Umbrellas And Milk
God and the Gay Christian : A reflection


The stack of evidence had been building for quite some time, yet I wasn’t able to put the pieces together - or rather - it would be very difficult, and life changing to admit that I was in fact gay. I had made it through my adolescence and early twenties living under the presumption that I was indeed straight. It was easy being the Jesus Freak in high school and using God as an excuse to not really pursue any romantic relationships. I would do a three year stint at Teen Mania Ministries in Texas, where there would be the occasional mention of homosexuality from time to time, yet I never really gave it much thought.

Guys always nabbed my attention - I can think back as early as the eighth grade. Every year at Teen Mania a new round of interns would arrive, and the photos of accepted interns would be added to a board in the room where their applications were processed. One such intern caught my eye and I would return on several occasions to look at that photo. Even then, I didn’t understand why I was so concerned with this one particular individual, it might have had something to do with how dang gorgeous he was - and I never “chose” to feel that way. Nope - I was straight, and I was going to marry a woman, and there were even abstinence power ballads to keep me on that path - l”Someday” sung by LaRue would be included on many a mix CD.

While finishing up my French degree (stop - I know what you’re thinking) I would slowly start to have the “I think I’m gay” conversation with a select few people. It would take a while longer until I would finally have the phone conversation with a female leader from my Teen Mania days. As our conversation went through some of the details, she asked me how I thought this new revelation jived with my Christian beliefs. As I stood there in my dimly lit kitchen with the overhead florescent bulbs burning down on me, I had no idea. After many years of indoctrination and the bible being used more like a weapon - I didn’t know and was frankly too exhausted from the gigantic torments of the back and forth of the church world. It would be easier to not really think about it, and slowly let my faith slip away.

Those conversations would have been much easier, or maybe even non-existent - if a book like Matthew Vines’ “God and The Gay Christian” had been available to me. Perhaps I would have had an easier time assimilating with the college campus ministries, or just been more at ease about myself and perhaps I could have kept my beliefs in tact. It didn’t help things at all that I had recently exited a severely extremist toxic mind-control spiritual environment, and so it was tough sorting through many things - the worst being the war between two parts of me, and with any war there would be casualties along the way - primarily a sense of self, and positive self-esteem would suffer the most,and wind up dead in the figurative no-mans land of my soul.

A few years ago Vines dropped out of school at Harvard to study in depth the bigger scope of homosexual references in the Bible and came up with a throughly insightful sermon he delivered and posted on YouTube. His video would amass thousands upon thousands of hits, lead to the formation of a non-profit established to help build bridges among churches regarding this divisive issue, and ultimately the book, which hits store shelves today. I’m not one to really care to debate or discuss this issue anymore, as it is just exhausting and most people have their minds made up. Many churches have done a great job of indoctrinating people, without allowing other areas of logic, reason, history and science to have any say in the decision making process.

What is most alarming to me after reading the book is seeing how biblical translators have changed translations over time, and how it shows the vast array of interpretations available - and this is just in translating - a task that requires the reader to literally have blind faith that the translation is as close as it can be to the original intent. I did a semester of translation - so I know it’s an intricate art and some meaning doesn’t always follow. It also shows that they must not have done a similar study as Vines has done, or else the results quite possibly could have been very different. The case Vines builds over the course of the book for marriage equality, inclusion, and a Biblical case for blessing same sex-relationships - is quite comprehensive and compelling. I definitely appreciate his cultural analysis of the era when certain clobber verses were written. For ethnocentric American Christians - it’s hard to think outside the Super Bowl, white Jesus, and the English language - there is so much more understanding required if you are going to fully understand a complex topic like ancient world sexuality.

It’s obvious Vines cares deeply for his faith and despite his struggle wants to stay in the church. I can’t personally say the same is for me, nor do I really want to rejoin the severely dysfunctional family that has become the American “Christian” church. The word “Christian” itself has no gravitas and means nothing anymore - but has allusions to hypocrisy and judgement over love and acceptance. I’m content in not being certain with my faith or lack of faith. I no longer have a penchant desire to have to be right. I would rather people sense I’m different by my behaviors and not use labels to make said distinctions. Despite my theological crisis - I’m glad for Vines’ book as it does help bring some clarity to raging questions of inconsistency I’ve had simmering for some time.

This book will change the arena of discussion, making it easier for the common reader to access the facts quickly and easily, while not sacrificing quality. I love how Vines has entered the arena of discussion with such humility and grace, that it is astounding to see such spiritually prideful responses from his so-called “Christian peers.” I see it time and time again that Christians want to be right about an issue more than they want a Christ-like reputation of love - my deepest hope is that at least for this issue, perhaps their desire to be right about their current convictions will morph into an understanding that perhaps the “church” got it wrong and that inclusion and acceptance will have more value than strife and separation. It just might take a book like “God and the Gay Christian” to get us to that point - and perhaps a generation of gay boys and girls won’t be exiled by their families and communities for just being their little fabulous selves - and perhaps a little glitter can brighten the lives of the church - at last.

You Can’t Sit With Us

I go to the cinema quite often. I’m a member of a nationally recognized film festival organization, and see films in movie houses across the globe. Going to the movies these days sometimes becomes a hassle. You have to deal with morons who won’t shut up, people who think its glamorous to spend $12 on a ticket and text, when they can sit outside and do it for free. This exact situation even led to the death of a man when an argument ensued over a in-cinema text, and the ensuing drama resulted in a dead body. The gentleman was making an important text to a family member - which happens, but in general people are very lax in respecting others and their viewing experience.

