Monday, January 22, 2007

The Journey Home

As a kid, I sometimes felt embarrassed by my lack of exposure to church and religion. My adoptive parents were Methodists in name only, and neither one had stepped foot in a church, save for the occasional wedding, in at least 30 years. When a significant portion of my classmates were talking about catechisms and confirmations, I remember feeling afraid. Afraid to be exposed as the kid who didn’t go to church. It was just one more difference, one more wall, between me and “all the other kids.”

My friend Marla grew up in a fairly conservative Catholic family. Her parents and brother were devoted pro-lifers, and I can actually recall family dinner conversations about the pros and cons of killing abortionists. I took up an invite to attend Sunday mass, and got a crash course prepping from Marla. I sat, I kneeled, I stood. I kneeled some more. I pretended to pray on cue, and made sure not to follow everyone up front for a wafer. I looked around at all of the icons and representations of bloody suffering and wondered how these creep-o images filled the hearts of minds of the congregants with compassion and communion. It was like a weird B-movie to me. Did these people actually hear things that I didn’t hear? Did they see stuff that I didn’t see? Why would otherwise seemingly sane people suddenly behave so differently here? On Sunday? In this building?

I never felt embarrassed again about my lack of churchin’. I realized that I was actually saved – from glazy-eyed brainwashed indoctrination. Thank god I wasn’t seduced by the promise of not having to treat this life as if there was no other.

I suppose I wouldn’t have ever had to revisit religion, or more precisely religionists, except that I was a leader of a gay youth group in Pittsburgh. Our adult advisor was a minister of MCC – the gay church, and he provided us with a lot of support and a lot of counseling on how to handle the crazy fundamentalists who so venomously opposed the simple existence of our group. We had threats of lawsuits and allegations that we minors were corrupting our fellow minors.

But the real destruction that I saw done by the “Christians” was in the gay kids who were disowned by their Jesus-loving, gay-hating parents. One kid, Joel, was sent by his parents to ex-gay camp long before ex-gay camps were cool. I only saw him once after that, and the damage was depressingly obvious. Before Jesus camp, Joel was a witty and articulate young man. We all knew that he was suffering through his coming out, because of his ultra-conservative family, but it seemed like he was going to make it. He balanced being a member of Growing Alternative Youth with his position as president of the pro-life group on campus at Pitt. He went to gay clubs and got up early for church on Sunday. He dressed as Nancy Reagan for Halloween. After ex-gay camp, Joel moved to Washington DC, and became a writer for “Clinton Watch.” I hear that he married a woman and became a minister – as, of course, any self-loathing ex-gay would.

In ’92, I moved to San Francisco to become a part of the emerging rave scene. As I’ve mentioned before, the rave scene was a deeply spiritual experience for me. Sometimes with the aid of entheogens, and sometimes without, I came to understand the unlimited potential of 2,000 people transcending difference and creating a positive vibe on the dancefloor. The feeling of communion was strangely similar to the wonder and instinctive connectedness to Nature that I felt as a kid playing in the woods. I realized that my experience in the rave scene and my experience in the woods shared some kind of deep, organic truth about existence and consciousness.

Somewhere, shortly after, I lost my way. My mid-20s were a muddled stew of day-to-day existence, crystal meth addiction, isolation and self destruction. Only because of the unconditional love of friends, I was able to make the long, long trip back to me, and, to be honest, I was hardly recognizable to me when I got there. I moved to Miami Beach, and in ’97, I decided to take a class or two at Miami-Dade Community College, just to do something. I chose a literature class with a professor with a very literature-sounding name – Deena Blazejack. Professor Blazejack was a real-life Dead Poet’s style professor, and I sat mesmerized as I breathed in her passion for literature and life. Her classes were like sermons, and she once shared with us Carl Sagan’s proposition that as all of the particles and atoms that come together to make our bodies and minds were once a part of the stars, we are the Universe trying to understand itself. It was, and still is, the most profound idea I have ever experienced. Every thought I have had, since then, has been influenced by the idea that we aren’t a “we” exploring “it.” We are it. We are all that is and all that is, is us.

A little over a year ago, Tony invited me to the Unity on the Bay holiday concert. Here in Miami, Unity is pretty popular with the Gays, and crunchy New Age-y types, so, of course, I had heard of it before (not to mention that I live directly across the street). Tony had mentioned that he used to sing in the Unity choir, and I knew he really wanted to support his friends in the choir on their big night. I didn’t really know what to expect – I’d always imagined Unity as candlelit yoga and drumming circles. So, I put on my finest lesbian khakis and plaid shirt, and we headed across the street. We entered through the gift shop – which is filled with videos and books about candlelit yoga and drumming circles – and took front and center seats in the sanctuary.

I immediately noticed how un-religious the sanctuary seemed. There weren’t any fear-inducing depictions of a bloody savior nailed to a cross, or images of angels, or saints, or martyrs. There weren’t any secret rituals or fancy schmancy robes. It really looked more like a concert hall at a mid-sized university than a church. I was deeply impressed by the diversity of the audience – every color, ethnicity and sexual orientation. There wasn’t any self-segregation and everyone seemed genuinely comfortable and friendly. I could feel the hard work and heart that was put into the show, and the music reflected the diversity of the audience. We had a really nice time.

To make a long story slightly shorter than it could be…I’ve been going to Unity, fairly regularly since. I love the message – each and every life form is an individual expression of the whole…every life form is an individual attempt by the Universe to understand itself from a different perspective. Every bit of knowledge that we are able to discover, and every part of self that we explore, adds to a greater understanding. Unity on the Bay has allowed me to really explore my deepest, and most natural self. The self that intrinsically knows that, for me, the deep woods and deep house music are truth. The self that knows that sins and judgment days and holy wars have nothing to do with enlightenment. The self that knows that real beauty and the divine nature of the Universe can be found in the complexity of evolution, the sacred balance of an ecosystem, and the fortuity of the Big Bang. I feel so, so grateful to have found a home for the feelings and knowledge that I have always had. Now, pass the Kool-Aid please.


pooh said...

You are a truly marvelous example of the universe. Thank you for everything you teach me.

Cooper said...

That was marvellous to read, to think about, to absorb. You articulated what I feel but don't have the words to say. What an amazing concept! We, all of us, as part of the stars and the earth ... one. Yes.

A* said...

You rock.
Tony rocks too.

aphasia7 said...

Hey, thanks for checking out my blog. It drew me to yours, which gave me the coolest surprise insight into you, and also squashes some of my cynicism about the world! Rock on, sir.

Valerie - Riding Solo said...

Thank you for sharing, Cyrus.

I am looking into it because I believe truth is revealed to each of us as we need it...

see this

Valerie - Riding Solo said...


I think you did me a bigger favor than you can realize.

Thank you very much for blogging this.

While I probably won't go local regularly, I am participating.


astrid said...

"I was hardly recognizable to me when I got there. I moved to Miami Beach, and in ’97, I decided to take a class or two at Miami-Dade Community College," too. I have done the same.

I am looking to go in New York now.