Sunday, November 29, 2009

A View from the Pew

     I've still received no word on Fr. Hate. It's as if he's been abducted by aliens. He's just gone. I'm very worried and doing all I can to find out what's happened.  The church his hiding something.  I hope he's okay.

     In lieu of my usual Sunday postings of my meetings with Fr. Hate, here's a reflection upon the funeral of the mother of my Super Husband Extraordinaire (SHE). 

            A View from the Pew

There is no god in the Huntsville Boulevard Church of Christ.  There are people.  There are pews.  There are bibles.  But there is no god.  Not for me.

Camouflaged by the tiny choir, I sit in the back corner of the naked church.  I wait to give voice to symmetrical hymns and latex lyrics.  A glimmer of grief grazes my consciousness, grief for the harmonies of my youth, my former life as a Catholic priest, days when there was no way out but through, no option but to deny oneself—the truth—for the glory of the kingdom, a kingdom in which I am no longer welcome.

Far away on the center aisle in the fifth pew from the front, my fianc矇 SHE sits alone, exposed.   The beloved Ms. Saint sits in front of him.  SHE’s family adores her—the ex— the last vestige of SHE’s “normal” life.  They never accepted him—for being a musician, for being gay.  They know nothing about his life.  Decades of atherosclerotic denial have dammed any flow of fondness for him that they may harbor in the bowels of their fear.   Instead, they venerate Ms. Saint, whom SHE has forgiven, to whom SHE remained true all those years that he knew Ms. Saint was cheating, when he knew that he was gay but was struggling to be straight for Jesus.  Divorce wasn’t an option in the Church of Christ.  Being gay wasn’t even on the menu.  And now, at his mother’s funeral, beatific Ms. Saint sits in front of SHE.

The pillow-like man to my right fidgets.  His pant leg grazes mine.  His fingers fumble through a stale songbook, although they’ve already located the first hymn.  His wedding ring needs a good shining.  To my left another married man with a permanent lemon-licking pucker keeps a more respectable distance like the evenly distributed married couples filling the pews, four inches of carnal security buffering them from their magnetic instincts.   Again, pillow-man’s leg punctures the body-space barrier kissing my knee.  He knows.  The forbidden voice from within is calling his name.  He can’t resist.  Still, he doesn’t inquire.  If asked, I am “a friend” of SHE’s old choir friends, for he’s in too much pain to speak the unspoken-yet-known truth, too weak to fight off the righteous condemnations that would ensue, and too exhausted to resist his shame, his function in the family’s dark dance.

SHE sobs alone in his pew.  I hate Alabama.  Each tear drives a reed under my toenails, spikes through my wrists, and a spear into my side.  I’m bound to the unfeeling pew by invisible chains, ancient chains.  I pull at them, but do not break away.  I remain in the chains for them: SHE’s dad, his sister and brother, and their families, the five generations that sit in the pews in front of my SHE.   

I know their stories.  I know about the deceased’s great-great-grandchild in the second pew.  I know of the hardships of his great-great-great-great grandfather, stories of generations past, family schism courtesy of the Civil War, the unceasing, unrelenting war.  Family stories mined from SHE’s exhaustive ancestral research come alive as I see his family for the first time, in the flesh, looking upon their matriarch, Ruth, who deceives us from the coffin with a blissful glow.  I sit.  I observe as the unknown entity, a nameless stranger who knows the intimate secrets and sin of their lives.  I’m a non-being, trapped in some out-of-body nightmare in which events progress, emotions drain, and daggers dressed as pious platitudes dance in the plastic preacher’s every other sentiment.

My body recalls, embraces even, how it felt—the closet.  My shoulders round forward.  My chest chokes itself into a knot.  Endorphins assault my extremities, pushing through capillaries into follicles.  My forearm hair stands erect.  My eyes dart, searching for signs.  Does anyone know?  Does anyone suspect who I really am?  My hearing sharpens as my comprehension clouds.  I filter through pleasantries, descrambling cadences for any indication that someone knows that I am other, I am gay, I am the scapegoat.  I sit alone in a sea of believers, people who profess that the truth sets one free and believe that Christ gave them the privilege to hit anyone different with their god-stick.  Drowning on the other side of the nefarious nave is my spouse, my SHE, and I am as powerless to help him as the corpse of his mother who stares peacefully at the stark rafters above.

