October 08, 2015

Angry Much

FOLLOW ME at www.thefaithofmars.com

Recently I created a bit of personal online drama when I "unfriended" some folks from Facebook, including family members.  My reasoning was this "family" was mostly extended (though did include some immediate members).  I receive a kind letter from my mother, edited below as a response and I wanted to share my thoughts to her in a post as they seem pertain to many atheists who often hear the words, "you're just angry at god or the church."
Dear Thomas,
I enjoyed your blog about death and dying. I started a comment, but I lost it before I finished.
I know you care about humanity.  You are compassionate.
I feel you are angry about where your life has taken you thus far. Hasn't been easy I know. Do you think the Catholic Church lied to you and made you beleive in a god and forced its rules on you?
I know you dislike being judged and so do I. I do not care that you are gay and atheist. However, I worry about anger.  I know you are a good man, love yourself.
Love you,
My response to my mother:
Dear Mom,
I'm sorry you have the impression that I'm angry with where life has taken me. I think you must be reacting to my recent strongly worded reply to a Facebook post you liked, the one about sharia law as posted by a religious right Christian group based in Arizona. What makes me angry is when people, even people like yourself, repeat rhetoric they've heard.
I'll give an example of this that you and others have all expressed in the last few months via liking posts on Facebook or directing posting graphics on the topics of Islam, Muslims, in which these "memes" imply that in some way Muslims and followers of Islam or their basic beliefs are wrong or bad, and that they wish to cause harm to Americans, to Christians and are actively trying undermine society.
My "anger" about this comes from blatant ignorance. My point in responding to you as I have is that you are espousing and repeating opinions given to you by others without your own critical evaluation of the information as it is presented. The truth about the specifics of Islam is that most Muslims, like most Christians, seek peace, love, happiness and security for themselves and their families. They find this through their communal worship of Allah-just as Christians do through  communal worship of Christ.
It seems we have been taught as American Christians (most of us) that our enemy is any person or persons who do not espouse Christian/American beliefs. So yes, this way of thinking does make me angry. Not because others don't have a right to their opinion, but because the distrust comes from something someone else told them and this information is often accepted blindly and without critical review or thought.  If we all made the effort, as Americans specifically, to better know and appreciate cultural and religious differences we would be more at peace and ease with those differences between us. In fact, we would embrace and encourage these differences.
You're right to assume I can be more critical of Christians in America, of those close to me such as yourself and the family. I am more critical because I myself espoused those opinions and beliefs at one time, based simply on what I was told, taught and how I was raised culturally as a Christian and an American.  My assumptions once held were not based on what I learned or studied but were simply assumed to be true.
I simply am at a point in life where I cannot tolerate hypocritical thinking and erroneous belief as a part of my life or to influence me. This perhaps makes me seem angry. But I am not angry at religion, faith or belief systems.  More at intolerance and bigotry those systems can lead one to embrace.
I hope you do not think I am regretful of where life has taken me .  Indeed, I have met some of the most wonderful and interesting people from all walks of life and from all faiths. My journey from boy to seminarian to priest to married man has been glorious. Perhaps I do feel some regret in that I did not study zoology or physics, topics I have always enjoyed.  I wonder how things would have been different had I not chosen to study philosophy and theology. Still, instead of letting regret make me bitter I'm using that energy to study and learn those wishful things now. Who knows, maybe someday I'll have the chance to study primates or learn more deeply about quantum theory. My point is this,  I have discovered that I must avoid my own hypocrisy and that I must be true to myself and my own formed opinions and notions.  Ideas presented to me by others deserves review and evaluation before acceptance or rejection.
The Catholic Church didn't lie to me in that the beliefs espoused by her members, you and I included (me at one time), are the result of theology and philosophical evolution on the theories of a universe created by a god; indeed for those theologians and philosophers, these theologies go beyond theory and become their Truth. I was raised and indoctrinated in this theology much as you were; being born into a society that simply assumes much of, if not all of, its tenants and beliefs to be true without personal critical evaluation, critical study or review. I suppose that this is the dark side of a cultural theological community such as ours. It was when I began to study religion and philosophy at Conception Seminary College I was amazed to learn from the educators, from the monks, that religious belief was globally diverse. I learned that Christianity had only been practiced for less than 1% (.008%) of human history (we as a species has existed approximately 250,000 years or so). Learning that much of the world, if not the majority of the world is in fact not even Christian, well, what a revelation! My mind immediately questioned the validity of the belief system I had been culturally raised in and I discovered that evidence for and of the system of belief I had been taught and raised in was simply and totally hearsay based upon theological and philosophical theory. This realization was the seed of my atheism.
Now of course as a young man and young seminarian I thought, "but my whole family believes this so it must be true and that "faith" would give me insight."  So I continued to live in and attempt to embrace the Catholic Christian Faith. Now, looking back, I deeply regret my ordination to priesthood because at the time I was ordained I knew I didn't believe in god, Jesus, or faith. But still my hope was that by emerging myself into a Catholic community of the faithful as a priest that faith would awaken within me. That didn't happen and instead found myself more at odds with Christianity and theological belief. It was cemented for me visiting Jerusalem.  There I witnessed a place of pure hatred stemming from theology. Jews hating Muslims, Christians hating Jews, and Muslims hating Christians and all visa versa. It was shocking to my na├»ve eyes that these three faiths which all teach a system of belief in peace, love and harmony so outwardly act from a place of hatred and anger toward each other because each insists and believes they are the full  embodiment of Truth as they see revealed to them as their god showed them.
Once back home from Israel I spent my days listening to Catholic Christians confess petty sins such as pride, doubt of faith, white lies, sexual fantasies while at the same time they refused to help the poor, the disenfranchised, the lonely (my story about Sandy at the mental hospital had years before been my first taste of Christian hypocrisy). Even at the Abbey of St Walburga the nuns often confessed to me the same petty sins as folks in mainstream society: gossip, lies, backbiting, fear, doubt of faith. Their faith did not make them more spiritual, it, like any closed community of like minded believers, gave them the chance to escape the general population and find community and comfort, "bird of a feather." The more time I spent amongst Christians the more I realized their belief generally was a habit, not a religious or education awakening of the mind or spirit, but an excuse to indulgence ignorance - "if I know God through my church what else do I need to know?"
This does not make me angry. It awakened in me a great curiosity. For if religion or faith is a construction of society then what is the nature of the universe?  This has been my awakening. The desire to better know the fundamental nature of reality around us. I have found that science does not rely upon cultural dogma created in a manner that is unchanging or not evolving based simply on tradition. Science does not seek just to provide answers, it also asks questions. So no, my lack of belief does not make at all angry, it gives me hope; for my departure from belief I have found the ability and the great desire to ask a simple question - Why?
It does make me a bit sad that you think I'm angry. I think most of my friends describe me thusly - "eccentric, quirky, funny, smart, silly, artistic, fun-weird." That you are worried these are not qualities in me and that it is anger which drives me, well that means you simply don't know me.  Perhaps it is fear that I discovered a truth many believers fear, that is all that which they have believed may in fact not be true.  My experience with our family, both immediate and extended, is they are intolerant of divergent thinking. They judge others based on the last moment of interaction. Did you know in the last nearly 20 years since I left the priesthood not a single person who is a member of our family has ever asked me why I left?  They assume it is because I am gay (not the reason).  Most of my "family" stopped interacting with me or it seems, would refer to me in the context in which they last understood me, which was when I was a priest or seminarian.
So I'm not angry, but I don't, as my husband likes to remind me, suffer ignorance. It was my own acceptance of belief, that is my cultural upbringing in faith where I was told and taught how and what to think without critical evaluation, well this lead me to become a priest and in so becoming discovered it was something unfair to myself, to you and dad, and the people I served as a priest. That personal act of ignorance gives me pause and regret but not anger. I don't dwell in that regret but am now trying to better understand how or why I walked that path for so many years, feeling and knowing that I didn't ever really believe it. It seems I am asking that great scientific question - Why?
You are a marvelous woman mom. I love you. You're powerful and intelligent.
Always ask that question - Why? And then ask it again and again and again. The world and this universe are incredibly marvelous- even without the cultural experiences of faith.

September 01, 2015


As a boy
I remember
Traveling across the 
on highways
Stretching like
Black rivers 
Of onyx. 

Connecting me to you,
You to me,
He to she and
Who to who. 

Today, taking these 
Broken lines
Of grey,
Crisscrossing the 
Like scabs,
Who and who
He and she
Decaying lines
Between me to you. 

