Thoughts: Principles and Growth

It happened last Saturday. I was in the Relentlessly Cheerful Diner working, my faithful cup of coffee off to the side.
A young couple, two young men, came in for breakfast. My first thought was “What a cute couple!” My second thought was “Whoa!”

People who know me, know that I have been “gay friendly” for a long time. Friends starting coming out to me 20 some odd years ago, and invariably, I would tell them it didn’t make any difference to me. And it didn’t. They were still the same people I had always known and loved, and for me, this was just one small piece of who they were. It never changed my love for them in any way. 

Did I wrestle with it? Not exactly. I had trouble understanding it. It was not part of my culture growing up. There were some conflicts with my faith (or at least I thought there was, more on that later). And as a raging heterosexual, it just didn’t make sense to me. 

I could accept it, but I didn’t get it. Not in my heart. 

We know a lot more now. We know the science. We know how a certain percentage of people are simply wired that way. Biblical scholars, at least some of them, have done more in depth study of the verses used to exclude gays, and now there are different ways to look at the scripture that are not as damning as it first might seem. Our society has changed, migrating, as we generally have in this country, from rancor towards the different, to acceptance. 

All this growth societally has helped me justify what is one of the central pieces of my own personal core – that people are to be loved and respected. Not love and respected “If”. Just loved and respected. 

I’ve experienced in my own life what anger does to people. I’ve felt hate. I know, from my experience and my study of history, that hate has never built anything lasting and good. Acceptance and love has. I know from my theology that love is at it’s center. “All of the law and the prophets..” said Christ, is about loving God, and loving his people. It’s pretty dang clear to me. 

So acceptance has been my way. But as I have told my son many times in the past few years, While acceptance was my nature, and not a difficult thing for me, I still didn’t “get” it. Not in my gut. 

It was important for him to know this. My son came out to me a few years ago. And I told him the same thing I have told everyone who has come out “It doesn’t change anything about how I feel about you. You are still you.”

And he is. The only difference is that knowing I feel that way, he is more free to be his complete self around me. He feels safe and he’s more open about that part of who he is. 

It’s’ been good for me, particularly the past year since he left Virginia to move up here with me in Vermont. He has taught me a lot about the practical, every day life of being gay in America. The pressures, the differences in how they experience things, the feelings. 

And that has helped me, slowly to move from a place of acceptance to slowly “getting it.” To feeling like it is natural rather than a bit odd and incomprehensible. And when I say those two young men come into the diner and my first thought was that they were a cute couple, I knew I had completed the journey. That my heart had caught up with my head. 

Now, before some of you fill my mailbox with hate mail and explanations of why I am biblically wrong and hurried, and others of you gush over what I good guy I am, this little spate of writing is not about the gay issue. I learned a lot time ago, that I can’t convince people of anything unless they are open to that change. And no one is going to change where I am. No, this is not about Gays. 

It is about principles. 

You see, I had some principles about how you treat people. For me (and we all have different motivations), those principles came both from my own experience, rejecting the behavior of a father who was in my youth, both harsh and bigoted (He mellowed a LOT with age.), and from my study of the bible. And I acted on those principles, even when I didn’t “get it”. 

That’s why we have principles. I think. To protect us from ourselves, from our emotions and feelings, which sometimes need some education and time to catch up. To save us from what is sometimes the worst of our humanness. 

When we encounter things or people that are different, we often feel threatened. When we don’t understand things, we often feel threatened. That’s human nature. It’s our heart at work. But, sadly, often our heart needs a brake, because it’s acting without the right and complete information. 

I think it’s interesting. I know a lot of people who don’t like “gays”, who love my son. Because they have allowed themselves to get to know the person. Suddenly, he’s not a faceless part of a group. He’s a person, with all kinds of attributes – smart, thoughtful, kind, funny, deep…. Good stuff. 

I know people who hate other groups as well – other races, other religions or denominations, or politicians (on either side of the aisle, or both). Groups are easy to hate. People are less so. Principles help us move past that fear or anger, and begin to think of groups as…. People. 

And in time, if act on our principles, our heart finally catches up. It’s generally slow. A stubborn thing our heart. But it does catch up. 

And when it does, well it’s a good thing. There’s a peace when our head and heart are working together. And there is a strength in it, I think. 

Part of our problem in today’s cultures, is that we’ve parked our principles. We act on our feelings. Most people agree, if they are asked, that we are to love each other, that love is better and Moreno useful than hate. That’s the principle. 

But our feelings get the best of us, and run roughshod over those core principles. And thus we end up in recent America, which has stepped back from a principle that we are all in this together and we need to work together to do things. 

How do we change this? I don’t know. I’ve looked at my own journey. I was raised in the church and that is where I got the core principle about treating people with respect. But I am not sure it would have been as strong if I had not experienced intolerance first hand from my father and others. Those experiences left me understanding what intolerance and hate do to the other person. It made me make a choice – fight back with anger, or do it differently, softer, with a more open heart. 

My journey is not done, of course. Every day, or at least most days, bring a test. Will I be able to hold to my principle of respect of all people. Most days I do. I hope I will be able to. Every choice, every day, is a decision. It’s hard some days. 

But in the end, it’s worth the effort. And sooner or later, Good things came of it. 

When I told my son yesterday of my encounter at the Relentlessly Cheerful Diner, he smiled. He got it. He knew what it meant. “I’m proud of you.” He said. How many parents of 17 year old kids get to hear those words? Not many. 

Cling to your principles. It’s sometimes hard, but for me at least, it was worth the journey. 

Be well. Travel wisely. 

Tom

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