When it comes to Jesus, I think I’m gay
This morning I was doing my Headspace-mindfulness-meditation (day 30-something in a row — Oh Praise Me!). And while focusing on my breathing, I started to miss Jesus. I slipped into doing the Jesus Prayer tied to my breathing. It felt a little like I was cheating on my wife — having a private dalliance with Jesus when Headspace Andrew was telling me to focus on my bare breathing. That’s when I realized: when it comes to Jesus, I think I’m gay.
I’m as straight as the post office is boring. Well into my re-think on how the evangelical church regards LGBTQ+ people, I saw Milk, the movie about the gay rights martyr, Harvey Milk, starring Sean Penn. Into my fifties at the time, I finally caught a glimpse of how normal it is for a gay man to love another man the way I can love a woman. Now it’s a little embarrassing to admit.
Straight as I may be, romantic attraction is a little more fluid when it comes to Jesus. I picture Jesus as a man, though I love the prayer by Margeurite of Oignt that begins, “O Jesus, you are my mother!” Actually, I’m being a little coy to say “picture” because it really feels to me that I know Jesus, maybe like a four year old knows her imaginary friend. And like the four year old, I really don’t believe he’s imaginary, though I have to admit it’s a theoretical possibility. But enough epistemology. Back to being gay when it comes to Jesus.
I feel myself attracted to Jesus like you’re attracted, or want to be, to a romantic partner. It’s not there all the time I’m aware of him, more like a crush that comes and goes — and has been coming and going, in my case, for the last 47 years. There are times when I catch a sense of him catching a glimpse of me with that non-rivalrous, full-on attention of his, and my response is akin to swooning.
My new favorite independent journalist, Jonathan Parks Ramage, describes Christian contemporary worship music like this: The style of music could be described as “Imagine Dragons meets Carrie Underwood at the end of a Nicholas Sparks movie. There is an infectious sentimentality to every melody, with a slight country twang and a Top 40 sheen. Each song has a quiet, plaintive refrain and slowly builds to a surging, anthem-rock finish. Yes. That’s it exactly and when I’m in the middle of it, I feel like I did when I first heard I Wanna Hold Your Hand in the sixth grade, with a full-on rush on Sue Kores, only my crush is Jesus. Before being ejected from my Jesus-movement-turned evangelical denomination, Vineyard, for loving my LGBTQ+ neighbors as myself, I loved the sensuality of Vineyard songs with lyrics like this: I can feel you, flowing through me, Holy Spirit come and fill me up, come and fill me up.
People like me go through phases when private praying waxes intense. In one of these phases I was prone to feel what I later learned was called “ravishment” toward whoever it was coming close to me, which I took to be Jesus. There’s a statue of Teresa of Avila being ravished and it looks like she’s having an orgasm.
I don’t want you getting the wrong idea. I’m not a flipping mystic — or no more so than everyone is. It’s just that at a certain vulnerable time in my life I needed a male hero, having none, and I read the gospel of Matthew and glommed onto Jesus of Nazareth, and things took on a life of their own.
My favorite theologian is James Alison. Books with titles-to-die for like, Undergoing God, and On Being Liked. Of anyone writing about Jesus, he writes about Jesus the way I feel about Jesus. And Alison is a gay Catholic priest.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves is about seeing in them something other than off-putting or disgusting otherness. It’s about loving their otherness like we love our own otherness. Don’t we secretly love the things about ourselves that aren’t just the same as everyone else? Couldn’t we come to love whatever that is in others? Wouldn’t we love to be loved like that by others?
When I see my friend Tim, loving his husband, Rich, it makes sense to me, partly because I have a thing going with Jesus. When I see another gay friend, aching to find someone to love like that, I get it, just a little bit, and want for him what he wants for himself. After years and years of deep ignorance, an ignorance that nurtured support for beliefs that were harmful to my LGBTQ+ neighbors, I now get it, just a little bit. I credit my maybe-imaginary or maybe-not-so imaginary lover, Jesus.