Thursday, June 30, 2011

Excerpt from Is Love Wrong?: Chapter 32: AIDS

Chapter 32: AIDS

I met Don at Café Koine at DTS. He wore his leather jacket, ripped pants with the chain connecting his jeans to his wallet and his biker boots. He was definitely the most biker looking guy at my Christian grad school.
Don asked if he could buy me a cup of coffee and I took him up on it. Don always bought my coffee. That was one of the things I always loved about Don. Generosity resided deep within him. I appreciated that.
“Well, how’s things with Chris?” Don asked flipping the chair around and sitting down as if he were a junior in high school looking cool.
“Busy, I have some sermon prep to do, and just a lot of Greek, how are things with you?” I asked.
“Today is a hard day. My former lover Dan died 18 years ago today.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“You know I woke up thinking about what you were saying about the gay community. My life, your life, McGregor’s life—Scott Michael’s life. Why are ya’ll intertwined with me, as a common denominator?”
“I think we would all say God was the common denominator,” I said.
“But why? Ya’ll are pretty much straight sexually.”
“It’s a God thing.”
“You told me a request for prayer in your Monday study group was for a contact in the gay community, correct?” Don asked. I nodded yes. He continued, “You said I was the answer to that prayer. That is unbelievable to me. You all three, who I consider really cool, and somewhat over stimulated—each have your own personality and lives, all around the same age, all different expectations in life, but all following the same teachings of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, until several weeks ago, I didn’t have anything in common with any of you. My life is removed geographically and socially from yours. I’m a gay man and have been an active part of my community for 30 plus years.”
I listened to Don wondering where this was coming from and where he was going. I didn’t know what to expect yet from Don. I had no idea what God had in store, I just assumed the Lord might use us to bring hope to the Gay community and redeem that which sin has marred.
“Chris,” Don continued. “I have seen over 400 of the most beautiful gifted, loving men die of a wretched disease. Ninety percent of my very closest friends died. That’s almost everyone I knew. Think about that. Think about going out with friends for coffee and all of a sudden, they aren’t there. You’re alone. Think of going to church and not seeing anyone you know, maybe a familiar face, but no one you know personally or are close to. Think about walking across the campus and not passing a friend. None of the people you dated or wanted to go out with, none of the people your friends dated—everyone dead.
“That’s tough. I’m so sorry, Don,” I paused and tried to gather my own thoughts, but nothing collaborated. I had lost men in Iraq, but I hadn’t known them for years and years. Yes they were my brothers and I cried at memorial after memorial. It was weird not seeing certain guys around, but I lost six. Don lost four hundred.
Don looked into his hands and back at me and said, “Empty apartments, or someone else living at the places you always hung out. Everyone you used to be with at Thanksgiving are all gone. Your friends don’t exist—all the numbers in your cell phone are no longer valid. Think about having no one to go to the movies with. Think about having no one to go to coffee with. There are only people fifteen years older or fifteen years younger—guys you have very little in common with. In issues of pop culture, politics, general life issues, you are all alone.”
“What do you do with that pain, Don? How have you coped?”
“I’ve cried, I’ve been mad, angry, all the stages of grief, dozens of times, I’ve made quilts for the AIDS project in memory of my closest friends. How do you cope? I’ve never put this into words until now, Chris. I’ve learned to cope. This is a light version of AIDS, and its effects, very light and very edited. This is what the guys, my age, which are left, have gone through. We can’t talk well about it, the loss is too great, too emotional, so much pain.”
“I’m sorry, Don. I don’t know what to say.”
“I know, I guess the reason I brought this up is if there’s a way to heal the inner pain, maybe there’s a reason for all of us to know each other. You are so confident in your hope. You seem to have some much peace. I want more of that.” 
We sat in silence for a moment and then I asked him, “Do you ever wonder why you have survived having AIDS?”
