Living In Integrity – Part II

Back in the late 1990’s I attended a men’s retreat entitled The New Warrior Training Adventure which was part of an organization named The ManKind Project. My life had been in severe turmoil at that time and was riddled with depression because of my father’s sudden death from his suicide. After speaking with a few people and told that I could get benefit on the weekend to heal from that tragedy, I made the decision to go. While the main outcome from attending that retreat was healing from my father’s death, there was a word I learned a lot more about from my experiences there that I had never previously understood.

What is integrity? A quick dictionary reference would state the following. “Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” Was I a man of integrity in my life back then based upon that definition? Definitely not. It took me another twelve years to truly become that.

The first part of that definition for integrity is about being honest. Over time I came to understand that honesty is not just about how I am when people are watching or listening to me. It’s also about how I am when people aren’t watching or listening to me. Here are some examples from my past where I wasn’t practicing the honesty part of integrity.

1. Sneaking into a movie without paying after emerging from the one that was paid for

2. Taking a candy bar, a pack of gum, or any item off of a store shelf and pocketing it without paying

3. Speaking about an event observed but exaggerating it for greater effect

4. Making things up at an AA podium to give off a look of higher importance

5. Taking food from roommates without asking and then trying to hide the action

6. Telling an intimate partner that they were the only one for me and then having several other people “waiting in the wing” if it didn’t work out

7. Painting a picture on the internet to people that wasn’t true

8. Getting a cup for water at a restaurant with soda dispensers and then drinking the soda free from them

9. Going into a buffet and having one person pay and then eating off of their plate

10. Buying an item at a store brand new for something I already had at home that was old and damaged and then returning the damaged one to get my money back

Before becoming more God-centerded in my life, examples such as these were commonplace for me. The harsh truth too is that I didn’t feel any of them were wrong at the time I was doing them. Normally, I would just rationalize why it was ok to do any of them when I was. The other part of the definition of “integrity” is a little more complex than this.

“Having strong moral principles.” It took a long time for me to really understand what that meant. Instead of trying to come up with a short and sweet definition to explain it’s meaning, I decided it was best to write another list of examples of when I wasn’t having strong moral principles.

1. Carrying on an intimate relationship with a married, partnered, or already dating individual regardless of their situation

2. Promising someone attendance at some event and canceling for a better offer

3. Telling someone they’re a close friend but never or rarely making time to spend with them

4. Going out with a friend and having them pay more than not

5. Talking about someone in a negative light when they aren’t present

6. Spreading rumors about someone that may or may not be true

7. Receiving a phone call from someone who is asking to call them back and never doing so

8. Giving someone a promise to perform a task and then passing it off to someone else or choosing to not do it at all

9. Keeping a person around only because of what they have to offer

10. Borrowing money from someone and not making any attempts to pay it back

These are just some of the many things that I’ve done in this lifetime that would be considered when I did NOT have strong moral principles.

Because of my initial exposure to integrity on the Warrior weekend, as time went on, I could no longer hide from any of the things I was doing that would be deemed out of integrity. Unfortunately, it still didn’t stop me from doing any of them even though I had the awareness. As with anything, the more my life got out of control and filled up with pain, the more I turned over the pieces of me that were still living in self-will to God. The biggest change for me with integrity came a year ago when the pain was so great everywhere in my life that I decided to turn my entire will and life over to God.

Since then, I wake up every day and ask God to be fully in charge of my life. That includes every facet of it. I find it next to impossible now to live a life without integrity. I’m not perfect and there are still moments I may find something I’m doing that could be labeled as out of integrity. In each of those cases, there’s a feeling inside me where something isn’t lining up in a positive fashion. Through prayer and making amends as necessary, I find that I don’t stay out of integrity long.

While the key to learning about integrity was given to me long ago on that New Warrior Training Adventure weekend, living a life full of it only came through giving up all of my self-will and choosing a higher path with God at the center of it.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson

All Aren’t Welcomed – Part II

It’s Easter and for many, a time to celebrate with a visit to church. While I may not specifically claim myself as a Christian, I do honor Christ and the meaning of this special day.

A few weeks ago I was asked by two close friends to attend a church service with them on Easter Sunday. It was a church I hadn’t been to before and had little information about. One of these two friends was related to the pastor and early information that I was given indicated the church had many gay and lesbian members and that all were welcomed.

