8 years ago, I did something I had been attempting to do ever since “coming out” in 1991-92. I wrote down my experiences as a closeted LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) man, a married Assemblies of God (evangelical/charismatic) minister, and the process occurring which eventually lead to that very decisive turning point in my life. I presented last week, on this blog, that story in its original format from 2004. During and since that time, my life has taken many unexpected directions, not the least of which was a decision to become celibate and to re-involve myself with the Church, first in 2001 through a local United Methodist congregation and later on as a Roman Catholic, where I more or less remained until very recently—this summer (2012) in fact.
During those years, particularly after I returned to Catholicism in 2005, I disengaged from a number of my contacts within the LGBT community, but never from my own awareness of being gay or same-sex attracted. The feelings had been there since childhood and (rightly as it turned out) I did not expect them to dissipate in my middle years. They definitely did not. However the behaviors and outward activities became areas I earnestly worked on, and as a result I have generally shied away from such events as PRIDE, marriage equality rallies, and functioned more or less as a “eunuch for the Kingdom” as it were since my revisit to Rome.
One thing that never changed however was a deep compassion for my LGBT sisters and brothers, and a desire to see them treated fairly. It was in fact that desire which eventually triggered the events which led to my ultimate disconnect from Rome, something which has been an “on and off” process for perhaps the last 2 and ½ years in any case. I fully expect in fact for this decision to remain permanent on my part unless the Vatican and Catholic hierarchy as a group would very drastically change their corporate attitudes and teachings on a number of crucial areas. I do not expect this to happen in my lifetime unfortunately, and I choose not to remain within Roman soil as a “dissident.” So I have moved onward, and again have written of this elsewhere in much more detail.
Those who knew me during those years of strongly Catholic thinking will note that I stood behind the Church on her teachings as thoroughly as I could, while at the same time attempting to maintain as much love and affirmation as the Church allowed in areas of sexuality, as well as others of her teachings. I never once bought into the idea that partnered LGBT couples were “going to hell,” and continued to support various alternatives to marriage which would still give some dignity and protect human rights while appeasing Church hierarchy. I am now sadly but firmly convinced that this simply is not possible given the religious and political landscape we face currently. Life for me has as a result has shifted forward but no longer under the overly protective thumb of Rome, and I currently attend St Mark‘s Episcopal Cathedral here in Minneapolis.
Now as to my friend Jamiel—before I share how we met and what he meant to me, I would like to state that we became friends literally within months of me finishing my own “coming out” story as described above. He also was aware of the later changes in my viewpoint which were affected by my return to the Church, and yet maintained a respect for me as I did for him. He was, and in fact is still, on my Face book page and listed as a friend. And, unlike some, he did not have millions on that list. I consider it a huge and humbling privilege that our friendship stood the test of those years and the many changes we both went through since our original 2004 meeting.
Earlier this week, he came to mind as a person I should share with concerning my more recent spiritual path and change in direction, as I knew he would be likely quite happy and thrilled for me. I went to his FB page, posted a note, and asked him to contact me soon as I had some good things to share with him. I had not been on his page for months, but he looked the same as ever, and handsome as always. And yes, I noticed. Then I started paging through his posts, in an attempt to catch up a bit with his life, and it was then I saw various notes about how much people missed him, how he would never see his sister’s children grow up on this earth, and the like. I chillingly realized that something terrible had happened or was happening to him, and did a quick Internet search to find out more.
It was true that I had begun anew in many positive ways and it was news I had eagerly hoped to share with him. What I did not anticipate or even dream of was that my good, sweet, supportive friend Jamiel had moved on himself, only much, much further than me. What I discovered to my shock and horror was that on November 30, 2011, Jamiel had left this earthly life via a head-on automobile collision.
Even as I type this I am having waves of devastation hit me. Questions about why I did not keep up with him just a bit better certainly come to mind, as well as grief, shock, and fresh pain—for, to me, Jamiel did not make his final journey 8 months ago—but instead a mere 3 days ago. 3 short days since I learned that this beautiful young man was not going to read the newest chapter in my story, or to rejoice with me after all. What had been a nearly perfect day became an immediate nightmare very literally. I could barely sleep that night, and when I did I dreamed of him, waking up over and over, and have “teared up” or cried numerous times since that jolting moment. Face book is not a place to learn of a loved one’s death, believe me.
What was so special about Jamiel to me, a man twice his age who had only sporadic contact with him, who was not looking for a romantic relationship in any way (although if he had been 10 years older when we met and me 10 years younger all bets are off, I assure you!), and who spoke to him probably 2-3 times a year whether by phone, email, or FB? The specialty of our unique connection lay in how our paths converged in 2004 and the belief that, perhaps, we needed each other—as of course all humans do, but this was not only a general need. Our bond was one of synchronicity and spirit. I am convinced of that truth.
What I have not mentioned is that Jamiel was the adopted son of Randall Terry, who was the founder of a pro-life/anti-abortion organization by the name of Operation Rescue. Even during my ministry years I had heard the older Mr. Terry’s rants and radical approach to this topic on such radio programs as Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson, I had seen him on television as well, and, while questioning some of his methods (he supposedly sent an aborted fetus to President Clinton at one point!!!) I nevertheless respected and shared, as I still do, his concern for all life from conception to natural death.
I knew first-hand the cost and pain of coming out to the same garden variety of evangelical Christians who generally followed Mr. Terry and his work. Losing a church family, marriage, and otherwise sterling reputation all in one fell swoop is not an easy thing to say the least. When I read that Jamiel was gay, and had chosen to become visible not just within his immediate family and circle of friends but to do so on a nationwide level in Out magazine, I wondered to myself if this young and vital 24-year-old had any idea what he was in for after the publicity died down.
