dichotomies & hypocrisies

January 28, 2009

It’s been over four years since I sat down with Jeff for a conversation that would mark me for the better.

Jeff had been in my high school ministry. Now, a few years out of high school, he was struggling with his church experiences. Jeff was always a writer, and he had written a book manuscript — a memoir about some of the questions he was having about church. As Jeff and I talked that day about his book, I learned the story behind the story. Jeff was coming to terms with his homosexuality.

As we talked, Jeff shared the turmoil and angst of being caught between two worlds. To choose a life of homosexuality was to leave behind a Christian faith that had marked his past and future hopes. To choose a life of ongoing Christianity was to deny who he was and would lead to celibacy and loneliness.

That, I told Jeff, is the book you need to write. Not just for you, but for all of us. For the first time, I had a sense of the turmoil and weight of being caught in the middle of these two worlds. Jeff’s pain was real to me, and I hoped it could be for others as well. It seemed like Jeff’s gift as a writer could become a gift to us all.

Four long years later, and Jeff’s book has been written — Dichotomies & Hypocrisies. It’s not exactly Jeff’s story — he chose to write it as a fictional memoir. But I think it rings true to his experiences. You should know that this book is raw and honest. But I hope that won’t keep you from reading it. In fact, that’s the reason I hope you will.

After reading the book, I sent Jeff some questions about the book and his journey. They are answered below. I hope you can take the time to read his thoughts and buy his book. I hope his sweat and tears can be as meaningful for you as they have been for me:

This book is obviously very personal…a fictional biography of sorts. Why did you decide to craft it as a work of fiction?

Crafting the book as a work of fiction was a tough decision; but I chose that route for two minor reasons and one major reason. On the minor side, there is the time frame that you are allowed to play with that non-fiction doesn’t necessarily allow you – I journaled very little on the topic during the last few months of my real-life journal time, for instance, even though there was a lot going on; I narrowed all that down into the January chapter just to be more concise. There’s also the element of where family and friends come into play – as a writer I needed to communicate Marc’s real feelings of what happened in my own life – that reflection – but I had to do it without the possibility of hurting the real people involved. It was my goal in the book to use Marc to communicate my real feelings and real reactions and all of the junk that comes with that – the hurt, the emotions, the feeling of being completely alone; it was not my goal to call out people or organizations that I felt had betrayed me. That plays a bit into the larger side of the coin, which is the fact that in order to complete this book, I had to distance myself from the material and come to a place where I was a bit above the character, looking down and guiding, rather than side-by-side. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to relive all of that first-hand again. What happened in that book has helped to make me who I am, but it isn’t how I define myself and it is not how I want others to define me – so I guess that is four reasons for not making it a work of non-fiction. 

How was the experience of writing this book?

It was painful, and long. I had toyed with the idea of doing this book since you and I first spoke about it many years ago. While I didn’t get into the hard details of it until last year, it was always something in the back of my head. I almost tried to do it back in 2006, but something stopped me. On a layover in Toronto coming back from Tel Aviv, I bought a book at Pearson International called “Bono: In Conversation,” which was basically a 400-page interview between Bono and journalist Michka Assayas, to read on the plane back to Phoenix. In the book Bono identified himself more as a writer than a performer, and like him, I’m also Irish, and he had a great quote in there about being an honest Irish writer. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said that you have to be willing to lay out everything on the table, slay your heart, cut it wide open, and put out there on the table and the page right there everything for all to see. He said if you can’t do that, then it’s not worth writing as it won’t be true to your heart. That lack of brutal honesty and self-sacrifice was a mistake I made when writing my first book, “Churches, Pubs & Hostels” in 2005. I didn’t want to make that mistake a second time, so I ended up having to wait until I was emotionally ready to approach it.

I was scared to begin the book, honestly, because that was a hellish, horrid time in my life – not just because of what people said and did or didn’t do – but because of everything that was going on constantly in my head. I over-analyze every situation, think of every scenario, and seem to always dwell on the darker, more introspective side of things. I was in a deep depression back then, and had since found a stable point to exist at in between the two unstable extremes I seem to dwell in. I knew the book needed to be done, but I was nervous about digging up old feelings – because I knew that in order to write the book effectively, I would have to go back into that mindset – method writing, if you will. The first step was going through all of the old journals, both public on the blog and those I kept private, and find the emotions and words I would need to get back in order to get into that mindset – some of which just can’t be replicated artificially. During this time I got sick to my stomach almost daily, had anxiety attacks, depression, and became a bit of a recluse. It wasn’t at all enjoyable, but I knew it was an important thing to do, and the end product was fully worth it. The book would have been completely useless had I not taken that mindset, and I wouldn’t have published it if that was the case. 

What anxieties and hopes do you have as you make this a public work?

