Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finding God in a Gay Bar: Why I Blog

I have recently had occasion to reflect on why I began blogging and why I continue to blog. 

I am not an expert on anything - except my own feelings and experience.   When I began blogging, I decided that this would be a guiding principle for my writing.  As I began my journey out of the closet, I would write about my own life experience, my own feelings, my own thoughts.   In other words, my blog would be very personal. 

I began writing as a means of letting out thoughts and emotions that I had kept bottled up inside of me for most of my life.  There was something very therapeutic about spilling all of this stuff out onto my computer screen.  Whether or not anyone read it was, in a way, irrelevant.

But, amazingly, people started reading my scribblings.  I discovered an online community comprised primarily of “MoHo’s” (a term which I frankly dislike), and it gradually discovered me.  What had begun as a journaling exercise turned into an interactive experience as people commented on what I had written.  I was thereby able to engage with others to examine my own experiences and learn from others’ insights. 

More importantly, however, I quickly began to feel that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through.  I learned not only that there were others “out there” who had gone through experiences similar to mine, but also that there were others “out there” who cared about what I was passing through.  This support was critical to me in those early days of venturing out of the closet.

Eventually, I started writing about not only my own experiences and feelings, but also about the experiences and feelings of others who had shared these with me, either through comments on my blog or through private correspondence.  In so doing, I tried to remain true to my original guiding principle of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings – without trying to impose judgments or commentary on larger issues. I also tried to give back, in some small way, to a community that had provided such critical support to me at a time when I desperately needed it.

I very quickly came to the realization that a second guiding principle of my writing would be that my blog would be about a journey.  I had and would try to continue to have no preconceived ideas.  I had no idea when I started where the journey would take me.  I still don’t; and that’s ok.

Upon reading the foregoing paragraph, a friend who agreed to preview this post and provide comments wrote:  “I don't know if you know it, but that's as beautiful a definition of "faith" as I've ever seen.”  Not for the first time, I was blown away by the insight of this gentle and insightful man, which caused me to look at myself and my journey in a new light. 

Friends such as he are one of the great blessings that have come into my life since beginning my journey.  He went on to share with me some of his favorite quotes, which I will in turn share with you, each a jewel, each standing like a guidepost, pointing to further light, knowledge and understanding, down the road and over the crest of the hill.  Tomorrow!  How I look forward to greeting you and discovering what you have in store for me!

“It may be when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.”    
            ~Wendell Berry

“ the insistence that the truth is what one would...wish it to be.... an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, 
whatever it may turn out to be. 
Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown.  
Belief clings but faith lets go... faith is the essential virtue of science, 
and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.”
                                                        ~ Alan Watts
                                  (as quoted by Fenton Johnson in Keeping Faith)

“‘When you no longer have any fixed self and are completely open to everything,
that is when you are transformed to an awareness of spontaneous compassion.’”
~ Brother Anthony Distefano in Fenton Johnson’s Keeping Faith

Needless to say, Wendell Berry’s quote resonated deeply with me.  And the two quotations from Fenton Johnson’s Keeping Faith prompted me to add that book to my reading list. 

I wouldn’t have believed, six months ago, that I would be where I am today; I could not have foreseen it.  But I believe I am where I am because I tried to be open to what life had to offer me each day as I journeyed through it.  I suppose this is what Alan Watts might characterize as faith.    

Moving along, I also determined that a third guiding principle of my blog would be a conscious rejection of what I perceive to be a very Mormon tendency to view life as a collection of blacks and whites, of dichotomies of good and bad, desirable and undesirable, jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive – a tendency, I might add, that tends to follow some people even when they leave the LDS Church.  One goal of my blogging is to deliberately challenge such tendencies and to reject categorization and labeling – of me or of anyone or anything else – and “prescribed” ways of thinking and acting.

Of course, I’m not the only person who has perceived this aspect of Mormon culture.  I absolutely loved the following passage from an e-mail I received from Wes Hempel, a gay non-Mormon artist I have written about who made the following observations about Mormonism: 

What strikes me is how insular the Mormon religion is and how black and white the thinking.  The belief that the church must be either divine or man-made is a trap many fall into.  Of course it's man-made, but that doesn't mean the sacred isn't there.  One can find God in the Mormon Church (just as one can find God in a gay bar).  It's a combination, that's the beauty of it.  It means, even as a church member, you have to keep seeking, winnowing.  You have to stay alert.  Religion becomes its own opposite when authorities claim they've the answers and then set themselves up as God's arbiters.

