Posted by: Harold Knight | 08/22/2010

Love and Fatherhood; a Stone for Bread; the “Anglican” Church

A morning to think. Think about where I am. Personal. Why would I put all of this out on the internet where I have lost complete control of it, and where anyone can read my thoughts?

Is the need to write part of the symbolic process Susanne Langer wrote about, or is it part of my TLE, or is it simply a habit I can’t break? I do, after all, have one of those “addictive personalities” I hear about all the time. Is that like having a “loving personality,” a “curious personality,” a “hateful personality?” How (why) do people get a little description of the way they act stuck onto them like a piece of duct tape that holds them together and which they either can’t, won’t or don’t know how to yank off themselves.

That’s how I think when I first start writing. Most days it goes on and on and on before I have a “topic” to write about—unless I have gone to sleep with some idea, some question on my mind that wakes me up writing in my brain before I even have a cup of coffee? Once in an email I asked Alice Flaherty if it’s possible that I wake up because I have to write rather than the other way ‘round—I have to write because I’m awake. She told me that she certainly understood what I meant, that was her experience. Misery loves company.

In Langer’s parlance, those names are symbols, not signs of who we might actually be. She explains that, “A signal is comprehended if it serves to make us notice the object or situation it bespeaks. A symbol is understood when we conceive the idea it presents” (1). Those silly little names, descriptions, we give each other are symbols—never apt symbols because they are so insidious and demeaning—rather than signs because they are attempts to present “concepts” of our personalities, not to point to who we actually are.

Yesterday was my father’s 96th birthday. When I told him (several years before Stonewall which was the first big “coming out” party in the gay rights movement) I am gay, he was, I’m pretty sure, devastated. How could he not have been, a Baptist minister? I never once, not in my entire life, have felt any anger, rejection, or pain from him about who I am. That he talked to other members of my family about it, I know, but he never once let his devastation affect our relationship. Sometime after he was eighty years old (I know that because I know we were in Dallas when he told me), he said to me, “I have come to the conclusion I’ve been wrong all my life. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah has nothing to do with sex. It’s about pride.” We were sitting in the church where I was organist. He had come with me to listen to me practice. I think he accompanied me because he wanted to say that to me. The church sanctuary was the safest place for him to say it. For both of us.

You, dear reader, whoever you might be, cannot even imagine my feelings about that conversation. Many times I’ve wept—now, for example—thinking about it. As I write, I’m trying to make a symbol for the complexity of that exchange (it was an exchange, but I have no idea what I said). The symbol (the attempt to “conceive the idea it presents”) is too complex for me to succeed in shaping it.

Symbolization is pre-rationative, but not pre-rational. It is the starting point of all intellection in the human sense, and is more general than thinking, fancying, or taking action. For the brain is not merely a great transmitter, a super-switchboard; it is better likened to a great transformer. The current of experience that passes through it undergoes a change of character, not through the agency of the sense by which the perception entered, but by virtue of a primary use which is made of it immediately: it is sucked into the stream of symbols which constitutes a human mind” (2).

I’ve had to quote the entire paragraph (such a quotation without an elegant lead-in and some kind of explanation after is unacceptable to our university writing curriculum). I have no idea how to do, make, say, even think something that could transform my myriad feelings about that conversation with my dad into a form comprehensible to myself, much less to anyone else. Gratitude. Gratitude for a lifetime of acceptance (not merely tolerance) of a basic fact of my life even though he could not comprehend it or approve of it. Humility. How many octogenarians do I know who would admit to having changed their minds about a formative concept in their thinking? Joy. He (not I) made possible the completion of our relationship.

Love. Love so great that he struggled with the concept of same-sex love long enough to come to peace with me—all of me. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his [intellectual] life for his [son]” (John 15:13). My father has struggled with himself to a point that he has less homophobia than I do. He doesn’t “get it” as far as any sort of visceral understanding of the way I live and love and feel, but that does not matter to him. I did nothing to deserve that.

Not deserving is all. “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will he give him a stone?” (Matthew 7:9). His is love freely given, given simply because I am his son. Someone may question, then, why he struggled so long with the idea. He needed to complete the symbolic process for himself—and make it a process he could share with me. The process never impinged on his acceptance of and love for me. He spent years struggling with the idea because he loves me. He does not love me because he came to an intellectual understanding.

This morning I am preparing to drive to Ft. Worth to substitute as organist at a former Episcopal church. It is now “Anglican.” It is part of the arch-conservative (that is a misnomer; of true conservatism either theologically or politically they seem to know nothing) diocese that Bishop Jack Iker managed to pull away from the Episcopal Church. Mr. Iker professes two main reasons for his rejection of the Episcopal Church: its Presiding Bishop is a woman, and one of its Bishops is openly gay.

Last week a lesbian couple applied to one of the now-“Anglican” schools in Ft. Worth for admission for their daughter as a student. The school rejected them, saying,

We are a church affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, and it is their policy that we don’t provide services to individuals or families that do not behave properly. We’re going off our canons that say, “The Anglican Church in North America affirms our Lord’s teaching that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong of one man and one woman”. . .(3).

Because I have some sense of obligation (I have a verbal contract with the church that I will appear this morning to play the organ), I will, in fact be at the church this morning. It will, however, be the last time. The website of the Anglican Church in North America has a banner at the top proclaiming, “Reaching North America with the Transforming Love of Jesus Christ.” Personally, I’ve come to a place where I don’t care what any church proclaims. I’ve almost completely apostatized (which puts me in a pretty weird position trying to ply my art).

However, a couple of things are clear to me. “Behaving properly” is in the eye of the beholder. The Anglican Church in North America might learn something from my father. Love is not dependent on the way one behaves or does not behave. Love is not giving one’s son a stone when he asks for bread.

____________________
(1) I found this quotation the other day on one of those dumb “quotations” websites. I don’t know which one. It’s so quintessentially Langer that I copied it, intending to find its source. I haven’t. But you can take my word that Langer said it.
(2) Langer, Susanne. Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art. Third Ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Press, 1980 (42).
(3) Tam, Julie and Frank Heinz. “Child of Married Lesbians Denied Enrollment into School.” DFW. NBC Universal. Sat. August 21, 2010. Web. 21 Aug 2010.

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Responses

  1. Dear Harold,

    This made me weep. So many of us are betrayed both by our families and our churches.

    Kiss your father for me when you see him and tell him I give thanks for his life and love.

    Alison

    Like

  2. What would be the consequences of not putting it on the Net and having it stay in your head?

    Stones can be used to grind the bread or to make a house.

    And, yes, bread certainly is “the staff of life”. People might also eat maize or rice or yam.

    Thinking lots about true conservatism now. Agarian socialism too.

    Any secular places you can play your organ? There are several places which would love to have someone of your talent.

    Like


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