My biggest anxiety is letting people in to that time frame of my life. I’ve always blogged a ton – sometimes about extremely personal things – and I’ve always been a proponent of the idea of wearing your heart on your sleeve (or your blog) and letting people into your life and being transparent. However, there’s a difference in being transparent with your life as it stands now (again, stable and relatively happy) and with how your life was during a very different time. I’m anxious that people will take out the angry parts of the book and ignore the hopeful parts, that it will be misread in a big way. And here’s what I mean about that: the content of the book, the cover even, can be considered controversial, but that’s not my goal. My goal (and a hope) of the book is that people won’t see this as the classic Christianity vs. Homosexual debate, which has caused hurt on both sides. This book is the story of a boy who straddles both sides of the fence not because of a choice or an indecisive nature, but because that’s who he is at his very essence. He is Christian. He is gay. I hope people will see this, I hope that we’ve come to a place in our world and culture where we don’t have to have such an obvious dichotomy there; I’m anxious that some people won’t understand that. The major hope I have for the book, however, and the main reason for writing it – is that it gets into the hands of people who not only don’t understand the issue (on either side), but also the people who are going through what I went through. When I was going through this there was very little out there, very little hope, very little understanding. There is still this void of information out there, and I know there is a lot of depression out there – there has been several suicides even – where people genuinely think they are the only ones dealing with this unique situation. That isn’t out of their own ignorance or lack of searching, it’s because of a lack of information, guidance, and hope. That’s a huge void that I genuinely hope this book will fill – that it will find it’s way into those people’s hands. And if the Christian community can read this and gain an understanding of the queer community, and the queer community could read this and gain an understanding of the Christian culture, then that’d be great, too.

Another homosexual friend of mine explained that to be a homosexual Christian is to be equally rejected by both the Christian and the homosexual community. How have you experienced this to be true?

Very much so, which is unfortunate and accounts for a huge amount of the isolation and depression described earlier. A benefit of being both Christian and homosexual is that you learn – a bit by force – to interact with a variety of people. You learn that personality and friendship can carry you a long way on both sides. However, there still comes a time in all conversations and friendships when you have to come down to the core of who you are. The Christian community is not very accepting; neither is the homosexual community, at least in my experience. It is ironic that both groups preach “inclusion” and “acceptance” but all of that is very conditional. Having said that, allow me to say that I have found exceptions – thankfully – but these exceptions are few and far between. In speaking in the most generalist sense, the Christian community is very accepting of me until they realize my situation. There’s then a pregnant pause where they say, “Well, you’re working through this sin, right?” When you tell them that you are happy with who you are and that you don’t view it as a sin but you do have faith in Christ, there’s a rejection. You’re essentially treated as a leper. Then in the gay community, the reaction is much the same. There’s a pause where the queer community asks, “But you’re getting out of that right, you know they hate us?” You respond that you have faith, even though it is a more liberal faith. That is met with being treated like an infiltrating traitor, more or less. Now, while both sides do have this aggression towards the other, both sides have very different origins in this aggression. The Christian side has no doubt been the instigator. I understand that some of this instigation has been based in interpretation of scripture and the cultural influence of the Christian Right, but it still baffles my mind how any hate can be leveraged in light of the words of Jesus about love and grace and even the Christian mandate to love and care for the world. It seems to me that if the Christian Right was genuinely after love and understanding, then their tactics would be very different, even if they do disagree with homosexuality as a lifestyle choice. The queer community’s hatred, while just as wrong, is more of a knee-jerk reaction. It’s reactionary, it’s defensive, it has it’s origins in hating those who hated them. While I would love the gay community to rise above this knee-jerk reaction (and it has in some forms), I truly believe that with any argument or disagreement that the originator needs to be the one to offer the hand of peace. There are some great organizations in the Christian community that has done this, but still the hate and anger is so loud – it’s always the loudest – that this needs to come from a more organized mindset from the collective whole. I think we’ll get there, I hope we’ll get there, but it’s still going to take a ton of work not just from individuals, but from church leaders. If people like Rick Warren could say something on this topic that is positive and hopeful – at least in the terms of making peace and some acceptance – I think the world would change over night.

A few years have elapsed since the book ends. How have your views, and your heart, matured or changed since then?

I ended the book still viewing homosexuality as a sin; I no longer believe that. I kept that there in the book because that’s what the character believed at the time. But it isn’t described as a sin in the judgmental, I can pray this away sense, but more in the sense that we all are born with a bit of sin and are given our lot in life that is irreversible; we just have to negotiate the paths of life as best we can. So yes, I am gay, but that doesn’t mean I have to be promiscuous, immoral, stereotypical, or cold-hearted. I can have an open-heart, I can view the world with love even if that love isn’t always returned, I can pursue monogamous love-based relationships. I still have faith, but it is in an extremely liberal sense. I believe in Christ, in being a good person, in loving people, in the things that Jesus preached. I sincerely try not to pick and choose the scripture I believe in – that is something we are all guilty of though, on a level. But I still approach it with logic, putting things in context, studying the scripture in it’s original language, and I have to be honest when I say that I give the words of Christ more thought than I give the words of Paul. I follow Christ; not Paul, the Pope, Luther, or anyone else. I don’t discount what the others say; I just give more weight where I believe it is appropriate. Since that time, too, my heart has matured to the point where I feel like I can begin loving those in the church again. I haven’t been to church in years before last night. There was just too much hurt. I went last night to a local church plant to hear John Lynch speak. It was hard to be there – I wanted to be cynical and dismissive, any maybe in your own internal discussion you are – but to be fair and to truly love and trust people, you have to look at where their life in this world is, where their spiritual, cultural, and global walk is. Just as one cannot measure oneself against others, one cannot look at others and expect them to measure themselves against you, and be where you are. Mistaking our own experiences as global experiences is a massive error that we all need to recognize, and move forward from, before we can be effective in life; that goes for either side of the issue.

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