I ended up at an AMC cinema in Los Angeles yesterday to see an early screening of the film Heaven Is For Real. I had read the book last year, which left me curious about how the film would be adapted. The morning screening was discounted so I offered to buy a ticket for my friend. At this specific location when you purchase your ticket the computer requires you to select your seats - a system with some pros and cons. I always go early so I can get a seat I want. This system could eleviate that need, and I could walk in during the final moments of light before the ceremonious trailers illuminate the eager audience before them. We looked at the seating map which was mostly empty. Seriously, only about five other people in an auditorium that probably sat nearly two hundred. We took modest center seats about three rows up from the railing of the ruby red stadium seating configuration.

About ten minutes before showtime a pair of ladies entered our row and my friend and I thought simultaneously that as we made space for them to move by us, that they would continue onward down the row at least leaving one empty seat - the golden rule of non-sold out movie screenings - and come on, this place was devoid of human inhabitation. Almost in slow motion the texting and oblivious woman sat down right next to me. In the good ole days of movie seating, we could make an adjustment ourselves without causing a domino effect of chaos - but now with this new airplane style seating chart - the issue of taking someone else’s seat comes into play. As I was tempted to kindly inquire to this lady about why on earth they would choose these seats with an entire room of them available - I chose the easier path of quickly vacating to another row. Clearly these two were not going to be desirable row mates.

A few more folks trickled in before show time and we were lucky to not have taken anyone else’s first choice seats - but the problem was certainly possible. Do theaters now need attendants to take care of seating issues like the airplanes? I wasn’t about to trek down the two hundred foot escalator through the megaplex to go inquire about new seats. That is just dumb. If AMC is going to take this concept to the entire country, some measures should be put into place to help consumers legally get new seats if necessary - because instead of confronting a man for texting, I will most likely move as I don’t really want to die when going to the newest Nicholas Sparks emotional pornography flick. The movie came and went and the highlight for me was a rather attractive scruffy background performer who sat behind the central family of the story in the church scenes for the first half of the movie. I did try and see if he changed rows for the final scenes of the film, and it looks like his character decided church wasn’t for him anymore.

I propose that AMC instigate a nice little warning screen to patrons before they choose their final seats. If the theater is going to be mostly empty, with no need for each seat to be filled, they should kindly prod any guests selecting seats next to others possibly wishing for a little cinematic privacy - “Are you sure you want to sit next to a stranger with so many open seats?” I bet as a corporation you can’t really say, “Don’t be a dick - you can’t sit there - move over a few.” But perhaps a light cattle prod minus the electric shock might be just the right move to ensure that everyone thinks about the wellbeing of their fellow cinephile before making a final contractual choice, for one single red covered chaise.

Top 10 Films of 2013

Better late than never, right? I tried to get this post done before the Academy Awards, and my time abroad just kept me from sitting down on the iPad mini and typing it out. I thought for awhile about how I would come up with this list. What criteria would I use to make my selections? So I decided on getting hard data by using a spreadsheet and giving scores to five categories on each film. The categories were: Cinematic Aesthetics, Acting (or Characterization in a documentary), Personal Connection to the film, Replay Value, and Memorable. The average of these scores would then determine the film’s final score, which dictated my list. Three of the films I caught through the Seattle International Film Festival organization, and two films that made my list are unreleased in the United States as they have released in France. Without further ado - My top 10 films of 2013. 

image

Not many movies in recent memory have shown the power of how getting to know someone different than yourself may just in fact change you to your core. The powerful acting from Oscar winners Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey make this a must see film of 2013.

image

We find out that the tumultuous upbringing of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers helped inspire some of the details surrounding the origins of the magical nanny. My own tumultuous childhood intertwines with Mary Poppins, so this film scored high with a personal connection, not to mention it was fun to see some of the drama behind the making of the Disney classic. Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell shine in their roles and make this an easy movie to enjoy.

image

Ok folks. Les-be-honest here. Gravity wins because of the technical achievements behind the making of this picture. Some phenomenal advancements in filmmaking technology were pioneered by Alfonso Cuarón’s team, yet the story itself is pretty simple and nothing really happens. Some good tension and suspense are built throughout the film, but the lack of a better story in this environment keeps this film from scoring higher. Sandra Bullock does shine in her role, and without her, I’m not sure they would have been able to make it. 

image

A shocking exposé of how American based Christian organizations have been (unknowingly) supporting the “Kill the Gays” agenda in Uganda. The must see documentary of the year. At release time the law had not yet been passed in Uganda, but it has since been passed. Now is the time for people to see this film and speak up.

image

A great indie flick about three boys running away and spending the summer making a place to live, finding food, and testing the boundaries of their friendships. Seattleite Newcomer Nick Robinson leads the cast with real life couple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally playing bit parts as parents. The film resonates with its quirky yet relatable characters, the cinematography, and that connection to the kid in all of us that would have simply loved the idea of rebelling and doing something crazy like these Kings of Summer do in Jordan Vogt-Roberts well crafted indie.