August 17, 2015

The Desire to ever become a creature of wonder

Dear “Friends”:

Here is a post I have wanted to write for a while mostly because it is cathartic to put these thoughts out into the universe.  No doubt I shall offend some of you and loose some of you as followers (friends?), but I want to make clear my view on the world and my place in it.  As some of you may know, I genuinely do not have the desire that you should think or believe as I do, but I absolutely must insist that each of us think for ourselves, that we read, research, be open.  I maintain that if our source of information is only the news, media, social posts or headlines – we have heard no news, learned nothing, have simply been manipulated so as to become a consumer of a product – that product is false information whether it be from FOX, CNN, Huffington Post, or elsewhere.

So I want to present the heart of my thoughts arising from the current political and social context– full disclaimer, I am as many define, Liberal, socialist.  That said I did not grow up in a liberal household.  I did not go to liberal colleges or universities – just the opposite in fact.  But then these words liberal and conservative are generally used to refrain, define or confine a way of thinking.  I’m really more of an enigma I guess.

So here I am today:

·        I have deep anathema to racism.  Yes, I am a white (privileged) male.  Even still I have experienced racism, for example during the 1st gulf war I was attacked in Missouri by a group of boys (in a pickup truck of all things) who threw bottles and rocks at me, called me derogatory names and screamed that I should return to Iraq.  And all my life I have been asked, “are you Mexican?” “are you Arabic?”  “are you……?”  why should that even matter?  I just don’t understand how a human being becomes a racist – to paraphrase Dr. Bill Nye, race is barely even skin deep.  This topic is so beyond my comprehension that I honestly cannot fathom how or why this is an issue in our world.  Yet it is. I know that I must do more to oppose racism for my silence in the face of racism is my consent.  Right now, today, people who are not white are hated because this country, the USA, was founded on the principle that not all lives matter, that some lives matter more, especially white lives.  So in today’s climate, the outrage, the riots, the marches, protests MUST happen because without revolt the status quo shall continue to be okay. 

·        I am opposed to the universal access we as Americans have to obtain guns.  I believe very strongly that there must be stronger gun laws; I’m not calling to ban guns, but rather to restrict such easy access.  Seriously, it’s easier to obtain a gun than to adopt a PUPPY!!!  It is easier to obtain a gun than to get a driver’s license. It is easier to obtain a gun than to obtain a marriage license.  Really?  This is okay? 

·        I am opposed to hunting for sport – ever.  It is no longer necessary.  It is not a sustainable activity.  It serves no purpose other than to kill, destroy.  It seems to me that “sport” hunting serves no purpose other than to satisfy some strange primordial need to control another living beings presence, to the point of death (yes, yes I know about herd and population management, which is now a necessary evil because we destroyed the environment and healthy populations of natural predator to prey levels).  As we study space and search for life outside our known solar system, galaxy it seems that life may in fact be quite rare, unique and special and so too the wonders of life on this little ball of rock should be valued, preserved by we simians who know that life is precious and valuable.

·        I believe that the militarization of our police forces is unnecessary and creates unnecessary conflict between the people of society and the militarized authorities (such as a militarized police force).  In my mind, police violence becomes so horrific and unbearable especially because the men and woman who are police are thought to be the very heroes and protectors of peace and harmony, yet they fail so much because they are created, trained and taught in an environment where it is believed, as I stated earlier, that not all life is matters.  It is the role of the peace keepers to de-inflate, not inflate.  It is the role of peace keepers to bring peace, not to bring chaos.  I can tell you, if you hand a person a powerful tool, they will want to use this tool.  It simply is in our nature. When I was a little boy I dreamt of being a cop.  Now they’re in my nightmares.

Those are a few “negatives”, the things that have me thinking, but what about the positives?  These are the things that get me out of bed in the morning and offer a glimmer of hope.  I post mostly about these things below because they make sense to me and help me appreciate the “me” of myself. 

·        Biology - Developments in animal study and research in biology amaze me.  These last 20 years have been an amazing age of discovery of animal science, evolutionary science and the amazing connections that all living beings share on this little ball of rock.  The wonders and mysteries of life, how it is evolved, surviving, and yes in some ways still thriving amaze me.

·        Evolution - Research on our simian cousins (and many other species) is literally changing the way we understand not only evolution overall, but our own evolution as a species.  Linguistic studies, the pattern of thought and the socialization of these amazing creatures, apes especially but many other animals, have indicated just how very much the same we simians, and all living things truly are. 

·        Astronomy – now this is the age of discovery.  What we have learned in the last 10 years, 5 years and 1 year is unprecedented in discovery.  We are literally discovering not only the local solar neighborhood, but are exploring and discovering the very nature of space-time itself.  The universe is bigger than infinite and so mysteriously complex that knowing the universe will take all of time and then some to scratch the surface.

·        Physics – I wish I had discovered physics more deeply as a young man.  Seeing how perfectly math helps us understand matter, energy and how they interact with each other. The pure simple brilliance of the Theory of General Relativity makes so clear how and why the universe is what it is.  It leaves us guessing the very first part of how it came to be but that’s okay because so far, as we have started to open our eyes and minds to discovering things that only 100 years ago most believed were impossible I know we shall discover the nature of the universe and her beginnings.

·        Atheism – well you surely know I’m a former catholic priest, a former Christian.  I became an atheist while in college (before I was a priest) but didn’t understand my atheism until much later.  Then upon realizing I was and had been an atheist, I left this pursuit of atheism at the side and didn’t embark on truly understanding my own atheism until the last few years.  What I have discovered recently is not just that atheism for me is a valid and rewarding way to live, it has helped me to understand better the human need, the psychology of the human mind that NEEDs religion.  I do not question the why of or for existence.  I question the human spirits need to have a “raison d'etre”.  Our fear of mortality seems to drive us, coming I suspect from our evolved sense of flight or fight (or as new behavior studies say we have a third response to stress which is “freeze”).  Anyway, atheism didn’t take anything away from me, but has given me the drive, the desire, the want to not find meaning in my own life, but to better comprehend the discovery of the mysteries of our universe through better comprehension of biology, physics, astronomy, maths and other sciences.

So here’s the rub.  I’m disengaging from people who have an agenda for me.  Recently unfriended several “family” members who haven’t really spoken to me in 20 years or so, but suddenly feel the need to talk to me about “Jesus” or God.  My life is so much richer and full without “faith” in deity or divinity.  If your only context or experience with me comes from my days as a priest or Christian you have to move on.  Engage me as the man I am today, not the child I was then.  Yes I was a Christian/priest.  Yes, it was a mistake for me to have chosen that life (I was young and foolish and really didn’t know any better).  But I’ll tell you, in the last 20 years that I’ve not been a priest or Christian a lot has happened.  I have lived all over the USA, fallen in and out love a few times.  I have faced sorrow, loss, illness and health.  I’ve read some great books, seen some good movies, drank too much and sometimes not enough. 

Listen, if your life is full of fear of losing something because of words or mind-sets like “that’s my heritage” – “you’re stepping on my rights” – “that not how things were when I was a child” – “I don’t like all this political correctness” – or if you’ve ever hated someone because they’re different in creed, sexual orientation, skin color or race, social beliefs, then I don’t know if we should be friends or if we have enough common ground to walk together.  Those things are also a source of anathema to me. 

I can admittedly be a bigot.  I’m trying not to be. 

I can admittedly be intolerant.  I’m trying not to be (when it comes to supporting others rights to live and let live – I am and shall remain intolerant of hatred, bigotry, cruelty, sexism, greed, or a theology or creed that allows a person to hate).

I am also a lover.  I am becoming ever more a creature of wonder.  I am an explorer, if only in my own mind, I am exploring.  I am trying to let go of the fear of not being significant, because my significance is not relevant, but rather reveling in the joy of being alive is.  I am for this unimportant blip in the experience of space and time, aware of myself.  That is the wonderful mystery of my own cognitive musings; awareness, this awareness in life as it seems so incredibly rare in the universe, at least from the .000000000000000000000000000000110,000% we have observed, is what makes life have its meaning.  I value this life and all those living, wonderful beings around me. I value the fabric of the universe in all her mysteries that seem so incredibly marvelously endless. 

