Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011

When I think of Memorial Day, a few things usually come to mind. I remember going with my paternal grandma to the graveyards when I was a kid. She has always been keen on visiting the hundreds of graves of those she’s known. On at least two separate Memorial Day weekends she took me along with her. Now, some may think this would be boring or perhaps even morbid for a kid, but I did actually enjoy going along with her. I enjoyed it because my grandma would tell me all sorts of stories about the people whose graves we visited. I learned a lot about my family’s history that way. And I also really enjoyed all the unique places we’d go. You wouldn’t believe how many graveyards really are hid around the countryside. I remember us going to a few that only just had what could be called a road leading up to them. Some were in the woods, some were overgrown by thick bushes, some were on the hillsides, some within others’ property, and some were really kept up and so forth. Seeing so many of them, I’ve always kept in mind how easy it must be to become buried in a patch of weeds (it really is dependent on the caretaker, and whether or not anyone lives who does still care about the condition of the graves of those buried there). My grandma and I really did visit a great many of sites that were getting quite overtaken by nature. And that’s sad, really, to think about, because it means that a good portion of those who have been buried in such cemeteries have probably been forgotten; either their family and friends moved on, died off themselves, or just simply forgot about them. I find an unkept grave a very sad thing. Perhaps that is why I’ve often thought more favorably toward cremation (at least for myself).

Memorial Day also makes me think of my maternal grandpa, who died when I was around four. I don’t have many memories of him, but I do recall a couple with great fondness (I really do wish I could have known him better). I remember him on Memorial Day because my maternal grandma, mom, and aunt have always made sure to lay flowers on his grave on this day, and they always make a big to do about it. I also remember him because he was buried, and the first thought about having gone to the cemeteries with my paternal grandma as a kid always leads me to think of the cemetery where he is buried. And then, perhaps the biggest reason why I remember him on this day is because he was a soldier in World War II.

This leads me to my next thought about Memorial Day: the soldiers who have died in defense of our country. I’m not sure why, but I mostly want to reflect on WWII soldiers and the sacrifices they made during that war. It is probably only because I relate to that war having knowledge of my grandfather’s activities in it, but also because, I admit, I have played a great deal of WWII shooter video games. Because of those two things I just sort of automatically picture WWII troops whenever I think of soldiers (not to offend or belittle any other veterans—you’re all awesome).

After that, Memorial Day makes me recall all the holiday weekends when I worked on the lake. Good grief those could be busy weekends. We’d all work ourselves to death nearly. But they were good because it meant a lot of extra change in my pocket and I always managed to get a good tan that weekend to kick off the summer with. And, of course, I recall family trips and get-togethers as well.

I am glad we celebrate Memorial Day in this country. I know a lot of times people don’t often actually reflect on those who have died, but instead use this day only as a great time off. I don’t hold that against anyone, per se, because it is great to get some time off every now and then however you can get it. But I do wish more people would actually take at least some time to think back on those who have gone on. It only takes a little bit of time to actually reflect on past friends and family members, and I think it is especially befitting to at least take some amount of time on this holiday to say a quick prayer for and to thank all those who serve our country. After all, that is what this holiday was created for.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this day. I hope everyone has had a good holiday, whatever you did.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Little Differences (or: What if?)

Today I woke up with thoughts toward going on a road trip—the view out the window just said it was too good a day to stay at home. There are some nice hilly areas south of where I live with lots of waterways and sites to see. I love going on drives like that, just seeing what nature has to offer. I find it peaceful, really. But, however, I did not go on such a trip today. I was approached, instead, by some of my family to go shopping, eat out, and watch a movie in the city to our east. I thought long about this, but, likewise, decided not to go.

So, what did I do today? I spent today in quiet peace at home by myself. Even though it was such a beautiful day out, something just told me it would be better to stay at home. So, I sat out on the back porch swing and drank a cup of coffee for about thirty minutes or so, played through the second Call of Duty video game for about five hours, read two chapters from a James Bond book I’d not got around to reading yet, did some writing, watched a little television, and just in general, was a true bum.

