Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

CBC’s DNTO to air my story on Coming Out to My Church for “Lost Causes,” Nov 3   Leave a comment

Definitely Not the Opera, (DNTO) a CBC Radio One program devoted to the art of storytelling in Canada, asked me to tell my story of coming out to my church for their Nov 3 show “Lost Causes”.

I had pitched the idea to them last year for a different show called “Making Enemies” but withdrew the pitch because a) I don’t think I meant to make enemies, nor do I think I have made enemies; and 2) because I didn’t want to restir a pot that has finally calmed down.

But they remembered my pitch.  And they sought me out.  Which is humbling, and cool.  We recorded on Friday morning and they are editing my lengthy story to 3-4 minutes.  I appreciate Andrew Friesen’s belief that my story was important and needed to be told.  I feel like the story is more appropriate under “Lost Causes” because trying to reason with people who don’t want to listen to you, or discuss with you–and believing that you alone have to spark change–well, it can feel like a “Lost Cause”.  But in the end–and the end hasn’t come yet–who knows if the cause is lost?  I think every person who says the church must look at the evidence, must consider the Christian testimonies of LGBT folks in the discussion, is a step towards change.  We need more people who realize how many people have fallen away from the faith, have decided against Christ, have been repelled from the church, and who, sometimes when there is no hope left, taken their own lives, all because the Church has historically refused to consider the scriptures in an accepting light–and this causes their members to refuse to accept their children in an accepting light.  This splits familes.  My God and my Christ are not what I encounter when I come into a Baptist Church anymore.  I daresay they wouldn’t recognize it.  Churches are not all one defined Mass though–as many churches are beginning to change their minds about LGBT people.  Episcopals, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Church of Canada–all have begun seeing that this is just the next issue the church has to rethink.  As it did slavery, race, and its treatment of Women.  And divorce.  Change comes when people inside churches decide they can’t hold false doctrine anymore.  Christianity and Faith are not the problem.  Interpretation is.

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If You Come Here from GEEZ #27 where I have two memoir pieces…   1 comment

Geez Magazine, editor Melanie Dennis Unrau, selected two of my short pieces to go in Geez’s fall issue.  One of them, Undercover at the Festival of Faith and Writing, you can read as a web-exclusive.  The other “As the Spirit Moves Me” is available in the newsstand print copy.

If you came here from Geez 27, thanks!  and Welcome!  You’ll find some additional pieces from my trip to the Festival of Faith and Writing.  Think of them as addendums–things I couldn’t fit into such a small space.

Four essays:

Gay at Calvin College: more about going to the festival and wanting to do something to help those who are gay at Calvin College

The Last Supper: Johnny’s Cafe remix: mainly a photo where I asked students in the cafe to recreate Da Vinci’s  Last Supper.

Christians (Wanting to) Talk about Sex: where I go into depth about one of the seminars there—as no one recorded it for later discussion.

Marilynne Robinson, Hero–which talks in depth about her keynote address and the reaction of the crowd, and later comments at the college

Together, they comprise most of my Calvin College experience.  I should write up more of the seminars–and I will.  Certainly they will not be what others gathered there.  Take into consideration who I am and what I felt being there.  I am a Christian, a Writer, and a gay man.

I enjoyed Calvin College’s conference immensely and will go back in two years.

I hope these four supplemental blogposts will enrich the essay you did read in GEEZ.

It’s sometimes impossible to boil down an experience into 1000 words, or 1500, or 750.

“As the Spirit Moves Me” is a 500 word piece on going to my birthmother’s church, at Camp Chesterfield, a famous psychic institution.  I need to write the full story there—it’s quite amazing.

Thanks.  J

 

Geez #27 has two of my short pieces   Leave a comment

Thank you, Melanie, for accepting and working with me on two short pieces that tried to find a common theme.  I took a trip to see my birthmother, the spiritualist, and went to the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College.  All in the same trip!  And man that was a trip!  I think the commonalities between how spiritualists look at communicating with Spirit, and how Christians communicate with the Holy Spirit and “inspiration” are fascinating.  And I’ll probably turn that into another piece one day.

For now, “As the Spirit Moves Me” and “Undercover at the Festival of Faith and Writing” are in Geez #27, forthcoming!

Posted July 4, 2012 by jstueart in churches, writing

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Marilynne Robinson, Hero   4 comments

Attending the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, I was very happy to hear that Marilynne Robinson would be giving their keynote.  Each of her three novels are highly prized.  Ms. Robinson received a Pulitzer Prize for her second novel, Gilead.  Her first novel, Housekeeping, won a Hemingway Foundation/PEN award and was nominated for a Pulitzer.  Her latest novel, Home, was a finalist in the National Book Award, and won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

No slouch, Marilynne.