June 04, 2015

Heroics of our LGBTQ family

Dear Friends and Family:

I am compelled to write this post because of the increasing amount of "shaming" regarding Caitlyn Jenner's coming out as transgender and beginning to live her life authentically troubles me. Comparisons being made to what some interrupt as "true heroism" and thus degrading and down playing the life that so many LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer) folks have endured shames me. This coming out of Caitlyn is a national and international opportunity for us to explore in learning and conversation how we can better support and love those in our lives, our communities who are genuinely struggling with their authentic selves. Rather than expending energy to "post your opinion" on why you don't like this dialogue, I ask you to expend your energy learning more about the issue, open yourself to the conversation, not just to expressing that you are uncomfortable or disagree but experience the sense of wonder and discovery, the beauty of our LGBTQ family. There are heroes in this community too - very real ones.

The overwhelming number of posts showing pictures of the men and woman who have been to war, were wounded or killed have a place but not in this conversation. In no way does helping a disenfranchised LGBTQ person, or celebrating a LGBTQ person's life, take away from another's journey. If this were the case, no one is a hero. In fact, I personally find these "hero" comparison posts offensive and dismissive of those LGBTQ people who are targeted, hated, ridiculed, killed, beat up, denied work just because of their gender identity, sexual orientation and because of whom they are, that is all my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Soldiers are heroes of course but don't own the definition of heroism; by qualifying heroics as being limited only to those in the field of war, we are propagating war, murder and American imperialism. I think the dialogue I want to focus on is how we can help those who are trying to understand their own gender, sexual identity or orientation can feel supported, respected and given the freedom to be themselves as they are born to be, not as we or someone else defines it for them. Living one's life in a body that doesn't feel right, whether it is because of gender or sexuality is a journey that none of us can truly understand or appreciate until we ourselves have been on that same journey. For me, judgment holds no power there, or shouldn't at any rate. Being authentic to who one 's true gender (not assigned) is one way a person can be liberated and will hopefully give one power to be authentically oneself. In my world view, this authenticity is good and should be the life that one is allowed to live in. Not allowing this freedom, this authentic expression, of self-expression is damaging not only to the individual but to all of us. It is literally killing many youth and adults who struggle with transgender questions. Those bright lights of human life are lost to often to suicide and murder because someone told them "you can't be the boy or girl you truly are" arbitrarily decided based on what makes someone else feel comfortable but not based on the life of the person actually affected. Not all definitions of bravery require self-sacrifice-some definitions of bravery encompass our ability to be authentic, honest and true to who we are and who we want to be.

Let's remember a few of our beloved LGBTQ youth pictured here that we've lost because they couldn't find the support, to be loved or find the hero to identify hope in their lives. The below list is in no means comprehensive but a reminder of what's at stake. By continuing to shame our LGBTQ family, we are literally killing them and ourselves. So much is lost because these beautiful souls were told, "You are not a hero and can never be." In my heart, in my mind, they are my heroes. I didn't know them or any who are lost, but I miss them and so too the world, though we don't even know how much. Rest in Peace Heroes - your journey continues in our memories and our hearts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_among_LGBT_youth

December 26, 2014

Musings, it's all passing away

Lately I've been enjoying a lot of reading and studying about space and time. The entire concept, of either and both is mind boggling. Honestly it's entirely beyond me. But what has been gotten my attention is less the theories of time and space, and more the desire for us to understand them. In a world, my world, I don't have the dream, the hope of immortality. Honestly I wouldn't want it. The idea, the thought that I, me, Thom, would go on forever seems entirely dreadful. I'm a nice enough fellow I suppose. I'm generally honest, friendly, respectful. I am not especially talented, good-looking, artistic, charitable. I am not able, not capable of contributing to the world in a grand fashion. I'm no great warrior, king, scientist, philosopher, poet, painter, musician, laborer, farmer, father or even friend. I'm down right average to below average. No need to drag this existence out beyond its estimated 70-100 years. 70-100 years, not even 100,000,000,000th of a millisecond in the grand scheme of existence. My presence here, on this ball of rock and magma is so non consequential that my presence here is no more nor less impactful than a day in the life of a mosquito.

Now I do not want you, dear reader, to think that I do not appreciate my life. I value that I have awareness of the world (which from all studies and scientific observations the mosquito does not). This life, this 100,000,000,000,000 of millisecond of existence is valuable, to me, and for all of us whilst we are aware of it. It is entirely possible that conscious life exists in the universe only here, on Earth, and that makes the experience of it even more special, at least in theory. It is also entirely possible that conscious life is found through out the universe, and our experience of it is as common as dust on the lamp shade. Either way, I know I am alive, I am aware. I know that I have an expiration date (by average estimates another 30 years or so).
What makes my musings ponder some, is that in this world, this existence, I do not feel the need to seek refuge in the hope, in what I believe is a false hope, that of an eternity beyond that which I experience here. I don't recall that my childhood entry into faith was ever driven by fear of not living forever or even fear of death itself or fear of some sort of divine punishment (hell) if I didn't live a faith filled life. My faith was always driven by the social aspects of religion. I was raised in the faith more in a community function rather than a theological one.

As small town Roman Catholics, we never really studied the bible at home. Our parish church was built around the catholic celebration of the Mass. It was almost always entirely ritual, rarely theological, sure the priest would offer a homily (sermon) but these were often platitudes and niceties built around one or two of the biblical Sunday readings. Of course I'm sure our parish had adult bible studies, RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and other things, but from the time I can remember until I graduated high school, my participation in the Church was always around participating in community. It was a matter of being together in like belief, not necessary being together to better understand Divinity externally or internally. In the monastic tradition, in which my parish was heavily influenced by as our long term pastor, Thomas Dentici,

who was a former monk, there exists the belief is that actions of faith, i.e. ritual prayer, meditation, community, one's work, the very walls and stones around you, would reveal God's mysteries and wonders, and the overt expression, theological expression of wasn't always necessary. I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and certainly the mountains were an inspiration and expression of awe. Sometimes in the dewy foggy mornings of spring it is easy to see how and why we would attribute nature's grandeur to more than just circumstance of natural progression. Nature herself might inspire us to want to believe that because we are aware of the universe and the world held therein - then indeed the universe and nature herself might be an expression of awareness, an expression of a god. Therefore it is not inconceivable then that in my experience of faith as a child I was never afraid of the world beyond this one as I was raised to live in the world I was already aware of - living in the world of the here and now. I was raised in awareness not raised in fear. I am grateful for this unique theological upbringing. I am grateful that it lead me to study further theology in a more formalized manner via intense biblical studies, the study of philosophy, history, arts, sciences in a monastic tradition. My own first theological and formal training were through the Benedictine Monks at their seminary. There we lived in community, in a world held apart from the rest - cloistered from the world, restricted so that we might find theological inspiration in divinity studies as well as theological inspiration in community with each other.

As I have departed a faith life, and have moved into a humanist approach to ethics and morals, I rely upon understanding the world through scientific theory (observation and evaluation of the laws of physics, time, space and the world around us). I have always been that sort - I have never believed in ghosts or even aliens on Earth. My approach to believing something is that if it can't duplicated or observed by others in a controlled manner or even recorded in some fashion so as to be verified by other eyes, well I don't accept it as truth. Funny, how in my belief of God it took me until my early twenties to apply the same standards. Yet now, with the wisdom of some 44 years under my belt, it makes sense that my atheism didn't mature because as I stated earlier, my first experiences of what faith was, were based in the community expression of love and God's actions. I was taught that God was observable in community, good actions of humanity were the tenants of faith; the community and it's love for one another was the "proof" of God. While the scriptures and theological theorems were nice, they were never the center of believing. God seemed real to me because I was loved. I think in many ways my family, who is still faith filled, still believes this as the ultimate proof of God's existence. Their "scientific theory" is that because love exists in a community of family and like believers, then God is indeed real.
This desire, this faith is so tempting. Even now as I write these words I am nostalgic for that faith life. I do miss raising my voice in song with a community. I miss the brotherhood I felt at the seminary.  I miss standing as a leader of people, as a pastor, a priest and guiding the community to a common mission. Yet I don't miss from those days the mask I wore. I don't miss hiding myself, my true self. As I left faith I lost family, friends and became more alone. More alone, not lonely, but more alone. My community shrank from many to few, and in that reduction, simplification, I discovered truth. That fear of not being included, of feeling different, of doubting was okay. My family now is small, but more intimate. My family now is small, but more authentic. My family is small, but it's real. When I raise my voice in song my new family sings with me and even sometimes through me.

