Thursday, August 06, 2009

Coming Out Jewish: Exploring Faith and Sexuality

I recently spent several hours walking in the woods. Much of the time was a quiet, reflective period. The chatter in my head slowly settled down to thoughts about how my coming out was a dual revelation. The obvious one was the recognizing and accepting of my sexuality, that I was gay. The other was developing and embracing a mature spiritual/religious understanding. For me one was not independent of the other.

I’ve written about my coming out gay previously. This is a review of my spiritual coming out.
In my twenties I had very little interest in religion. I felt I had outgrown the need for fairytales and superstitions. However, I thought church could be an interesting way to develop a new social network. After college it seemed harder to meet new and interesting people. My first wife and I were feeling isolated and cut-off. We joined a local Protestant church. I participated a little but refrained from getting too involved. My wife did not grow up going to church every Sunday like I had. She grabbed hold of the opportunity, got involved and made new friends. It served her well, especially when her health deteriorated and she died of a disease at age thirty.

My thirties became my time for spiritual exploring. I navigated a number of interesting paths but none of the resulted in a sustaining faith or conviction. On the home front, I remarried immediately. It would not be an ideal match. We were very good roommates but hardly ideal husband and wife. The second wife wanted nothing to do with any kind of religion. She developed her own separate network of friends and activities. I started exploring churches and other spiritual avenues on my own. Unfortunately, I’ve never liked going to church services by myself. I was very self-conscience about being there alone. I’m usually too shy to talk or engage with people. And when I did talk to other church members, I always hated the awkward introduction where I answer, “I’m married but my wife doesn’t attend”. The usual patronizing reply was “we’ll pray for her.” Ugh! I hated that. Bottom line, I never felt like I fit in or belonged there.

I joined a men’s study group at another church. We would meet weekly before work and discuss a Christian book. Topics often were on men’s issues and faith. I loved going to that group until the minister moved away and the group disbanded. There wasn’t another good leader to continue it. One of the things I liked about this minister was he had a larger view of religious topics and ideas than most of the men participating in the group. He was not as closed-minded and literal believing as many of the congregation were.

I dropped away from that church and began a new quest. I got involved in a secular men’s group. I started reading books by Joseph Campbell, Robert Bly, Sam Keen, etc. I did a men’s self-improvement weekend and joined a men’s group. Found lots of ritual but very little depth of meaning. After a couple of years, I dropped my connections with the group.

By my late thirties I started exploring and experimenting with my same-sex attraction with other married men. I spoke to one of my buddies about my interest in religion and desire to participate somehow but not being able to find a satisfying way to do it. He said he was thinking about taking a bible study class as well. Together we took classes for a year and half. I ended up reading most of the Bible. Again, I loved the study but did not participate in the church services. This Bible study class went a long way to fill a spiritual and social need. We would car pool together and go out of coffee every week after class. Much of the time we discussed the topics and readings from the class. I was sad and disappointed when the class series ended. Because of all the group study and reading I have done, I consider myself to be very knowledgeable layperson about the scriptures. During this time I also read books by religious (mostly Christian) scholars such as Karen Armstrong, Jack Miles, Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright.

You could say that forties was my midlife crisis. I came out, divorced and began a new relationship with E. I also converted to Reform Judaism after a year and half of study with a rabbi. It was important to both of us to practice the same faith. Reform Judaism is very welcoming. As a denomination, they have been inclusive and supportive of gays and gay rights since the mid-1990s. With E, my spiritual longings and desire of authentic, meaningful rituals are fulfilled as we explore, worship and learn about Judaism. I love sitting with him during services. As a couple, we have enriched our Jewish experience during our travels and recreation time. In cities around the world, we have gone on walking tours of old Jewish neighborhoods and visited synagogues. We browse Jewish museums and exhibitions by Jewish artists, attended Jewish theatre and watched Jewish and Israeli films. For the first time in my life I feel like I have a fully committed spiritual life with a partner and a community.

I sometimes wonder if I would have converted to Judaism if I hadn’t met E. I think it would be unlikely unless I met someone else who was not only Jewish but actively involved with a synagogue. Coming out as a gay man, even today, would pretty much kill any involvement with almost all Christian churches. I would not want to be a part of such an organization where I had to hide who I was or even worse, told that it is a sin to be gay or Hell was your future. I am saddened and dismayed at how bigoted, intolerant and hypocritical most Christian denominations and their members are towards gay and lesbian people. I probably would have given up finding and joining a church. However, I sincerely believe if E and I were no longer together, I would still be actively involved in Reform Judaism. The road to studying and converting to Judaism renewed my faith in myself, faith in my life with the man I love, and faith that things do have positive meaning in this world.

2 comments:

Little Rainbow Comics said...

Wow - thank you for sharing your story - I hope to be back and read more and get inspired...

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