Fear is the Mind Killer

The title is from Dune, a book by Frank Herbert (1965). I first read it probably thirty years ago. I was on a canoe trip; I think I still have that paperback, though it’s dog eared and dried out. But I remember the quote very well. The truth of the statement is even more evident to me today. Fear can be debilitating. It can cloud the mind; fear not only keeps us from doing things, it often motivates us to the wrong action. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)

I’ve learned a lot of how to deal with fear over the years. That does not mean I’m unafraid; it means I’ve faced it and overcome some of it. I’m afraid of many things, and they plague me almost every day. As a brain injury survivor I’m afraid of accidentally stumbling into social blunders that won’t be forgiven. As a gay man I’m afraid of my male friends figuring out that i might be attracted to them… and of the resulting social blunders that won’t be forgiven. As a Christian I’m afraid of making assumptions that are inappropriate in a post-christian world…

…and of related social blunders that won’t be forgiven.

Note that there is a theme.

I think this is actually fairly common, even if we don’t like to admit it. The result is the kind of spiritual xenophobia that I described yesterday. And this is where conquering fear becomes important. I’m not sure I have less fear than I used to, but it doesn’t control me as much as it has. This last year was not only wonderful in uniting friends and discovering my queer spirituality, but directly related to those was shattering of the fear that had bound me so long.

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Spiritual Xenophobia

I’ve been involved with spirituality and the contemporary Christian church now for 35 years. I remember speaking about my “conversion” when I was at Moody bible Institute. One of the required classes was “Evangelism” and I had to describe how I came to my understanding of God. In fact I believe it was right about this time of year that it all started, three and a half decades ago.

In that time I’ve seen a number of changes in how adherents understand Christianity, and how they (we) represent themselves to the rest of the world. I remember very well when the buzz word word first came out: it’s all about relationship. Knowing God, knowing each other. Back then I was just beginning to learn about the depth of my relationships, and as an introvert I found the prospect both exciting and frightening. I’ve since learned to embrace those relationships quite well. I’m still an introvert, but I’m told that I fake extroversion quite well.

I was exploring this idea the other day when I came across a post by Chad Bird (Bird, 2017). Now Mr. Bird is very much a product of the American church and its classic perspective, as is evident in his writing… although he looks to have challenged a few common limitations. This post in particular is pretty good. He emphasizes that “[o]ur life with Christ is communal, not personal or private or individual.” We do not get to make God after our own image, nor interpret the Bible through our own eyes. We do these things collectively. Even though I may have studied hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) with some excellent scholars and understand the principles in depth, I learn more about the spiritual realm in discussing these matters with people I respect than I could ever do on my own.

It’s one of the things that saddened me when I first came out. With my conservative friends I could hold my own in discussions regarding theology and morality and hermeneutics. But as soon as I came out, I was no longer respected. I was suddenly dark in their eyes. Because I had a different interpretation of Scripture (My Queer Spirituality, 2018), my brothers and sisters saw me as an outcast. At the same time my more liberal friends didn’t trust me because of my association with conservatism, which I refused to abandon. It’s ironic: we often talk about how much we learn from those who are different from us, and yet there’s a thread of xenophobia that runs through our culture, and which frightens us when we actually connect with anyone who is really different.

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Blue Monday Bunk

The third Monday of January is described as the “Most Depressing Day of the Year” (The Independent, 2018). Right. Fake news, pseudo-science.

Now don’t misunderstand me when I say that. I don’t mean to deny that there are effects of the cold and the lack of light in the northern hemisphere, and the difficulties of getting outside and being active. “Seasonal Affective Disorder” is real, and I’ve had close friends suffer its debilitating effects. But to say that any one day or one time is more depressing than any other minimizes our understanding of depression. It has serious effects on our Western lives, and deadens some people to their core.

