Monday, August 16, 2010

Feeling Both Hopeful and Sad


(To start at the beginning of this series, click here)


I guess it's been two recent things that have got me thinking upon my first sexual experience. First, Tony from Dignity has been seriously making the moves on me. He’s called twice since Sunday and even e-mailed me at work. He says he wants to spend time with me and get to know me better. The thing is, Tony’s already in a relationship, and has been for well over ten years. Vince shared this bit of information with me after our Dignity gathering on Sunday. He says that Tony and his partner have an “arrangement,” or so Tony has told him.

Personally, I don’t get it. I’d give anything to be in a relationship, and yet here’s Tony in one but who doesn’t seem to take it very seriously. I’m half tempted to go out with him just to find out more about how this “arrangement” actually works and to hear him try and justify it.

The other thing that got me thinking about my first time has been my interviewing of a number of young gay Catholics – or former Catholics, I should say. Many of them are at the age I was at when I had my locker room experience with the older guy who turned out to be a priest. I look back on that experience, and my life leading up to it, and realize what I child I was. I mean, even though I was twenty-two at the time, I was basically still an awkward teenager. I can't help but think that, in general, young gay people today seem to have it much more together than I and others in their thirties had it when we were their age. And that's especially true, I'd say, about most people of Vince's generation.

Not that I regret that first encounter. And I certainly don’t view the actions of the priest as abusive, as some may be quick to declare. No, as inexperienced as I may have been, I was (legally speaking) an adult. And I
wanted it. It was an experience that helped me begin to grow up. It was more than a quickie in the locker room. I felt we genuinely connected; that we touched one another's souls, helped one another – however briefly. He gave me the opportunity to be loving and giving – and I took it, embodied it, grew from it. How can I regret that?

Anyway, as I said, I’ve been working on a feature article that the paper’s doing about why young people are abandoning organized religion. I was able to convince my editor to let me focus on young gay people, and thanks to some contacts in P-Flag was able to connect with seven of them over the past three days. Believe it or not, all come from Catholic families. None of them, however, identify today as Catholic. I don’t know why I’m surprised by this. I mean, let’s face it, I’m the aberration: a relatively young gay man who’s still in the church. And I can't help but think there's a connection between the "togetherness" of these young people I interviewed and the fact that they've consciously moved beyond the Church a Church that, truth be told, prefers its members be good little obedient children. But does it have to be this way? Can't one be an adult and a Catholic?

One woman I interviewed, Monique, works with immigrants from a number of less developed countries – countries where AIDS is a real problem. She believes that the Catholic Church is perpetuating a major public health crisis because of its position on condoms. She can’t, in good conscience, identify with the church’s stance. Despite missing the social justice agenda of the church, she can’t bring herself to be part of any local parish because in her view, the wider church’s right-wing agenda overshadows conversations about poverty and justice.

Another interviewee, a guy in his mid-twenties, told me that organized religion hasn’t seemed relevant to him for over ten years. He finds the term organized religion, along with “faith,” to be artificial labels that are independent of people’s inherent goodness, sincerity, and capacity to love. For him, the church is more exclusionary and divisive than it is welcoming and inclusive.

What I found most interesting was how all seven people I interviewed reported having satisfying and meaningful spiritual lives – even though they were not connected to a particular church or religious tradition. I must admit I was shocked and not a little embarrassed by how taken aback I was by this – initially, that is. Once I started listening to what it was in these young people’s lives that gave them meaning and a sense of the sacred, I could totally relate to what they were saying. That was actually kinda scary. I mean, could I walk away from the church? Have I already began walking away? Sure, I attend daily Mass at St. Aelred’s, but I’m no longer connected to a Sunday parish community. Plus I attend the outlawed Dignity services – some of which are celebrated by women priests!

