Welcome to part five in the series. If you would like to catch up on other posts in this series, or on anything else I have written, Internet Monk keeps them all here.
My Conversation with Geoff
Six years ago I received Birthday greetings from Geoff, a former work colleague. He wrote:
Michael, Happy Birthday. You’re the only dyed in the wool Christian, other than my mother, that has had my back. I will always be grateful to you for that.
In the nine years that I had known my colleague, and in many years before that, he had not met another Christian who he thought that he could depend on. The thought of that made me very sad.
I had a series of follow up questions for Geoff that he graciously answered, I had intended to share that that interaction with the Internet Monk audience years ago, but never felt the time was right was do so. This was partly because of other posts that were occurring when I initially had this interaction, partly because I was unsure of my own thoughts on the matter, partly because I had a leadership position in a church that would have frowned on my posts, and partly because I was afraid it would come across as me saying, “hey look at me!” It is for these reasons that my attempt to finally share this story has grown into a series to provide some context. Geoff has again provided permission (for the 3rd time) for me to share his answers. Here then is my interaction with Geoff.
Thanks for helping me out.
I might be asking the wrong questions too, so feel free to let me know and answer the questions I should be asking! 🙂
Michael, my friend, before I begin I need to state for the record that I am not a Psychologist, Psychiatrist or a Social Work. I’m just your average Joe middle age, middle income [gay] man and these thoughts are just my own from my own experiences through the book of life.
Understood! What does “dyed in the wool Christian” mean to you?
Being brought up Christian and Canadian I may have a different view than others on this. A “dyed in the wool Christian” to me is someone that started off life in a Christian family and continues to be a Christian to this moment. I know many would say that phrase has shades of Fundamentalist in it but I don’t see it. It’s can be a harsh phrase as it has feelings of absolute to it but to me it just means you always were and always will be until, if and when, something changes your mind.
Now for the qualifier (now a qualifier he says?). A “dyed in the wool Christian can be a “good” Christian or a “bad” Christian. I don’t distinguish on principle until I know the person better. That would be like saying my Mother is the same as Fred Phelps.
Do you have any recollection of how you found out I was a Christian? Any recollection of your original feeling about that?
Michael, you were never overtly exercising the Gospel when I met you, if that is what you mean. I think we all, at work, found out around the same time when we were talking about education and yours came up. You expanded on it over time but it was never an “aha” moment. It was from good Canadian conversation (and I say Canadian because I think we are unique in our ability to have those conversations).
I find your expression “never overtly exercising the Gospel” an interesting turn of phrase. I would describe myself as someone who wears my Christianity on my sleeve, but I am not someone who will “beat you over the head with it.”
So, how did I “have your back”? What did that look like to you?
Interesting. First we must bring some context to the situation. We were in the cafeteria at our place of work and I was being questioned by, what I would term, a blind Christian about Leviticus and such. Being a learned man and one that did not take kindly to having his faith misrepresented you calmly and politely corrected the gentlemen on his interpretation of the Bible. You pointed out that Leviticus as more a teaching guide for Jewish leaders of their faith in a time much different than ours. You went on to educate this man that Leviticus also speaks of not wearing mixed fibers (heaven forbid we wear a poly-cotton blend), that we should stone our children if they mistreat us (or was it disrespect us?) and that during a Woman’s monthly cycle that men should not look upon them.
You didn’t agree or disagree with homosexuality but you would not let the text of your religion be dissected and conveniently used to prove a point. I knew then that you were a learned man, much like myself, and believed in the truth and the whole truth. Only then can a person make a sound decision, judgment or statement. You came to my defense because the person did not have a clear understanding of the words on the page. You did good for two people that day. You de-vilified me in the context of educating another man on the whole truth and you educated him in that he was not looking at the whole text and to understand part you must understand the whole.
You know, I only have a vague recollection of that conversation. It did happen over six (now twelve) years ago! I think I reacted strongly because I saw a friend being picked on, and because as you say, I did not like the Bible being “dissected and conveniently used to make a point.” My own opinion on those scriptures is certainly more nuanced than I expressed, but the person we were talking to wasn’t interested in nuances or having a generous discussion, so I shut him down.
As a Christian I am especially interested in how we are perceived by others. What in particular stood out to you in the way that we interacted?
I do not think this has to do with being gay or straight. I think this has to do with social factors based on today’s norms. Some saw you as socially awkward and in a very “high school” way did not want to interact with you. Unfortunately, at that time, I was particularly drawn into that and I apologize for that. That said, deep down I knew I could always connect with you on an intellectual level that wasn’t always present amongst my chosen peers. Again, this has nothing to do with sexuality but more to do with play ground bullying. I enjoyed my talks of faith and politics with you. We did not always see eye to eye but that is what makes for a good conversation. Who in their right mind would want to live their lives unchallenged? Faith or not faith, that is probably the truest teaching of them all.