I don’t regret how I spent this day. But the thought does cross my mind how the day might have been different had I taken one of those other plans. Had I left the house today, just what would have happened? I could have had a better day, or a worse day. I might have had the best trip of my life, or I could have had the worst, or even worse, the last trip of my life. One can never know just how different things could be for them if only they’d made one decision or action differently in life. And for that matter, just how different would their actions make the lives of those around them?

When I look beyond this day at the rest of my life, I see good decisions and bad decisions. Some things I’m sure were the right things to do, and other things were definitely the wrong things to do. We all have those what if moments though, where we imagine how differently our lives could be if only this or that had been different. But that is just life. We can make the most of any situation, deal with the consequences of our actions, circumstances, or the actions of others that impact us, and try to move on as best we can. Or, we can make the least of things. We can enjoy the lives we’ve led, or dislike them. We can approve of our actions, or disapprove of them. Either way, each person’s life is defined, at least in part, by what actions he or she has made.

I could have gone on one of two trips today, but I’m glad I didn’t go on any. Could my day have been better than it was? Possibly. But I stand by my decision, and today was what it was.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Aren't We a Bunch of Misfits

I think about how much being online has helped me the past few years. When I needed help dealing with being gay and Christian, trying to figure myself out, looking for anyone who I could talk to and who would understand, I was able to turn to online resources.

I found Exodus International to begin with. Now, I know a lot of people don’t like Exodus, and there are several reasons not to like Exodus, but regardless of those reasons, Exodus did help me… tremendously. You see, growing up where I did, being gay just wasn’t acceptable at all. There was only one person I knew who I went to school with who was gay and came out. And when he did, the harassing and torment the other students put him through drove him right out of school. And it wasn’t much better for anyone else who was thought to be gay. I was thought to be gay—even though I didn’t even know how to feel or think about the issue myself at the time. The point is that being gay was not at all something that one dared admit to anyone else—even if you were Christian trying not to give into your desires, as I was. There do seem to be a lot more high school kids willing to come out these days, but a good deal of them are still met by a very large degree of discrimination and bullying. They’re looked down upon.

I never thought I could tell anyone I was gay. To do that scared me something fierce. For anyone just to find out on their own I was gay scared me as well. I always feared that if people knew, they’d treat me far worse than a lot of them already did. And so I kept quiet for what seemed like a very long time, and pretended that a very big problem in my life wasn’t really all that bad at all.

When my brother found out I was gay in 2005, and confronted me about it, I was tormented beyond reason, and I had no clue who to turn to for help. Alone—for too long—I finally searched online for someone who could help me with my problems. What I found was Exodus International. On their website, I read other people’s stories, saw their pictures, and read their articles about all sorts of particular related issues. For the first time in my life, I discovered how not alone I really was in the world. I discovered there were a lot of other guys just like me, struggling with their identity. I saw how similar our stories were, how alike we looked, and I drew much strength and wisdom from their writings.

I eventually decided to seek out a counselor from Exodus so that I could talk to someone on a personal level. I found Paul. Paul was very good to me. He listened, didn’t judge, gave me advice when needed, and pushed me to be a better person. He helped me more than he could probably ever know. We emailed each other for a year or two, and finally I got the nerve to talk with him on the phone (keep in mind how terrified I was at the thought of other people knowing about me). We talked to each other a few times, and that in itself was a huge help. He talked to me like I was normal, a friend, and someone who still had value and dignity as a human being. Knowing Paul certainly helped change my life for the better. He helped me break down so many barriers and gave me so much hope and strength. I am eternally grateful for him.

Exodus also helped me in another way. On their homepage, they frequently linked to articles written by people on other websites. I soon found myself commenting to others on what they had written. By that, I met two very important people in my life. One was a young college student battling with same-sex attraction in Maryland, who had written about his struggles in his local university newspaper. I wrote to him at first to encourage him. I wanted him to know how brave I thought he was to write what he had, and to let him know he wasn’t alone, and that I would be praying for him and would help him if he needed it. We began emailing each other, and eventually we became great friends. This particular friend has meant more to me the last few years than he could ever know. He is a friend unlike any other I have ever had, and I thank God for introducing me to him. The other person I met, I also thank God for, because he pushed me to think about gay issues on a much broader spectrum and from many alternative positions (to not be as closed-minded), and because he introduced me to College Jay’s blog. When I read Jay’s blog, I loved it immediately, and I thought, “Why don’t you make your own blog?” And so I quickly did make my own blog—this blog. Through it, I have met so many people. I’ve made several friends simply because of this blog. And I’ve gained much strength, wisdom, guidance, and love from them, too.

