Wow! - Very touching email from a young reader. Here it is with my response.
A few days ago, I received this email from someone I'll call [SuburbanTeen], a reader of my blog. I was really impressed with the sincerity and thoughtfulness of his message. I asked if I could share it and my reply with you all. I'm glad he was OK with that.
I suspect that [SuburbanTeen] may not be alone and there are likely other readers like him as well. If so, I hope some might benefit from our conversation....
On 5/10/2011, "SuburbanTeen" wrote:
My name is [SuburbanTeen] and I am [##]teen years old. I currently reside in the [Major Metro Area] suburbs, I not sure if I live anywhere close to where you grew up, but I'm about a fiffteen minute ride [from Major Metro]. Yes, I am very young, but have no fear my life does not revolve around facebook, I don't play Xbox 24/7 and I am not looking for a quick hook up. I honestly just found some responses you had on your blog very interesting and would love to get a more in depth answer, if you have the time.
You mentioned that you were both spiritual and religious. What does that mean to you, and how does it affect you on a daily basis? What is your view of God? Would you group yourself with a specific religious group? What do you think happens after death, heaven and hell or something else?
Sorry to have asked you to write an essay :), but I am honestly interested. I come from a fairly strict religious backround and have attended private Christian school my whole life. So I have essentially been endoctrinated , and would love to hear the opinion of someone who considers themselve religious that is homosexual. I am positive that I like guys, but since Christians don't look kindly upon the gay comunity, it has been a difficult decision to follow my religion or go with my desires.
I really like the way that you answered alot of questions on your website.You come off as a really cool down to earth person which is why I wanted to contact you. Thanks so much, I would really appreciate a response of any sort.
From: Peter Axel <email@example.com> To:[SuburbanTeen] Sent: Wed, May 11, 2011 Subject: Re: Questions Regarding Your Blog
Thank you so much for writing! I really appreciate it! It's no bother at all. In fact, being able to reach out like this is really a big part of the reason I have the blog etc. When I was 18 and younger, there were no blogs, no FaceBook, no internet at all, really. It felt pretty isolating to me. I'm really happy its not that way anymore. I really think the ability of people anywhere in the world to reach out and talk to one and other, one on one, like this will make the world a happier and more peaceful place in the long run.
I'm really glad you wrote. You sound like a smart, kind, spiritual and thoughtful guy. You've given me a lot to think about. I've only come to rest in a lot of these beliefs recently. They constantly evolve. ...but I'm glad you've given me the reason to put all in black-and-white! I was born and raised [X] County, about a 30 minute ride from [Major Metro]. I attended [X Academy] in [X], which is probably not far from you.
I'm pleased you like the blog, LOL. I try and be very honest, a little sexy and a little goofy on it. I hope the end result is fun or touches someone. If it's OK with you, I'd really like to share you letter, and my response on my blog. I'd of course remove any identifying details about you or your location. It's also totally fine with me if you're not comfortable with that. I understand completely.
OK - let me get to it!
You asked, "...mentioned that you were both spiritual and religious. What does that mean to you, and how does it affect you on a daily basis?"
What that means is that I try, not always successfully, to remember to start and end every day with a few moments of prayerful meditation. I try and remind myself to live in gratitude for the blessings in my life, to treat others as I would wish to be treated, remind myself to trust in God and to actively seek God's guidance for His will in my daily life. I remind myself that every single person is a child of God, doing their best, and ask God's help to see that, especially in difficult moments. I try and practice mindfulness in many different ways and situations, although I'm still seeking a way to make that more consistent in my life. I try and attend Mass at my local parish church each Sunday and Holy day as a weekly "reset" and reminder to myself. I attend several 12-Step meetings each week and try and reach out to other recovering addicts, although this is still a work-in-progress for me!
You asked, "...What is your view of God?"
Hmmm....that's a little harder. My view of God has ebbed and flowed, changed and evolved over the years. Today it's quite a mixed-bag of many different things. I think all human attempts to describe God are poor metaphors to describe the indescribable. I was raised with the mainstream Roman Catholic metaphor (12 years of Catholic School) it feels comfortable and familiar to me, so I use the traditional Catholic Trinitarian view and language, even though I've come to think that God is much bigger, much more than that. In essence I think God is love. God is the organizing life force of the universe. God is the ongoing creative, revelatory and inspirational force in the world. God is in each of us. God is "the muse." God is the toast-landing-jelly-side-up-when dropped ;-) God is the intelligence of the universe itself.
"Would you group yourself with a specific religious group? "
Yes. Today I consider myself "Anglo-Catholic" that's the term the theologically conservative caucus in the Episcopal Church uses. That's the church I attend regularly. The religion I choose to define myself with has changed throughout my life. A lot. I was raised Roman Catholic, but very early on, I knew, in my heart I was a good kid. I behaved, I did my best to be as Christ-like as humanly possible - and I knew in my heart, as young as I can remember, that I was attracted to other boys/ men. Strongly. From as far back as I could remember, I recall thinking that the Catholic teaching that there was something not right with the way God made me seemed profoundly flawed and mistaken. A poster on the wall in my 3rd Grade Classroom read "God doesn't make junk!" I still can vividly picture it to this day. I took it to heart. So over the years I went from devoutly Roman Catholic to lapsed Catholic to agnostic. I studied the Quakers and thought they had it right. I found their services to be a bit spartan though. I find a lot of inspiration in the Mormon story. For a time I was very interested in earth-based religion. Eventually I read about many religious traditions and found something interesting or valuable in almost I encountered. I eventually have come to think of religious "nationalism" (i.e. "we're right, they're wrong") of any sort to be one of the most grave sins. Eventually I had some profoundly moving experiences at St Gregory of Nyssa, Episcopal and MCC churches in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Today, I've come to rest with The Episcopal Church. It seems to most closely follow the strong socially progressive spirit I see in the Jesus I read about in The Gospels. It feels "familiar" to me, like Catholicism, but without the prejudicial baggage millennia of men have appended to Jesus' simple message to love one and other and care for the outcast and underprivileged.
