Monday, November 11, 2013

Hope for a better tomorrow

My Uncle Adam was a kind and gentle person. He had a soft voice and an easy smile. He was a talented musician and could play any instrument he picked up - to hear him play the piano was truly magical. When I was a kid and visited my grandparents in California, he lived nearby and always reserved a day to spend with me. He took me to Disney Land, taught me how to sail in Mission Bay, and gave me my first ride on a motorcycle. He was bigger than life - a man I loved and admired.


My parents told me my Uncle was gay when I was 10 years old. I was surprised at first, but it didn’t change my feelings for him or my relationship with him. He came out after he graduated college, and it wasn’t easy news for his conservative Kansas family to hear at the time. But his Dad and brothers, sister and mother all loved him for the person he was. Family mattered more than any differences in lifestyle ever could. I was fortunate to know Adam's partner, Ben. They had a pair of Labradors at a time when gay couples could only dream of having their own children. 

When I was a senior in high school, my Uncle Adam died of complications due to HIV/AIDS. It was 1991. Had he survived a few more years, he might have lived a long and healthy life. Instead his life was cut short at the age of 40.

I remember sitting in my small town Presbyterian church as a teenager, hearing our minister say that homosexuality is a sin and there is no place in heaven for people like my Uncle. I remember looking to my parents and the church for answers. I remember asking my parents how we could believe in a religion that would throw aside someone we knew to be loving and spiritual.  Hearing those words of hate and exclusion at a time when I was struggling with my Uncle’s death had a deep impact on me and my relationship with the church.

I sought answers in college in religion classes and studies of Eastern civilization. I thought maybe other religions would bring me the message my own church failed to deliver. I never left the church completely in my 20s and 30s, but I kept it at arm’s length. I accepted the church for what it could offer me and my family, but I also observed and felt its limitations - the shortcomings I could not look past.

All these years I’ve had to live with the idea that my church and the Presbyterian faith would never accept my Uncle and people like him. Until now.  

I joined my current church shortly before Ryan and I were married and I've come to look forward to the weekly services. The sermons are profound and eloquent even on the most ordinary of Sundays. This past Sunday the sermon was titled "Homosexuality: It Is Not Only a Fight That Needs to End, It Has Been the Wrong Fight All Along." Ryan especially wanted to hear this sermon and since he grew up in this church, he knew what to expect (this church has always been progressive about homosexuality, I now know). I had no idea what would be said. I had no idea the sermon would have such a profound impact on me, that it would bring me to tears.

I cannot begin to tell you how amazed and undone I felt following Sunday's sermon. To hear a minister from this traditional church (in Kansas) say that the argument over homosexuality in the church needs to end, that gays and lesbians can not only belong but lead in our church, and ought to have a place in all churches, all religions; to hear him say that the church's mission should be to lift people up – particularly those cast out by society and most in need – and not to judge and turn our backs; to hear those words of love and acceptance so long after we buried my Uncle brought a rush of relief and a wave of emotion I didn't expect.

I am now 40, the age my Uncle was when he died. The words I heard Sunday give me hope for the world my own children might know when they turn 40. The words give me hope.

All these years I knew deep in my heart that my Uncle could only be in heaven. The God I believe in would never turn his back on someone with his heart, his gentle soul. But to hear a Presbyterian minister - one I deeply respect and admire - confirm what I've always believed to be true, is a gift I will never forget.  

3 comments:

  1. Tough one to write, I am sure. I think back as well, and I was young when he passed and being gay was not engrained with an opinion in my head yet. I just knew he was Uncle Adam, he loved music and he had a boyfriend named Ben. Nothing else, I guess I kind of felt comfort in my own feelings of it, that I didn't recognize anyone else's.
    I wish so much that Dwayne could have met G-Lo and Granddaddy Geiger. I think he would have had a special bond with them, just like he has with Mom and Dad. And I wonder everyday if Dwayne and Adam could have made music together. How fun would have that been?
    Good memories, and so glad you found a church that can give you piece with your spiritual side. It is very important. I too shy away from the "too Traditional" church that was similar to what we grew up in. Probably for the same reason that you did as well.

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  2. Paige, thanks for sharing this....very profound. My Brother, who is homosexual, recently was ordained as a Pastor in Dallas, TX. As I sat and watched the ceremony, I was not only full of pride for my Brother...but also for the fact/hope that the tide is turning.

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    1. Melvin - that is too cool! And so very hopeful...thanks!

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