“Well, Chris, I thought I was going to die. My lover saved me. For almost the entire 90s he would come to the hospital and check on me. He worked to pay for my bills. He was by my side whenever I needed him. He was so good to me—still is.”
When Don talked about his lover, his face shone. It was very sweet in a way. If this had been a heterosexual relationship, it would be a romance novel that any Christian would read. But, it couldn’t be, because his relationship was—well—sinful. I did start to see Don’s incredible connection with his partner. It would take more convincing than a Bible verse and a couple Christians to convince him that the love his partner gives him is wrong.
Or was it? I mean here’s a guy who knows what it is to be dependent on someone else. Don’s life was given to him by his lover. Jesus saved his soul, but in the month or so of time Don had been a Christian his lover continued to be just that, while Don was on an emotional roller coaster. To suggest that the very thing that gives Don stability is wrong, is what drove him to feel so angry and betrayed.
I want to marry a woman like Don’s lover—Not the man part—c’mon that’s just creepy. I want to marry a woman who would stand by me no matter what and show me unconditional love and would nurse me to health, would care for me, would make sure that I had food and took care of all my bills.
It sounds a lot like the Good Samaritan.
It’s the story where an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"What is written in the Law?" Jesus replied. "How do you read it?"
He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" 
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Then in reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." 

The Priest was the guy that was supposed to have mercy. But he didn’t. He did have an excuse though. If you’re not real familiar with Bible stories, you may not realize that a Priest could not perform his priestly duties for a period of time if he touched a dead man. There could be a social disdain for that priest, if he had to be cleansed. The same is true for the Levite whose role it was to work in the temple and assist the priest. If he touched a dead man, then he would be ostracized for a time and there would be no honor in it.
The Jews hated the Samaritans on par with how the Jews felt about Nazis.  They were idolaters and although they may have recognized the God of the Jews, they recognized other gods as well. To receive help from a Samaritan would be unthought-of or unheard of, primarily because there was just no interaction between the two subcultures. Yet it is the Samaritan who nurses that Jew back to health.
Now, I don’t care who you are, if someone nurses you to health, you will be grateful. What if a Christian had come in and shown Don the same amount of loyalty, unconditional love, acceptance, and met his physical needs instead of his lover?  I couldn’t help but think of that time when the kids from CFNI had taken Don in. What if they had taken him in and given him a place to stay and maybe a job? Would it be a lot easier for him to forsake being gay?
Jesus, in this instance, told his hearers that they needed to forsake ritual for the sake of men’s lives. Again, I’m not saying that orthodox believers can condone their behavior, but I think the church missed out on an opportunity to gain a hearing by leaving the AIDS victims to receive in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Is Love Wrong? by Chris Plekenpol Chapter 31: Marital Bliss

Chapter 31: Marital Bliss

“Hey Don you want to head to Café Brazil?” I asked.
Don mumbled something and then nodded that he would follow.
I got into Scott Michael’s truck and headed north up Central Expressway to Café Brazil. We nodded at Seema and then headed for our four top near the coffee bar. Don followed shortly after and sat down with a sigh.
“What’s up Don?” I asked.
“My partner left earlier than I did tonight and said, ‘Well you are having a life. I am going to have one too.’ Those words hurt. I haven’t been spending enough time with him.”
Scott Michael looked at Don and asked, “How did he respond when you told him you were a Christian?”
“He thinks it’s great that I have found spirituality, but feels I’m neglecting my responsibilities in my home life and that makes my spirituality a negative thing, cause he looks at my spirituality as destroying our life. I don’t want to be responsible for him putting his walls up. I have only been a Christian for a month and I have changed so much—I have changed so extremely. To him, I went to bed one night and woke up a different person.”
“Do you think you can spend more time with him?” Scott Michael asked.
“I have to. I need to spend more time with him, cause talk is cheap. I’m in a relationship and cannot make it without him. I never thought this would happen between us. He is being introduced to new people who aren’t gay and that is strange.  He has met so many and I’m gone a lot.