image

Chinese Puzzle is the third part of a film trilogy preceded by The Russian Dolls and The Spanish Apartment. The film series follows Frenchman Xavier through college in Barcelona, a screenwriting job in the UK, and finally a move to the United States to stay closer with his children. I have followed the film series closely through my studies of French cinema and thoroughly enjoyed the final chapter. It releases on Blu-Ray in region B in April and should have a screening at the French Film Festival in Los Angeles next month as the festival is highlighting work by its director Cédric Klapisch.

image

As a recovering addict of romantic comedies, the way actor, writer, director Lake Bell intertwines the politics of working in Hollywood, with a twinge of romance, and a story set around the premise of those famous trailer words by Don La Fontaine, “In A World”, this combination just won me over this last year. Lake Bell is so charming, and has crafted a script with laughs and characters that make it easy to enjoy this film. Keep her on your Hollywood radar, you won’t regret it.

image

A harrowing, beautifully shot, film including an outstanding cast of a story that is pretty incredible. Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender, Producer and co-star Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard and Benedict Cumberbatch all dazzle in their abilities to bring the story to life. This is a film highlight an embarrassing past, but can hopefully enlighten and educate to help avoid any repeats in history for this generation.

image

Spike Jonze, the mastermind behind Being John Malkovich, returns with a quirky, new vision that was strikingly poignant and beautiful. Technology and relationships are center stage in this science fiction romantic comedy of sorts. Our world continues to get more and more connected, and sometimes the relationships around us get more and more distant. Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt and the voice of Scarlett Johansson all lend their talents to make this oscar winning original screenplay resonate for me as what I voted for Best Picture of 2013 - although I am glad the prize went to 12 Years A Slave

image

French filmmaker Jean Pierre Jeunet, famed director of Amélie, directs his second english language film about a young science prodigy invited to Washington DC to claim an award for his scientific discovery of the first perpetual motion machine. He must sneak out of his families’ ranch in Montana and make is way across the country undetected from authorities. Jeunet brings his quirky filmmaking style to the picture while new collaborator Thomas Hardmeier just winning the César award in France for best cinematography. Helena Bonham Carter and Judy Davis are the more internationally recognizable actors featured in the film, and hopefully soon The Weinstein Company will set a release date for this great, great film in the United States and abroad. A Region B blu-ray release is set for early June.

A few films almost making the top ten: Terms and Conditions May Apply, Philomena, This is The End, Out in The Dark and Prisoners. It was a great year for cinema, we shall see what 2014 has in store. 

My Oscar Ballot

The following selections are how I would vote for the nominated categories. Selections marked with ** designate a category in which I did not see all the nominated films. I don’t necessarily think the actual winners will necessarily match my choices.

Best Picture: Her

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron “Gravity”

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best Actress: Cate Blanchette “Blue Jasmine”

Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o “12 Years A Slave”

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze “Her”

Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley “12 Years A Slave”

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki “Gravity”

Best Costume Design**: Michael Wilkinson “American Hustle”

Best Film Editing: Alfonso Cuarón & Mark Sanger “Gravity”

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hair Styling**: Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best Achievement in Music (Original Score): Alexandre Desplat “Philomena”

Best Achievement in Production Design: Her

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing**: Abstain from vote

Best Achievement in Sound Editing**: Abstain from vote

Best Achievement in Visual Effects: Gravity

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)

Who would have thought that French Cinema visual master Jean Pierre Jeunet would shoot a movie filming wide open spaces in North America, all the while telling an anglo-centric story for his seventh feature film, that opened to French theaters last October. A Canadian co-production and featuring english speaking acting talent from several different continents, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, featuring the talents of Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, regular Jeunet collaborator Dominque Pinon, as well as the introduction of Kyle Catlett in the title role of T.S. Spivet. The acting talent all fit their roles well, and help to bring the visual world of the novel by Reif Larsen to life. The film has been acquired by the Weinstein Company and has yet to receive a release date, my advice is to email, phone, tweet, and demand that a date be set for this visual adventure as soon as possible.

The film begins with an Amélie style introduction of our main characters and some of their unique characteristics that make them special. T.S.’s father (Callum Keith Rennie) was born in the wrong century and loves being out in the wide open spaces in rural Montana just on the continental divide. His mother (Bonham Carter) spends much of her days studying insects, and continue classification studies of new species. T.S. has a fraternal twin brother named Layton, (Jakob Davies) and they couldn’t be more different. T.S. is constantly considering things from an analytical viewpoint, including any sorts of data sorts available, and Layton is content with shooting at anything that moves out on the range with his winchester rifle. Their older sister Gracie, struggles with life in the middle of nowhere, and spends any time possible talking on the landline with her girlfriends, or talking about the lack of good quality representing the state of Montana in beauty pageants. The family dog Tapioca even has some quirks, he developed a depression and started eating metal, thus leaving the fireflies alone for a time.

T.S. is gifted in all things academics. A recent school report was published in a major magazine, infuriating his teacher who only sees him as a troublemaker. In flashback we see how T.S. was inspired to begin considering a way to create perpetual motion within a functioning machine. The phone rings at the house one morning and the Smithsonian is calling to summon T.S. to an awards ceremony in Washington D.C. for his ideas on this machine he submitted to the organization. Miss Jibsen (Davis) is ecstatic to offer T.S. the opportunity, and T.S. knowing his age being rather young at ten years old, tries to hide the fact he is a child by inventing a few tall tales that take him over the mountain of lies, instead of a valley of truth. The film kicks off when T.S. decides to run away to D.C. from Montana to collect his prize, using his wits and brains to get him there.