As stated, I had written my story earlier that year, and had no idea whatsoever how to contact the younger Terry but strongly desired for him to know that someone, somewhere, at least had an inkling of the cost he was paying for his internal freedom. I wrote to the editors at Out, and told them briefly about my situation. I then asked them if they could pass my email and phone information on to Jamiel.
I heard back from them a few days later. The associate editor told me that they were moved by my story, and wondered if they could use an excerpt from it as a “letter to the editor” in the next issue. I was astounded, as Out was and is a nationally known publication, and at very least it meant I could never go back into the closet again—not that I had any desire to do so anyway. They also graciously promised to forward my information to Jamiel as I had requested. I of course gave them permission to use it, and soon after received a very moving email (copied below) from Jamiel himself. It was the first of many contacts we were to have during the next years, and by far the most important. Sometimes the simplest ideas we have or smallest acts we do, when guided by the Spirit of God (as I now believe was true in this case), have the very most effect on people. Jamiel told me later that the publication had received (I believe I am correct on this number) around 2000 letters, and that mine, which was not even written for their magazine, was one of only 4 they chose for publication as follow-up to his extremely well written article. I think it is safe to say that, without such encouragement from this event and a few others, I would most likely not have even dared to place my story on this blog or anywhere else for that matter. So that was just one of the many changes Jamiel, with no knowledge on his part, inspired and challenged me to make in my life—to more seriously take my writing, and to use it for good. I have tried to do so ever since.
Figure 1–My letter to OUT magazine, July 2004.
Later that fall I realized how much Jamiel actually respected me. He had told me in an email that he was coming to Minneapolis to speak at the University of Minnesota for an event. I assumed it would be a huge gathering, and that I most likely would not be able to even meet him, much less spend any time with him one on one. But I still of course wanted to attend, and therefore kept the evening open with plans to do so. He then contacted me the day before he flew in, and suddenly my plans all quite suddenly changed—he invited me to meet for lunch and then spend some time together. I was floored—this was Jamiel Terry, famous LGBT activist, son of Randall, and he was storming into the Twin Cities for an event I had no involvement whatsoever in planning or coordinating. And he wanted to see me.
Long story short, we spent that day together, I “chauffeured” him from his suite to the college campus in my aging 1996 Saturn (I still have that car by the way!), and I realized rather unexpectedly that he had assumed all along we would be hanging out, and that I mattered enough to him that he actually wanted to share some of his precious time with me—that it was in fact a given to him that we would.
Figure 3— Flyer from University of MN speaking event.
After 2 meals and somewhere near 10 hours after our initial brunch at I-Hop, the day was over and I went home, worn out but blessed. I knew by then that I now had a young friend who I never wished to hurt or lose, and who I would in all probability do anything for if given the opportunity again. Jamiel was in my heart and has remained there from then to now. The pictures you see here are from that amazing day—another of those perfect ones we rarely ever get in this life. I find it a touch ironic that my meeting of Jamiel and our final goodbye were both on such days. Yet it was so.
We kept in touch over the years, sometimes more than others, but never losing contact totally. If I had remained more active within the LGBT community during those same years, I suspect we would have had more contacts than we did, but on at least 2 or 3 occasions he let me know when he was deeply hurting in various situations, and asked for my prayers, which I gladly offered for him. One time he was facing a deeply troubling situation and I recall just sobbing and praying, later realizing it had been a 3 hour period which had elapsed when I finished. I cannot recall a single other instance in my life when that occurred, at least with that intensity and for such a long time period. I wish I had told him about it now. Then again I expect he knows. But he should have known it then. Not that I just “prayed for him,” but that I sobbed and stood with him. And that I loved him. And still do.
So why did I title this piece “do my work?” One of the many blessings (and there were many even amidst the struggles and inner conflicts) of my return to the Roman Catholic Church in 2005 was learning or re-learning about what is aptly called the “communion of saints.” While I no longer espouse all Catholic theology that is one doctrine which makes great sense to me. Our prayers and worship are directed to God alone, but I fully believe He also allows us to at times cross the barrier to that other life where our loved ones live on. Today, just before writing this, I said a few words to Jamiel, things I had not spoken to him in this earthly life. That I was sorry we had not stayed in tighter communication for one thing. And I asked him what I should do as a tribute to him, because I know he is in God’s presence and praying for me now, in his new life which will never end. Three words came to me all at once—not in his voice as such, but in my mind, and they were these—”do my work.” Was it actually Jamiel who spoke them to me? I do not know, nor in fact does it matter. It was words he would have said to me though. He now knows I am back, full-force, on the path of justice for all LGBT people. He kept on that path during the years I was somewhat “detoured” by the more oppressive side of Rome. Now I have a chance to take up, at least a little, the mantle he let fall to the earth when he left us all this past November.
Jamiel, I love you—so very much. More than you knew or guessed. If I had a grown son you would be one I would be so very proud of. You left your work early, and it now falls to those of us left behind to carry on. I promise you I will do my part as God allows me to. And Jamiel, please pray for me. I need it so very, very much.
I will be missing you always.
- Chickens, A Priest And Changing Church Affilation… (catholicboyrichard.com)
- Musings of a Mature Man Who Did Not Plan to Switch Churches Ever Again…but Did (catholicboyrichard.com)
- Choosing “Straight” – Gays, Christians, Marriage and Me (catholicboyrichard.com)
- “Safe Space for the Homosexual” Conference Recap, Part 1 (bycommonconsent.com)
- Should I Stay or Should I Go? (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)