Some of you know what it’s like to write a coming out letter.
I just never thought I’d have to write two.
Last month I sent out a letter to my congregation sharing the good news that I was in a wonderful new relationship and had recently gotten engaged.
The fact that a man gets engaged to a woman is everyday news. Except, that is, when everyone has known that man as a gay man who had been in a long term same sex relationship. And then, everyday news is news. What happened?
I’d written a first draft of my letter trying to explain that reminded me of my first coming out letters and conversations 30 years ago. It was full of earnest explanation and trying to take care of any possible concerns that I could imagine. I included a nice little sermon. I quoted Pilgrim pastor John Robinson.
A member of our Parish Relations Committee read my very long first draft and wrote me back. “I think you could just share some good news, Peter,” she wrote. In other words, I could cut the sermon, the explanations, the apologies, the need to take care of every variety of reaction I could anticipate and just share some simple good news.
I had told a gay clergy friend that I felt like I needed to apologize to the entire gay community for falling in love with a woman – he knew how seriously I took being a role model and civil rights advocate.
Kent laughed. “Maybe, Peter,” he said, “the most important role models we need are those who show us what it means to be real.”
I’ve always shied away from the “real” at first. Rather than be vulnerable, authentic, and exposed in all my stumbling humanity, I’d much rather be erudite, together, competent and cool under pressure.
It was some of the hardest and most important work I had ever done to pare down my long pastoral letter into the sharing of some simple happy news: I have fallen in love. I have gotten engaged. I am very happy.
For the past several years I had been growing a lot and stepping off the dock of my familiar. I felt like my whole life was expanding, calling me into new places. And no, I never expected to have to write two coming out letters. But come to think of it there are a lot of things in my life I never expected to do. I never expected to be a minister, practice Zen Buddhism, become a sailor and a painter. I never expected to be living in Seattle and serving the same church for 22 years. I never expected to study ballet and run a marathon. I never expected to have a foster son named Pedro. None of those were on any dream or “bucket” list. They were things that happened. All of it a “surprise” and yet on reflection, really not so much of a surprise. Looking back, I could see how these pivotal experiences in my life all made sense in this journey of learning about myself and my own “becoming”, what I would call the creation of God at work in me. All of these felt like call. Calls that begin and end as calls do.
For sure I have struggled with my changing self. Like in my first coming out, the sharing of the news of my new relationship with Tsuneko was full of fits and starts, stepping out in excitement and joy, retreating in fear and worry about what others would think. It all gave me renewed compassion for others who struggle with the excitement and terror “coming out” and my own stumbling coming out process 30 years ago.
In the sermon after my letter came out, I wondered aloud how any of us can explain the mystery of love. How can we explain who we love and why? We can’t or at least I can’t. Scientists explain love as a series of chemical reactions in our brains (that in fact are similar to the chemical reactions we feel when we have fear). Psychologists argue over “essentialist” and “constructivist” ideas about sexual identity. But mainly there is a lot we don’t know. So much about our sexuality as with the rest of our identity is a wonder indeed.
In times like ours of great uncertainty and change, I understand that one thing we all want is for certain things to stay fixed. I understand our desire for boxes of identity. But more and more I find God calling me to life outside of labels and explanations about things I can’t explain.
A congregation member shared the other day that as she has grown older, God has become bigger. I too have grown outside of the familiar boxes I have made of “God”, “faith” and “church”. And my sense of myself bigger as well as I have trusted in God at work in me – creating, opening up my life to the new.
Rabbi, theologian, activist Abraham Joshua Heschel is one of the great theologians of the 20th century. A collection of some of his most famous sayings is in a little book called, I Asked for Wonder. “Wonder” is where Heschel found God. And while I come more often than not at first with fear and trembling, denial and avoidance to the wonder of God’s newness at work in my life and our world, it is to wonder that I am trusting more and more.
So I don’t know if I’m done with my “coming out” letters. Perhaps life finally is a series of coming out letters – the further risk of sharing the mystery of who we are and becoming with one other.
I do know I am grateful beyond words for a church that has rolled along with me in the ongoing wonder of what Peter is up to next. It’s truly been a grace to be met by others who trust in the wonder that is life and God and have given themselves over to it.
Maybe there’s New Years resolution worth keeping!
16 thoughts on “Coming Out, Again”
Peter, thanks for wrapping such fresh and stirring words around the mystery that is life. I am grateful for you! –Kathryn
Congratulations! I’m so glad your heart is happy!
Peter, You have the wonderful ability to be open to self-discovery. And not only that, but to go for it. And not only that but to dive right in. And not only that but to feel and experience fully. Keep on sharing your fabulous inspirations.
I love you Peter, the way you model being authentic and true to yourself. It’s a moving way of being and quite inspiring. You are a light in my life, and your glow reminds me that I have that same light inside of me- and in that thought brings forth a enormous appreciative smile of connection.
Thanks, Peter. Thanks to your openness, you’re showing us a fuller meaning of being open and affirming. God is indeed still speaking, and growing, and showing us the unlimited possibilities of love.
I am filled with happiness for you, Peter.
Peter. Thanks for sharing your personal experiences that reinforces a vision of life as not-fixed, always new, transformative. I remember being advised years ago by a Conference executive when writing a new resume, not to include that I am an artist as it would scare churches off. I replied – they either want me as an artist or not at all. I can’t leave out part of who I am. Thank you again for your forthright fearlessness and never hiding any of ourselves. Bob Anderson
I love what you express here, Peter. Your story has resonance for all of us who encounter (or who want to encounter) what happens when Love overwhelms identity. Bless you for living and speaking to this!
Thanks for being real and vulnerable and stepping off the dock–and you are happy having done so! You are a great role model for all of us. Life is a wonderful mystery to be enjoyed. Love, hugs and Happy New Year to you and Tsuneko.
You did not mention your previous partner?
How is he with this?
Congratulations, Peter, on your engagement and your honesty and embrace of impermanence. Meho and Daiko
So very beautifully revealed. Thank you for this letter which writes of hope, struggle, and faith as you continue along the path of becoming. Wishing you much happiness and joy!
Dear Peter, I don’t know you, but I am becoming a friend of Genjo. I wanted to tell you that although I am a heterosexual man, I fell in love with a man once when I was in my 20s, so I understand a little what you are experiencing. Congratulations, and I’m glad that you have the courage to follow your heart.
As usual, you have a way of jumping into the real with both feet and a heart. Love is love.
The congregation joyfully gave you a standing ovation at your announcement. Trusting you for your courage, willingness to touch our souls by opening yours to us and wishing you every joy. The words “looking spiffy” and “aviator sunglasses” continue to bring smiles. Thanks for your encouragement in difficult times.
As I am was quietly rowing into the new year, a voice came out of the darkness:
“… and the wise men arrived at Bethlehem, disembarked their desert schooners, and behold! The wonder!”
Today, at the arrival of the day after Epiphany, I wonder at your newest place of landing, and reading your words a second time leads me to see that all arrivals have embedded in them the next departure.
May that setting out, once again, as if for the first time, be filled with Joy, surprising Joy.
–Your brother, Dennis