It always amazes me how much one thing can lead to another. One website led to a much needed counselor, to an endless array of self-help resources, and to two friends. One of those friends led to a blog, which then led to many more friends, as well as sharing of ideas and encouragement. Everything becomes so interconnected. And that’s the power of the internet. It can connect the world in a way that just wasn’t conceivable only a couple of decades past. Without question, the internet has helped change my life, and a great deal of others’, in some very positive ways.

As I stated earlier, I live in an area of the country where being gay, in whatever sense you may be, is not a very popular thing to be. Growing up, this made me fearful, unconfident, self-loathing, and alone. But the internet helped change all that, because it allowed me the opportunities to meet some of the most wonderful people I’d have never known otherwise. And each of these people helped me. They befriended me, encouraged me, sympathized with me, taught me, prayed for me, and motivated me to become a better person. And as much as they did those things for me, I hope I’ve been able to likewise do for them.

We are the misfits, who found each other in this mysterious other world. And I thank God for leading me to each of you. I know I am a better person today, happier in life, mostly figured out, with more friends than I ever had before, and more possibilities and hope than I ever dreamed I’d have. Just ten years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be where I am today. And again, I have to thank God, because he led me to the ones who helped me to get where I am today. He saw me through. He’s answered so many of my prayers. And I can say without question, He used the internet to help answer a great many of them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bin Laden, Dead

When I first found out Osama Bin Laden had been killed a few weeks ago, I have to admit, my first instincts were to rejoice. I was glad he had been killed. To some extent, I am still glad about what happened, but I want to clarify my thinking.

I am glad Bin Laden is no longer alive to be able to spread his message of hate, to cause and promote violence throughout the world, and therefore influence and cause so much harm, sadness, and destruction in the lives of so many around the world. I am glad he was killed for this reason only.

Am I glad he died the way he did? No. Am I glad he lived the sort of life he did, which led to the sort of death he got? No. Do I wish him in hell or believe he’s in hell? No, and I won’t speculate on the matter either--that's for God to judge, not me. Would I have rather him turned himself in or have been captured rather than killed? Yes. Did I wish he’d have reformed his ways? Yes.

I am not glad Bin Laden led the life he did, which caused his untimely death. I am not glad he is dead for the pure sake that he’s dead. I am not glad he’s dead because I think he’s in hell. I am not glad he’s dead because I thought it’s what he deserved. The only reason I am glad is because now he can no longer cause the evil and harm to others that he was so dedicated toward.

I feel the same about Bin Laden as I did Saddam Hussein, or other people put to death or killed because of their violence. It saddens me that they led the lives they did which caused such violent and untimely deaths for themselves. Hitler’s death, for instance, was nothing to be happy about when considering the life, promise, and hope he gave away. He was a man who had the potential to be a great leader who could have taken Germany to true prosperity, freedom, and peace. Instead, he used his power and life to promote some of the worst evils ever committed against mankind, and led his country and people to ruins. He drove himself mad and, ultimately, out of desperation, fear, and hopelessness, took his own life. History will forever remember Hitler as being perhaps the greatest evil threat ever posed to humanity. That’s not a happy story or a life worth emulating. However, I am glad Hitler died when he did. His death meant the end of a great deal of human suffering. That is something to rejoice about. Not his death, but the affect his death had on the rest of the world. It is the same with Bin Laden. His death is nothing to rejoice over, but the results of it certainly are.

I rejoice in the fact that Bin Laden can no longer do any harm.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mary, Mother of God

I used to be very much opposed to many Catholic beliefs. I didn’t believe that the Eucharist actually was Christ’s flesh and blood, but only a symbolic representation of them. I didn’t believe it necessary to seek out forgiveness of my sins from other Christians (those sins which I didn’t directly perceive to pertain to them). I didn’t believe (or actually just didn’t know about) the sacraments. I didn’t believe Mary was or should be called the mother of God. And I didn’t believe in the hierarchy of the church (I still question this point to some extent, but I have grown to accept that some degree of leadership should be about to help connect all groups of Christians).

