With Easter, Passover, and Spring Equinox in the air, I seem to be having a lot of conversations regarding spirituality. People who I converse with on a usually daily basis about myriad topics that have nothing to do with things unseen, suddenly want to talk to me about God, and existence, and where the two collide, and where they don’t. Any number of deep questions have come to me this week from people who normally simply tell me about their jobs, or relationships, or dry cleaners, or housing contractors, or the people who piss them off in traffic. So when they hit me with questions like, “Do you believe in the Resurrection?” I suddenly wonder if this person who has all year demonstrated incredibly low-key spirituality has really meant it all those times that she said that she hoped the person who just cut her off in five o’clock rush hour would burn in hell.
For a moment, let me diverge, and for those who have read me a bit, or who have had to endure endless hours of face-to-face conversation with me, you know that eventually my divergences come back to the trail where they once began.
When I was fifteen, I had the privilege of being taught by a man who knew who he was. He was an exceptionally bright and somewhat uptight gay man who grew his Afro to a just barely acceptable length in the eighties, and wore cardigans, no matter the weather in Florida. Of course at the time, I did not know what an honor it was to be taught by Mr. W. I was young, and like many young men grappling with their sexuality, I was stupid. I did not appreciate the fact that Mr. W worked our Honors English class like cadets at West Point; I only thought of all the things I could be doing if I weren’t analyzing Julius Caesar, A Separate Peace, or To Kill a Mockingbird every night.
I knew that Mr. W was gay. I knew that he had been seen on multiple occasions in a particular mall with his Caucasian lover who also wore cardigans and had a fro much larger than Mr. W’s. I actually kind of admired him for that, and wished that I had lived closer to that mall. What I didn’t know, was that I was gay.
I knew that I wanted to do all kinds of intimate things with our pastor’s son who was several years older than me. I knew that I watched the World Wrestling Federation and other wrestling shows in hopes that someone’s trunks would be accidentally pulled down. I knew that a few years before my heart had broken a million times over when John Erik Hexum had died.
Once again, in my stupidity, or my naiveté, as the kind Mr. W would have called it, I approached him with a stupid question. I am not sure what I hoped by getting him to answer the question. Looking back, and also analyzing all of the dumb anti-gay hatemongers I have met on my journey, I imagine that I wanted to hurt Mr. W, the way that people who are grappling with their sexuality often want to hurt those who are not. So I waited until the end of class, until I was the last one out, and then, as I moved toward the door, I said to Mr. W, “Mr. W, is it true that Shakespeare was gay?”
Mr. W was a more patient man than I. This is why he didn’t smack me, or say, “Get out buttwipe!” as many people would have. Instead, Mr. W responded to me with what I always call Jesus-Martin-Gandhi love. It’s the kind of love that you have to show people who are complete assholes.
So after all of my stupidity, without missing a beat, Mr. W looked at me and spoke these beloved words, “Does it matter?”
The fact was that Mr. W got me. He made me think, and he made me acknowledge that being gay was not a horrible thing.
“No, it doesn’t, Mr. W,” I said, and left the room in what should have been a defeated state, but was rather an uplifted one.
Mr. W had made me acknowledge that gay men could be great, a fact that I never would have considered.
So the other day, when my friend asked me if I believed in the Resurrection, I told her that I did. She was a little shocked. She knew that I had backed away from Christianity for a while, at a time when I felt that it didn’t seem to have a strong desire for men like me.
“It took me a long time to realize that Christianity wasn’t that was rejecting me, it was those jackasses who thought they had more of a claim to it than I did,” I said.
“I believe in it all,” I told her. “Jesus, Ganesh, Buddha, the Morrigan. Why couldn’t it all happen? But if I believe in one the most, it’s Jesus. That’s the one I was raised on. He’s kind of my hero.”
I paused for a minute, wanting to explain.
“I have always believed in God, I told her. It’s all those people who think they know him better than I do that I doubt. They’re kind of idiots.”
I had learned a long time ago that usually the people who condemned other people were the people who needed leashes on them to control their own bad behavior, so they believed that the rest of us needed to be leashed as well. I disagreed. I’ve never been fond of leashes in any form; they’re just not my thing.
“I wanted to ask you,” she said, “because you believe in everything, and I am not sure how I am not certain if I believe in this.”
“I do believe in everything,” I told her. “I believe in Jesus being born of a virgin, and rising from the dead, and I know that sounds crazy. I believe in Ganesha’s elephant head being implanted by Shiva and working. I believe in the seas parting as Moses raised his hands. I believe that if I were straight, and you were less particular, that we would be happily married with a bunch of kids right now, and we both know that we probably would have ended up killing each other in a bloodbath that would make national news. For whatever reasons, I believe in happy endings, and I know it’s crazy.”
“So why do you believe it?” she asked. “The Resurrection, that is.”
“Because of that time when I was seven at summer camp and got lost in a Florida thunderstorm and found my way to my cabin and realized that it’s the one I dreamed about months before I ever saw that camp. Because in Atlanta, when I was twelve and a crazy driver chased me, I escaped. Because when I was fifteen and didn’t have my seat belt on, the car I was in that my friend was driving spun out of control and I put my seat belt on, only a mile away from where we were later hit in an accident that would have killed me if I hadn’t been wearing a seat belt. Because every time that I thought my soul was going to wither up and die, love has saved me. Maybe it hasn’t always stuck around, but it has shown up when it was needed. I know that doesn’t make sense to all the people who have died in old age homes, or been swept out to sea by Tsunamis, but it makes sense to me now, and I am the only one on my path, and I believe. I guess for me it comes down to one question. Is God, or whatever you call him, all powerful?”
She was silent.
“For me, the answer is yes. I do, but I know a horde of brilliant and wonderful people who would say no.”
Still, she said nothing.
So I made her listen to my story about me being an idiot, and asking Mr. W the Shakespeare question. She met me only a few months after this class, and she was the kind of close friend who I told when my butthole itched, or I couldn’t find underwear that I liked, so I knew that she had heard this story before. The only difference was, all the other times I had told it for different reasons.
When I was finished with the story, I asked her, “Does it matter?”
I could hear her brain working, as she didn’t say a thing.
“Would you suddenly go all anti-Christ, sorry I don’t mean to mention your morning moods, if it wasn’t true? Would you stop believing he was awesome, or would you no longer acknowledge that his ideas about love reshaped the world as we know it?”
“I wouldn’t bail,” she said. “I would still be Christian…but it matters. It’s who I am, and suddenly I am not sure of this one thing, and it’s not a minor thing. It’s huge. I don’t think I’m going to find my answer today.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “Know this though, it’s okay if you don’t. Faith is not a uniform we all have to wear. We pick our own costumes. Or perhaps, they pick us. It’s hard to tell. I just know that no one else can regulate our faith. No one can tell us what to believe, and we don’t get to choose what we believe. It’s as ridiculous as the idea that we get to choose who we love.”
She laughed, and I knew that it was the laugh of a woman who not only loved, but also understood her husband.
“So, we’re agreed?” I asked.
“On what?” she said.
“That we don’t know why we love who we love, or believe what we believe, but we keep on loving, and we keep on believing?” I asked. “Only in the hopes that we can love and believe a whole lot more, in the days to come.”
She paused for a minute, and even though she was on the other end of the phone line, I knew that somehow or another, she was looking me over.
“Agreed,” she said. “To loving and believing more.”
I laughed some more, and smiled as she hung up the phone.