“Socially awkward”? Ouch, that hurts. I do find that a very interesting comment. I have had a huge range of interactions in varying workplaces. In some I fit right in. In others, like where we worked together, I stood out like a sore thumb. More recently I think some lessons I have learned from my kids has helped. (But enough about me. 😀 )
I did appreciate the fact that we could have good respectful conversations without necessarily seeing eye to eye on things. Part of the reason why I wanted this interaction was to let others read your viewpoint regardless of my own opinion.
How have you been treated by other Christians? Has there been a range of experiences with different people?
I am not of the norm. This is very important to understand. I grew up in middle class central Canada. Canadian Christians, at the time, were not militaristic like we see in some other countries (or in regions of our own today).
The best example was, again I’ll refer to my Mother, of a woman born of the Salvation Army in a somewhat divided home that rediscovered her faith through the Anglican Church later in life.
She was the last person I came “out” too. I was so worried. I love my Mother so deeply and dearly that I couldn’t stand that though of her tossing me aside as I had seen so many other mothers do to their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered children. How foolish was I? She did play a large role in making me who I am today (as a man not a Gay man). At first it was a shock. I’m sure she cried as I didn’t have the guts to tell her to her face. When we talked on the phone she said to me that “there are some things a mother does not need to know” and I gently replied that there were “something that a mother has to know”.
She struggled for a few years, always polite to my boyfriends but that is more about her being English than Anglican. Until one day we were left alone on my balcony in Toronto while my brother and Dad went off to find some bargains in the city. She said to me the most comforting thing ever. By this time she was becoming more frank with her words and said, “You know, back in the days when the bible was said to be written, it was all about the size of your tribe. Well, of course, if you couldn’t procreate you were seen as a Sinner. If you can’t add to the numbers of the tribe what good where you? But times have changed and we are no longer tribal people are we?”
In that short powerful statement she represented history, common sense and in her own way her undying love for her son. She was able to reconcile it in her mind and it allowed her love to flow freely again without being dammed up by hyperbole.
Again, I say I’m lucky. Many a men and woman I’ve known and read about have suffered greatly at the hands of so called Christians. A quick Google search can show you the damage and hate that a fundamentalist or narrow minded person can do. Christian’s are not alone in that. To this day there are several faiths that still publicly hang homosexuals or cast them out from all they have ever known to be nothing more than a street pariah. Christians do not have the copyright to discrimination. It is vast and wide spread throughout this world. We just see it more as a “Christian thing” here in North America and Europe.
What could and should be Christians be doing differently?
Oh, this is hard. I am as flawed as any man and who am I to say what one should and shouldn’t do? That said, if I were in front of any religious congregation I would say a couple things. First and foremost, love is at the root of all your texts and I don’t mean “love the sinner but hate the sin”. I mean just LOVE. Secondly, I would encourage any man or woman of faith to learn as much as they could about the foundations of their religion. For example, the Bible was put together by men, who are by your own faith’s omissions, inherently flawed. Where is the Book of Mary? It’s not just homosexuals and mentally ill who have been left out, but also women. We know today they are as every bit capable and intelligent as any man, as well as just as flawed. Learn your history, then take the teachings of your text and put them in context. What was then, is not now. That is not because of “evolution”, but because of understanding and education. Finally, should I be speaking to the Christian flock directly, I would say really think about what the words of your Lord. Jesus, according to the historical transcripts, was a good and just man that just wanted love and understanding to be spread. So don’t see a homosexual woman, a brown skinned person, or someone lame as someone inflicted, but someone that can enrich your understanding of the world your God created. What would Jesus do? Well, I can tell you with some certainty what he would not want you to ever do… have hate or fear in your souls. Wash yourselves of that and rise above to accept all “men”, as we are all created from the same thing… the force of life.
…oh, and for the love of Pete, take your jackets off when you’re in church! It drives me bananas when I go back to my old parish with my mother and see everyone with their outdoor coats still on. Where are you going? Get comfortable and listen to your faithful leader. Brunch will still be there when you’re done.
Do you recall what I might have said about my own beliefs about homosexuality? (And yes I am being deliberately vague here, as I am interested in your impressions here.)
Short and simple, you never divulged to me your innermost thoughts on homosexuality. They were your own, I believe, and they had no context in our communications.
It doesn’t surprise me that you would respond that way. I was, and still am very much, in process with my own thoughts. (I have come to enough of a resolution in my own mind that I could finally write this series.)
Any thoughts as to how I marry my view of scripture with my support for a Gay colleague?
