She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
— Luke 2:7
We must pay careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard so that we do not drift away.
— Hebrews 2:1
vulnerable — ORIGIN Latin vulnerabilis, from vulnerare ‘to wound’.
One of my favorite moments this year was a summer was a Supper Club Rules with my friend, Chuck. Our chosen restaurant was Park Kitchen. We had a wonderful table on the sidewalk. Across the street handsome Italian men were swearing at one another on the boccie ball court and street youth were playing “shirts and skins” basketball.
We ordered drinks, pear sidecars. When the drinks arrived, I mentioned to Chuck, “I’ve never had a pretty drink before.’ The rim of glass was crusted with sugar and the drink was a very light, warm amber.
Supper Club Rules has allowed me to dine in some of the finest restaurants in Portland. Generally, we talk about food, wine, and the service. That night I asked Chuck if we could have a topic. He suggests that it would perhaps need to go the Rules Committee for an official determination. I rolled my eyes and pressed on with the topic, “Is it possible to change one’s life?” He responded, “Yes.” And then we discussed it over a wonderful meal and our pretty drinks.
After dinner we decided to walk the park blocks. As we walked, Chuck posed a second topic. His question was of deeply personal nature and of such a profound nature that I was stunned into silence, something that does not happen often.
We chose a park bench and I began to form a response. And as we wrestled with the question I realized how vulnerable he had become to me in that question. Our friendship deepened immeasurably that evening.
In the fall of 2002, my life became inexorably entwined in the life of JB. He was facing crises on almost every front of his life. Two things made this a natural for me: my messiah-complex and my penchant for handsome men. One crisis that JB was facing was back surgery. I visited his hospital room the day after his surgery and it was evident that something had gone wrong. Under normal circumstances he would have been released with two days. He was in severe pain. I visited his room each evening and would massage his feet, the least a messiah could do.
There are two things that come easily to me: crying and falling in love. JB gave me no signals that he was falling in love with me other than an appreciation for my kindnesses and friendship. I on the other hand was deeply in love and more importantly felt needed. Messiahs like feeling needed.
Over the course of several months our friendship deepened and we had become vulnerable to one another in significant ways. As my love grew more intense and JB’s inability to return it became more evident our friendship ended and a part-time Messiah hears the words that are the most painful in the lexicon, “I wish I had never met you!”
There was some wisdom on JB’s part to end the friendship rather than restructure it. At the time I could only mourn or curse.
Two days before Christmas I called JB at his office. I expected his secretary to screen his calls and once he heard it was me to refuse to take it. Instead she put me directly through. After his “hello” I said, “This is Dave. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas.” His reply caught me off guard, “I’m glad you called. I’ve been thinking about you and miss our friendship.”
We agreed to have lunch that next week. Is too much vulnerability stupidity or is it grace?
Dennis and Frodo Baggins
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King would have been the perfect movie for me to see with Dennis. We would have made adventures with the release of each one of the trilogy. There would have been great ceremony upon attending the final installment. I used to go to the movies with Dennis often. I saw “Star Wars” with Dennis. I have not seen a movie with Dennis in over six years. Each year he sends me a Christmas card telling me “I am missed.” Which actually means, “I wish you weren’t gay.”
So instead of sitting next to Dennis, I find myself next to a stranger I had met on the internet. Since the date was as last minute thing, we found ourselves sitting nearly in the front row. I get nauseous sitting too close to the screen. It was too late to turn back.
It did not take me long, however, to get caught up in the movie. My favorite part of the previous movies was the friendship between Sam and Frodo, and the final installment has that friendship tested to the limits. Sam is betrayed and Frodo determines that Sam can no longer continue on the quest to return the Ring. As Frodo disappears into the mountain, Sam shouts out, “Mr. Frodo, do not go anywhere I cannot follow.”
My internet date seemed uncomfortable with the fact that I am now sobbing uncontrollably and tries to create an air of “I’m-not-with-him.”
Of all the great friendships … David and Jonathan, Sam and Frodo, Bert and Ernie … Dennis and I had a great friendship. It pains me each Christmas that I have gone somewhere he cannot (or will not?) follow.
I was recently having a conversation with a Catholic mystic who had come over to pull my legs. (Yes, I do lead an interesting life. And if you must know, “pulling my legs” is NOT a euphemism, it is one of the few things that relieves the pain in my legs.) My conversation with the Catholic mystic centers on Abraham and Ishmael. At some point I feel the need to get my Bible to clarify a point.
I am sure that I can locate my Bible with little difficulty. That brown leather book with the gilt gold edges was for many years was a constant companion. It became evident that in the last move it had been stored away.
For at least five years I met every Thursday with a group of gay men seeking to reconcile their spirituality and their sexuality. That group of men became an integral part of my coming out. Our format was not complicated. It evolved into a few simple parts: dinner together (always vegetarian), Dave’s Question, a reflection by Pat from the Gospels, an extended time of silent prayer and reflection, and Eucharist.
I embraced all the components, except the silence. Twenty minutes of silence did not seem like much, yet I was never comfortable in it.
A few months ago, I decided to leave this community of gay men. I felt like my life needed a drastic change and for some very complex reasons I chose leaving Anawim. But I think of the various reasons, one that surfaces often for me was the silence. My silence each week had become more and more painful. The silence often consisted of me wanting to rage against God. The year of therapy prior to leaving the ministry ended with my therapist asking me, “David, why can’t you be angry at God?”
I had walked away from the pulpit. I had packed the Bible away with old college textbooks. I had ended my connection with the community of gay brothers. I had ended that time of sitting silent before God, unwilling to wrestle or rage.
I am not sure where Jesus is in my life at the moment, but I swear I hear a haunting sound on the winter wind, “David, there is no place you can go that I will not follow.”