This short life, my 100,000,000,000th of a millisecond or less, is more precious because it's all I have. Space and time, observable and measurable, tells me that my matter, my carbon and energy will not be lost, they will be transferred, carried on in some other fashion. Perhaps my ashes will fertilize the soil. Perhaps the movement, my atomic energy, will someday join the light of a star. And perhaps when the energy that moves me is expired it will all pass away. But somehow, this passing away is just fine. For before I stepped gently on this green wet earth, I was in 100's of trillions atoms and protons worth in places elsewhere. Before I existed I was not missed, I was not known. And so too when this moment ends, my life, I won't be missed. Oh sure, for a 100,000,000,000th of a millisecond maybe I'll be missed, but for all of us, it's all passing away. But I don't need to be more than what I am - temporary. That is what makes this moment so precious. This quick 100,000,000,000th of a millisecond of awareness is a special thing. It is to be treasured and I don't need anything other than what I am to make it valuable.

September 30, 2014

An uncomfortable truth

Something strange occurred not so long ago. I was out to lunch with a work colleague, actually I was meeting someone for the first time, really more of a networking lunch. She wanted to lunch at the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C. It is posh, but not over the top. They knew her there, and when I arrived they had her table ready, the bartender greeted me, told me how much they loved the woman. I was early, not too much so, she was running late. The time gave me a chance to contemplate, sit in the warm summer sun for a minute, enjoy a sweet tea (one of my favorite southern staples). I was expecting lunch to revolve around the businesses in our area, to talk about networking, a chance to help grow my business, meet a new person. While contemplating in the summer sun in downtown Washington, D.C. I realized my life has taken me from here to there and
back again.

The woman arrived finally, only about 30 minutes late, older but not old. She had styled grey hair, sensibly pulled back into a pony tail, reminding me of the 70s. She wore an enormous sun hat, probably the result of her age, wisdom to know the sun burns, even when it feels so good. She chatted amicably about the Hotel Monaco, about her relationships with the managers, bartenders and staff. She mentioned she was glad we ate there as soon their menu was changing and the tuna salad she loved was coming off the menu for their summer fare.

We spoke very little of business, it turned out this networking was really more about the woman having a chance to chat with a stranger, she was not lonely, but she was alone, she relished talking about her love of DC, how the city has evolved and is still evolving. She liked the decline of crime but like so many folks who have lived in a place their whole lives, she waxed nostalgic for the days when things were just better, less traffic, more friendly locals, fewer tourists, the good ol'days. I indulged her nostalgia, hell in my forties I catch myself saying things like, "when I was a boy......." Inevitability we spoke of family, my education, where I came from, my roots. She loved that I grew up in the mountains in Colorado, that my mothers family were ranchers, dad's family were southerners. She loved that I grew up a catholic, that my mom is mostly Irish/Scottish. She was fascinated that I had recently learned my fathers family settled in Virginia in the 1630s. Then came the question I dreaded but knew was coming, was I a Christian.

Over the years I've become rather adapt at avoiding the topic. I simply choose to hide my lack of believe for others because it's simply not worth the judgement. I've dealt with discrimination my whole life. As a child I was very poor in a town of very wealthy, we were often mocked for our hand me down clothes, our little hotel (the first hotel hell), for just being fringe enough that I never fit into any group or click. Then in 80s, as a relatively dark skinned young man in college in rural Missouri during the first gulf war I was called Arab, had bottles and cans thrown at me from passing cars, was told to go home to the desert. In Rome I was hated for being an American, mocked for my country's politics. Told at one point in Tunisia that I would be murdered to honor Allah. As a man studying to be a priest people would immediately assume I was a child molester, that I was hiding in the clergy because I had to be gay (being gay was true, hiding was not). After I left the priesthood, was homeless and really alone I faced discrimination in finding work and learned immediately not to indicate having been a priest on my resume, rather to just list my work in the church as a volunteer. It was the mercy of people who met me that gave me work, a place to live, but ultimately I could tell no one I was a former priest.

In all of these things the one fact about me that caused the strongest reaction was my atheism. The first time I told someone I was an atheist they literally walked away from me in disgust. I stopped telling people. I hid my atheism. I buried it, from others and even from myself. You know really in my life, even with friends, I've always kind of been alone. As a child I would play for hours alone. In school I would escape from my peers into books. As a college kid I escaped into music, in graduate school I escaped into food and ultimately meaningless sex.

Now as a middle aged man I've escaped to a farm, alone with my husband and cats, but when the husbands not around I am truly alone (the cats might disagree). I think in many ways trying to understand myself in context of the world is part of why I prefer to be alone. If for some reason my relationship with my husband ends, I'll never remarry and no doubt will fall further into that aloneness. Part of this aloneness is because in many ways I remain an outcast, a loner, a misfit. An atheist.

My sister will hate That I write this, but recently she wrote me a letter to tell me she loved me, that she didn't care I was gay but that she was struggling with me being an atheist. She wrote how she remembered our mother's faith, my mother,who is the only saint to have lived in my opinion, who would pray with us, say the rosary, take us to mass, often daily. It's sad to me that my ability to relate to nearly everyone in the world is nearly impossible at times because I don't subscribe to the fantasy of god, afterlife, salvation. People cannot accept that I'm okay with the end of life. I figure the world was fine before I lived and it will be fine after I'm gone. I do not miss my life before I was born and I shall not miss it after I die. On some level I don't interact with many people because I refuse to indulge their desire to pretend that at some point, after we're dead everything will be fine. We'll all be reconciled, right with each other, with some being called god, yet now, in this reality where we cry, laugh, love, err, succeed, celebrate and mourn, we cannot communicate because we don't think in the same manner as one another.

I get the irony of course that I am a judgmental prick too, refusing to interact with those in faith because their faith doesn't suit my atheism. Yet some of that behavior is learned. I've tried to be open to dialogue but I keep finding at some point one or other of us wants to prove we're right. That leads to a breakdown in conversation. And ultimately me moving away to be alone. I don't find solace with other atheists, I have no need nor the desire to prove theists wrong or convert them. I find many atheists mean spirited, as judgmental as Christians, Muslims, Jews etc. they are as closed minded as theists, and so I go back to my farm, sing my songs, drink my cider and remain alone.
The uncomfortable truth for many who meet me is I am atheist, brought to atheism by studying my own faith, reading and studying religious texts in original languages, realizing that the myths of childhood faith taught to me as Catholicism are as valid and invalid as every other myth story ever told in the history of mankind. There is no god in the volcano. It's only magma superheated by the earth's core for billions of years erupting from the pressure of the core of earth. This uncomfortable truth, my atheism ends many relationships, in fact more than any other truth in my life.

When I told my bishop, Charles Chaput, I was leaving the priesthood because I didn't believe in Jesus, he told me I was mentally ill and needed therapy. That was my last interaction with a member of the clergy in my life. I'm not mentally ill because I'm an atheist. In fact when I told my lunch date at the Hotel Monaco I was a atheist, she stopped eating, laid down her fork and said, "excuse me? What do you mean?" I repeated that I didn't believe in the supernatural god, faith, Jesus, etc.. She cleared her throat, "didn't your mother raise you a Christian?" I affirmed this as true. She said, "what happened?" I told her only that I studied the faith, became a priest and realized I didn't believe any of it. She sat in stunned silence for a moment, smiled politely and said, "well I have to run, nice to meet you,.......waiter, check please."
The uncomfortable truth is at the beginning and end of it all, we're all alone.

