I'll bet, when you saw the title to this blog posting, you thought, 'Not another surprise, and after all these years!' Well, I hate to disappoint you, but this is not about sexual orientation. Though, I will mention that in the coming essay. There are lots of moments of "coming out" in one's life. It goes along with transformational and evolving life journeys. Mine is no different. I have jumped off one track and onto another.
On 1 July, I celebrated the first anniversary of my retirement. This first year went very differently than I ever could have anticipated when I left my parish office for the last time on the evening of 30 June 2011. The thought of making a move was barely embryonic and didn't become conclusive until the end of July 2011. The processes of selling a home, moving 1300 miles, buying a townhome, and having two pretty dicey surgeries were not even on my mind, as we flew to Tampa on 1 July to look at a single condo that one of my wife's colleagues was selling in Sarasota. It didn't work out, and we temporarily pretty much gave up the idea of a move.
The only thing that was for sure in the first year of retirement was our younger daughter's wedding. Even a year before it happened, I knew this was simply a foregone conclusion. Those two were (and are) seriously in love and seemed to fit together as a couple so well. That was going to be THE deal of the first year...our first wedding. Of course, it just happened two weeks ago. The very happy newlyweds have returned from their honeymoon to begin a more settled routine of married life.
During that first year, I let my hair grow down to my shoulders and discovered (to my utter surprise) that I reminded a lot of folks of "The Big Lebowski" character, "The Dude." I even got a lot of free coffee from Starbuck's to sit outside a cafe for a couple of hours on Halloween in full "Dudeistic Regalia" (yes, even the housecoat). I loved it! What I discovered in all of that goofiness is that I really enjoy being goofy....simply doing what comes to mind and not spending my life worrying so much (if at all) about what other folks think. This was a huge change for me.
Something happens to us Priests when we are ordained. It isn't God's fault. It's mostly our own and the (truly) outrageous expectations of our parishioners (for those of us who spend our active working years in that element). So, at some ultimate expense to our emotional...and, thus, physical...well-being, we hide what we really think and believe in order to keep our parochial systems in balance.
Truth is, we could keep our parochial systems in fine balance and still be up front about what we think and believe about the world around us. We simply hate the criticism and pain that comes from people who think differently and have nothing much better to do than make the lives of those different from them miserable. Not many people are exactly like that. It's a gradient of sorts. It's hard enough to keep a parish in balance while feigning total neutrality (sort of like the eunuch...a bodyguard or servant to a queen or female royal household member who was castrated to insure the royal women's chastity). Yes, Priests in the Episcopal Church do undergo something of an emotional or ideological emasculation in order to "keep the peace" in parishes. I just talked at length with a colleague still in active parish ministry who is suffering grievously as a result of simply "being himself."
This first year of retirement has placed me in an almost required position of having to tend to my cluttered interiority and sort through the places where I have stuck all those parts of who I am. They are slowly coming to life again. The nearly four months of intense surgical events, infection therapies and recoveries created a space to "be apart" from what might otherwise have been routine distractions. I had to remain seated or supine most of the time in order to heal. That makes for a lot of inner journey opportunities and internal evaluation.
So, what is there to "come out" about? I named two already: I enjoy being goofy and a bit "out there;" and I spent a long time hiding most of my real convictions for fear of being branded, ostracized or rendered ineffective in the work I truly have loved. Here are a few "comings out."
1) I registered as a Republican when I was first old enough to vote in a general election...while still a student at the University of Florida. That was not a popular thing in those days, so I kept it quiet. Why did I register Republican? Because, all of the folks I called "Florida Rednecks" (rural guys who drove outrageous pickup trucks with shotguns and rifles on racks in the back window) were Democrats...or, as they were then called "Dixiecrats." Fine reason to register in a party....basing it on a perceived lifestyle.
2) This was no secret, because my Bishop (William Folwell of the Diocese of C. Florida) knew it: I hated the Vietnam War and all that had sent us over there...the military, the politicians and the whole structure. I was...get this...something of a Republican anarchist. They do exist. They even have a name to this day.
3) I originally went into the military out of obedience to my Bishop. He required that his Postulants for Holy Orders work for a time in between college and graduate seminary studies. He asked me to enter the military, because I needed "to develop objectivity in dealing with the diversity of parish life." I told him (yes, I really did) that he was crazy. I repented of this and learned through the process that our vows really were important...and so was discipline.
4) I only enlisted because the process to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy would take longer and require more years of service than my Bishop wanted me to have before ordination. It was the second (and last) time I told him he was crazy, when he suggested I enlist. Ultimately, it was a great decision. He had truly discerned my needs and growing edges...nailing, in the process, how to get me in position to be the most effective Priest I could be. I almost didn't go to seminary, because the Navy offered me a full commission and career as an officer in a field I found very attractive at that time.
5) Also, not a secret: I was very close to entering the Novitiate as a monastic...maybe less than a year away...when I met my future wife. I had been in a process since 1974. My spiritual director, in the monastic order, wanted me to date for a couple of years prior to entering the process. When I wrote him and told him that I had fallen in love and was considering marriage, his response was short, and with his usual charm: "Why am I not surprised?"