Jeunet’s usual cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel was unavailable for production and so Jeunet turned to Thomas Hardmeier to help him achieve his cinematic vistas of rural Montana, albeit mostly shot in Canada. Jeunet’s typical use of little graphics, and small character developing side anecdotes sprinkle throughout the story to add details and nuances to characters which from the beginning don’t seem to be that complex. The overall arch of the story, mainly being a childhood adventure story, sprinkle in themes of the sudden death of a loved one, grief, and sometimes how we deal and manage these complex human processes.

T.S. shares much with his cinematic sister Amélie Poulain, who also had a flair for imagination and adventure. He cherishes his brother, despite the differences in their personalities, and longs to be accepted by his father, who at times keeps his distance with his cowboy duties, and isolates himself in his western decorated man cave. T.S. doesn’t make the decision to run away lightly, but he does so out of necessity. How does a ten year old pack and discern what is necessary for a cross country trip? Don’t you worry - T.S. will figure it out, he has a plan. Knowing that Jeunet has cast Mr. Pinon in all his films, I wondered when he would make an appearance, and shortly into the cross-country trip, he certainly does in a small role to help guide T.S. along the way.

It is a shame that in this award season celebrating the best in 2013 cinema that this film has been left out of the North American conversation. The nominations for César awards celebrating the best in French cinema will be released in a few days, and it will be a shock to see this film left out of the major categories. All of the cinematic elements come together to make this a very pleasant outing to the cineplex. I tend to lean more towards the imaginative natures of Amélie and T.S., so anytime Jeunet has a new film out, it is something I greatly anticipate. This story also resonates for me very personally, but to expound too much risks the possibility of spoilers. I greatly advise you to avoid too much exposure to anything written about it and go in as blind as possible.

In one scene T.S. remarks how the water on the windows of a driving vehicle takes the path of least resistance, and how as human beings we always do the opposite. It is such a profound observation, and only can maybe help us remember that when we encounter resistance, sometimes, we may be doing the wrong thing and making things harder on ourselves. As life gets complicated, and we can’t always live out on a ranch in Montana, we may need to take ourselves to a simpler place, and possibly look within and resolve the conflicts of our past so that taking that journey of least resistance comes easier, and easier - just like a bead of water zooming along images of reflection passing by in the night. Of course that is always easier said than done.

Glitter, God, & Grace: Part 3


I was buzzed to life by the phone ringing. To my surprise I was informed that room service was attempting to deliver a gift to my room, and since it was locked, they couldn’t get in. I opened the door and accepted the tray with a bottle of red wine, two glasses, some strawberries and a card. If you ever have moments when you think “what is going on”, this was one of those moments. It made no sense, as I had barely connected with anyone outside the people I came with, save for a few budding “twitter” and “scruff” conversations. Low and behold Sarah from the front desk had sent me this little gift basket to wish me luck on making “Fetch” happen for my final night in Chicago. Complete with a hand drawn pretty much accurate to the last detail replica of the Burn Book featured in the film. It was such a blindside if there has ever been a blindside. This gesture that reached out to me on a level where I could, and needed to be met was exactly what I needed on that sultry afternoon. I had been reminded throughout the weekend of some of my own shortcomings: in retreating when feeling threatened, unsure of myself, hoping to avoid rejection. Heck - I’m at a conference where it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to ask a cute guy to have a drink with me. And the one guy I was interested in, evaded me for the whole weekend, all I know is that he was cute, wore a red hat and stayed on my floor - probably with a partner - but still - I was in a petrified state of fear to even say hello.

The afternoon brought about a fun trip to the top of the John Hancock tower where I got to sit and relax with some of my favorite people at the convention. The bar has no admission fees, and although the drinks may get a little pricey, you get a good value over just paying to go to the observation deck one floor above. We would convene a little later for dinner near the hotel, and meet a few more new friendly faces, that would remind me of the value of my journey out to Chicago. When I was in high school I attended an Acquire The Fire youth convention and the website and program advertised the appearance of a new young female artist, Nikki Leonti. She had a few singles hit the radio and I was excited to get to hear her sing live. Nikki, being a human being, capable of making mistakes, got pregnant and was dropped from the tour and was essentially dropped by her label. It is just crazy to me that someone can’t still be an artist in Christian entertainment, and use their mistakes as teachable moments, not just for themselves, but possibly for a larger audience, who could benefit from seeing grace on full display. That is the magic of the entire Jesus story right? Grace? So why can’t we have “displays of grace” available for all to see like we have nativity displays lying around everywhere at Christmas time. Religion land is sometimes the wrong place to ask questions that should have easier answers, yet over dinner I made a new friend who knows Nikki and is familiar with her current music career. I look forward to finally almost fifteen years later, finally getting a chance to get to a concert, since I missed out those many years ago.