There is no god in the Huntsville Boulevard Church of Christ. 

There is a preacher, who admires the sound of his voice as much as the crisp part in his greased mane, a preacher who would have failed my homiletics classes in seminary for his abuse of pious platitudes and random scriptural proof-texting, a preacher who knows only of Paul and Ruth what he wants to know in order to justify the rectitude of the prescriptions he hurls at his liver-speckled, white-haired, and white-skinned flock, a preacher who walks with an air of overconfidence and gestures with histrionics that betray the true nature of his closets, a preacher whose “inspired” wisdom has provided him with a kindergarten acrostic of a sermon.  

Ruth:  R is for reverent (Wife reveres husband.), U is for unselfish (Wife defers to husband.), T is for thankful (Wife thanks god for husband.) and H is for hospitality (Wife keeps house for husband).   

This preacher trains his flock to fear and condemn anyone different.  He continues the holy line of succession, the succession of bipolar bigots who hate their very selves “to the shame” and project their toxic denials onto the “gays and strays” of society.   

The preacher praises Ruth and Paul for what he knows them to be: reliable, loving members of the Church of Christ.  He omits half of the truth: they were parents who denied their children love and acceptance, a father who abused his children and belittled them as adults, a mother who let it happen, grandparents who put pious point-winning missionary travels above time with discarded grandchildren.  They are not perfect saints, as the preacher professes them to be, and there, SHE sits, an eternal void of saved souls separating us, skewering us.  Not a savior in sight. 

SHE weeps and wipes his wrinkled cheeks with a handkerchief.  My liver boils.  My spontaneously overgrown fingernail digs into the songbook on my lap leaving a mark, a divot that will never be repaired, a sign that I was there at Ruth’s funeral at 1:23 pm on Saturday, March 7, 2009.  I was there!  I am here.  We are here.  We will not go away.  You will not cure, erase, or crush our love, my love for SHE, his love for me.  We love.  We live.  You evenly-spaced stoic sour-faces catatonically propagating the status quo—you are dead, as dead as my lover’s mama in the casket before us.  You live in your closets, your fantasies.   I, for one, am finished.

I stand up and run down the aisle to SHE.  I embrace him, cradling the boy who misses his mama.  I don’t care what these religious bastards think.  I shout to the heavens.  The woman in front of me is an adulterer.  She’s not the saint Ms. Saint you have canonized her to be.  Paul wasn’t a loving father.  SHE hid under the bed when he came home from work.  My SHE was six!  He still has PTSD from the random beatings.  And on and on I preach the truth and expose the lies.

But I’m still in my pew with the choir, sight-reading another vacuous verse set to a three-tone bass growl.  SHE stares at the backside of the family that’s rejected him since his fourth birthday when he asked for paper dolls.  Together, everyone sings of the peace that the Lord Jesus Christ brings to those who confess the truth, and I bow once more to the god I have forsaken, the god I have outgrown, the god who failed to evolve with the truth of my human experience and history, a god who now takes his rightful place in the weathered acropoli of conquered civilizations, a god who is nothing more than myth grasping at power with fingers of dread, damnation, dependence, disgrace, and duplicity.  For one more day, I offer sacrifice to that god.   I bow and light fire to my dignity, my authenticity, my truth, and my love for SHE who wails abandoned to that heartless pew.  I sing Amen—and so it is—in Alabama.

My eyelid twitches.  My heart tightens.  My lungs resist breath.  I am in the closet.  I remain there a few more hours to spare people who know me not.  I spare them and sacrifice my love.  I loathe them, their preacher, their imaginary Santa Christ.  Never again, I promise myself.  Never again will I abandon my love, my SHE, to the jaws of their denial.  Never again.  

Postscript: The names of persons and places have been changed.