Simply through the intelligence you were given. Descartes is often misunderstood by truncating his work down to “I think therefore I am”. Hogwash. His work was about proving there was a God and it was because you could think that there was a God [in short]. Take scripture and put it into context of the time is was originally written, how it was manipulated through the ages and marry it with what we know now. You will naturally come to your own conclusion. I can not give that to you. You must come unto it yourself but for the love of anyone’s God, use the brain you were given. If something doesn’t seem right then question it and back that up with the empirical evidence of the age. If I was to walk into King Arthur’s court with a pack aof smokes and a lighter would they not call me the devil’s witch? Today, it’s just a filthy habit that I’ve yet to shake. Take everything in context, my friend. I’m not asking you to forsake the real, real teachings of the man you call your savior because I love his words even though I do not see him as the son of God any more than I am (as we are all sons of God). He wanted you to love and help without restriction. Nowhere in the New Testament does he say, “help here but not there”. He preached love and help. If you want to honour your Lord then do his bidding by loving each and every creature of this planet to the best of your abilities. Just love.
Do you have any thoughts as to how Christians with a “high view of scripture” can treat bible verses about homosexuality?
As I’ve said before, but I’ll say a little more bluntly here; Get an education. Learn, learn, learn. Understand the times and the context in which the words of your faith were written and then transcribe them into the here and now. Again, you will find the fundamental truth that carries is to love. Your God forbids you from judging and I think that is a sound piece of philosophy. That’s “his” job, not yours, so in the meantime just love.
Michael, I want you to ask your readers, “When was the last time they fed the poor? When was the last time the helped the ill? When was the last time they comforted sorrow?” It’s not all about homosexuality. We are just part of the mix. We can be ill, sad or hungry. We can also be, as several I know, good Christian citizens that know how to love. I encourage all of you to watch Reverend Brent Hawks. He is probably the most wonderful religious man I’ve ever met next to my sadly departed Reverend Flemming of Saint Stephen’s on the Mount.
How can a Christian parent with a Gay child show support for that child?
In a word, and at the risk of beating a dead horse, love them. Just love them. Let them be. Let them find their way. Who I was at 13 at 16 at 25 and now at 43 was not who I was at 10. Grow and evolve with your children and try to instill into them the values of decently, kindness and compassion. Who they lay next to at night has no bearing on those overarching principles of humanity. That’s what my Mother did.
Let me recount to you one last story. Then I will close with a final statement. Shortly after you “stood up” for me by way of educating the uneducated that same man came to me and told me that one of his sons preferred to dress in women/girls clothing and was adamant that they were not a boy but a girl. Was this a phase? I do not know as I’ve lost touch with this person but he did humbly ask me, “What do I do?”. Again I said, “Love them”. Does a lilac not turn from white to purple over time because of its pollinators? It’s still beautiful. It still makes use smile. The funny thing about a lilac or a poppy is that as soon as you clip it from its roots, all that is beautiful soon falls to the floor. They were never meant to be clipped, trimmed or captured in your home. Leave them be but nurture them so that they may grow and be beautiful in the place that the heavens meant them to be. Don’t control them but love them for what they are and if they are sickly or in danger protect them.
Any closing thoughts for us?
Michael, you are unique in Christianity for the simple fact that more than once you have reached out to me. Homosexuals fear any fundamentalist religion that seeks to destroy and vilify us. Sure, there are good and bad amongst my peers but the same can be said about yours. There are some dang right scary people out there today that would see me hanged or worse. That terrifies me and limits me as a person. You don’t have to understand or even “like” what we like but you do, as is my understanding of Christians, have to love without reservation. You are not the ones to judge. Your Father will do that for you. If you want of follow the true teaching of the man know as Jesus of Nazareth then drop the garbage propaganda and love every person as if they were yourself. Let everyone choose their own path and don’t judge them for it because that’s not your job. Your Father said so.
Understand history and all its faults and apply them to the new knowledge that we have been gifted with today. Feel the grass under your feet and the wind in your lungs and ask yourself, in light of this does being “gay” really matter?
I ask one last thing of your readers. If you see any sense in what I’ve just said – if you are moved in any way by my words then take up a bigger battle and protect the planet that your God gave us. Stop buying products with Palm Oil in them to same God’s beloved Orangutans. Take up a collection and buy a portion of the Rainforest that cleans our air, or simply walk up to the person you feel most awkward around and say, “Is everything ok?”
Thank you Michael for asking.
Thank you Geoff for being so open to me and our readers. The time you took to respond to my questions was really appreciated.
Internet Monk readers, please feel free to comment on anything you read here. Did anything in particular catch your attention? I think the one thing I would encourage our readers about: Many of us will find usourselves disagreeing with parts of Geoff’s theology. Try not to get too hung up on that, but instead listen and respond to Geoff’s heart. Geoff was uncertain as to his availability over the next couple of day, but I look forward to a good Internet Monk discussion from the rest of you.