Earlier on in the weekend I remember thinking how if Céline Dion performed covers of Psalty the singing songbook and Michael W. Smith at the conference, that the place would be utter frenzied pandemonium. This cross-culture mix of God and Gay culture just made me smile and laugh. I was hoping the convention wouldn’t be as serious as it was, and in a way I can see how it needs to take on that kind of tone in order to stand up as being serious against its critics. Perhaps there was a session I missed that could have helped me out where I was at, and I don’t get quite the staunch passing grade of trying to make it to everything, but I am grateful for the experience despite some of the challenges. I recall seeing a quote this week that life is ten percent of what happens to you and ninety percent of how you react to it. I probably could have reacted differently to a few scenarios over the weekend, but the beauty of the experience is getting to learn that, and ultimately not beat myself up with a rainbow cross. I can learn from my weaknesses and only hope to be made stronger when another situation arises in the future where my growth can be an asset in achieving a different outcome. The conference next year is happening in the backyard of where I grew up, so perhaps it will be a good time for me to come back and see things from a different perspective, and who knows, maybe ask the mystery guy if he’d like to get a beer with me - I do like happy endings. And maybe after all of everything that happened, I will come to discover that the mystery guy is in fact named Glenn Coco.

Before coming to Chicago I knew I wanted to see the Home Alone house. I knew it wasn’t that far away, and as its also a favorite movie from my youth, I just had to go see it. I put word out to a few people I was going, and as sleep was probably more important for some, I made the two hour trip in the early hours of Sunday morning, and in the snow it was a movie magic site to see for sure. In the years after my departure from organized religion I have most often found God, or the universe, or whatever you want to call it, most often prompting me from the stories I’d see and experience in the movies. They are after all parables themselves most of the time, and even if the creators didn’t live two thousand years ago, that doesn’t mean the content can’t be any less worthy of teaching, and helping us manage the windy roads ahead of us. The GCN conference has been an experience that I’ll value for many reasons, and perhaps when the conference hits Portland Oregon next year - mere minutes from where I grew up, perhaps I’ll be in a place to enjoy it more. It almost seems providential having it in my own back yard next year.

Despite my own anxious feelings of fallibility and failure in a few areas, in a way the universe winked at me that cold weekend in Chicago, through a movie reference. A movie that I’ve connected with over the years, along with so many others- lets blame Ms Fey for that. I’m most certainly sure I like this movie most because it makes me laugh. Laughing always reminds me that I’m alive, and being alive is such a great thing - there is a Céline song with that title after all: I’m Alive - and its a good one. Yet in my feelings of not belonging at the conference, and wondering why I was there, and hoping and praying for it to be over soon, God used Mean Girls and made fetch happen for me in such a small, subtle way that he said - I’ll reach you how you need to be reached. Be gentle on yourself as I have been. And when I’m ready, and If I want, I know that God will be there to make fetch happen, if not for me, then for someone else who really needs it, and maybe I can be a part of that magic for someone else.

Glitter, God, & Grace: Part 2 

I arrived at the Westin early Thursday desperately needing a shower and a nap, and upon approach to the front desk I was greeted by a front desk clerk named Sarah. She was all smiles, very warm and genuine. In my job I assess people constantly, mostly for safety concerns, and sometimes for “dating concerns”, ie eligibility. Sarah was genuine, enjoyed her job, and was happy get me a room early after my long night. I was excited about my new Starwood American Express card since I’m on my way to earning free nights since I’d like to schedule more leisure adventures in the future. If you don’t know me, I am a fan of the almost-ten-year-old film Mean Girls, written by the legendary Tina Fey. I’m sure I got it into conversation in the same way Cady was dying to bring up Regina George in conversation; like word vomit. I did admit to my recent “SOFETCH” license plate purchase, as well as budding plans to have a party for the 10 year anniversary of Mean Girls this coming April. Before I could leave I inquired if they had a waterside room - I figured they would still be occupied, or that in reality that since I was a “nobody” with no status, that the room wouldn’t be available to me. She gave me an incredible room with a full window view of the river and the bridges - a view I would take in on several occasions throughout the weekend, most often in the middle of the night during my wrestling matches with insomnia.

That first day is somewhat of a blur. Severe fatigue kicked in and forced me to nap mid afternoon. I would take dinner on my own and then venture to conference registration. The first event was for newbies like me, and I would go take my seat. The event quickly turned into a “talk to the people around you” event, which wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for in the session. I would have preferred organized socialization, like connecting with those in my region of the nation, or with people within my field or arts communities. Or having all the single-relationship-seeking guys within my type constraints being forced into speed dating with me. As much as things didn’t go exactly like that last selection, it was nice to see some people who lived locally making it out to the event and seeing the support of a grandfather attend with his gay grandson - whose parents were not supportive. This cross generational display of support was refreshing to see, and indicative of the change occurring all over the world - well, maybe not in parts of Africa - but that’s a different blog post altogether. I’m sure it meant the world to him.

I was feeling semi-socially anxious and soon enough was able to retreat to the bar upstairs. The main session would soon begin and I had made possible alternative plans to meet with an online Facebook friend of sorts who lived locally for a drink, and what ended up being a round of the card game Skip Bo. I was an early adopter of the original iOS gay social app and have used it all over the world. I befriended Josh over five years ago and we never had the opportunity to meet until this weekend. We had a few beers and I enjoyed teaching him a favorite card game. Following the session I was unable to track down some of the folks I’d wanted to connect with, so I thought that possibly an early night to bed would enable me to make it through the long hours that following day.

