The closest bonds and best friendships are made up of the ones that go on for years and become stronger and more kindred through changing seasons.
When individuals change, ( either through loss, growth or becoming more fully who they are) and friends become closer because of these changes- those are the best kinds of friendships.
I have one such friend. I met him almost five years ago and we both have encountered the personal transformation that life happenings and experiences that life can throw one’s way.
Changes that have shaken us both to our core.
To the point where our friendship became even more solidified because we knew each other at differing points before and after the respective shifts and life events came and we were able to encourage one another on both sides of our walk.
He through losing the love his life ;and me through becoming fully affirming and embracing of being gay.
It was such a kindness from God – a gift of being alive to take the road trip with him down from his current place in St Petersburg Florida to his home town on Stock Island in Key West.
It was beautiful to see the genuine community that was found in the locals and encouraging to see the depth of love that my friend received from one familiar face after another as we traveled around the Island.
The sun was bright and gloriously hot which I loved because my chocolateness gleamed as my melanin got in formation.
I had a number of Cuban dishes including a Cuban Breakfast sandwich that was to live for.
Duval Street bustled with activity.
Old houses and buildings stood proudly in it’s color, character, history, and mystery.
Roosters roamed freely- loud and cocky.
My heart jumped every time I got a glimpse of the ocean as we walked or drove by it. I grew up inland, never near water and it isn’t possible for me to take for granted what large bodies of water do to the soul.
At one point we were able to get to a beach that had this hidden cove at the edge of a heavily wooded area. The water glistened light green and varying hues of blue with the sun shining on it.
There was a crop of rocks covered in plant and sea life that I couldn’t name. People laid and walked about on the white sand and in the distance there were sail boats and jet skis.
I got in the water with my best friend and we talked about life and God. Our conversations have always been about life and God and we sharpen one another always as we muse on the nature of God, the difficulty and beauty of living and our place and purpose within it all. Our hearts are enlarged by our evolving and expanding view of God and we participate in a form of awe and worship in our conversations.
My best friend is one of the most knowledge individuals in scriptural context, Midrash, the Early Church Fathers and Reformed theology that I know. Yet life experience for us both has taken us beyond (as well as within) those things in our individual and on going pursuit of God.
At one point I sat on the ground, legs crossed eyes closed with water of the ocean to my chest and the waves swaying my entire body – back and forth, back and forth.
One of my mentors once compared the ocean to God, saying that one can be told about the ocean just like one can be told about God but if one hadn’t ever been to the ocean- one would never truly know the vastness, the expanse, the power and grace of the waves.
So to God must be experienced. Not just spoken of in dogma, sermons or rhetoric. To often the language and the gate keeping of the language gets in the way of simply yielding to what God speaks through nature, consciousness and experience.
The one theme that kept coming up for me throughout this past weekend on this trip was the idea of home. I pondered how being with my friend felt like home.( I still don’t have a faith community and it’s very possible that I’ll be uprooted from my home town soon) How despite my being a single man and owning my own place that I’m most at home whenever I’m amongst friends. The way in which I experience God most, I think (outside of contemplation and prayer) is through others. That is where I feel home.
My friend too experienced home- not only because we stayed in his childhood home with his parents, sister, and niece- but also the Island itself and the friends, and relatives and loved ones that he encountered along the way.
We would drive by this place or that and my friend would share a memory or a reflection. He was home.
During the many car rides my friend and I took around Key West he would get phone calls from people living on the island who were looking to meet up with him. One such friend called and I sat quietly as my friend spoke to his friend who’s voice came through on the speakers of the car. At one point the guy on the phone got off into a tangent about homosexuality – venting his disagreement with men who would choose to dishonor God and live an unnatural way of life. My friend listened carefully and spoke thoughtfully throughout the conversation. At another point the guy on the phone asked my friend blatantly if he supported two men having sex together. My friend spoke calmly and stated that he did support same sex monogamous unions. This flustered the individual on the phone and the conversation went on for quite awhile longer. Afterwards my friend told me that he stayed on the phone for my sake – because in the past on matters of conviction and theology he would get so riled up that the other person he was speaking with would not “get” or “agree” with what he was saying. It took time but that part of him changed, he said.
He realized that people are where they are and he admonished me in that moment to let those individuals who would disagree with me to simply be.
I needed to hear that phone call and I needed to hear my friends admonishment.
He had come to an affirming position through his own study and prayer and I was so thankful to be able to see that change. It meant another soul who I encountered in my own journey who could understand and love me and other people like me without caveat.
During this trip, I came away with a new resolve- to simply live my life and not try and convince anyone of anything. There is harmful theology and teaching by most of the church- ‘big C’ that a few in Protestant Reformed Circles would refer to as “God’s Best” and “Human Flourishing” and they lead to lives for the vast majority of LGBTQ people as anything but.
“Human Languishing” would be a more appropriate term due to the isolation, fear, self loathing, depression and suicide such teaching invariably leads to. The dehumanization of LGBT people is never a good thing, never “God’s Best” or “Human Flourishing” – and that reality doesn’t change no matter who says those words, be it an individual or entire frameworks within the systematic teaching of a particular Church.
God’s best and human flourishing are in the person and work of Jesus Christ- who LGBT people of faith earnestly hold to, and are an extension of just as they are.
I feel at some capacity as I have done often on this blog that I will always speak up about how LGBTQ individuals are fully human, fully loved, image bearers of God and our orientations and gender identities are not sinful, or displeasing to God.God is near to us as with all of humanity.
However, my friend helped me realize that no matter what, people are going to hold to their conscience and convictions.
So my take away is that I can’t and won’t waste energy trying to convince anyone of anything- either in what I say, as well as how I live my life. I’ll stand for equality always. I’ll point out harmful theology in conversation when it comes up but other than that I’m going to live my life.
Maybe I’ll have a husband and a family one day- who knows?
There are people in my life – many friends and family who would not understand or approve if such a thing ever happened. That’s ok. I can only be me. I can only love all of me as God loves all of me. I will, by God’s grace be my most authentic self- fully aware of my full personhood, with the Image of God as the ground of my being- communing in God’s love as I seek to live out that same love to world around me.
I’m in my tiny condo now. It’s empty- it’s home but not home. I really enjoyed my trip and I’m grateful for people like my best friend who are God’s gift and truly a home.