These are all points in which I have changed my views in the last few years. I very much believe in the sacraments now. I find it hard to believe Christ’s presence can’t be found in certain events or things. I believe one Christian’s sins do in fact affect the rest of the body of Christ, and so therefore forgiveness should be asked for from other Christians (a priest or other Christian of authority to speak on behalf of all other Christians that indeed your sins have been forgiven). I believe the Eucharist literally is transformed into the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ. I accept this somewhat cannibalistic notion because Christ is noted in the bible as having said, in so many words, that the bread and wine are his flesh and blood, and because the oldest established Christian beliefs pertaining to this, belong to Catholics, who accept Jesus’ teaching on the matter very literally. And I do believe Mary is and can be called the mother of God.

On that last belief, I can use some very basic reasoning to justify. Jesus said he was God. Jesus was born of Mary. So, therefore, Mary was the mother of God. I think it’s as simple as that.

I know a lot of Christians don’t believe this, but it’s because they want to debate which came first (the chicken or the egg?) in this matter, but that really isn’t necessary or an accurate approach. Of course, with most humans, our beginnings are from conception within our mothers from which we are born. But God’s beginning was not as ours. He was well alive and in spirit long before his conception as a human. Looking at things in this light, stating that he was born as a human through Mary, we should have no problem calling Mary the mother of God. A lot of Christians want to look at the Catholic’s view on this as Catholics saying Mary was before God, but that is a serious misunderstanding. Catholics simply recognize that Mary gave birth to God, as God being in human form (part of the trinity). If you’re a Christian who believes Jesus was God, and Mary was indeed Jesus’ mother, then Mary must have been the mother of God. If you don’t believe that, then you must either believe Jesus wasn’t God, or that Mary wasn’t really Jesus’ mother.

Anyway, my whole point to all of this is that as I’ve grown into my faith, my beliefs on certain points have changed. I’m not saying I’ve become Catholic, but I am much more sympathetic to those viewpoints than I ever used to be.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Come On, Sugar

This song just makes me want to dance. I love it. It's called Come On, Sugar, by Joseph Birdsong. Joe's a member of the 5awesomegays on Youtube. If you've never checked out any of his videos, you should. He's so funny, and his energy is completely contagious.

Now that the song promo is out of the way, I want to apologize for not writing much lately. It occurred to me a few days ago that my blog's fourth anniversary has come and gone. As always, with each passing year, it amazes me how much time has transpired. I go back and read some of my older posts sometimes just to see how much life has changed. I can tell you, it has changed in some very significant ways. But to get back on point, I hope to write a bit more regularly in the following weeks. I've been trying to get my butt in gear and actually get more focused on my writing, not just for this blog, but for other projects as well. I have several books in the work, many started, but I do need to work harder to finish them. I swear, I'm all beginnings, but I suppose that's better than never even trying.

Anyway, just to fill everyone in on a bit of what's been going on with me, I'm heavily in the job searching business right now. Having graduated at Christmas with a teaching degree, I realized it might be a struggle finding a teaching job until next fall, but I am really getting desperate for work. I'd really like to get the next phase of my life up and going, and I just really miss being in the schools more.

Also, I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago. That put me out of commission for awhile. I honestly thought I'd broke it when it happened. It hurt terribly the first few days, and I couldn't even walk on it or without the aid of crutches. I am, thankfully, a lot better now, but believe me, when that baseball is soaring high over your head and you're standing on wet grass, don't be an idiot like me and try to jump up to grab it. Just let it go flying by, because otherwise you'll be likely to do what I did: come smack down in the wet grass, twist your foot inward, and find yourself screaming in the worst agony imaginable as the ligaments rip and tear apart inside your foot. Believe me, it's not fun. Let the ball fly by.

And that's pretty much the highlights of my life right now: sprained ankle, looking for work, and trying to write more (naturally, there really has been more to it than that, but I have to keep you wondering what else there is for future posts).

Stay young and free, whatever age you are! :)