I woke up at three o’ clock in the morning and wasn’t able to go back to sleep. Instead of laying there anxious, I went to the gym and eventually ventured out with my iPhone for a few frozen photo ops. Ended up on a nice walk and made it back in time for the presentation. Jaunted to breakfast, down Michigan Avenue to a very deserted and frozen Cloud Gate that would be a nice calm spot to snap a few shots. The last time I was here was in the summer of 2012 before I made my move back to Seattle from New York City and this space was just crawling with people. It was quite the contrasting mood and tone, and I enjoyed the quiet and solitude. I made it back to the hotel just before showtime and snuggled into a front row seat to best give support to my dear friends. Their presentation was amazing in so many ways. Even the little technical glitches came off with humor and a lighthearted spirit despite the heavy tone of the material.

They continue to awe me with how they move forward in the shadow of their tragedy. It seems though that as each day passes, and their story changes lives that the shadow is overpowered by the light gleaming down from above, illuminating their path and the people who hear their story. I took lunch with two of my friends from back home, and by that evening I would feel a little left out from some desired experiences, as well as ignored by a few other acquaintances at the event I desired to connect with. I was not winning at the social game of this event by attempting to forge new relationships. I knew that I could easily pack up and be on the next flight out - the danger of standby flying options. I was seriously tempted until an invite to head out to the Chicago gayborhood for the evening with my two friends from back home just had me itching to get away from the hotel and my own self-induced anxiety I was experiencing there. A mocha, a few cosmos, a few tator tots, and a creatively created honey whiskey ginger ale would see me on my way to having a little bit more fun that evening. We would end up at a dance club in the wee hours of Saturday morning. My friends took more advantage of the dancing, while I had begun to engage a friend over some much needed texting ministry. It would soon be time to return to the hotel in hopes of recharging for yet another full day of glitter, God, and grace.

I would be up early again the next morning, unable to sleep in and would saunter off for a session with blogger Rachel Held Evans. A few years ago I made a video blog in response to one of her posts about a very controversial Seattle pastor who makes my Gryffindor blood boil. It was nice to finally connect a voice to the words I’d read from time to time online. I’m so far removed from popular Christian culture nowadays, that I was slightly unaware of the severe value of her support to the LGBT Christian community. Following the session I yet again was feeling a roadblock and would try to catnap and be up for a session with Matthew Vines later in the afternoon. Unfortunately after falling asleep, it was next to impossible to get up on time, and I didn’t make that session. I probably look like such a lazy bum choosing sleep at every corner, yet I knew that to try and enjoy things, I would need a little bit of extra rest at times. An hour or so later I would be jolted from sleep by my hotel phone, and I wasn’t quite prepared for what would be whispered from a voice on the other end.

Glitter, God, & Grace: Part 1

This last weekend I found myself in the windy city mere days after the city had fallen victim to the polar ice spell that covered the nation. I was in town to attend the Gay Christian Network conference that would be taking place over the weekend at the downtown Chicago River North Westin Hotel. After spending most of my early twenties involved in moderately extremist evangelical Christian organizations, I got pretty burned out on cultural Christianity. This would occur even years before I would finally have self revelations that I was more interested in guys as potential love interests, than the girls I’d been pretending to notice. My stances on Christianity would fade over the years, especially when I would begin to notice that the loudest voices in society coming from Christian circles wanted to be right more than they desired to be beacons of love. 

I’ve always been spiritually sentimental - heck - most, if not all of my conscious life was spent within a churched community. I wore my first suits to church, and would become an expert at flannel graph decoding - the only way to teach Bible stories to children before the dawn of the iPad. I grew up on Psalty the singing songbook, Adventures in Odyssey and Michael W Smith. To this day I can spout lyrics to the Bible Alphabet Song, and it always comes to mind if I’m going hiking - go figure. My mother even took me to a Smith concert once, and when it was revealed that he was doing an acoustic set without his band: I cried. I was probably eight and was desperate to hear “I Am Sure” with his full band. Escaping into the recess of memories, I’m pretty sure that I survived the concert, and odds have it that I got saved again. I was learning the value of insurance at an early age. 

Fast forward to being a grown up “gay”, and its tough to shut out the good experiences, from the bad experiences of judgement, rejection, false theology, and lack of love that the greater “church” played in the final years of my organized participation. It has been a slow road to jump back into anything that resembles the structure and sociology of those years on my way out. I dance between agnosticism and the notion of trying to call myself something that would convey following the source of love, without a label that has more negative to it than good - from my perspective. Last year I had the opportunity to meet Rob and Linda Robertson, a pair of Christian parents on a journey after having learned their oldest son was gay and the events that followed said revelation. I have since joined a small group that is LGBT issues focused that is sanctioned by their church in the Seattle area. It has been a great experience to sort through some of the dirty laundry and emotional hoarding that has gone on over the last two decades of my life. The Robertsons were invited to speak at the conference, and I wanted to come and support them in their effort. That being my primary motivation to attend, I had hoped to connect with a few other acquaintances that I knew to be in attendance as well. 

Before coming to the conference there was a creative opportunity I had hoped to participate in that ended up changing directions and not involving me. I had put word out to an acquaintance involved of my desired participation, and any action there after fell by the wayside. I knew going into the weekend that exposure to the project and not really being a part of it would be tough, but I had no idea that it would really overshadow my ability to try and engage and at least try and reach out with the many strangers attending from all over the country. 