September 10, 2014

I wear a size 10 shoe

A recent New York Times article, "Corner Closet Opens Up a Bit Wider" about gay CEOs and the further development of gay power in business. Interestingly enough, one subject of the article, Travis Burgess stated, "Being gay is just a fact. I view it like height, or eye color." New York Times, "Corner Closet Opens Up a Bit" by James Stewart September 5, 2014.
It's been an interesting several weeks in the world of celebrities and those who are gay or bi-sexual. A lot of ink is spilled talking about gay sports figures, news casters, journalists, celebrities in film, stage and television. The fascination with these folks sexual orientation and how well they will fit into their perspective fields of expertise has been much the topic of discussion. Even to the absurd where a reporter commented on Michael Sam, the player for the cowboys (who happens to be gay) and his showering behaviors at the training facility.
I've personally never been especially comfortable in an all gay scene, going to clubs or bars that cater to exclusively gay or LGBT communities. Sure I've gone plenty of times to gay bars, either because I was with a date or a partner or because the reality of the 90's and even now is that it just feels safer to be with others who have a like mind. Yet, I quite often have wondered that is that exclusivity still entirely necessary or is it even healthy? Perhaps there is the need, and I understand the desire for as is said, "birds of a feather, flock together." Yet, as I grow older, and more established in my relationship (going on 12 years), I much prefer to sit and enjoy social company in a diverse and mixed crowd - gay, straight, black, white, etc. I have come to realize in my life that while my being a gay man is part of who I am - NOT something that I choose - but rather something much more ingrained, my entire sexuality, sexual identity is not the sole definer of what makes me, me.
Those reading who are my friends may know this about me, but I like Batman. I love the story of this man who was broken, hurt by a tragedy in life, who swore to not let his type of pain be felt by anyone else. That the loss of his beloved parents, especially his father would move him to try to be better than, rise above, conquer the life he had been so cruelly dealt, bereft of parents, alone in the world. Of course, as a young boy I also loved his bat-tools, bat-car, bat-cave. I loved that he was a character of action, resolution, pride and honor, but that he was willing to sacrifice those elements to achieve his goals, which was to fight injustice, seek vengeance and rise above. It didn't hurt my childhood mind too thinking that here this Batman, was just Bruce Wayne. A self made hero - not super, just super resolute. I loved dreaming that I could be Batman too, well maybe. Yet my love of Batman - it does not define me. It's part of me and has been since I was a very young boy. I also loved the Six-Million dollar man, the Incredible Hulk, Captain Kirk, C.H.I.P.S., and many other "hero characters". I can say that the Batman is part of who I am, mostly, very likely, the darkness of Batman, which I came to respect and love in the 1980's. Yet this Dark Knight is not who I am, it is not the sole characteristic of my personality.
Now many of you may not know that I also love fantasy novels. I started consuming them in the 1970s, reading voraciously every science fiction and or fantasy book I could get my hands on. I loved Lloyd Alexander, R.A. MacAvoy, JRR Tolkien, Piers Anthony, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak, Robert Asprin, Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman and many, many more. These worlds, created and imagined became my reality. I escaped into them, not so much because I wanted to get away from something, but because I wanted to discover something else. These rich worlds of magic, fantasy, adventure were a place where I resided most of the time. As a child I never thought of myself as different (or gay or straight or otherwise), nor did I ever even consider my sexuality. Instead my youth, up into my teenage years were spent focused on stepping through the door of new worlds, the threshold of these doors being the fantasy books I journeyed upon. My life and world were, even perhaps through young adulthood, consumed more with creating in my own mind a world filled things yet undiscovered, mysterious or fantastic. I was never an overly sexualized young man, not even loosing my virginity until my early twenties and then it was well after college. But in my world, I had already lived life as a king, a hero, a villain, a knight, a bard, a wanderer and a peasant and the focus of these world's never included my sexual orientation; which gender to which I was attracted never even entered my mind, much like my shoe size (which is 10 narrow by the way).
An elephant often in the room, when some folks discover that I was a former priest, is that I must have left the priesthood because I was gay, or even that I became a priest at first because I was gay. I know that this is true for many men in the ministry, the celibate life is an alternative to living a life as gay man.  In the Catholic Church at least, homosexuality is considered abnormal, and acting on gay sexual urges is considered morally reprehensible, a mortal sin even (a sin so grievous that one without the sacrament of confession will not see the shining gates of heaven or St. Pete's ugly mug). But again, for me, in my journey it wasn't a concern. I wanted to be a priest because in this world, at least in my young mind, it presented the opportunity to continue to play at the fantasy life I had been living in for so long. I could be the magician. I could be the cleric. I would be the hero. I had never even thought of priests in a sexual manner, but of course I never thought of my parents or any other adult in such a manner either. My priesthood was simply a continuation of the fantasy I had been living since I was eight years old, exciting, new, a discovery, but ultimately, for me, it was just that, fantasy. It never had anything to do with my sexuality. Even in college, surrounded by so many young men, some quite handsome, I did not explore my sexual orientation or act on sexual urges. It was there, the urges, the desire for a sexual experience, but it was not the driving force. This changed when I became a priest, in part because I was no longer a naive young man (younger anyway) and in part because I knew that the fantasy world of priesthood was not sustainable. It had to end, but not because of my sexual orientation, but because I fundamentally did not believe in God.
So now as I enter the last half of my middle age (I'm 44, soon to be 45, I've got what, 25/30 years to live?), I can reflect back and take in the whole experience of my life, both as a man who happens to be gay and as a man with a size 10 shoe. My feet are important. They've gotten me into and out of a lot of trouble, a lot of fun, a lot of sorrow and have enabled me to journey through a life that has taken me from the peaks of Colorado to the deep valleys of Israel. My sexuality is important too. I've fallen in love more times than I can count; broken as many hearts as times mine has been broken, and in my sexuality I have met and become the man I am. Yet it is a single part of me, not a defining part, but a part. I suppose on some level it's like mixing yellow and blue to achieve green, for without one of the two colors the third would not exist. For if I had not been gay I would not be the man I am today. For those that know me well (and like me, there are still few of you left), you can appreciate I hope and embrace the gayness. But perhaps no more so than these feet of mine. They take me to you, near you, with you or away from you. They support my body everyday, sometimes they hurt, get blistered, wear out shoes, but always they are here, helping me move and discover the world around me. So sure I'm gay - but guess what, I also have size 10 feet.