Obviously, I borrowed Wes’ phrase as part of the title of this post. I did so because it so aptly described what part of my journey is about, i.e., not having preconceived notions about where I might find “truth” or what it might look like when it’s “found” or how it might be collected, labeled, categorized, collated and synthesized.  As Wes wrote in another e-mail (he’s an amazing writer as well as a gifted artist): 

The most important truths resist conceptualization.  But where truth is elusive, it's also malleable.  It's shaped by creative and innovative inquiry, and it slips through the fingers of those who try to grasp it.  Part of the problem is language, of course, which works metaphorically.  If there were a direct correspondence between words and the things they signify, we wouldn't need writers.  Those in authority like to believe they own the truth.  But its best champions are the wordsmiths.”

I also decided I would not engage in polemics.  That well-known savant, Wikipedia, defines polemic as follows:  A polemic is a form of dispute, wherein the main efforts of the disputing parties are aimed at establishing the superiority of their own points of view regarding an issue. Along with debate, polemic is one of the more common forms of dispute. Similar to debate, it is constrained by a definite thesis which serves as the subject of controversy. However, unlike debate, which may seek common ground between two parties, a polemic is intended to establish the supremacy of a single point of view by refuting an opposing point of view.

Michel Foucault, a French philosopher (and the first high-profile French personality to die of AIDS), said the following on the subject of polemics:

“In the serious play of questions and answers, in the work of reciprocal elucidation, the rights of each person are in some sense immanent in the discussion. They depend only on the dialogue situation. The person asking the questions is merely exercising the right that has been given him: to remain unconvinced, to perceive a contradiction, to require more information, to emphasize different postulates, to point out faulty reasoning, and so on … Questions and answers depend on a game—a game that is at once pleasant and difficult—in which each of the two partners takes pains to use only the rights given him by the other and by the accepted form of dialogue.

“The polemicist, on the other hand, proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then, the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning. The polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.”

Again, unfortunately, the tendency to engage in polemics seems to be prevalent in the Mormon culture and persona – even (again) among those who have left the LDS Church.  I, however, am simply not interested in arguing with anyone or trying to prove a point on the pages of my blog (or on other blogs, for that matter).  There are plenty of other blogs that have these attributes.  Rather, I wanted my blog to be experiential, anecdotal and, hopefully, authentic.  

Earlier this year, one of the highest compliments my blog has ever received was expressed by a private correspondent in these words:  “Rather than an antagonist dismantling, your postings talking honestly about your own experiences provide readers something like a vicarious therapeutic experience.  Along with the concrete help the blog offers, readers can imagine, just by reading of your own experience, different possibilities for their own.  It's courageous and, I think, deeply spiritual work.”

These comments set a “bar” for me.  I had begun blogging as a means of expressing my own thoughts and feelings, as a means of self-medicated therapy if you will.  During the ensuing months, however, it gradually became apparent that what I was writing was resonating to some degree with others.  So I determined to try to live up to what my correspondent had so generously written about my blog. 

This I have tried to do, but there have still been times of discouragement. It seems like at each such time, I have received a message of encouragement from one of my readers, such as this one I received just this past weekend:  “Thank you for your openness! Thank you for writing what so many feel inside … Your writing is not a rant. It's not hurtful. It is open, honest, authentic and oh so true.” 

This is my goal.  This is what I aspire to.  This is why I blog.


  1. I really hear what you're saying about the Mormon tendency to see things as black and white, good or bad. It's a tendency I'm struggling to leave behind myself. Blogging has been invaluable in trying to chart a new course in faith and spirituality post-Mormonism. I actually started my blog thinking I had all the answers because I had found "the truth" of atheism. My, how my perspective has changed. I love the Alan Watts quote!

    First found your blog through your post on Main Street Plaza and have been loving it ever since. Keep it up!

  2. Thanks, Leah. I appreciate your comments and you sharing a bit of your own journey!

  3. Great post; beautifully expressed, as usual.

    For me at least, polemics was generally at the heart of the contention in my marriage relationship. My wife’s black-and-white, culturally-inculcated modus operandi trumped personal feelings, ideas, and needs. Man definitely was made for the Sabbath; not a tenable situation.


  4. I love the title of finding God in a gay bar. I found attending the Philadelphia Pride parade and festival to also be an eye-opening experience that helped to challenge the narrative about gays that I had been raised with. A few weeks later I went to the NYC pride parade. I found both experiences to be affirming and uplifting (as odd as that sounds in juxtaposition with the religious beliefs I was raised with). They were amazing displays of celebration and self-acceptance, something I had never experienced with regard to my sexuality.

  5. that helped a lot
    trust me i have never been to gay bar
    But I know God is there too....

  6. @Trey - Thank you. I always appreciate your comments.

    @Mister Curie - It *is* a great title, isn't it? I can say that because I didn't write it, Wes Hempel did. I just was captivated by it as soon as I read it; it expresses SO much. Thanks for sharing your experiences at the Phily and NY Pride parades. I've yet to attend my first Pride day. Looking forward to it.

    @Moonlitlake - I'm so glad you stopped by and that the post held some meaning/benefit for you. And thanks for sharing your thoughts.