Late last year I tried to delete the good ole iOS gay social apps in hopes of having a more organic social future. Yet before my arrival, I had reinstalled and sunk back into a familiar and easy way to say hello to people. Gays are the subject of mass rejection, yet also dish it out with one another on a regular basis in these apps by “blocking” guys for whatever reasons - when they don’t want to engage. I had sort of hoped that the gays attending the conference would possibly use these apps differently and be a bit more loving in their responses and approaches. There were some pleasant surprises, and some reminders that gays most of the time are mean girls with dicks, and some of the guys at this event were mean girls with dicks, who pray. A recognizable acquaintance, who was going incognito in his profile photo during the convention, actually blocked me. I could only laugh and scratch my head - nothing says let’s get coffee later like being blocked on an iOS app. But of course its 2014 and there are about six different ways we can all communicate with each other - pick your platform. Wait. Five - one platform was just eradicated. Oops, I’m getting ahead of myself here - not even at the convention yet. 

Most straight people won’t realize that much of gay socialization has been digitized over the last few years. There is “an app for that” - for gays to say hello to one another - and hopefully successfully, and most often, to discreetly seek out encounters, or in 99% of my cases - friendships. When dealing with a population as emotionally damaged as the gays, we enter into a quagmire of the broken socializing the broken, and upon rejection for whatever reason, it can be easy to take it personally and take it as a reflection of the faults and flaws of the receiver. It can also be even more tough to decipher what guys are actually saying versus the words they choose to use via voice or text. Recently one such message seemed to reflect an interest in continued conversation, yet the body language, and behaviors in person screamed the opposite. 

I sometimes watch the amazingly accurate film “He’s Just Not That Into You” from time to time as a continued reminder of the behaviors and clues to look out for - not just in dating, but in seeking out networking and friendships as well. Alex, a  guy in the movie who knows all the rules, is explaining to Gigi - rarely, super rarely, me in this educational scenario - that “If a guy treats you like he doesn’t give a shit, he genuinely doesn’t give a shit.” Stop the madness of reading into other stuff. Its always a mini-miracle when my brain gets it again after suffering a mildly idiotic, relapse. If you’re seeking, friendships, networking, or something more, the behaviors and actions of your selected contestants need to be weighted much greater than the words they say and text you. These were considerations I had on my mind as the L train car slowly filled with commuters as the train raced toward downtown Chicago during rush hour, while I simply couldn’t wait getting to the hotel and simply checking in. My reception at the front desk would surprise me and come back to blindside me later in the weekend. 

 

For Your Consideration

Depending on where you live, January might be a dreary, frozen, and dull time of year. The build up to the holidays has climaxed and passed on. The New Year has risen and children return to school, and adults back to reality of the time clock, the bills, and worries about life, love, and this so called pursuit of happiness we build our lives around. Yet amidst all of the brouhaha of daily life, the Hollywood cinematic awards season is ramping up with advertisements galore, and campaigns mounting to get folks around tinseltown to cast votes to send many different types of films up into the awards stratosphere. So many awards to hand out and so little time. The general public is soon presented a list of categories and awards and pick-a-little, talk-a-little, the conversation blows up as everyone wonders what the hubbub is all about.

My earliest memories of the Academy Awards stem back to the night “Driving Miss Daisy” drove off with four oscar statues: March 26th, 1990. I was not yet even nine years old, and the only movie nominated that year that I had a chance to see was The Little Mermaid. I remember going with grandma and I’m sure soon thereafter acquiring the soundtrack on cassette tape since it was a musical score worth experiencing again and again. After all, my name was used for the main male character, so that alone was worth the price of admission. For the two music awards I was able to sit on edge and route for the one movie I had actually seen and experienced, so in my mind it was the best. The Academy voters agreed with me and “The Little Mermaid” walked away with Best Original Score and Original Song. At that age the worries of life were far from me and the horrors of life as depicted in some of the other films wouldn’t reach my consciousness until years later, but even in my young age, I would be shown a film and like everyone, loved the experience of being transported to far away, often completely made up worlds, that for a bit brought joy and excitement into my life. The death of my older brother a few years prior would catapult the important role movies would have in my life as my parents would grieve, and my mind would need an escape from the cataclysmic aftermath I wouldn’t understand for those years to follow.

On one such night I was taken to see “The Land Before Time” as it hit theaters in 1988 and the death of the Littlefoot’s mother in the early scenes hit this sensitive, caring, and tender seven year old rather hard. Light sobbing ensued in the lobby of the tiny two screen movie theater in the desert of eastern Oregon. I ran to my room and cried on my bed for who knows how long after I was dropped off by the most likely traumatized family friend at having to deal with such an unanticipated reaction from a child. Oscar voters most likely yawned at the notion of “The Land Before Time” being Best at anything, but for me at the age of seven it was the best movie, because it reached and touched my humanity in a way no other art form could. Movies are the magical art form since they encompass so many different art forms that all work together in perfect synergy to create cinematic potential of something. Often times it seems like movies get catapulted high into the sky over industry politics, or popularity contests, sometimes leaving well deserving films in the film canister.

