Friday, June 26, 2009

Go in peace.

Last Sunday I attended the 10:00 AM worship at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in my town of Millburn, NJ. I'm an agnostic, and I have no plans to change that. But, since St. Stephen's was on the list of gay-friendly churches in New Jersey that I'm contacting in hopes of getting faces for this blog, I figured the least I could do was hear what they had to say. The notion of coming over after the service and saying "Hey, wanna hear about my blog?" seemed disrespectful.

I happened to come on an auspicious day for the church: the Bishop of the Diocese of Newark was visiting, and delivering the sermon. He had a warm, amenable and disarming nature, and the sermon he gave actually choked me up. Man, what is happening to me? I'm so emotional lately.

The Bishop preached about Mark 4:35-41, in which Jesus and his disciples are in a boat, a terrible storm whips up while Jesus is asleep in the stern, Jesus calms the storm and rebukes his disciples for their fear, and they're duly impressed. What impressed me was how close the Bishop was coming to presenting this passage as a parable. As an agnostic I expect that from my own brain, but coming from a pulpit I expect more or less a literal (excuse me while I go find a shoehorn, because I really want to squeeze in that word that I had to look up this morning) hermeneutics. (Um. Doesn't quite work, does it? All right, all right.) I expect a more or less literal interpretation.

The Bishop went from talking about the actual storms in Mark to the metaphorical storms inside us. And this is what got me choked up, because boy do I have storms in me. I am so damned angry. Ever since that wedding I've been railing in my head against that minister.

Ever since my teens when I "came out" as an agnostic, I've struggled to own a sense of spirituality. If I hadn't had good friends who saw the spiritual in me despite my unbelief in conventional religion, I think I'd still not have the wherewithal to think of myself as a spiritual being. And here I was, in my thirty-ninth year, contributing my spirit to a consecration of love.

And that miserable shitheel turned the ceremony into a political forum. He couldn't have cheapened it more if he'd slapped Pennzoil stickers on the bridesmaid's dresses. And since that moment, when I think of that minister, a single thought fills my being: "Oh, it's on now, bitch." I didn't have a political bone in my body, but he made me a part of something I consider unclean. He picked up one of those brass measuring weights and put it on one side of a metaphorical scale. And by god, I will put a cinderblock on the other side. Because he brought me into it.

These thoughts were coalescing in my mind as the Bishop spoke. And tears were welling in my eyes because, for the first time, I was acknowledging the force and the weight of my anger. I've worked for fifteen years to divest myself of anger, and there are all too many moments when I feel like I have depressingly little to show for all that work. I get so self-righteously angry at inconsequential things, such as people not respecting my personal space on the commuter train, that it makes me feel small, and terribly unworthy of all my blessings. I don't want this anger. I have to transform it. I have to. That's what this blog is about.

Sunday was also Father's Day, and the church was giving out carnations to fathers and father figures. Proud of the source of stability I've been to my daughter, I took one and wore it. I don't know if the following thoughts were influenced by this or not.

My Dad died last year, and I miss him a lot. He wouldn’t know what to make of this gay advocacy blog; he’s probably snort disdainfully and shrug his shoulders. I’ve started to wonder if part of my passion for this project stems from my feeling that, if I can’t do something my father would agree with, I can at least do something he’d respect just by virtue of the sheer effort and dedication I’m putting into it.

All this was going through my head, and then came the passing of the peace. It was the most sincere and thorough such ritual that I've ever witnessed. It felt great. These folks have a good thing goin' on. And in the middle of it, I met Reverend Cornelius C. Tarplee, the Rector of the church. I'd left him a message about this blog the previous week, so I told him who I was and that I was a bit apprehensive because I wasn't sure if it was appropriate for me to be there. He responded warmly, saying "I'm glad you're here" and promising that we would talk sometime soon. So I'm hopeful that there will be some synergy between this, the project of an unbeliever, and the wishes of his congregation.

After the service, there was a coffee hour. The spread was top-notch; one of the congregants told me that, owing to the Bishop's visit, it was superior to their usual fare. As people were eating, the Bishop gave a talk about four tenets of being a good Episcopal witness. I don't remember them, but what I do remember is his exhortation to tell others "Go in peace." Not only that, but do it when it seems least possible, e.g. when someone cuts you off in traffic. Again, this struck very close to home. I've got a lot of anger where there should be purpose, a lot of self-righteousness where there should be righteousness. Gotta work on that.


  1. Hey Hugh, today I received a mailing from PFLAG and I will send them a small donation. You might want to check out Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays at By the way, I have been saying no to requests for donations on a regular basis lately.

  2. Joe: Thanks for the suggestion! Grace mentioned PFLAG but it slipped my mind. I will check them out tonight.