6) I transitioned to being a Democrat along about the same time I was preparing for marriage. One had nothing to do with the other. I was overseeing the resettling of Cuban refugees in the parish where I was Assistant in Orlando. I began to be intimately in contact with people whose lives had been disrupted, dismantled and rendered worthless. I loved those folks I worked with, and the parishioners who became the team of caregivers at Emmanuel. No more simply giving lip service to the poor and dispossessed.
7) I came to a place of seeing the struggle and pain of those who are LGBT in the mid-1980s. I will always be grateful to God for my chance meeting with several gay men who, as Episcopalians, were deeply struggling to "be okay" with being who they had always been. They were so much God's people and so much more Christian than I was at the time. The Spirit simply opened that door, and I walked in. I kept that a deep secret to preserve their well-being in the diocese and my well-being as a Priest in that diocese (there were "witch hunts" in those days in C. Florida...and many other places).
8) I met Mother Barbara Brown Taylor at an M. Scott Peck conference at Kanuga (Episcopal camp and conference center near Hendersonville, NC) in August 1984. She literally saved my sanity through her pastoral care. In what was the fastest turn-around in my personal life, I became a very strong advocate of women in all levels of ordained ministry (I had not been prior to that experience). The 1980s were huge for my spiritual growth.
9) I quietly counseled, gave spiritual direction and encouraged vocations for LGBT Episcopalians from about 1990 onward. And, yes, I told them to keep quiet about their sexual orientation. I employed gay folks on staffs. I expected everything from them that I expected from all staff members...and myself...personal integrity, professionalism, and neutrality. Had I found anyone violating the standards of conduct in the Church, I would have moved swiftly and decisively to deal with that...regardless of gender, gay or straight. Fortunately, I always had very professional staff members in every parish.
10) I wanted Geraldine Ferraro to be the first woman President of the United States. I was disappointed when that didn't happen. I wanted Hillary Clinton to be the first woman President of the United States and was disappointed when that didn't happen.
11) I was exceedingly disappointed with President Clinton's dalliances and the uproar/distraction it caused. But, I do think he has been one of our most effective presidents. When he left office, we had the first budget surplus in nearly four decades.
12) In my first general election as an adult voter, I cast a vote for Richard Nixon (1972). Remember, I was a registered Republican. I still get disturbed when I think about having done that. Dumbass!
13) There have been people in all my parishes that I simply didn't like. They were folks who were rude, self-serving, demanding, judgmental, and considered themselves entitled either because of their position in the private sector, their wealth or their cultural orientation. I have never suffered them for very long, and I have watched them nearly kill clergy, divide parishes...all with the claim that they were serving "their god." This seems harsh, but, if the Episcopal Church is dying, it is more from that than anything folks think is the "real problem." Trust me on this after 34 years.
14) If I had not retired when I did, I do honestly and deeply believe I would not have been alive to reach age 65. I had so deeply buried myself and had become so unwilling to speak my own truth, that folks that love me very much feared for my well-being. I woke up about two months ago and realized, for the first time in a very long time, that I am real and alive and can think and speak my truth without fear of repercussions.
So, okay. Here's the deal. I'm a Democrat. I am a little left of moderate. I am considered a lightly conservative theologian by most of my colleagues but more liberal in my political ideology. I truly dislike labels. They don't tell the truth about a person, because we are a lot more than the thin margin those labels actually define. I am just me. I will point out readily the other side of an issue in order to provide perspective. Perspective is something I believe our culture currently lacks...abysmally lacks.
I will continue to advocate full inclusion of partnered gay and lesbian folks at all levels of common life. It isn't a choice for them to be who they are....of this I am totally and thoroughly convinced. They are God's folks as much as any of us are and deserve the same love and respect we all deserve.
I intend to speak my truth in love and to give those with different opinions the full measure of respect for where they find themselves at the moment. I go deep into a well of contemplative silence to become the best me I can be. It seems to be working. God is faithful always. I am here today, because of that. I have always respected those of all walks of life and ideologies. That will only continue and grow.
Finally, my Lakota friends and their culture have taught me so much more than I ever knew possible about the pain of rejection and repression. I love those folks very much, and they have loved me...a big, goofy white man. The Lakota are truly loving, caring and generous folks...as are all Native Americans. Most of my life-work (what is given me) will be to advocate for reparations, return of sacred lands and acknowledgment of their culture. Our ancestors were merciless with the false doctrine of "Manifest Destiny" (invented by a NY journalist to foster hatemongering). Most of our ancestors left tyranny only to inflict that tyranny on those who were here before us and nearly annihilate them, body and soul. We, as a culture, have to deal with this...or we will never heal and be truly great.
There you have it. Let's see how many friends this may cost. Remember, I am just me...and am "out" now.
Love in Christ,
PS: I didn't tell everything. A few things are between me, my family and God. ;)