There are many aspects to depression, and they can affect people differently. What is depressing to one person might be motivating for another. One of the things that works for me to actively avoid depression is to integrate the different parts of my being. In particular after my Accident, I needed to be free to be the same person at home as at work, at church and at a bar. I couldn’t afford to put up fronts and keep them coordinated, to remember who I was supposed to be in each context. Too much effort and energy.

Two of the most difficult to integrate have been sexuality and spirituality, particularly as a gay Christian. And yet they have been, by far, the most rewarding (Bowles, 2018). Particularly in a day when we are faced almost daily with the effects of abusive power and sexual harassment, it is essential that we not fear those parts of ourselves. Yes, it is true that some people (mostly men) have distorted who we were supposed to be. But do not let them win. To be afraid is to invite depression, and do lose who we were meant to be.

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Witch Hunt

I was interested to read Liam Neeson’s comments regarding the sexual harassment allegations in the U.S. over the past few months. He said itas sparking something of a witch hunt (CBC, 2018). Now I want to be clear that I am completely supportive of the movement in more ways than I can describe, as I’ve written about previously (Bowles, 2017). But I’ve thought the same thing regarding some of those who have been accused and who have been dropped from their respective programs. I just assumed I did not know all the circumstances, that investigations would continue and the truth would come out. And I do have to say: it’s about time. Any kind of massive social correction like this in so short a time is bound to impact some people disproportionately, and painfully. Hopefully our system of justice will do its work correctly. But remember, those who are less powerful have been dealing with this silently for decades. There are many aspects of our culture that rightly deserve criticism, but I hope we are shifting in the right direction.

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My Queer Spirituality

Tomorrow is the second Sunday of the year: Sundays are traditionally a day that we in the West approach matters a bit more spiritual. In our house, it’s the day we coffee mugs that we bought at a Pow Wow last year. I go to church as well, and like many households we are developing our own traditions.

As part of my experience in discovering myself as a gay man, spirituality was (is) an important aspect of my growth. Most people, most of my friends, know that I’ve been heavily involved with the (conservative) Christian church for many years. That in spite of prevailing homophobic attitudes. I have a BA in pastoral studies from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago; I lived in a Christian “intentional community” for a year; I’ve worked with a number of churches (and denominations) over the decades. And I’m also gay. What most people don’t understand is that for me those two are fundamentally connected. Not only do the two inform each other, but they are dependent on each other.

Last week I wrote about a TEDx talk which described “The Bible and Homosexuality” (Bowles, 2018). A great vid… but so last decade. It’s unfortunate that we still have to talk about how my orientation is understood by homophobic Biblical scholars. The stars argued (correctly) that the Scriptures have been misrepresented as far as its negative treatment of queer people. In general the Christian faith is accepting of everyone, and this applies to gay people just as well.

It’s in this sense that I’ll disagree slightly, and I’m more sure of this truth as I walk through the different parts of my life. God does not just accept me as a gay man. He accepts us in all of the ways we develop… in spite of the various walls we build around us. We are each fully accepted. Very true. But I accept lots of things in this world that I don’t like, and I assume there are lots of things about me that God doesn’t appreciate, even if they are accepted. This is untrue of my sexuality. I believe God made me as a gay man. I was made queer.

Quite the statement. Over the next year I’ll describe why I think this is true. I’m working on a book right now that follows this through from start to finish. As I explore some of the dimensions through this blog, I hope I’ll generate some interest and get it published.

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Queer Representations: Arcade Fire

Yesterday I wrote about some of the artists who I’ve appreciated the most over the years; today I want to briefly mention Arcade Fire. A while ago they came out with a video for their song, “We Exist”. The images are complex and queer, and when I first discovered it I had to do some research to really connect. I’m glad I did. The song was built from the band’s experience in Jamaica, where they saw many queer youth, abandoned by their families and homes, having to live in sewers (Vice, 2014). This remains a problem today (Newtown Next, 2017). Living where I do, I often forget that if I lived in another part of the world I might have a very different experience. Arkansas might not have been the easiest place to live as a gay man… but was far from the worst.