“You need to watch it,” Scott Michael said.
“It’s so bizarre, I get up and get dressed and am excited to go to DTS at 7 in the morning. That’s not me! I would never in a godzillion years have ever done that. I thought DTS was the seventh ring of hell. I mean I cannot tell you how different I am.”
“You are definitely different,” I said and smiled. I wasn’t sure how to handle this. Here is a guy who is professing Christ and is now venting about his relationship. I wanted to be an influencer for Christ in his life, but at the same time I always felt a need to tell Don that his relationship was wrong. Corinthians was pretty clear about this—and I felt the tension.
 “I didn’t come directly home the other night. I had to pass an old cruise bar, and Tuesday night has always been hot, so I went in—man, what a mind ****. I had bottled water, stood around, and then wondered, ‘What the hell am I doing here? Would he be home when I arrived or not?’”
“Was he?” I asked.
“I was scared to find out. I just hung around. I did get cruised and that was nice, but not nice enough. So I left. I’ve come too far and I don’t want to upset the Holy Spirit, so I came home. He was home, but already asleep.”
“He was pissed,” Scott Michael said.
“Damn, I feel like ****. I would like to think I haven’t had a part in this but like most of my issues, I play a huge role, how can something I enjoy so much, cause so much pain? I’ve done some really sleazy things in our relationship. We both have hurt each other, why would something positive have more of a negative effect than “some of the sordid?”
“Sorry you are having a tough time,” I said. I was genuine. I hated that Don was having a hard time, I really did. However, could his hard time be the result of God’s work? It had something to do with it, I was sure, so I decided to let the Holy Spirit keep working.
“See look at this,” Don said. “I have the same problems and same issues as any other couple in America. That’s why I can’t believe you guys when you won’t support equal rights.”
“Don, would you even get married if you could?” I asked wondering if he’d been setting us up the whole time.
“Hell no, it is a broken institution,” Don said. “But I want the right. I want equality. I don’t want to be a second class citizen.”
“You’re not a second class citizen,” Scott Michael said.
“Bullshit, give me my gaddam rights,” Don said.
“Explain to me Don why you wouldn’t get married if you had the right?” I asked.
“What does it solve? It doesn’t do anything but create issues with someone. It hasn’t helped straight people. There is a reason there is a 1-2-3 Divorce right down the street for me.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Hey guys, I gotta get back home. I have to work early tomorrow,” Scott Michael said.
I looked at my watch, yeah, I gotta jet too. We will continue this debate later, Don.”
“****, we better. You are not getting off that easy,” Don said as we paid and left.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Excerpt from Is Love Wrong?: Chapter 30: Joel

Chapter 30: Joel

Don felt a surge of excitement as he pulled into the Dallas Seminary parking lot. There was almost a giddy feeling that Don received when he hugged the straight guys. He looked forward to Type A taking him into the library where the smell of the books just hovered in his nose making him want to learn. Type A pulled in just as Don put his jeep in park. Don smiled as he glanced at his human rights equal sign—there wouldn’t be any more of those in the parking lot.
Type A smiled his toothy grin and gave Don the nod to follow him into the library. Don felt that he had gotten close to Chris especially after getting to meet Zoe. A beautiful blonde that Chris saturated his love toward. Don had never seen Chris be close to a woman before and was surprised at the amount of tenderness he showed her.
Type A slapped Don’s shoulder and they walked inside the double doors to the Turpin Library. Chris would check out close to 15 commentaries every Monday night on the book of Matthew. Don couldn’t help giggling as he saw “Lurch” the librarian he nicknamed for his vibrant personality and demeanor. Don thought he would be better working at the morgue, but then the library fit too.
Don followed Chris into the stairwell. Type A never took the elevator, which Don didn’t mind, because it gave him an opportunity to peruse the lost and found pile. He always loved to put on the hats and scarves and be silly. There was something exhilarating in being rebellious in the library, but it was innocent enough that Type A could do nothing but roll his eyes.