May 10, 2013

In Persona Christi, Part 2

I've been wrestling with my own "demon" lately. The bellowing of his wings around my ears has nearly deafened me to the rest of the universe around me. I can feel his taloned toes digging into my shoulders; his forked tongue licking my ear, whispering to me, "Fool." The weight has been there a long time, the weight of my "demon." Yet even in this burden I've grown used to it, I carry the weight with me now, much easier than at first, in fact I think I kind of like him there, a bit of company when I'm alone.
What is the demon? What am I wrestling with you may query? My demon, my weight, has been the guilt of own early life, the journey I took into the life of priest. Looking back on the road I've traveled, up until 1999, I was ashamed. Afraid to acknowledge that life, who I was, that this journey, the one I took, the journey to become "in persona Christi," the person of Christ, had been a series of deceits, missteps, fear, and doubt from the beginning.
I've started my blog in the last few months, finding inspiration in the writings of a young atheist, Chris Stedman from his penned work, "Faitheist." His story of struggling to find a place in the world, of trying to fit in, to reconcile his sexual orientation with his world, loosing himself in fundamental religious "acceptance", then finding himself through the compassionate act of his mother was a marvelous story. His desire as he wanted to better understand religion and theology, a realization he didn't believe in God, and finding then the desire to bridge the gap between belief and non-belief were an inspiration. In my own world my entire family is religious, still embedded in their theology, Catholic mostly, and as a man who has also gone from belief to non-belief, finding common ground to bridge the gap between belief and non-belief were refreshing.
My second inspiration came from the words of Mary Johnson in her marvelous tale, "An Unquenchable Thirst." Her superbly written story of her journey from life as a sister in the Missionaries of Charity to freedom outside of the community and theological system she had lived in for so many years. This story, this story was the story that inspired the most in me. I have maintained for years that being Catholic is more akin to being part of a community, almost an ethnic group unto itself. At the very least, akin to a small town. Reading Mary's struggle with the impetuous of rules that were arbitrary, and meant in many cases only to hurt, and in other cases meant to drive a sister towards greater holiness through suffering, well this story resonated with me on a level of my own experience. While my journey from believer to "persona christi" to non-believer was nothing as dramatic as Mary's, the thread that is woven in the theological expectation of holiness in religious study and community binds us together.
My imagery, my usage of words all flow from the theological context of my education, both as a child and as an adult. My words developed fine tuning in my college education that was spent as four years in the rolling hills of Missouri at a Benedictine Monastery that offered a seminary college for young men wishing to be priests. There was a medieval aura about the place that like a blanket of fog created an air of mystery and wonder that to my young, eager mind was delicious. I wanted to live in a world where heroes are real, where magic works, where angels dance on the heads of a pin, and where demons thrust their claws into your shoulders and influence you to do wrong. I learned in this world that using words make dreams seem real, that fantasies, if you close your eyes just right, feel as real as a chair beneath you. That dreams, when a song of praise vibrates your lips, seem more powerful than waking. My words, sometimes only spoken in my mind were able to craft a fantasy that I didn't feel I ever needed to leave. My entire life had up to that point, college, been crafted around words of prayer, Jesus and Mary, Holy Spirit and God the Father, and so those images in my mind, they became brighter than the actual images in my eyes.
As a young man during the late 1970's and early 1980's in the mountains of Colorado I would explore the pages of books in our local public library that contained references to the mythological gods of the Greeks, the Romans, the Norse lands. I would read books about magical spells, the components necessary to make them actuate, about spirits and demons that on more than one occasion I sought to summon and control. I grew up not believing so much as hoping that the unseen world of myth and legend was real. It was there I formulated my opinion about the world around me, there I wanted to escape the everyday and discover the world of dragons and demons. I tried so hard to read, understand and reignite the theologies of mythological worlds, the gods that dwelled in the legends of mystery and time. Yet in all my exploration as a child, I continued to find no gods, no angels, no demons. I cast spells, attempted to turn myself into a raven, tried to make the neighbor boy fall in love with me, all to no avail.
But in the quiet solitude of a little Catholic Church, nestled in the valley of the Yampa high in the Rockies, I found the myth that I was seeking. There, surrounded by adults who believed that the God who is, who was, and who is to come, came to them daily, in bread and wine, I realized that maybe, even though I couldn't see it, this God was real. I strained my eyes, my heart, my mind, and hoped that I would see him too, veiled in fermented grape, unleavened flour. I never did, but those adults around me told me that He could not be seen with eyes of flesh, but only with eyes of faith. This legend, the God of Judaea, the God who calls us each to his son Jesus, was also compelling. There nestled in the stories of the Old Testament were legends of angels, demons, myth, magic and power. These legends, so familiar to my growing mind resonated with my own secret desire to live in a world of fire and magic. And these legends weren't to be found on a dusty rarely accessed shelf in the public library; they were resting in the working hands of the men and women who raised me, these legends so mysterious, so powerful, had to be true - didn't they?
I spent nearly every weekend at this little church, finding there acceptance on some level for my hope that the mysterious world of angels and demons was real. Lifting our voices in prayer, the space lite with candle light, incense sweetening the nostrils, all created the powerful perception that there, in that small space, swirling around our minds, our heads, in our hearts, was a divinity pulling us ever closer towards a world of magic and mystery. How easy it was for my already inspired imagination to start to accept these legends of the Judaic Christian tradition that they were not legends at all, but were in fact reality, and the world that I did encounter, the mundane experience of the doldrums of everyday life, the everyday real world was the lie. How I hoped this were true. And thus, as I grew into my teenage years, an outcast because of my oddities as a lonely boy, my sexual attraction to men, I found the idea that the perceived world was myth and that the unperceived world, described in the Old and New Testaments as God's kingdom to come, was the real world. Further I walked into legend, to the point where the reality of the life around was shadowed by dreams and no longer perceived by my own eyes.
It was no difficult task to imagine myself a priest in those years. I had practiced all my childhood at spell casting, pretending to be a magic dweller. I donned a superhero's cap so frequently that in my small town the locals knew me as Batman. When as I grew older I was encouraged to put childish things away, those dreams of dragons and fire, and to embrace the mysterious life of Christ, his Father, his Judaic traditions and history. These dreams were not considered so childish by my family, the adults and leaders of the "real" world around me, and so I allowed my hope to rest on them. Looking at the world I had dreamed of, heroes and magic as a boy, I did not believe a "normal life" of the working man would suit me, and thus I stepped into the journey of evaluating the possibility that perhaps somehow, in my uniqueness, I was summoned by the God of Israel to be his hero, his magic user, his persona christi.
I asked my parents, I asked my friends, I asked my priest, they all agreed, it was a good life to be called to, the priesthood. There was never any doubt that the life of a man called to be in servitude to the proclamation of a legend of Christ was at all undesirable or bad. In fact, every person I asked encouraged me in the journey. Never once did a single person in the life I lived ask me if in fact it was because I believed in God that I felt called to serve as a priest, or if it was because I hoped that the legends of the Gospel and Judea Christian traditions were true. The difference rested between dreaming and believing. I, in all my desires of a fantastical world, never once questioned the reality of the dream I was in, and instead casting my sight onto the fantasy created in Gospel and Christian prayer I walked boldly into a life of the priestly based on the Roman Tradition of faith and mystery.
And so, when first I placed my soles on the ground of a monastery, the rising cathedral above me, soaring like a castle set in one of my medieval fantasies of childhood, it was apparent that I could dwell further in the legend of the Christ. The swirling black robes of Benedictine monks summoned from me my own dreams of boyhood into this adult fantasy, and I could not help but be seduced. There even upon praying on the altar of God, wondering one lonely evening why, wondering how, this myth of God in bread and wine could possibly be true, I did not turn from the fantasy. I pushed from my mind those crafted doubts of my reason, refusing to end the dreams of boyhood, and continued to step on the hallowed ground of faith. My soles guided my soul into further mystery, further fantasy, and as I sank lower and lower into the faith world of God and angels, it was easier and easier to ignore the rattle at the back of my mind shaking at me the words, "but this doesn't seem real."
I thrived in fantasy there. My childhood made that easy. Once I figured out how to study and grow into educational excellence, the rest was simple. Surrounded as I was by handsome young men on the same myth's journey, it was only a matter of practicing the fantasies I had always hoped for, that I would be a hero, and my power would come from beyond my own capacity. I became a leader in my community of young men, the head of the student government, fervent in prayer, wrapped and tasseled in accolades thrust upon me, I knew that my call, as fantastic as it may be, would continue to allow me to dwell in dreams, and there upon dreaming, I feared awaking, and so I stayed asleep. My college years were tremendously successful by all the measures of the college and seminary expectations. I was prayerful, a leader, educated, smart, and clearly marked for some level of leadership within the confines of this world of dreams and fantasy.
College taught me how to laugh. I found joy there in raising my voice in songful praise to god. I found that I laughed with the monks there: Brother Pious binding ancient books together, Brother Thomas in support of my inability to learn French: Father Peter taught me to have humor at my own short comings. College taught me to love. I learned it was okay to feel a spiritual connection to other men of faith and in that faith nourished by Christ to tell them that I loved them. College taught me that sorrow was part of life, that people when they die should be properly mourned, but that the veil of death was thin and torn asunder by the rolling back of the rock across the entrance to the tomb by Jesus. College taught me that people are unendingly generous. Old men, called Knights of Columbus, mostly farmers, sending me financial support because they believed in me, in my magic. They wanted to see me become in persona Christi, and they sent me the money to do so. My family taught me how much they could exhibit pride in my accomplishments. College taught me to be proud.
