Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Seventeen: "I Believe"

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 29th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

I travel down memory lane as I summarize how I've grown into my spiritual skin through the years learning to fly (as it were) from my baptist roots to the comfort zone where I now find myself.

Religious Freedom Is An Oxymoron

Recently I read this quote which had been posted to Facebook by my premier Canadian friend: “Religious freedom is an oxymoron.” I sat there staring at this for the longest of times considering the thought before I finally clicked like. I mean, we have religious freedom in the US of A, right? And I sat there in my computer chair mulling over the statement in my mind for what seem like forever, chewing on it like an overcooked piece of beef brisket reviewing my own spiritual journey.

Like everyone else on earth, I was either born into a religion or no religion at all. In my case, I was born Baptist, and I should distinguish that we were of the American Baptist Convention (as mentioned earlier), because the Southern Baptists couldn’t dance, play cards, or go to movies, and we could. I guess that made us the more liberal branch. However, I grew up going to Bible study classes once a week after school at a church lady’s house near the public school with my younger sister all through elementary school, and we learned a lot about the Bible from the conservative Baptist viewpoint and tried very, very hard to be good little kids. We were very much afraid of Satan the Devil and Hell. It was all very Baptisty. At the age of 10, I was baptized at our church in downtown Jackson, Michigan, and I became a full-fledged Christian in the eyes of The Church. I was doing all the things right in their eyes, however, looking back now, I was still looking at it all through the eyes of a child. I couldn’t possibly understand all of life’s nuances. My coming adolescence and eventual adulthood would forever change me.

By the time I’d left high school, I’d lost my appetite for Hell and Hellfire, and as I’ve written herein I drifted spiritually through college, so that by the time I hooked up with Jehovah’s Witnesses I was ripe for a change. Since I came out of the closet, I’ve read a most excellent book by Alan Downs, The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World, and from it I learned that there is a certain segment of us (gay men) who hide ourselves (or hide from ourselves) in fundamental religion, and basically that was what I did for three decades. With regards to Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society what I chose to ignore at first became so clear and evident as the years wore on, the lack of dissent.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are great ones to encourage all to read the Bible and to study the scriptures, but shame on you if you come up with an alternative viewpoint. Go ahead and ask a question of the editors of the WB&TS. They’ll give you an answer; their interpretation which they claim is the Bible‘s only interpretation. But do not beg to differ. All answers from New York are final. It’s like living in Russia and receiving an answer from the Politburo (minus the KGB, of course). That’s it. Over and done. For some people that’s great. There are those in this world who like things black and white. But I believe it’s not a black and white world. I live in a rainbow world, and the colors even bleed into one another sometimes. So, ultimately as I considered the statement “Religious freedom is an oxymoron,” I realized that for Jehovah’s Witnesses and other fundamentalist religions it’s all too true, and so I clicked like. I’d once been enslaved myself. However, I recognize that I finally exercised religious freedom in that I chose to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses of my own free will.

To Hell and Back

The American pop singer Bonnie Raitt is quoted as saying “Religion is for people who are scared to go to Hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” Other than the fact that I’ve been to Hell, Michigan (population 296), and I’m not counting that visit along with this quote (although I often say I’ve been to Hell and back and mean it quite literally), I believe with regard to this Bonnie Raitt quote that I’m of the spiritual variety as this memoir will attest. As I’ve already noted, since 2008 I’ve found my way into the United Church of Christ, and I couldn’t be happier. It truly is where I belong. A few years back a friend of mine in Arizona described The UCC as the thinking person’s religion. He’s quite right. We question everything, and we’re encouraged to. Often there are no solid answers, but only more questions. So what! Jesus taught with parables and those illustrations were open-ended invitations to discussion not black and white concrete dissertations on dogma as the fundamentalist institutions would lead one on to believe. Get real for Christ’s sake!

I have compiled a top ten list of firsts that make me proud to be associated with the United Church of Christ since we go back to the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock (though we weren’t called the UCC then). It was our forebears who disembarked the Mayflower. Since then it has been such ones who have led America in the way of Progressive Christianity with way more firsts than I‘ve listed here, but this is my top ten list:

1) 1620 ~ Pilgrims seek spiritual freedom in New World.

2) 1700 ~ 1st early stand taken against slavery.

3) 1785 ~ 1st ordained African - American pastor.

4) 1810 ~ 1st foreign mission society.

5) 1817 ~ 1st school for the deaf.

6) 1839 ~ defining moment in the abolitionist movement: The Amistad Incident. (This was presented so eloquently in the Steven Spielberg movie Amistad. All of those abolitionists in black suits who kept trying to give Bibles to the incarcerated African slaves were Congregational abolitionists.)

7) 1846 ~ 1st integrated antislavery society.

8) 1853 ~ 1st woman pastor.

9) 1972 ~ 1st ordained openly gay minister.

10) 2005 ~ 1st mainline denomination to sanction same-sex marriage.

If these aren’t taking the lead for other Protestant denominations to follow, I don’t know what is?

Of course, in a perfect world, there are no such things as denominations. But then, in a perfect world, there would be no boundaries among countries either.

It Gets Better

I believe it’s up to each one of us to chart our own course. I believe I was born gay, in fact I know that I was. From the time I saw my grandfather naked when I was five years old and began showering naked with the boys at the YMCA after swimming class just a few short years later I’ve loved my boys. I’ve known it all along though it took me forever to be honest about it due to the countercurrent of mumbo jumbo which society was filling my head with. It truly is hell growing up gay in a straight world, and unless you’ve lived through it and survived you cannot fully appreciate this fact. Just look at the gay teen suicide statistics. Staggering! Bullying feeds this. Family rejection does also. So does self-doubt and fear.

My message to any gay or questioning teen who may read this is: It gets better! Hang on! Tell someone. There are people out there who do love you. There are local groups who will not reject you (even if your parents do). IT GETS BETTER!! Find a UCC Church that is Open and Affirming (look for the letters ONA). About 40% of us are, and more are becoming so all the time.

The world is a far, far better place than when I was a child even though it seems so divisive at times. The rhetoric has just gotten louder. People have gotten bolder. But still, society is progressing even if it seems at a snail’s pace.

And as I look back on the often slow pace of twists and turns my life has taken, I feel like a newly hatched bird set free from the nest. I’m just now getting used to all these senior discounts, and yet I’m still learning how to fly one half-assed flap at a time.

(This concludes Chapter 17. The next installment will conclude "Still Learning How to Fly" with the Epilogue which will tie up some loose ends by answering some as-yet unanswered questions. Oh yeah, there are still a couple little mysteries left to divulge.)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .

Link to book review of "The Velvet Rage"


Autobiography, Gay, Gay Community, Gay Experience, Gay Lesbian And Bisexual, Gay Love, Gay Marriage, Gay Marriage Rights, Gay Men, Gay Rights, Gays, Glbt, Jehovah, Jehovah Witness, Jehovah Witnesses, Jehovahs Witness, Jehovahs Witnesses, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Religion, Religion And Spirituality, Religious Belief, Series, True Experiences, True Love, True Stories

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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author avatar Kingwell
2nd Feb 2014 (#)

I've just come across this page and loved the read. I will now go back and read the first chapter and eventually read the whole story.

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author avatar Ken Painter
4th Feb 2014 (#)

I appreciate the comment Kingwell. Let me know what you think. It's been a rocky road, but it's been MY rocky road! LOL Thanks for reading.

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