Don put the “free stuff” back on the table and followed Chris up to the second floor stacks where the commentaries were. It seemed that Chris knew exactly where to go and which commentaries were good and which ones weren’t. Don smiled as Chris handed him a MacArthur commentary and then grimaced as Type A didn’t stop putting books in his arms. Chris grabbed two commentaries and Don carried the rest down the stairwell and then over to the check-out counter.
Don’s smile could not have been any broader or creepier as he watched “Lurch” try as hard as he could to ignore him. Lurched stamped the books methodically and then handed them to Chris without looking who in turn put them in Don’s hands. Don was sure that “Lurch” was not a winner. There wasn’t a strand of fun behind the wire rimmed glasses and the pursed lips that prevented personality from escaping.
“Did he get a lobotomy?” Don asked Chris.
“He can hear you,” Chris said under his breath.
“Can he?” Don whispered back. “I don’t think he can, he is in another dimension.”
Lurch handed the final book to Chris and Chris thanked him graciously and then led Don out of the library.
“You’re ridiculous, Don,” Chris chided.
“What I’m just trying to get him to mumble or speak or show an emotion—what’s wrong with that.”
“It’s never a dull moment with you,” Chris said.
Don smiled at that. He didn’t like dull moments and ever since his encounter with real Christians—there hadn’t been.
“Chris, I really enjoyed meeting Zoe. She is just gorgeous. Probably too pretty for you.”
“Thanks, Don.”
“I can tell that you really love her and are committed to her. You know I may be a gay man, but I do know something about being in relationships if you ever need to talk.”
Chris looked at Don for a moment and then smiled, “Thanks Don.”
Don followed Chris into the President’s room put down the books and then went to see Emily to get some coffee. She was always good about smiling and talking and hadn’t been lobotomized—yet. After grabbing his black coffee he walked back into the President’s room and was greeted by a large man with huge hands. Don gawked at the specimen for a moment and tried to not say anything offensive.
“Hi, I’m Don. Are you a Christian?”
The large man looked down at Don and enveloped Don’s hand in his. He looked him up and down and said, “I’m Joel and yes I am.” His voice was so soft that Don strained to hear it. 
The rest of the men filed in and Chris led the group, but Don fixated on Joel. He noticed that Joel didn’t say much and that he just looked at all the other men with suspicion.
Don was excited to input his observations and interpretations. He had never studied anything so hard in his life. He excitedly looked in his commentaries for answers to his questions and to others questions as the night progressed. So much information.
When prayer requests came, Don reiterated his need for a new place and that his store could move to and that the city would approve their zoning and requests. After adding his prayer request to the excel spreadsheet, Don waited for Joel to speak.
“I’m having a hard time with trusting the church,” Joel started. “I feel dead inside.”
Don’s heart raced. Don felt a deep need to intervene. After the men prayed, Don walked over to Joel.
“Are you a Christian?” Don asked.
“Yes.” Joel replied annoyed.
“If you’re familiar with this Holy Spirit thing, this is it in action. It’s all new and overwhelming to me I don’t even like Christians and now I am one damn—ok, here goes,” Don could feel himself rambling and tried to reel in his talk to make a point. “I can see you’re searching—for what I don’t know or really care, it’s not my business. God has chosen you, you can’t fight him, well you can but it’s a waste of your time and his, he has more time, but you, you’re screwed and your life is ******, and there’s no easy way around this.”
Joel’s mouth opened for a moment, but no words escaped. Don could tell he had never been talked to this way, especially by a man a quarter of his size.
Don continued undeterred. “Once you’re chosen, it’s over man. You have a pathetic choice—believe he’s working in you or just keep going along with your stagnant, superficial life. I’m speaking from very recent experience. I know you have God already working in your life. I know people, you showed up here for a reason.”