I learned in college all about the other faiths of the world. I learned about the Shintoists, their understanding of the world around them through a spiritual connection to the stones, the rivers, the forests, the mountains, the valleys, their kami. I learned about the Buddhists and their quest to be free from suffering by being free from desire. I learned about the Muslims and their discovery of Allah and his greatness in their destinies both now and in the future by submission to His will. I learned about my Jewish brothers and sisters and their selection by their God as chosen. I learned about the Hindus and their worship of their gods creating and destroying like life itself while at the same time we return time and time again in reality. I learned about Tao, paganism, Egyptian tradition, the Greek and Roman gods I learned about the various ways Christians express their love of their god from faith to faith, based on Gospel and resurrection through being reborn in Christ.
Living in college I was afraid though. I loved the magic of the place, monks, the students, my friends whom I had come to love. But I was afraid, because by then a small nagging doubt shifted in my brain. I had learned about all the other world's explorations of their definitions of truth, their hope to experience what is divine, what is magical, what is beyond their sight of the here and now. Upon learning these things, many of which were many centuries older than my theological upbringing, many thousands of years older than the Christ story, I wondered why my story would be more true than theirs. I remembered standing on the mountain in the rockies as a young boy invoking incantations to draw ancient mystical power out of the sky and stones and knew that my whole life to that point had been a journey to live in a dream. I was afraid in college because I knew I might wake up.
Upon graduation of college my bishop, encouraged by the college seminary advisors, asked me to go to Rome. That famous place nestled in the Mediterranean, a cradle of Western civilization, home of the world's oldest Christian tradition. There I could further emerge myself into the dreams of my childhood, there for most certain in the ancient cathedrals and homes of God I would finally see the dreams of my faith playing out in reality. While I loved the dreams in college, I still hoped that somehow, with the right incantation, the right place, the right light perhaps, I would see the divine; I hoped that the fantasies so well described in gospel and faith would become more than dreams and I would experience beyond that hope, reality. I remember so well setting foot upon the crumbling streets of Rome, their cobblestones grabbing at my toes, almost as if in protest to my walking there, almost personal. There in Rome, thrust from the dreams of a monastery I entered the nightmare of fundamentalist society of Roman Catholics who pushed me to leave the niceties of those faith dreams behind, and to look at the faith dreams of blood and tears. There, standing before the church of Cephas, looking at the grandeur of a place that should have sparked a fire of fantastical dreams, thrust upon me the stones cast of a belief system that ultimately would come to hate me.
Seminarians clutching at rosaries, papal masses, long black cassocks, religious societies, Jesuits, Legionaries of Christ, nuns, friars and brothers, all swirled around me, joyful in their fantastical praise of the Christ, his mother, the Church's martyrs and saints. I arrived in this ancient city and was immediately aware of how inadequate my doubts in faith would prepare me to live in a community of believers who had NO doubt about their God. I lived with men in seminary who laughed at other faiths, found flaws in other faith systems, in other Christian beliefs, and would do everything they could to tear those beliefs apart. In some way in their deconstructionism of faith, they believed they were building their own walls of faith stronger. Using the cast off sad philosophical debates which they believed they always won, they would rest back and sing praise to Christ for allowing themselves to be so bright, so powerful. Every time they mocked the belief of another faith I cringed, cried inside and wondered what would they do to me if they knew that when I slipped rosary beads between my fingers I didn't believe in virgin mothers, that I doubted if the Christ had ever even existed. My faith started to become as real as the magic on the mountain, a dream that while so nice in theory, never became anything than a dream, a boyhood fantasy. Yet like a drug, being offered the chance to become, in persona Christi, to become like the person of God, I still wanted to know if that spell would hold, maybe in that moment, when oil is dripped on my head, when the stole and priest's chasuble is placed on my shoulders, maybe then the magic would be real.
Walking in Rome, it taught me to dwell in sorrow. My life, surrounded by the fundamentalism of Catholicism became darker, more dreadful because I was not a theological man, I was a dreamer, someone who loved fantasy. These men in Rome, studying to be priests were not interested in fantasy, they were interested only in ensuring that their truth, Catholic as it were, would be the only truth, and their mission as men of God, as they would become in persona Christi themselves, well it was to rid the rest of the world of any other belief, to convert, and if not able to convert, at least to mock and ridicule. My sorrow arose from that nagging doubt of College, and I wasn't able to laugh here or love, not really. When I walked into the giant cathedrals of Rome, all of Europe, I remembered all the lonely men and women that I had encountered thus far in my life, the boy who died of AIDS, the old man dead in his bed alone for weeks, the very poor, the sick, the elderly, and looking at these ancient huge temples of worship I realized that this faith lacked the authenticity of its own creed. Monks and priests wrapped in silk and wool, finest leather on their feet, didn't represent their own Christ, they, these monks and priests were supposed to be in persona Christi, yet looking at them I realized they were nothing like the Christ I had sang songs of praise about in college, they were nothing like the naked, sacrificed man on the Cross. My sorrow deepened, and I wondered if maybe the spell that would make me in persona Christi might in fact too be a myth, a legend. Would I stand again on the mountain in Colorado calling upon the power of the sky and stones, hoping to turn into a raven so as to fly away, to swim in my dreams, and there in that hope discover the magic wasn't real? Would the anointing with oil, laying on of hands, stole and chasuble all result with me one more time climbing down the mountain on my hands and knees over stone and dirt, shaking my head wishing that the dream were a reality. This tainted the laughter I had left at college with sorrow. Rome taught me that dreams are not reality.
In Rome I had the chance to travel in Europe and in Africa. I discovered a love for the catacombs of the ancient city resting above me, her old dead dusting beneath her. I found my heart in Florence, a city so filled with creativity and art that at every turn I was inspired to create art myself. I went to the valleys of the Swiss Alps, seeing there a wonderful hamlet where I got drunk with the locals, the only language we had in common at that time was laughter. I walked the dusty streets of Tunis, surprised at how much citizens of the USA were disliked, but inspired by how warm and welcoming the Tunisians were to guest; there I met Muslims who were gregarious and kind, welcoming us to their homes with tea and honey. In Rome I had my first sexual experience with a boy named Ricky*. It was awkward, it was difficult, and it filled me with shame. In Rome I looked from the top of a building and found myself glad for once that I didn't have wings as I thought about throwing myself to the cobbled stone streets below, my anguish, my conflict in being faithless and dreaming of sleeping with boys pushing me to the edge.
I wanted so much to be the man I had already for so many years of dreaming of being. I knew that I could not remain in the heart of the Catholic Church, for my love affair with the trappings and rituals of this place had already faded. I begged my bishop to bring me home, that I would continue my studies in the USA. There at least I thought I would be closer to men and friends I had from college, there I could find my community. There I could run away from my love affair, there I could hide my doubts in moving from place to place. They agreed, still finding in me the hope that I would become a great man of God, in persona Christi. For a time at least this became very true.
Those long spring and summer days, my last in Rome, were the worst days. I was trying during that time to avoid Ricky*, the young man with whom I had a love affair. The interest in him was spent just as quickly as the love making itself. He desired a relationship, I desired nothing more than to be returned to my own safe haven in Colorado. He would leave me small gifts, notes, attempt to brush up against me. I hide in the shadows of the long seminary hallways, ducked behind trees when he would come by. I spent all my free time in those last days at St. Peter's Basilica, resting in the cool, marbled shadows of the house of Cephas. I would walk the entirety of St. Peter's interior as often as I could, staring at the ancient theological stories told in stone and marble. I would pause beside the monument to Clement XIII, his lions resting beside him, one fierce, the other sleeping. There capturing my spirt, above the sleeping lion rested the Spirit of Death, his sickle placed upside down, a genius of Death holding his hand back, only a moment. I had no affinity for Clement XIII, but the art of Antonio Canova drew me in, and many an evening was spent by myself kneeing before the moment, hoping to stay quietly with death, yet wondering how to come awake like the lion keeping vigil.
The day finally came that I was able to return home, even to this moment I have almost no memory of returning. I know the few friends I had at while I studying in Rome were surprised that I was leaving, even though I think my sorrow was apparent, worn on my face like a mask of tragedy. I only vaguely remember sending my few possessions back to St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado. Books mostly, a few pieces of art that I had collected while I lived in Europe, the rest papers and texts books of my theological studies. I remember one of my last exams at the Gregorian Pontifical College where I took my studies, it was in apologetics, and I was totally unprepared. I went before the professor, a Jesuit Italian priest and when I walked into his office to begin my test I burst into tears. He, used to intimidating students because of his great knowledge, was at first thinking it was because I was unprepared for the test. Then as he looked into my tear filled eyes realized that my tears had nothing to do with the testing but with faith. He in those last moments in Rome was gracious, he comforted me and allowed me to weep. I never took the test, but he gave me a passing grade for his class all the same.
I returned to Denver in the summer of 1993, and was given a job working for Fr Don Willet in Frederick, Colorado serving the migrant workers. I and another seminarian, Rocco, with whom I had started college went together there. Rocco and I had been best friends at the Benedictine College Seminary, Conception in Missouri. I could hardly wait for his company, but those days that summer ,driving from migrant camp to migrant camp offering religious education classes, I slept. Rocco was our designated driver, and every moment I sat down in the seat of his little Geo, I feel asleep. I was practically narcoleptic, no doubt my emotional and physical needs were exhausted by the experience I had just left behind. I knew that almost no seminarian who returned from Rome would go on to become a priest, and my failure to survive in Rome rested on my shoulders, and I became determined to not fail again, regardless of my faith issues. I invested in my work as Christian minister to the poor migrants, teaching them the joys of baptism, the grace of Eucharist, the wonders of our Church and the kindness of her people.
