Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Unconditional Love of the Father

As a leader in our local chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), I'm quite often asked to make presentations to groups about the work that we do.  Today, it was at United Church.  Two services, with a total of about 50-60 people.  And in-between the services, I got to help out in the kitchen, chopping carrots and potatoes for the stew that the church was making to serve to the homeless later today.

The committee that asked me to present, the Mission Committee, gets to invite someone to come in and do what they call a "mission moment".  It's a short period in the service, roughly 3-5 minutes, to present whatever the cause may be, and what we (the presenters) would like from the congregation of United Church.  Sometimes, that's money.  Sometimes, that's time.  For me, it was about people power.  Particularly straight people power of those who believe in changing our world through the spread of unconditional love.

This being Father's Day in the United States, I framed my remarks, appropriately enough, around my father, Edward "Bud" Gage.  Those who have been reading this blog for a number of years know how integral my father is to my spiritual journey. How appropriate, then, to reflect upon the moment I "came out" as gay to my dad.   I had told my mother already, and she had been sitting with this information for about six weeks.  She decided it was time to tell my dad, and so, she arranged the phone call. 

I was scared to death.   My dad, the former Navy officer, the former Exeter District Court judge, the life-long, staunch Republican, raised a Calvinist in the Dutch Reformed Church, was a looming presence in my psyche.  The thought of telling him about my sexual orientation was incredibly frightening. I thought, "There's no way he'll understand this."  He would hate me.  He would disown me. And, more crushing in my mind, I would have been a disappointment to him.

My mother, very helpfully, set up the conversation in this way:

"Bud, Susan has something she wants to say to you."

I was crying.  My partner, probably harboring many of my fears as well, was standing by, holding my hand.  I pushed past my tears for the big reveal.

"Dad.  I'm a lesbian."

There was a pause.  And in that dead space on the phone, I was conjuring up the image of my dad, ready to explode in anger about the dishonor I had brought upon him, the family and myself.  Every really bad after-school-like special was colliding in my brain as I waited for his answer.

"Well..." he said, slowly.  "Who's to say Jesus Christ wasn't gay?"

I was stunned.  And I started laughing, not so much at the remark and the suggestion that maybe Jesus and John the Evangelist did have a little something special going on between them.  But it was more at the release from my fear of rejection, and the recognition that what my dad was really saying in that statement is: "I love you unconditionally." 

Though my father didn't march in Pride parades, or wave a banner proclaiming, "I love my lesbian daughter," I know he did.  He would demonstrate that love in so many ways by engaging in laughter and conversation with my partner about legal topics, and basking in the attention of all my lesbian friends who helped celebrate his birthday one year when my parents came for a visit.  He would go to PFLAG conferences with my mom and enjoyed learing about the transgender community. One day, he got a phone call from his cousin Fred, a very conservative and homophobic man, who demanded to know why I, Bud Gage's daughter, was on a radio program talking about "those homosexuals."  Fred's son had heard me on "This Way Out" and called his dad to find out if that was me.  Fred was furious. And when he called, I think he expected a much different reaction from my dad than the one he got.  I think Fred was hoping my dad would share his "grave concern" about me. Instead, my father reiterated that he loved me, he was proud of me, not only for being who I was in my sexual orientation, but being a voice that people heard on the radio!  Needless to say, Fred never attempted to discuss this topic with my father again.

It is this kind of unconditional love that my father modeled which is reflective of the love I see in all the parents who come to PFLAG, especially as they attend, listen, and share with one another.  They want to do right by their gay children in the same way other family members and friends want to do right by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their lives. This group provides them a safe haven to come and ask questions where they won't be judged, and they will also feel that same unconditional love, which they then can carry with them back into the world.

This is the same unconditional love that I believe comes from the one who I call Love.  This is the lesson that I believe Jesus Christ lived, preached, died, and was resurrected to demonstrate to all people, believer and non-believer alike.  

My big ask of the United Church community is the one I ask of all people who are not self-identified as a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer community: join us in our struggle for full equality.  Become active in PFLAG.  Keep us on the path of moving equality forward, one family and individual at a time. 


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