Joel’s face tightened and he narrowed his eyes at Don. Don continued with audacity, “Don’t fight it, it’s not a fight you can win, fight something else—but god**** just let God do what he wants to do in your life, it’s ok to let go, just pray. Hell, I even learned to pray, I’m new at this, obviously.”
Joel looked like he might say something, but Don pressed on, “This Holy Spirit is so real. For me to say something like this is—is beyond reality. You’re more advanced spiritually than me, but you’re hurting and I’m sorry for that—it won’t get better if you fight.”
Don became even more animated and now drew attention to himself as he was now flat out preaching to Joel. Chris looked on in horror. “He’s got you! You can run, but you can’t hide!” Don pulled his voice back down and regained composure and then continued. “It’s easy man, just give the **** up and tell God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit you give up. I did and I’m not special in any way. I know I’m abrasive, I know you can tell me to go **** myself. I told the guy that who gave me this same talk. You can hate me, fine, I don’t care. I don’t like seeing a guy with integrity, potential and hell, who knows, maybe a friend, hurting and in agony when it’s not necessary. Hell don’t you get it? He died for you and me and that freaks me out big time and humbles me. I’m so ashamed of my past but when I converted, God deleted it. I see it but he doesn’t.”
Don took a breath and took a step back. Joel kept his poker face which made Don nervous. Don’s eyes sparkled with excitement as he waited for a moment for Joel to say something. It was then that he realized he may be on the brink of a volcanic eruption in this huge quiet man.
“I’m stopping,” Don said. “I don’t want to piss you off. It just seems like someone needs to jump all over your ass, and I have nothing to lose, you have everything to win, come on Joel, take this ride with me, and the other guys. It’s the coolest freakiest ride I’ve ever seen, but the opportunity to honor God is priceless.”
Joel mumbled a couple expletives and then walked past Don toward the door. Don watched him leave and then turned to find Chris already staring at him.
“What?” Don asked. “It worked when you did that to me. I just did what you did to me.”
“Remember Don,” Chris started. “You are rare. I handled you delicately in some ways and tough in others. One size doesn’t fit all in the realm of spirituality. You can’t just rely on how God got your attention to get the attention of others. I do love your heart. We just need to work on execution.”
“****.” Don said and followed Chris out the door.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chapter 13: Cosmic Cafe

Chapter 13: Cosmic Café

“Hey Don where’s Cosmic Café again?”
“In the Gayborhood. Get on Oak Lawn and come towards where I work.”
“Ummm…give me a street,” I said to Don trying to maneuver my way through the twisting streets of Dallas.
“It’s right before Congress—on the left.”
“Okay, I see it. See you in a sec.”
“Great, McGregor is already here.”
I pulled into the parking lot of what had been a residential house that now sported a bizarre elephant mounted on the second floor. Walking in I knew that the owners of the Cosmic Café were clearly gay. The array of colors and beaded things everywhere shouted, “homosexual.”
I shook Don’s hand and pulled him in for a backslap hug—which was awkward. It was always awkward for Don.
“I’m still getting used to you and your straight hug thing,” Don said as I backslapped hugged McGregor.
“Yeah, well you better if you’re going to be hanging around us on a regular basis.”
“I told McGregor that I am going to call you Type A from now on,” Don said smiling at me.
“Oh yeah, why’s that?” I asked.
“Do you really have to ask?” Don laughed. McGregor and I laughed as well. A waiter came by and asked what we wanted and I ordered a white chocolate mocha equivalent, while Don got a straight coffee, and McGregor ordered a Cosmic something.
“Well, catch me up on what you guys are talking about,” I said.
“Well, I was just telling McGregor about how surreal this whole experience was. I never thought in a godzillion years that I would ever be a Christian.”
“Neither did we,” I said and smiled.
