.
In the weeks and months that followed, all 50 states and scores of countries sent cops, firefighters, nurses, chaplains, Red Cross workers, counselors, first responders—and second and third and fourth!
They showed us what is divine in humanity, that great and undying spark that says, “Right now, you are more important than I am.”
It’s the love of most parents for children, and most children for parents; of teachers for pupils, and students for teachers; of soldiers for victims, and victims for soldiers; of little brothers who donate a kidney to their big brother; of volunteers who hold the hands of dying strangers; of Gay people who come out so that no more Iranians get hanged on YouTube, or Somali AIDS activists get jailed for “promoting Gay marriage” while the government robs everyone blind.
It’s nuns in Boston who run a nursing home in Haiti—and nuns in Haiti who spread great joy in Boston.
We have this model of loving self-sacrifice from one man alone: Jesus son of Mary and Joseph.
The other religions of the world, worthy all of human respect, do not have such a model. The Jews gave us law and ethics and banished human sacrifice; Buddhists seek enlightenment and detachment from the world; Shintoists revere ancestors and tradition and all they have to teach; Muslims have great lessons in charity, art, science and math.
No one else has Father Mychal Judge of FDNY, much less the One he was loyal to.
Astrology? Your life is run by planets and not your own greedy, selfish choices? Tree-hugging, Druidism, earth-worship, the Sun? Puh-lease.
The sky is an interesting place to contemplate, just like mountains and oceans are, anything that reminds us of our own punyness at 6 feet tall and 180. (Or 340, or 5’5″ and 125 like I am. I come from a small gene pool, so sue me.) But these big structures only point to the divine, they don’t contain it.
Your body contains God, but not yours alone, all our bodies do. God plants herself inside your body in hopes you’ll find her there, with eyes that see and ears that hear.
A theologian named John Calvin went off the deep end 500 years ago trying to figure out why “some are called and some are not.” He invented theological explanations called election and pre-destination (with almost no Scriptural justification) to solve the mystery of why Josh perceives God and Bill Maher does not. “We’re just not strict enough,” Calvin decided. “So let’s make the Reformed religion so severe no one can possibly follow it. That way we’ll know we’re all depraved and completely reliant on God’s grace.” He got the grace right but screwed up the depravity.
Calvin’s follower John Knox was chased in the streets of Scotland by old women wielding sticks. If this was Good News, no one wanted it.
Now the United States is afflicted by the legacy of Puritans, to whom nothing was ever pure enough. Candles on the altar, a scandal! Ministers wearing robes!
But Jesus was a man of mercy. He forgave people without a second thought. True, he said, “Go and sin no more,” but he knew they wouldn’t do it; how could they, they were mortal. Expecting a mortal not to sin is like telling a lightning bug not to glow. They can’t help it, it’s what they do.
And God knows that, which is why he is infinitely forgiving. Infinitely; imagine that.
The truly graceful thing, which Calvin entirely missed, is that human beings are very willing to sacrifice for each other in times of stress. Suppose you’re a parent and your house catches fire; your job is to save your babies.
We don’t even have to be taught this, it’s “instinct,” that is, God inside us telling us what to do.
I hope to show in this presumptuous book that God takes a special delight in Gay people; that she knowingly created us for a couple of reasons (missed by evolutionary biologists); that she gave us extra gifts of empathy, intelligence and self-sacrifice, as well as an acute spiritual insight; that it’s precisely because we’re less likely to have children that we’re more likely to be caregivers for communities.
Who conquered the Disease of the last Century? It wasn’t Straight people, although it’s largely their disease. Who greened the planet, and helped save the whales, and takes care of millions of dogs and cats, some of God’s favorites?
Who invented the computer, and won the Purple Heart, and rushed to the World Trade Center to be its chaplain?
God gives Gay people special gifts to go along with our special burdens. These gifts don’t make us better than others, but they are gifts nevertheless. One gift that’s particularly gracious is a greater openness to sexuality and even human intimacy, though we often misuse this. I have no doubt that God will continue to reveal himself to Gay men and to lift up higher standards for ethical behavior, at the same time God says to the Mugabes and ayatollahs, bishops and preachers, Bushes and Dobsons, “Let my people go!”
My call is to my own people, Gay American men. We should follow Jesus and join the Episcopal Church. (My own limitations, lack of wisdom and understanding, make a similar call to Lesbians, Transgenders, Bi and Straight folks less compelling. They need their own theologians and I’m probably not the guy. Ditto for international Gay men; I hope you find something useful here but if not, I can only do my best.)
Why the Episcopal Church? Many, even all faith traditions have their insights and graces. My spiritual director is a Presbyterian woman, a follower of Knox and Calvin. She was recommended to me by a Catholic nun. My best friend is a Lutheran Gay guy who has done fabulous work after being denied ordination, even an M.Div. he earned, because of his queerness. I am in touch with non-Christian thinkers and post-Christian ones.
But the Episcopal Church has wrestled more honestly and deeply with the alleged paradox of people who are Christian, Gay and Lesbian than any other faith body in the world.
So given that I believe that Jesus Christ is it, fully man, fully divine, the Savior of the world, the best possible role model who reveals to us ourselves, the divine that lives inside our bodies: the Catholic Religion of England is the way to go, even if England is too backwards now to waste thought on.
The American Version of the Catholic Religion of England makes my heart spin. Have I mentioned yet the stunning beauty of midnight mass on Christmas Eve with a string quartet in my home parish in Bumcluck, Indiana? Where the rector now mentions Gay people in his sermon on the busiest night of the year?
Gay people are art-lovers, a love God implanted in us and in Episcopalians. Christian worship, as we understand it, should lift up the highest music and graphic arts and dance, because humans should produce their very best work in approaching the throne of heaven. All music and liturgical arts are good, but we excel, because we must. As St. John the Divine describes heaven in Revelation, “they all fell on their faces and worshiped.”
Gay men, who spend a fair amount of life on their knees, can understand the importance of physical position.
One more thing is essential: cock is not God. Your lover is not God. Pornography is not God. No one is God but God.
If you have eyes for reading and ears for hearing, come with me into my little book, and I’ll try to describe a few things learned by a Christian homosexual and sinner loved. It won’t be Scripture, I can’t write that; but I’ll tell what I know in hopes that it makes your spine vibrate in recognition.
That’s how God lets me know I’m headed in the right direction. The two revelations, the times of hearing God’s voice in my own, were extra. God almost never talks, but when he does it’s jaw-dropping.
Most of the time God just activates our nervous system. Typically I lower my head, smile and say thanks. Then I find the crucifix on my wall to know who I belong to. He isn’t my sexual ideal, he’s my Savior.
Mychal Judge was just one more disciple, a fire department chaplain who knew where to report to, knew whom to help, and got killed for it.
But that was only the start of his journey.++