"What do you think happens after death, heaven and hell or something else?"
Ultimately I think that is unknowable to any man. I think any man who has ever claimed authority or knowledge of this should be looked upon with great skepticism. Whatever may happen - I don't think it should govern my, or anyone's actions of today. Here (I think) I take a page from reformed Judaism. Live today as if it is all we have. Make it the best we can, because noone really knows what comes next. Don't behave yourself because you fear punishment in the after-life. Behave yourself because it is the right thing to do, and it makes a better world for all, here, now, today. That belief informs my morality and ethics. So when I hear men, using condemnatory language, claiming to know the mind of an angry God, I think this force comes more from their own bile, than any divine loving force. I believe in a loving, bountiful and merciful God; not a vengeful, punishing, angry one full of judgment and wrath. Why would He be otherwise?
Whew! Sorry for the digression! My beliefs about the after life are just as uninformed as every other living thing - so here we go - I'm pretty sci-fi about this LOL. I think after life, we become one with God, with the universe. we "download" to the universe. Our experience, our lives, our loves become that "never ending chorus singing his praises" that we hear about in hymns and prayers from so many traditions. We become part of God, the ever-growing mind and bounty that is God. On the other hand, the only thing I think "hell" is, is being " boxed." (I stole this concept, sort of, from BattleStar Gallactica.) I think in very rare cases, God, the universe, finds the "download" of a particular being to be so distasteful to the love, abundance and joy that is God. In that case - I think that "download" winks out of existence and ends. Into nothingness, forever. Why would an all-powerful God create a hell? It's pointless. Non-existence seems to make much more sense to me.
I struggled with the same questions you raise when I was younger. My religious upbringing was also rather strict. I think I reflect that in who I am today, but not that I simply adopted what I was raised with in its entirety. A lot of it I reacted against or challenged. I think that as gay people, any "outcast" really, we are actually "blessed" in that we have the special opportunity to see beyond the walls of the "box" we're raised in. I think we actually are "called" to bear witness; to hold those who espouse to be followers of a loving God, to be more true to that, despite cultural prejudices they were raised with.
OK - I know that was all probably a little more than you bargained for LOL, but let me sum it up this way: God didn't screw up when he made you the way you are. God doesn't need flawed men to "fix" his mistakes. You were not made to live a life of suffering or "cross bearing" to endure your sexuality like a curse. You are part of the wonderful beauty and variety of God's creation, just the way you are. If others have an issue with accepting you as God made you, then that is their problem, not yours. Many, many genuine christian churches accept and celebrate you as a gay individual. Not all of them are overflowing with the heresy expressed by telling God "You f'd up....we'll fix your mistake for you..." when he made gay people. What it means though, is that you do have a calling, and that is to find your own path that is loving, affirming of, and celebrates you. It may be another faith....it may be on the edges of the one you were raised with, it may be finding a personal spirituality that works for you. In finding that path you'll be a light to others and may help some of them along the way see the true nature of their feelings when they try to use scriptures as a weapon to harm or demean one of God's gay children. I don't God is ever pleased to see his children attack, demean or tell one they are less worthy than another.
I wish I could reach out and give you a big hug. I know what its like to be in your shoes. You'll be OK. Be yourself. Trust in the God you feel in your heart, not the words of men. Hang in there! You've made it this far! It gets better! I promise.
Hope this has helped some.
To: Peter Axel <firstname.lastname@example.org> Sent: Wed, May 13, 2011 Subject: Re: Questions Regarding Your Blog
Thanks so much for the awesome responses, I would have to say alot of what you said lined up with my own beliefs. As far as posting my letter on the blog, I'm totally fine with that! If you think it could be helpful to anyone, I'm all for it.
I can't believe you grew up in [...]. I'm from [...] too! Right near the [...] (not sure if you know what that is, but I think its been there for a while.) I actually played club soccer for [...] when I was younger, which just happens to be based in [...], and I still happen to train on their fields pretty much every day. I also played soccer for a team in [...] for a while, and a lot of my friends from that team went to [X Academy]. What a small world.
I have another baragge of questions if you are up to it. lol.
What aspects of Mormonism appealed to you?
Are there many homosexuals that you have found that have beliefs simalar to your own?
When did you come out and what was that experience like?
What is the dynamic like with your parents, siblings, (if you have any) and old friends, do they still comunicate with you often?
Again I really appreciate your email, I wasn't quite expecting somethin as substancial as that, but boy did you prove me wrong. Lol. But in all honesty I loved depth of what you wrote. I found alot of your what you said to be quite thought provoking and encouraging. This statement in particular stood out to me, I actually just wrote it down to keep in my desk as a reminder.
"God didn't screw up when he made you the way you are. God doesn't need flawed men to "fix" his mistakes. You were not made to live a life of suffering or "cross bearing" to endure your sexuality like a curse. You are part of the wonderful beauty and variety of God's creation, just the way you are. If others have an issue with accepting you as God made you, then that is their problem, not yours."
Also, I hope things with your meetings will go well, and you can stay sober. I'm sure it is a hard burden to carry daily. [A family member] actually stuggles with addiction to alcohol, and has gone off and on to AA meetings. [Family member] has never really been able to stay away from it for more than a few months, and it's affects have been pretty detrimental to every member of my family. I know I couldn't really understand the difficulty of staying sober, but I have seen how much it can hurt the addict and his family alike. Keep strong, I have so much respect people who battle with addictions on a daily basis, and if you would not mind, I would be happy to pray for your success in getting over your own addictions.