That fall of 1993 I was entered into the seminary St. Thomas, based in Denver. The campus and the buildings there had gone largely unused for a number of years, but the Archbishop of Denver, then Francis Stafford, wanted to create a theological institution in Denver that would mark his legacy. The seminary has since been renamed St. John Vianney by Archbishop Charles Chaput; it was originally run by a small group of Vincentian Priests who held the seminarian open by opening the doors to not only Roman Catholic, but Episcopalian seminarians as well, including woman who were interested in priesthood. This was a moment in the history of the theological studies that a small group of Roman Catholic seminarians were placed in context with a much more liberal group of theologians, and it was a mix of oil and water. We found ourselves being trained by other theologians who were ill prepared for a failing seminary, with a short fall of finances, and who were not prepared for the ill will that arose between the Romans and Episcopalians. I had a hard time adapting back to the real world, where not everyone was Roman Catholic, where others had different concepts of how God, faith would be revealed. I was just there, riding for a moment in a school that academically was a breeze, and I found myself quite able to continue sleeping, if not physically most certainly emotionally and spiritually.
The next year, 1994 I was assigned a year long live in internship at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greeley, Colorado. I knew the pastor from several interactions at other diocesan events, and found him to be a generous, kind spirited man who loved his church, its people, his priesthood. He was a great mentor, a good friend, and I thrived at St. Mary's. I was working with the educational department of the church, mostly with RCIA (Roman Catholic Initiation of Adults), a conversion group, and with 5th grade religious education. I came to adore the church and her people, all of whom were kind and supportive of my living dream to become the person of Christ. The weariness that I wore on my shoulders from my experience in Rome seemed to be cast off, and I found there at St. Mary's the ability to actuate my faith, see a congregation who worked to educate, care for the sick and poor, to teach, sing, laugh and praise. I embraced that life, and all my doubts from Rome faded, and I felt once again a closeness to the divine call to be in persona christi.
Life of course cannot be so simple - one Sunday night, while I was working with the youth group, the teenagers group, I met a young woman who caused me to sit back and question everything about who I thought I was, who I thought I could become. That night, just meeting for the first time, we had to play act or sing a song for the kids, in an ice breaker, the details of why I can't remember, but I do remember what we did, she and I sang a song. I remember her staring into my eyes, her blue eyes shining, and she said "What shall we do?" I looked at her and said, "Well one song I know all the words to is I'm a little tea pot." She nodded and together, Debra* and I sang a song, breaking the ice not just for the kids at our youth group, we broke the ice for each other. Following that evening Debra and I became close friends, we fell in love.
That night, for the first time I questioned the entirety of everything I had been doing. I had forgotten my brief love affair with Ricky*, that awkward moment of lust in the warm Mediterranean sun was something I was afraid of, not just because of my sexual orientation, but because of what that would mean for my family, my values, my faith. Here though, looking at this beautiful young woman I suddenly for what I thought was a brief moment of sanity knew that I could be the master of my own destiny, that here, in a moment I could become a normal American boy. Images of white picket fences, two, maybe three children running around my feet. A beautiful wife who would support my hobbies, take me to the movies, cook me dinner, allow me to cook for her, all these dreams that at some point we all have came into my mind and I hoped, I wish, I dreamt, they would be mine.
We spent so much time together, we laughed, we held hands, we danced, we sang, we drank, we smoked. Debra became this woman in my life that set me on fire; everything about her was the inspiration to get up and enjoy my day. Everyday I would work at the Church, teaching, ministering, preaching, and everyday I wanted the end to come because Debra would come by my office, and there, in those afternoon moments all in the world was right.
I started to write her letters on cards with images of lovers. I think my first card was of a little boy and little girl playing. We started to exchange letters almost daily, most certainly weekly. They were silly, fun, innocent, but we were in love. I loved her more than anyone I had ever loved before. We were able to bring a smile to each others lips with only a glance. At one point she wrote me a poem:
Your name is Harvey, mine is Marge.
You are skinny and I am large.
You make me laugh like I never have before.
To you, I'm just a big bore.
I think I should end this, as I keep cutting myself down,
Enjoy, Harvey Cold-heart, I'll see ya around.
We called each other pet names from then on, though I refused to call her Marge, so I told her I would call her Vito, life. We shared all humor in common, we would watch Mel Brooks films, hysterical at the joy found in "Young Frankenstein", "High Anxiety", "Blazing Saddles." We flirted, kiss, stared into each others eyes, all the while each of us struggling with my vocation to seminary, to priesthood. This time, for the first time I considered that magic, dreams would come true not in persona christi, but as a married man. She wrote me once, "I have never felt so close to someone as I do to you. Is it me or is it kind of odd we have so much in common?........Thom, it's hard to explain but for some reason I think you know special you are to me, I feel like I've known you 25 years instead of for 2 months."
For the entire summer of 1994 and into the winter we shared our love affair. It was innocent on so many levels, but it created inside my inner mind a hurricane of fear, doubt. I wrestled within myself the conflicting doubt of my vocation to in persona christi, I felt the memories of a long human tradition of marriage of man to woman. I wanted to be, no wait, I felt normal. There dancing, laughing, singing with that sweet woman I felt normal. I wasn't a oddity as a seminarian, I wasn't an oddity as a young man struggling to identify his sexuality, there with my dear Vito I was a young man in love with a woman. She was alone when we met, and she had dreams too, and there in that perfect moment of space and time our dreams walked side by side, hand in hand. She wrote me, following a letter I had sent her professing that I was falling in love with her, in her letter she said, "I was shaking so bad after I read your letter today. This is not what I expected to happen, Thom, I really thought you'd tell me we're just friends. Why? Because you're just too good to be true!!! Everything you are is what I need and desire. The qualities I only thought were in my dreams, the man I dream of who never had a face is now you."
We both knew that I was studying for priesthood, and most of my time was spent working in the parish. This mission though unlike all the others I had undertaken prior was much more filled with work related to education, working with teenagers, young adults. I didn't spend as much time with the dying or sick, instead I found myself with those folks discovering Catholic faith, middle class white kids who needed to belong to a youth group so as to feel more part of the community. There in Greeley I was able to pretend, to dream a new dream, to forget the magic of stones and sky, to see faith and church as a place you go occasionally, not as a place you live in.
We went once to Loveland, near Greeley, just north of Denver, and sat on the shores of Lake Loveland, cuddling, holding each other in the moonlight, drinking a bottle of wine. There in that moment of pale reflected sun on the moon's face, across the water's of love, I was hers and she was mine. That journey thus far, leading me to her in northeast Colorado, surrounded by farms and the plains of the west, was a perfect journey, a deep dream of life that I always wondered about. There I could be just her hero, I didn't need to strive to be a hero to the world, I just needed to be hers.
Today as I sit thinking back to those warm summer nights I spent holding her hand, dreaming of her as my wife, I can barely read her letters, spilt out on my desk, covering it like an account's on April 14th. I sat with her in September and told her that we should slow things down, that I wanted to enjoy my life at Greeley that I wanted to be her friend, that I couldn't allow myself to fall in love so fast. I have on those glasses that give me 20/20 vision in the past, and I wish I could reach out and touch my younger self, pull him down into a chair and tell him it was okay he was struggling with faith, sexuality, celibacy, life and love. Now I know these things better, yes I'm still learning too, but then, as a young 24 year old man, in love with a woman that I could never love, working through a faith that I could never have, I was alone, scared, and ultimately I returned to that life of dreams and magic. The easier path then was to go back to the world of books and studies, school and prayer. At least there I had people who could work with me in discussing faith. With Vito, my sweet girl, I had no one to talk to me about sexuality, that I was a gay man, that my sexuality wouldn't, couldn't change no matter how deeply I feel in love with her, because it wasn't love, not really, it was another dream. I did the right thing for her and me, I ended our affair, breaking her heart, breaking mine too.
I remember I cried when I told her that I couldn't see her anymore, and that feeling that washed over me was the same feeling I've had when I've sat alone in a dark room. The forlorn feelings of abandonment could have easily killed me. I cursed my mind, my body, my sex. I wanted to love her, to be her husband, to be the father of her children, but my own sexuality betrayed me. My fear of telling myself I was gay threw me to the floor of my mind, and there on my mind's knees and palms, I bowed my head and forced myself to accept journey back to the church. This decision for me was one I made because I couldn't bear to tell myself, my family, my world, that not only was I gay, but I wasn't in love even with god. In that dark corner of my mind, I buried my doubts, fears, l went back to that dream of gods and magic, the childhood fantasy that maybe I could become the person of Christ. There from the darkness I forgot the light and decided that deception both of my ability to love and my ability to have faith would be my reality. This moment was the last before the end of my studies that I could have easily admitted to myself and those who supported my journey to priesthood that I was on the wrong journey; my desire for magic in bread and wine, to be in persona christi was only a dream of childhood. At least that winter of 1995 I had the courage to stop lying to the girl that I loved and to break her heart only a little. My heart would continue to break until it nearly died for another 5 years, and then for nearly 19 more it would rest in a tomb of ignorance and sorrow. I have only just begun to wake up from those dreams of bread and wine, magic in air and stones, love of a girl and our future children. But I think before I wake I have to continue to explore my life as it lead me to become in persona christi.
The words of Emily Dickinson's "Heart we will forget him!" have stuck with me after I left my dear Vito; I imagined these words may have flittered in her mind, for we were close, Vito and I, and no doubt she drew sorrow from them just as I did. I, when reading it and thinking back to her, dancing to my ridiculous song, "I'm a little teapot," twirling and setting me on fire for a moment, change the gender focus and sometimes whisper, "heart, we will forget her........"
Heart, we will forget him!
You and I, tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.
When you have done, pray tell me
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you're lagging.
I may remember him!