It’s funny. I suppose that although I self-identify as queer, I’m really new to a lot of this stuff. I live in Toronto but my roots are still mainstream. Thus it took me over two years to even find the video. I loved it. One of the reasons: my church works in Jamaica, and is supporting the rebuilding of the school in a rural part of the island (the Sandy Bay Public School), and we invest in training for the teachers. I’m aware of some of the problems in the country, and even it’s high degree of homophobia, but I had not heard of this. I appreciated the connection because it broke through my busy day and gave me reason to find out more. And II then described the issue to other friends, and expanded the conversation.

I was sad to read about the criticism that was turned on Arcade Fire when it first came out. I do understand the perspective; it had to do with apparent stereotypes and the actor who was chosen to represent the trans woman in the video. Or was he representing a queer guy in drag? I don’t think I ever figured that out… and I don’t think it matters much. Because whatever the criticisms we come up with, it’s still a good bit of work. And it moved the discussion forward. I would like to think that we could learn to appreciate each others perspective, even if it`s different from our own. After all, that`s what my whole Friendships series is about in 2018.


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Inspiring Artists

My husband works at Value Village, one just north of Toronto. I often pick him up when he gets off, and he knows that if I arrive early I’ll be in the books section of the store. Most of what is sold there is second hand donations; which, in the case of books, can yield some wonderful, inexpensive finds. Today I looked at my usual three shelves filled with a variety of fantastic fiction. And what stared back at me was a relatively new novel… at least one I haven’t read… by Orson Scott Card.

I felt a pang of longing; I remember Card as a gifted writer, who weaves wonderful stories. But he is also one who does not respect my loves or life or marriage. Some of the things he has said in the past have been deeply wounding, even if he’s tried to talk around them since. I remember how much I used to love his writings; but understanding his perspective has meant that they are nothing short of tainted in my eyes. My sadness when I saw that book came from understanding that beauty really can hide bigotry.

We left the store and jumped in the car. Then, as I was driving home, and up came a new song by Wilco, “All Lives, You Say?”. I only rediscovered Wilco last year, but my experience in that rediscovery has been the polar opposite to what I know of Mr. Card. I’ve listened to a lot of Jeff Tweedy (singer and guitarist for Wilco); I’ve read a lot of Orson Scott Card. Both are supremely talented in their own realm, both can use that talent to draw emotions from me that reach to my very core. But now I see darkness in Card’s writing, in spite of the light that he is trying to elicit. While for Jeff (excuse me if I assume too much by using your first name; it just seems natural), I see brightness in spite of the rough texture of some of the music.

The reason is directly parallel. In my fifty years I’ve found that art is not divorced from the artist; knowing his or her (or their) background enhances the art, gives it added dimension. There is a line in one of the books I read about Wilco; it described how earlier in their career they were not “mature” enough to fully embrace a gay member of the band. That line rather haunter me. I’ve known experiences like that more times than I want to talk about, feeling a connection with another guy and yet being barred from real friendship because of his fear of my sexuality. As though any perceived possible affection for him would somehow defile the relationship. As a culture we’re getting better, but it still happens too often.

What I liked about Jeff’s description was that he… they… worked through it. I remember it specifically because I’d not heard that kind of admission before. In discussions about things like this, we like to talk in the present tense: where we are. We’re supportive, or accepting, or else we downright disapprove. But we don’t talk about where we’ve come from. We rarely talk about where we were. But it’s all part of the journey. Since those days when Jeff (and Wilco) were less comfortable with homosexuality, the band has shifted its outlook. They cancelled a show in Indiana a few years ago until state legislators changed a law that allowed religious discrimination against queer people. Proceeds from their latest single (the one mentioned above, actually) benefit Life After Hate, a group dedicated to helping people move forward in the same journey, moving from hate through compassion and forgiveness to achieve peace. Those are the kinds of stories that move me today.

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