(Masaccio, “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden”. Florence, 1425.)
I see sedate faces above a carpeted pew and an arm rising with a raggedy tissue to clear tears. I see them singing while my hands hover over a piano whose plastic ivories were chipped edges, some nearly only wood. These hymns of Bliss and Crosby and Gaither touched the spirit of the air and, often, the tears would fall.
My spirit, too, would soar up to the top of that sanctuary, past the balcony to the three-story peak, as we sang the old, old story about a hill far away where he touched me and, oh, the way the sun shone through the back windows transfiguring crossed-arm ushers into dark spirits while Churchtalk niceties betrayed terse Midwestern anger.
Though I was never myself—really myself—until I moved to Tennessee, I think about that place every once in a while. I already left that place when I was still in High School because I had privately spoken in tongues. But, it’s where I grew up. It’s where I learned the good news. It’s where I was baptized and learned to hate my flesh. I want them to know that I’m just like them, except when I masturbate, I think of men.
They briared these hidden desires of mine by breathing death around me even before I knew I was gay. I was baptized into hate. During the culture wars of my childhood, they preached as if looking to lynch a gay from the Tree of Knowledge. Fortunately, they didn’t know any gays, so they preached only to the air that reeked of plastic-wrapped purse spearmints and betrayal. The hate floated above my ears. I heard every single word.
So, I pushed myself down, down, down because slow-drip suicide was preferable to the bloody gang of community wandering the sanctuary in ruin of souls. Unlike other teenage boys, I was not allowed to express my sexual desires, so I perfected the ability to muzzle it until I was alone. I learned how to sublimate and hide. Every desire must be examined and not acted upon.
I wanted to be freed from this body of death, this existence. So, I searched for the God who was apart from me, the God of ἔκστασις in the night. I sought him on long, silent car rides in the Hoosier countryside under the starry firmament. I sought Him in true Charismatic experiences. Clutching a table in my prayer closet, I would hear Him speak and the foundations of this fleshly temple would tremble. I sought him in Christian Mysticism and High Church Liturgy. I sought Him because the Creator of the world was not me. I love God only because I hate myself.
Now, I search for God in the flesh (not through the flesh or of the flesh—but God in the flesh). The God in the cock, the balls, the hairy chode; the God in the breasts—sagging and pert—in the clitoris stimulated and the vagina penetrated; the anus penetrated and nipples squeezed and a lick of the neck, a flick of the ear. The God in the teeth rotten and jagged or perfectly white. The back of the shirt hiding muscular shape. The God in the hair stained with tobacco, tears and laughter. God is here in these bodies, too. I heard him whisper in the gray pre-dawn of day. To hate this flesh—my flesh—is to hate the God who took on sweaty armpits/bad breath/a cross and overcame death, hell and the grave.
I ask: how do you measure a life? Let Christ judge what Christ will judge—but you!—how do you decide who is holy and who ain’t? In ages, in wages, in sin, in faithfulness, or doubt? In flesh, in body, in soul? In actions or inactions, in things done or left undone? Bring out your chart of sanctified credits and debits! Which of any of these tip the balance towards “sinner”? Which combination determines how your community can say, “God is there” or “God is not there”? Show me where I have not walked the cross—show me tabulations!
I wish to take nothing from your life, not your faith or your tears. You may keep your political beliefs. You may remain schismatic, hateful. But I wish you to know that I am more than an idea, more than a sin, more than a sexuality. God knows this for He created me with my concordant desires. All flesh—mine and yours—is the created Imago Dei. Judge accordingly.
But, I do not keep the score of holiness anymore. In an Episcopal Church, states away, I kneel and take His flesh on my tongue. The body’s desires are true, and true are the desires of the soul. For what is the body, except the soul? Or the soul, except the body? Both will be, at the end of the ages, engulfed in tawny, erect knots of flame as New Jerusalem comes.