Anyway, as I said, I was struck by what some of interviewees had to say about what gave them satisfying and meaningful spiritual lives. Deb, for instance, says that positive and loving relationships between people are the most important ways of finding and expressing meaning in her life. She actively seeks out ways and opportunities to show others kindness, enthusiasm, sympathy, and non-judgmental thought.

Eric says he's learned to value bypassing what he calls limited and dehumanizing man-made rules. "I try to approach life thinking about how Jesus treated people while on this planet," he told me.

Claudia practices meditation, reads lots of books on different world faiths, and follows the example of individuals that she knows and who inspire her. Jeff finds volunteer work to be very meaningful. "Unlike a lot of organized religion," he said, "volunteer organizations don’t ask, 'Are you gay?' but rather they appreciate what you do for them."

Finally, Meg shared with me that she believes in "life and love." "I consider our relationships of love to be of God, to be sacred," she said with a warm smile - the type of smile I realized with a start one rarely sees on the faces of those bishops and priests who are ever-so-ready to judge and denounce the likes of Meg and I. Indeed, all the young people who shared so openly and honestly with me their spiritual lives.

I must admit I feel both hopeful and sad. I'm hopeful for our world because it seems clear to me that young people are much more self-aware and self-accepting of themselves as gay then were past generations. Things are changing for the better, and will continue to change. But I'm sad because the Church I love – or at least its official leadership – has had absolutely nothing to do with encouraging or facilitating such a loving and positive movement forward. Quite the opposite: it actively attempts to thwart it. Yet who knows: perhaps our confronting and grappling with such attempts to oppress and deny that which many of us intuitively sense and experience as beautiful and good, has actually helped gay people become more aware, more self-accepting, more determined. Kinda ironic, isn't it?

Tomorrow the Courage conference takes place at St. Jerome's. The local Dignity chapter is planning a peaceful protest outside the church, given that the group's attempts to have a public forum with members of Courage leadership have been rejected. It should be an interesting day.

To be continued.

See also the previous installments of The Journal of James Curtis:
Part One: A “Bells and Smells” Kind of Guy
Part Two: A Quiet Visit and an Exhausting Conversation
Part Three: A Journey Begins
Part Four: Carlos
Part Five: My Lunch with a “Medicine Bearer”
Part Six: Father Brandon
Part Seven: The Note
Part Eight: A Swimmer’s First Time


Mareczku said...

This was very thought provoking to me. When I read it I think of how for many young people today there is a driftng away from Christ. Sadly this is probably even more pronounced in young gay people. Some may retain part of their spirituality but for many Christ is not a large part of that spirituality. We have so many gay priests that could help to keep these young people close to Christ but many in the hierarchy are interested in getting rid of these priests too.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

I don't see these young people as "drifting away from Christ," but rather from a certain and limited expression of Roman Catholicism.

Christ - God's spirit of consciousness and compassion - is clearly being accessed and embodied by people - young and old - beyond the confines of dysfunctional expressions of institutionalized religion.

The big question is: Can we reform the Roman Catholic Church so that Christ's presence can be readily discerned? I think that many current practices and the overall culture of the Church (a culture marked by the very un-Christlike attitudes and structures of clericalism, patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia) prevent the presence of Christ shining fully forth. This is a great tragedy - especially for an institution that is suppose to be all about being Christ in the world.



Mareczku said...

However, Michael, we become one with Christ when we receive Him in the Holy Eucharist. I think through the Eucharist people stay close to Christ. So if people leave the Church they are giving this up also. I think the presence of Christ can shine fully forth even though the clergy are imperfect men. But if someone goes to yoga class or plays golf on Sunday morning instead of going to Mass (to give 2 examples) I think they will drift away from Christ.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

I've come to believe that there are many ways by which we can become one with God's Spirit of consciousness and compassion, i.e., Christ. I don't think God limits him/herself to the Roman Catholic understanding of Eucharist, and so therefore I'm hesitant to judge others' experience of becoming one with Christ - especially when their words and actions clearly embody God's loving presence to the world. And isn't that what it's ultimately all about?