Sunday, December 30, 2012

Counting Our Blessings... a good thing to do as the New Year approaches. Yesterday was the Third Anniversary of this blog, and what an amazing three years it's been. However, my mind right now is focused on gratitude to God for more recent events.

I reconciled with a good friend of mine last weekend with whom I had not spoken for a year and a half. While it's hard to say what was going on, emotionally, on her end, I know that either way I had a large responsibility in creating that rift over the years (the final break only manifested a tension that had been simmering for a long time, I think), and certainly the event that served as the final catalyst on my part was inexcusable. I was quite surprised, then, to get the phone-call from her, as I had written a message a few weeks earlier (in a very dark place) and heard no immediate response. I was so happy to see her again; really, her absence had meant that a significant part of my own self and respository of my own personal history...had been entirely missing, and I was just recently realizing how profoundly harmful that rupture had been to my own soul on a deep (if not immediately apparent) level, and so the restoration was an important part of restoring balance. I don't know if our relationship will be the same as it used to be in the future or what, but either way I was so happy, we spent seven hours catching up, saw some other friends together the next day, and I'm supposed to go visit her in California sometime in the New Year.

I am grateful in general for getting to see so many friends recently, from that long "catch up" with my recently reconciled friend, to our trip to the zoo with a couple other friends the next day, to a crazy night ending with a bar-fight with four of my oldest friends the next day (we've known each other about 15 years now), to Solemn Midnight Mass at the Institute of Christ the King for Christmas with another friend from college (our third year in a row going), to a trip I took today to the aquarium in Chicago with a really good friend of mine. It's most special in groups. It's nice enough to have individual friends going back to ones childhood, but to be part of a group of four or five that have all known each other over that span...really does create a wonderful sense of hometown groundedness and stability and continuity that I think is important for a person. I also, in the context of one of these group get-togethers, reconciled with another friend of mine who had drifted away over a misunderstanding sometime in the past year. Though she is not nearly as important to me on a personal level as the other, this is someone who goes back to first grade, who formed an integral part of one sub-group who are supposed to be friends for life, and whose loss would have introduced significant difficulty in the future when it came to having such group reunions. I feel like I've driven some people away in my life as of late (always so much more painful than when people drift away organically) and so having two reconciliations like this, and re-affirming all these different friendships through meeting, really helped me feel like harmony was being restored.

On the other hand, I am also grateful for recently making the decision to purge from my life several acquaintances who were toxic in their homophobia or general Catholic identity-politicking. The last thing I need right now is a (mostly online) "audience" of Catholic judges to make me feel trapped in a persona. My attitudes and approach towards engaging religion and spirituality have undergone a pretty profound shift recently, and I am grateful for the sense of spiritual freedom this has afforded me. Interestingly, this very liberation makes it, perhaps, feel unlikely that I'll ever get into specifics in terms of writing posts synthesizing these realizations online (which, for me, has often been more an act of "convincing myself") though, on the other hand, maybe someday or in some format I will, given that I might think my musings could be helpful for other people (though, really, I think they're understandings that people can only ever learn for themselves; the last thing I'd want is to go from one dogmatism to another; at best, then, reflecting on my journey could only help others by providing them with a language for expressing their own evolutions when they are ready). Suffice it to say, it's clear that in the past I was appropriating religion in a fundamentalist or legalistic sense, and so much unnecessary stress and artificial constraint and anxiety was being invested in this. Eventually, I became an absurd caricature in spite of my own innate qualities of self-awareness and criticality. It's nice, for once, to not feel like I have to fight battles to sustain an invisible edifice lest it (for whatever reason) threaten my own sense of self too much or something like that. It's nice to be able to read viewpoints, even if I disagree with them, and not feel a burning, anger, or sense of "Hmm, they may have a point...No! Better do damage control to cover this up!" Most of all, it's nice to feel honest with myself rather than feeling like I have to put energy into maintaining an elaborate intellectual facade by repression. It's nice to raze the bastions, it's nice to know God is love and mercy, and to focus on grace rather than the Law as I go forward on my spiritual journey and grapple with this Faith I have been given.

I am also so grateful, as I discussed in my last post, for coming out officially. Only a couple of my remaining friends did not know already, but it was really great to come out to my family and have a long drunk conversation with my dad about sexuality and all the hidden stories of my life of which he was entirely unaware (but whose very absence created, I'm sure, a very unbalanced image of who I am in his head). He said he already basically knew, and that such suspicions have already been discussed with my siblings, but he was so proud, and though we were really drunk (he broke a glass and it was gently hinted we should leave the pub, actually) I felt really close to him. He actually expressed more appreciation for religion and spirituality than I'd ever seen before too. Then the next day it turned out he had forgotten large chunks of the conversation (and, actually, all of it beyond a certain point) on account of his inebriation, which made things a bit awkward in terms of how to proceed (with a "recap"?) but it's a step I'm so glad was taken.

I'm grateful for having steady work close to home for now, and for finding a friend at work to help get me through the long dull days. I'm grateful for seeing family at the holidays and good food. I'm grateful that I didn't get many gifts, because I don't want much else in my life right now materially. 

I'm grateful the world did not end.


Aric said...

Well, I'm grateful for you and your thoughts, Mark, as they have been a gift to both myself and, I'm sure, many others.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Jordan said...

Congrats for reaching Kuebler-Ross stage five! I knew you were gay from pretty early on, so I'm not shocked.

Your "hellfire" posts got me a bit concerned. I thought that maybe you were going into emotional meltdown. Glad to see that didn't happen.

Keep the blog going. Tell the reparative "therapy" touting hater types that usually a closet doorknob is on the left of the door from the perspective of a person trapped in a closet.