She’s written, as well, a number of nonfiction books of essays on culture and thought, most often about religion and faith.

She’s a Congregationalist with a bright Calvinist core.

She’s an amazing, award-winning writer–and has been motivational in speeches in the past.   Calvin College and the Festival of Faith and Writing invited her because a) she is a Calvinist, and b) she won a Pulitzer, and c) she won the Pulitzer for a book about a minister’s life.   She could motivate their writers.  And she had been a keynote speaker at the festival in 2006 as well as given an address then to the Calvin Seminary, which was hailed as magnificent.

But Marilynne is no trained monkey as some at Calvin College discovered the night of her keynote address.  She is a mama bear.

No doubt some folks there believed she would be addressing writing, or faith, and talk about craft.  The Festival is the premiere venue for writers of faith–the best writers, in the most literary style, and probably some of the more left-leaning thinkers in the Evangelical Christian writing world attend this event.  Writers in general tend to be progressive.  It’s hard to be a reader and be closed-minded.

Still, I think most at Calvin College didn’t know quite what to do with Marilynne’s address, “Casting out Fear.”

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The Last Supper: Johnny’s Cafe, Calvin College remix   1 comment

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Art is all around us. We just have to find it. Take for instance this moment.
Go find your art.

Recreation of The Last Supper in Johnny’s Cafe, Calvin College, April 20 2012.

From Left to Right: Daniel VandeBunte, Kit Graham, Hannah Chee, Annie Bultheis, Seth Wilson, Emily Diener, Joe Gibson, Walter T. Runn, Kaile VanOene, Linda Anderson, Cotter Koopman, and Peter Rockhold. With great thanks to all these wonderful people! 🙂

Posted April 20, 2012 by jstueart in my life, writing

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Gay at Calvin College   9 comments

I’m here at Calvin College attending the Festival of Faith and Writing, one of the most amazing, one of the best, writing conferences out there.  The quality of the speakers—Gary Schmidt, Jonathan Safran Foer, Marilynne Robinson–not to mention the different seminars I’ve already taken–gives depth and urgency to writers who hope to change the world.  I have never felt such deep emotional responses to these calls and challenges to be good writers and write good stories.  Calvin College does a great thing for writers of faith.

And yet…. I find myself, as I knew I would, disturbed by Calvin College’s policy towards GLBT students.  It’s an ethical dilemma.

Calvin’s stance on GLBT issues

To their credit, Calvin is far more liberal than most Christian colleges.  They do not run them off campus, as they did in my day.  So by that measure, I should be pleased.  I have read their FAQs on their policy towards homosexuality and GLBT students, and you can read it here:  Calvin’s FAQs about homosexuality.

You’ll notice that it’s very kind and generous.  It acknowledges that gays and lesbians are attracted to same sex people.

“While the orientation seems usually to lie outside the scope of an individual’s will, by God’s power and grace, behavior lies within it.

Calvin College is also concerned that homosexual members of our community are treated with respect, justice, grace and understanding in the Spirit of Christ. We recognize the complexity of current issues around homosexuality and desire to engage this conversation with courage, humility, prayerfulness and convicted civility.”  (I use the quotation marks here because my pic makes it difficult to know where the quote starts and ends.)

It’s that sexual behavior that seems so SEPARATE to Calvin; it’s almost ridiculous.  However, they want to frame a “conversation” in respectful terms.  Conversation, of course, means that both sides are listening.  But I appreciate their dedication to civility, a civility that they have the authority to enforce.

In the classroom, Calvin College notes that multiple perspectives may be explored by students:

In exploring the full range of human experience, faculty will certainly acquaint students with many perspectives that are inconsistent with the confessions, but will do so from a perspective of adherence to the confessions.

That policy– the adherence to confessions–can be found in the the newest document on academic freedom for professors and students.   Mentioned in these FAQs, it addresses how faculty should approach difficult topics.  The underlying conclusion, as you read here, is that the administration is not wrong, and that they are not the ones listening, but the ones correcting:

We have learned that the best outcomes for such conversations are those in which an inquirer later reports “I’m glad I asked. I really do see this now from another, more biblical, point of view,” or where the faculty or staff member reports “I’m glad you raised this. I hadn’t been aware of all the ramifications of my view, and I’ve now refined it to take other concerns into account,” or where both later say “we disagree, but we remain open to learning from each other” or “I realize that I need to learn more and think further about any position I advance.” Not every inquiry will end in this way. But we have learned to give such questions every chance to end with a positive outcome.

