Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Grant me the Grace

Sunday, I sat through a presentation by Jeff Chu, author of Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.  He had come to at the behest of my church: Coral Gables Congregational as part of our ongoing dialogue exploring and better understanding our faith.  He was a journalist for Time and Fast Company and his book was recommended by the New York Times Book Review.
His story is a common tale of overachieving boy born of fundamentalist parents realizing he's gay and then trying to reconcile the subsequent conflicts between him, faith and his parents after he fully acknowledges his homosexuality. In classic millennial generation style, he, being exceptional, finds the grace to forgive those who hurt him and realize that they are hurting him out of "love." Now on some level he's right. A good Christian should "turn the other cheek" and offer an unconditional surrender to love and forgiveness.
However, Mr. Chu takes it to another level. He decides "as an objective journalist" - (his quote on Sunday), to spend time with the followers of the Westboro Baptist Church of the "God Hates Fags" fame.  Here is my first critique: how exactly is a personal pilgrimage objective journalism?  He proceeds to describe them as "really nice people" who do what they do "out of love". Who he broke bread with, and made "funny jokes about cool-aid."  Who were just like you and me in their day to day lives.  He mentioned casually later on in his presentation that he had never met anyone who's family funeral was marred by one of their protests.
So I'm going to say this to Mr. Chu: I have been to two funerals where they have appeared. Prior to the tactic of going to Military funerals, they would scour the obituaries for men who had died of AIDS and show up there.  Grieving for a loved one is probably the hardest thing anyone has to go through. Especially someone young who left too soon. Then at that moment, that sacred moment, a band of hatemongers have attached themselves to the memory, your memory, of that person....and hopefully you can forget, that when you were at your weakest, somebody pulled an emotional sucker punch on you. So Jeff Chu asks us to find the Grace, to forgive them for what they've done to your family, friends and community because they're just "regular folks who eat cereal in the morning".
Sadly, Mr. Chu has touched evil and didn't see it for what it was. As a gay man I have encountered evil.  It always comes in the guise of "regular folks". Did he think the Nazis had horns? Did he think that the KKK didn't go to church on Sunday and love their children too? Yes, as Christians we have the duty of Grace, but don't we have a duty to call out evil when we see it?  What Westboro does is violence of the worst kind, do we look inside ourselves and say "oh well, they're just "regular folks" who are misguided, let's just forgive and move on. "
Grace, forgiveness, comes very hard to me and to my family.    It's something that forces me to dig deep and try not to hurt someone physically. (I am seeing a therapist about anger management) To tell me that someone who goes up to a grieving mother and tells her that her child will burn in  hell, at that child's funeral, is certainly not deserving of God's grace regardless of what they had for breakfast that morning.

Fred Phelps, the founder of this Church died today, March 20th, 2014.....Grant me the grace. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

SMART Ride for AIDS, an experience....

So earlier this year I did my first long distance ride from Miami to Key Largo, FL.  It was for Multiple Sclerosis. You can read about it in a previous blog post called "On Your Left" done back in April.  Since April I believe I have evolved as a cyclist.  I retired my very sweet, made in America Cannondale hybrid....they were still made here when I bought it. Now they're made in China. I replaced it with a beautiful Italian Bianchi (well, designed in Italy, but made in China). I've become part of the "Lycra" crowd, and I'd like to think on good days, it's a look I can pull off.  I'm not getting those "look away" stares that women in cameltoe get.
In keeping with this year's "bike for terminal illness" theme I decided to ride my first AIDS ride. I mean if you can't ride for a plague, why ride at all?  Each one of these Tour du Diseases require two aspects: First, you must raise funds to ride.  Second you must train. 
Being a professional fundraiser the money part was easier.  For the AIDS ride I simply pimped out my mad Haiku skills and promised anyone who donated any amount would get a Haiku. In no time I scribed 20 Haikus and then I knew the ride was on. For more about my Haikus see  Almost everyone was happy with their Haikus, except Alex, which hurt because I put a lot of thought into the 17 syllables that I feel define him.   When I gave Haikus freely, I was never criticized, now that I'm asking them to pay for them, everyone's a critic. However, the Haikus are not refundable.
Training, ugh. I was determined that I would be prepared for this ride. I would finish and I would not suffer inordinately. I would ride at a relaxed pace and I would not be at the end of the ride, the least bit in doubt of whether I could finish. I am proud to say that four months of training paid off. Despite one road rage incident (on my part) it want off flawlessly. No flats and no fats when I finished the ride on Saturday.
Finally: the ride. I can't say too much about the ride. I have ridden and driven these roads many times before. I was by myself for almost all of the ride so indulged in Conch Republic nostalgia.  Each leg had a meaning, Card Sound Road brought memories of countless Carl Hiassen books. Key Largo reminded me of when I lived there doing HIV tests for people under a big mango tree in a park. Islamorada brought back memories of sneaking out of class at FIU and going to Tiki Bar for rum-runners. Leyton: speed trap. Big Pine Key means Key Deer and speeding tickets.  I had seriously over-trained for this ride and spent most of the two days by myself riding furiously with a strong tailwind. Both days I arrived before the bulk of the group did.
Lessons learned: well, it was hard to get all maudlin about the whole AIDS/HIV thing. I mean as a gay man it's been around since before I was sexually active. I've lost friends and family and mourned them and I wasn't really feeling inclined to mourn them again.   I felt that I did a very small part, again, to address an issue that we all thought would be gone by now.  I had fun, I proved I could do something extraordinary, I can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Stroke, Focus, Kick, Focus, Repeat

Recently, I had a near death experience. A real one, the kind where you see death staring at you in the face and you dig down into your soul and make an important decision about life....which is to just live it.  Its that conscious decision to listen to your lizard brain and say, yeah let's keep going.

I had been swimming in the ocean and I had a sudden bout of hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar usually comes on very quickly and being 200 yards from shore rapidly seemed like two miles. All of a sudden each stroke became harder and harder, each kick felt like I was dragging a lead weight behind me. A sudden chill of fear went down my body and the adrenaline boost proceeded to burn up the  little bit of energy left in my body. you want this? You could just settle down into the warm turquoise Atlantic and float away. Focus. ...stroke...focus....kick..

Obviously, I made it back to shore and found some energy bars in my bag.  I was jarred for quite awhile. I sat quietly wondering about life. I have a wonderful one...great husband, friends, good job, nice house....everything I ever dreamed of and asked for. Now would be a good time to go...when things are really great. 

But the one thing I have learned since I was given a terminal diagnosis at 20 and told I had less than three years to live, is that you do just that: you live. 25 years later here I am, and life just keeps getting better.  When things get hard, dangerous or threatening: focus, stroke and kick till you get to shore.