Jordan (e.g. VN etc.)

A Sinner said...


It's a little more complicated than the stages of grief, I think, though definitely this is all part of a decade-long process of growth. I've been out to my secular friends for 10 years now, since high school, and in the past few years actually did a lot of "gay Catholic" networking and (unfortunately) identity-craft. The synthesis I tried to pursue there and craft by sheer will-power ultimately showed itself unstable and unhealthy. Live and learn.

I did, however, for whatever reason, compartmentalize from my straight "Catholic friends" and in my online persona here and with my family, however. In that latter case, it was not so simple as just the religion question (if anything, the causation there worked the other way around). I suppose the fact that I had at least some "outlet" for that side of me forestalled concern regarding full disclosure to everyone...

My "angry" phase was actually related less to coming to terms with my sexuality and more to a very messy situation I was in with a lot of betrayal/trust issues (though, I suppose, the latter was really a phase of the former playing out, now that I think about it) that sort of pushed me to the extremes of "fundamentalist" logic in spite of myself and in spite of somehow also remaining a "renegade" especially on gay identity/relationship questions. "Consistency is the bugaboo of small minds" I suppose, and I'm great at bearing cognitive dissonance.

In fact, I can remember during that time thinking simultaneously how obviously evil and wrong the things I were saying were (and sometimes being embarrassed afterward) yet still saying them because, at the same time, there is a certain very real (and dangerous) logic to advocating that sort of All-Consuming Submission. Indeed, it seems to be a progression that is echoed in historical progression, and in that reported by other people; there is perhaps an analogy between the phase of history where heretics were burned literally and the phase of my development where I was burning them in my mind.

I can remember saying something like that if I were not Catholic, I would be an atheist BUT, as an atheist, I would then become a Muslim by sheer will power in a sort of existential/psychological suicide in order to destroy the world or something like that (radical iconoclastic Islam being a trope for that sort of philosophy of total desolating "God's Wrath" submission). To which a very wise friend pointed out to me: "But then you're saying that Islam is really everything that Christianity risks betraying?"

A Sinner said...

I no longer feel that way, of course. I've found such a peace from all anger or judgment or fear or guilt in the past couple months. I suppose I never "really" felt that way in the essence of who I am. And yet, as I said, I pursued that logic to its bitter end "hypothetically" (which could really only mean suspending my disbelief and actually entering into it, in all it's wrath).

Maybe this suspension of disbelief to enter into a wrong position in order to find the end of its logic was a sort of kenosis, inasmuch as this "exploration sailing off the edge of the flat earth" was what finally let me come to my new realizations when, at the extremes, that logic finally broke down totally.

But, I think that would probably be flattering myself. Even if that was the ultimate effect, it could only be God bringing good out of evil. In reality, from my perspective, it was more like demonic possession I'd think! As my intentions were not really pursuit of Truth (though somehow, truth found me in the end) but to weaponize such a position.

I lost someone very special to me in the fallout over this. Even when I began to change recently (if haltingly) and move away from the hellfire part in response to a growing (if naive and finally yet-again betrayed) trust on my end, the damage was perhaps already done for now, and only time can bring healing.

Sometimes two people are each waiting for the other to make a leap, but it's a catch-22 because neither wants to do so before the other. Well, I've made mine on my own, again. Maybe that's the only way it ever can or should be. It all just seems so silly to me now. I suppose the truth I've gained is worth the price, but it's a truth I wish I had had then, as maybe things would have been easier or worked out better. But there were other complicating factors too...

I don't really update the blog anymore except with like quotes or links or little videos, but I may do one more big post in the coming weeks about Virtue Ethics and my realizations regarding rejecting closed systems and dogmatism and legalistic/fundamentalist approaches to morality.

Of course, I don't in the least BLAME Faith for these approaches or manifestations. To me, it's obvious that I was attracted to such interpretations OF religion because of underlying psychological factors on my part, that involved their own sort of fragmented attraction to the Good understood in a childish way. Religion didn't "cause" it, and indeed it has only been in the context of a religious narrative or world-of-symbols that I've been able to resolve those issues and grow "through" them. Something like "Came for the repression but stayed for the redemption" I guess.

I'm not sure if it will do much good for people who haven't discovered such realizations for themselves experientially (I really don't think it's something one can be debated into, as I was once on the immature side of such debate, and only became more polarized and reactionary) but maybe it would help provide a language for people who have achieved it.


Jordan said...

Wow, my experiences aren't that deep, probably because my IQ is lower than the current thermostat reading in my home. I came out at 16 and never chose to hide being gay from the clergy or anyone else for that matter. Whenever I hear a priest go off into a homophobic rant, I just cringe knowing how much self hatred these men experience daily. Oddly, Pope Benedict's chaste embrace of Msgr. Gaenswein is all chill. Why don't more priests have a "special friend"? It'd do them good and the special friendliness doesn't have to be sexual.

This Christmas an agnostic/atheist friend of mine asked, "Jordan, why do you go to church? Isn't Catholicism all about hating on gay people?" I said, "Yeah, you're right. But a healthy chunk of priests, if not a majority of priests, dig dudes. I've learned that I just have to roll with the hypocrisy, because it isn't going away any time soon."

Catholicism, or any religion, is a miniature magnifier of the depravity and triumphs of societies. I'm still in the faith because of a love of the Latin language and a fascination with theological philosophy. Ain't anyone's business that I had a 10 year relationship with a hardcore Marxist (it worked, really!)

Anyway, glad to know you're on the sane path. Can't say that about myself, though.

All he wrote, Jordan