I like to point out that their “positive outcome” is one where there is learning on the inquirer’s side only.  However, Calvin’s new policies on homosexuality do protect gays and lesbians from negative slurs, prejudice, etc.— however, they don’t realize the institutionalized creation of prejudice they engender by their different treatment of gays and lesbians.  Watch the FAQs carefully:

[SAGA–Sexuality Awareness, Gender Acceptance] is not a ‘student organization,’ but a group of students with a counselor mentor from the Broene Counseling Center, who seek to educate others at Calvin about the challenges faced by homosexual students.

Gays are given groups within the auspices of counseling.  “These are not student organizations” the policy says emphatically, thereby denying them student rights.  They are, instead, places of refuge for gays and lesbians and places where they can, apparently, come to terms with the fact that God wants them to remain celibate–and teach others how to treat them better because of their “challenges”.  *note the student response below for a great insight into SAGA and Calvin College that I didn’t know, and am very pleased to hear.  While policy may be against gays at Calvin, the people there aren’t.

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How Anne Lamott Saved My Life: the Mercy of ‘Traveling Mercies’   3 comments

Having been raised in churches all my life, having done the double, triple, renewing salvation genuflect that Baptist kids do over their lives, knowing the plan of salvation in scripture form, calling card form, bracelet form, code form— you’d think that I was duly saved.  You don’t really have to do it so many times.

Until your life is at stake.

Coming out to myself really hit me hard.  It threw my sense of what I could believe in the Bible.  Waking up to the idea that I had been misinformed at such a deep level about who I was, and what I was, made me wonder if the Bible (or Christians) could get wrong how God felt about being gay, what else could they get wrong?  It threw me, too, into a world where I felt pretty lost.

But then one day, I found Anne Lamott.  Actually, she was given to me, and the man who gave her book to me said, “Many people who have lost their faith have found it again after reading this book.”

He was a pastor in Oyster Bay, Peter Casparian, 1988 Quatrofilio Alfa Romeo-driving liberal Episcopal pastor preaching in an historic church, Christ Church, the church of Theodore Roosevelt.  Over croissants and jam outside of a French Bakery, I came out to him.  Because I was shaking, because I cried, and because I didn’t know what I wanted to believe any more, he said I should find a copy of Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, that it would restore my faith, or at least calm my nerves.  I was frightened of churches, a little scared of the Bible…as if it were now riddled with land mines.  If I go to Romans, bam! If I head to Genesis, boom!

Traveling Mercies is Anne Lamott’s honest memoir of trying out church.  It’s not written like anything you’d find in a Christian bookstore.  It’s refreshing.  It comes at faith from a non-churched point of view.  God is surprising, he’s real, he’s around the corner; Anne is the kind of believer who questions God, gets upset with him, does things wrong! does things surprisingly well!  She is fearless in her attempts to believe in God, and in a quirky group of believers.  Thank God she didn’t go to a stuffy, we-have-all-the-answers church.

I’ve heard people come away loving this book–and I certainly did.  It renewed my faith despite having had it trounced by well-meaning folk.  She provided a way back to the parts of faith that I loved and remembered.  Faith is not Religion, but Religion can be made of Faith.  For her there are only two prayers, “Help me, help me, help me!” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”   I think that sums up most prayers well.

Anne Lamott allows herself to be so vulnerable, to be, as she puts it, “such a mess.”

It allows the rest of us to be imperfect, to approach God as people who don’t have it all together, who aren’t doing everything right, who don’t sometimes believe in every unbelievable thing, but we’re trying.  Traveling Mercies reminds me of that Tim Allen show, Home Improvement.  Tim’s marital problems are given the best advice by Wilson, who seems to embody Robert Bly and Joseph Campbell and God all rolled into one.  But Tim, as he tries to carry that advice in his cupped hands back to his wife and family, spills most of it, and always blurts out a tainted version of that wisdom, a splattered, messy version of wisdom that somehow works–mostly through the forgiveness of his wife.  Anne Lamott is messy in that Tim Allen way.  She wanders into the same kinds of sermons and wisdom we all do but the application is messier than she thinks.  And wow, it’s messy for all of us, but none of us admitted it.

Anne allowed my faith to be messy, and allowed me to approach church in a different way–not of trying to regain some shallow perfection I thought I had, but in trying it out in whatever way I could muster.  She allowed my approach to God to be a little wobbly, a couple of bounces and skids, and sometimes I circle the runway for days…  It was never a perfect landing.  Faith is trial and error not a performance.

If Anne Lamott can be human again, then so can I.  If she can be a Christian, outside of perfection, then so can I.

Churchiness takes the humanity out of you.  Traveling Mercies somehow puts the humanity back into Faith.

Here’s an excerpt from Traveling Mercies on someone else’s page.

Thank you, Anne Lamott!  I know you’ve probably saved a lot of lives before–and perhaps you don’t even know that you’re doing it, but honest memoir saves lives.  We may write it only to save ours, but it ends up having multiple life-saving effects.  Resonance.  Mercy.

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