As I begin to craft and write my best of list for last year, I will most likely use my seven year old sensibilities once again of picking movies that touched my humanity in some way. I have a little more homework to do, and won’t be quite as finished with my list as soon as I would have liked, but it is going to get down as I view a few last minute pictures that are all the rage in tinseltown, as I do want to try and see if there is something there that is worth experiencing. I’m also looking elsewhere as the choice of best picture of 2012 was shut out by the Academy. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” moves me every time I see it. There is power in the written word, friendships, honesty and mistakes. I love the way that film brings that to life, and in the end it doesn’t matter what films take home the awards, as the treasure is in my personal encounter with that art form. There is one magical moment from those Academy Awards so many years ago that I didn’t quite understand at the time. When asked about what my all time favorite movie is, I can’t help but see the images of a young boy in Italy falling in love with movies as he clamored to help a projectionist run a tiny Italian movie theater in post world war two Italy. “Cinema Paradiso” walked away with the Oscar before my very eyes and it would be nearly two decades later until I would see it, and reminisce on how movies gave me the same joy they gave Toto - the young boy. Sometimes they still give me that same joy, and you just might see the kid in me come alive. Stay tuned for the best as I see it of 2013 in the movies.

Chinese Puzzle

Life is complicated. It can be on its own, and it can be because we muddle it up with complications. Over the years I have really enjoyed the glimpse into the lives of a group of friends as they grow older that began in The Spanish Apartment (2002) and was followed by the Russian Dolls (2005). Each film shows us a glimpse on the development of our characters as they first engage with romance, academics and co-habitation outside of home. Followed by angst of growing up and building a career, with some more angst. This final volume highlighting complications that arise with families, and dealing with some of the mistakes and misfortunes that have occurred along the way.

Xavier (Romain Duris) is now pushing forty and has had two children with Wendy (Kelly Reilly). They have been living in Paris for the last ten years and the relationship has hit a dead end. Xavier is a published author, having published two novels on the experiences and adventures of the two previous films, and he is working on a final novel. Isabelle (Cécile de France) is now dating someone seriously and they want to have a baby. She does not want the sperm of a stranger and goes to Xavier for help. He agrees to assist with them starting a family, and concurrently things at home with Wendy are on the rocks and she soon announces she is moving to New York City with the kids and has found love and a new life there while away on a trip. She does not take the news of Xavier’s donation very well, and soon begins the unraveling of the life that Xavier has built in Paris.

Upon arriving in New York City, the struggles of finding a place to live, being a father, fighting for his parental rights, overwhelm Xavier. He takes refuge in Chinatown thanks to the aid of Isabelle’s girlfriend who still owns a small apartment from her college years. Eventually at the advice of a bottom feeder Lawyer, Xavier begins the search for a wife to help him gain access to legalization to get formal work to help him navigate through the red tape during his divorce with Wendy. Through some transportation misadventures in New York City, and his own benevolent actions he is granted access to a woman to possibly help with this process. Xavier’s long time ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) visits New York on business and engages Xavier for some help in a very funny scene involving Martine at a business meeting with an all Chinese boardroom.

I first saw L’Auberge Espagnol when I formalized my collegiate studies with the French language. I remember instantly bonding with Xavier as he seemed to be a kindred spirit on the quest for a goal and life, embattled with struggles of divorced parents, and not quite knowing the path. As he would study abroad in Barcelona, I would be studying in Aix-En-Provence during the French release of the second film Les Poupées Russes. I remember attending a screening one warm summer day and enjoying the story that writer/director Cédric Klapisch has now created for three features. During a chance visit to New York City during college I would be able to see Russian Dolls a second time while it was on its festival circuit of the United States and be able to meet Klapisch for the first time. It was a nice meeting, possibly one of my first encounters with French filmmakers I had grown fond of over the years of immersing myself with their work while trying to master the literal language they used to tell their stories. At the time I dreamed about a filmmaking career, especially possibly with working with French cinema somehow.

Years would pass and I would eventually land a job driving as a chauffeur for a French Film Festival in the United States. I would once again run into Klapisch while he would be showing his newest film Paris, also starring Duris. I had always hoped that my time with the festival would lead to something connecting my two passions of French and Cinema - yet those opportunities would never surface. It had kind of been a fun hope to appear in this third film since the previous two had effected me so much during my college years of studying French and Film. Despite my lack of taking the initiative to make that dream happen, I must say that this final film leaves me with a nice feeling of hope for Xavier, Wendy, Isabelle, Martine, and anyone else who has struggled through the complications of life. We will always have drama, since it is embedded into the DNA of existence, but what is notable about these stories is that that the common bond of friendship is what will help navigate them and ensure good company when we reach different milestones along the way. No matter the pains and joys of the journey, what good are they if you just have a bunch of strangers around you at the end?

As I’ve grown up watching French films and especially enjoyed seeing Tautou mature on screen, it is nice that as her international fame has not kept her from having the time to revisit Martine and her relationship with Xavier. Perhaps my dreams will just have to evolve, and perhaps having her apart of my own project someday will make all this homework payoff. I can now after all go and see a movie in Paris long before I would have the opportunity back home, and walk away with an enriched cinematic experience without the subtitles. The L’auberge Trilogy shows the immense value of opening ones life to international experiences and friends, and how through those friendships we can truly find ourselves and “come of age” as this genre always so nicely tries to show. It has been nearly eleven years since the first film, and although this chapter isn’t the end of a Harry Potter series; it is a nice way to end things. It is a bit more relevant to those living their lives, forging away at our own destinies, embodied by complications that may or may not show up through a Spanish apartment, Russian dolls, or a Chinese puzzle.