“Don, I still have your email from when you first contacted the church, several months ago,” McGregor smiled. “I’m going to be speaking at the main Fellowship Church. I’m going to read your email as part of the sermon if that’s ok.”
“Do whatever you want,” Don said. “Although, I don’t know how interesting my email could possibly be.” The waiter brought our coffees and I grabbed mine and sipped it. Not too bad.
“I think it will hold their attention, Don,” McGregor said. “Not everyone asks us to leave town or get raptured or any of the things you asked and stated in your email.”
“What was it Don, that pushed you over the edge in terms of your faith?” I interjected.
“Well, that Tuesday night, I told McGregor as we were having dinner that I didn’t need your God. I told him that his God seemed like a lateral move from my made up god,” Don said. McGregor nodded. Don continued, “It wasn’t till I got home late that night, my lover was already asleep. I tried to be real quiet so I wouldn’t wake him up, but as soon as my head hit the pillow, I started crying.”
“What was going through your head?” I asked.
“I kept thinking about the crucifixion and about the sacrifice of Jesus. It was so moving. I just couldn’t shake it. I started to cry and I didn’t want to wake up my lover, so I went downstairs and just cried. I felt so much shame for my life. I felt so guilty, like I had done something, but I couldn’t figure it out. It felt like my entire existence caused him to go to the cross, and so I just said I was sorry. I surrendered—in AA we are taught to turn our life and our will over to the care of God and I think by doing that your God became my God,” Don said.
“That’s right, Don,” McGregor said.
“Now you guys aren’t going to stop talking to me now that I have converted are you?” Don asked. “Because I will throw away this Christianity thing if that means we won’t continue having conversations and you won’t be interested in talking to me anymore,” Don said.
“Don, of course, we will still talk to you,” I said.
“You guys helped make this happen, so I am holding you responsible to help me with this.”
McGregor and I laughed. This would be the easiest discipleship I had ever experienced. I had never had anyone so eager to learn about God. Something started to creep into my throat and made me uncomfortable. When was the time to bring up the gay stuff. I mean if he was a Christian, then we had to confront him. He was no longer a tax collector, he was now a brother, and a brother was confronted on issues like this. I hoped McGregor felt the same way.
“Don, what about,” I paused not sure how to say it, “What about being gay?”
“What about it?” he asked. “What does that have to do with spirituality?”
“Well,” I thought for a moment trying to say the right thing. “The Bible isn’t exactly too hot on it. It says it’s a sin.” I watched Don’s face for a reaction. He looked surprised and I dreaded even bringing it up.
“I can’t help that I’m gay. That has to be a weird interpretation. I know that people used the Bible to hate black people as well,” Don said as I felt the conversation go political.
“Don, look, right now I want you to understand salvation,” McGregor said. “Don’t let any person tell you what you should do. As you read the Bible, the Holy Spirit will guide you on that.”
I thought for a moment and agreed. If Don had the Holy Spirit, then it would illuminate the scriptures for him and he would see the truth.
“Yeah, that makes sense,” I said and Don smiled.
“If anyone starts talking to you about being gay, just be polite and say that you are talking to God about that and that is between you and God,” McGregor said.
I started to think about that. I wasn’t completely sure I agreed, but at the moment I didn’t know how to not shatter his faith and encourage him to pursue the Bible. I felt what McGregor said was true. Of course Dr. Kreider was convinced we should never read our Bible on our own, because that is how heresies started. I wanted to trust the Holy Spirit on this one, but what if the Holy Spirit used me to tell Don that those homosexual thoughts and acts were sinful and that if he wanted to pursue Christ, he would abandon it. But letting the scriptures speak for themselves I felt would show him.
We wrapped up coffee with another awkward backslap straight hug and I headed for my car still wondering how the sanctification process of Don would mete out. Did repentance come with salvation? Don asked for forgiveness for his life, but he didn’t get the homosexuality part yet. When would that kick in? God give me the answers, cause I don’t have a clue where to start here.