Since I’m accounting for all my past work here in this column, as I prepare to move ahead, I wanted to mention at least two other essays.
One of them was my first theme in English 101 at the College of William and Mary, probably turned in around Sept. 27, 1961. The assignment had been to use the idea of “definition” to build a theme. (My father had always called me a “stickler for definitions”.) I wrote about “What Is Friendship?” My roommate was rather unnerved by the “implications” of what I had said, but I got an “A-” on it. I don’t have the theme, but I’ve tried to reconstruct it here.
In 1983, with the help of my own personal physician in Dallas, I wrote one of the first AIDS information pamphlets to be published, through the Oak Lawn Counseling Center.
I also wrote a number of letters to politicians and health officials during the AIDS crisis, some of which are in my first DADT book appendix (link).
In 1986, having lived in Dallas for seven years and having attended and been a member of the Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas on Reagan St. in Oak Lawn, with Rev. Don Eastman — in the days before the Cathedral of Hope and during the heart of the AIDS explosion — I wrote an essay called “What It Means to Believe in Christ“. I wrote it on an AT&T 6300 with an old MS-DOS operating system and a word process called Q&A, which resembled Word Perfect more than Word today. I went to a print-shop to have it typeset, because this all was done in the days long before personal publishing software. That cost $18.
I don’t have the piece, but I’ll reconstruct what I think I said. That is not to proselytize or to “save souls”, but to outline a point that has become very critical in my own thinking. I believe that ultimately everyone has to come to terms with his own faith on his or her own terms, regardless of what any priest, pastor, rabbi or imam says.
I remember that I did talk about the logical equivalence of “faith” and “works”. If you have the faith, you will do the work.
But faith is somewhat a matter deep in the heart, and organic and earthy experience, beyond intellect and the literally following of laws. This aspect seems rather unique to most forms of Christianity, as opposed to both Judaism and Islam. Closely tied to faith is the idea that every human life is to be regarded as precious. If so, however, that demands more than just “avoiding sin” (like not doing abortion). Valuing of life means a real effort (including a lot of emotion) to support parents and others at the end of life, a need which is increasing as people live longer (and that is more obvious now than it could have been in 1986, when my own father had just passed away rather suddenly). It also means that social structures need to offer everyone some kind of “meaning” even though a lot of people are more gifted in ability as well as circumstance than others. Coupled with the inequality of gifts (which is inevitable) is the unpredictability of circumstance. Any of us can be unlucky, or be harmed or stiffed by others, and be made to look “brought low”. External threats and hardships, whether from enemies or from nature (and whether or not nature is aggravated by man’s activities) can cause any of us to “need God”, and can cause any of us to be faced with the need of “change”. And “change” or being “reborn” is something more than just a ritualistic or rules-based practice of a different faith, such as when demanded by an invader.
A similar need to accept change can occur in a secular implementation of psychological growth, as Paul Rosenfels had explained in his writings. One gives up the psychological defenses, which often involve public accolades for accomplishments in a more usual sense of “works”, in order to have a more earthy and natural relationship with others, sometimes in a more closed (even “intentional”) community. This sounds relatively close to the Christian concept of “born again”. The old sense of self falls away, and even though a track of free will is continuous, a new person is born, much as what New Age philosophy says will happen with reincarnation.
The need to accept “change” is especially difficult for someone who lives “on the wall” like me (sitting on top Boston’s Green Monster, if you like). It is offensive to be expected to prove I can “protect” others when I was not competitive in a conventional sense, or to ratify “family” when I did not form a family myself, and can instead go off on my own way, and live a productive, often effective even if solitary life as an observer and journalist, often, as relativity predicts, changing the people I observe merely by tracking of “following” them. Being expected to “change” is especially daunting, to say the least. Yet, it seems uniquely demanded by Christianity as part of eternal life, at least in Paradise.
I can remember in the show Everwood, that Ephram’s fatal flaw was “My inability to change.”
There are elements of all major faiths that make some sense. (All have some sort of judgment before the afterlife, although the Islamic idea of afterlife only after the end of time does not make sense to me in terms of the physics of it.) Both Islam and Judaism seem more focused on justice secured by following the law. (To some extent, so is Mormonism; LDS seems like a religion of “works”.) I remember an orthodox Jewish boss in New York in the 1970s who said that obeying religious law was the only reason he couldn’t come in on Saturday (and I had no such comparable restriction). I think it is emotionally easier (and perhaps lazier) to follow a system based just on “law” and “justice” and not have to show forgiveness and feeling for people when they are far less than perfect, possibly because of matters they could not control. Sometimes living in a community is more important than “justice”.
So “eternal life” (as a kind of final state) seems to be available to those who will “change” because people who “change” can accept the gift of Christ atoning for their sins; they don’t have to prove anything more, even if life cheated them. “Heaven” would seem to work only for people who are well socialized into a community, to the point that a “forever marriage” (with passion, come what may — a promise I can’t imagine making) makes sense and is integrated into the socialization. (I don’t see how Heaven can work for kids without another shot with reincarnation.) Although Christian faith is experienced individually, it does not exalt individualistic values, because it has to deal with hardship and inequality as inevitable. But all religions have to deal with this, and many stricter religions react with lots of rules, so people can shield themselves from the emotional challenges of dealing with others on terms other than their own. Christianity, opposed to other religions, doesn’t base salvation on the basis of rules that can protect one from deeper emotions shared with others who may seem unworthy.
I can imagine being presented with Christ’s forgiveness, but not wanting to accept it because in some sense, given the goals I developed for my own “different” life, I would feel dishonored by accepting it — in certain situations where coercion or force had been used to try to force me to accept some other party’s purposes rather than my own. I might feel that the community which I would normally join had dishonored itself, whatever forgiveness were offered. There would be no way it could then offer a reward. (There are other ways, too, but they are self-created.) In such a case, reincarnation– starting over, maybe in abject poverty — is all that could make sense. Already, by my inflexibility and static nature, I am taking on the karma for the sins of others. I can imagine a film plot based on this idea. In fact, if I “came back” on the same planet (Earth) would I be allowed to find the evidence of my past life? That’s still another movie (a kind of “Cloud Atlas“). It would seem I would have to find it to remain the same soul. But this kind of idea was not apparent to me in 1986.
Visitors may want to look at my table for “Items published by others” here, particularly the Ground Zero News (Colorado Springs, CO) in the 1990s, the Minnesota Libertarian, the Quill (Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty) and Forward Observer. Many of these pieces and letters reflect the status of “gay rights” in the mid 1990s.
I did write a few private pieces in the early days, like “The Meaning of Gay Community” while on a plane to Minneapolis for a benchmark for Univac in early 1974, and in fact “The Way I Love” while in a hotel room in Glenwood Springs, CO in August 1973 while on vacation.
(Published: Tuesday, October 21, 2014, at 10:45 PM EDT)