Given my track record of attempts made to join three separate churches recently and the adversity I faced in doing so, I was quite skeptical. After a few text messages were traded back and forth between my friend and her Uncle (the pastor of the church), I was informed by my friend that I would be fully accepted and encouraged to attend. Second hand information also seemed to indicate that there were gay and lesbian members as well at this church.

I was more than excited to find this out given that the church was known to be evangelical based. My desire to join a lively, uplifting, and upbeat church suddenly resurfaced with hope. I then made a decision a few days ago to contact the church and speak with the pastor. A part of me, after receiving so much rejection from my previous three attempts, wanted to hear it first hand that the pastor and his church would fully accept me.

I’m glad I called.

The conversation lasted exactly 28 minutes. What I learned about this pastor and his church’s views during that time was that homosexuality is a sin, that the Bible is clear on the issue, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to join if I was still “practicing being gay” as he so put it. Even worse, when I asked him what gave him the right to judge and not accept me to become a member, his answer was that he was speaking for God through the Bible. Our conversation ended when he told me that although the doors of his church would still be opened for me to attend, he didn’t really understand why I would want to come when they felt the way they did about my sexuality. He also reminded me on his parting words that there were plenty of other churches out there that would accept “my kind.”

It was really hard keeping my cool and not getting angry. But God has taught me great restraint in the past year as I have truly worked to turn my entire will over to the care of Him. I’m now four for four with complete rejection by churches in the Massachusetts area that are evangelical and Christian based. Each of those rejections have been mirrors of this one and every one of them stings even more than the last.

I truly don’t understand how certain passages in the Bible can be overlooked and be considered “out datable” in today’s religious circles and yet the few passages that talk about homosexuality are still used to persecute millions. As long as I or any other gay man or woman is “active” in our sexuality, while the doors may appear to be opened for us to worship God at churches like this, the reality is that they really are padlocked and closed indefinitely to all of us.

There are times I wish that I had a way to organize a sit-in at each of these churches around the world who say they are all welcoming but deep down their truth is that they aren’t. I can imagine hundreds of people going to each of the services wearing t-shirts that say “God loves me just as I am!”. Maybe then our message might start getting heard.

I don’t believe God ever intended for a church to deny anyone membership because of their sexuality or any other reason for that matter. I believe that it’s between each individual and God to work through anything that may separate them from God. I believe God would love for anyone to join a church. What I do know is that being gay has only brought me closer to God. It pains me to know there is still so much hatred, bigotry, and persecution out there like this towards people like me. Sadly, these churches don’t see their rejection of membership as any of that.

While this pastor and his church may have welcomed me to attend their Easter service, to put a few dollars in their donation plate, and to listen to their lively sermon and music, I will not be in attendance. Knowing that I will never be allowed to join as long as I’m still “practicing being gay”, I will instead be waking up on Sunday morning, thanking Christ and God for their love for me, wishing the world a Happy Easter, doing my morning spiritual routine as I always do, and asking God to guide me throughout the day.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson

“I Can’t Wait Till I’m Older…”

I can’t wait till I’m older and stay up past my bedtime.

I can’t wait till I’m older and have a later curfew.

I can’t wait till I’m older and be able to drive myself places.

I can’t wait till I’m older and be able to see “R” rated movies.

I can’t wait till I’m older and don’t have to go to school anymore.

I can’t wait till I’m older and able to buy cigarettes.

I can’t wait till I’m older and go to college.

I can’t wait till I’m older and be able to drink legally.

I can’t wait till I’m older and graduate from college.

I can’t wait till I’m older and have better experience for my career.

I can’t wait till I’m older and have enough money to go into my own business.

I can’t wait till I’m older and able to retire.

You know….I really wish I were younger.

I found myself lately thinking a lot about this. Through great reflection, I see now that the majority of the 40 years I have lived so far on this Earth were focused on something to come and something I didn’t have. What’s sad about that is the amount of things that I may missed experiencing fully because my eyes were always down the road instead of where my feet were planted below me.

There’s that old saying, “Stop and take the time to smell the roses.” Well it’s true. Unfortunately many don’t take the time to smell the roses or any flower for that matter. I’m using this phrase more metaphorically in this case as for most of my life until recently, I failed to see how many things God had placed so beautifully in my life because of my gaze being somewhere out into the future.

Today I look back and remember wonderful games of kick-the-can, hide-and-go-seek, and kick ball in my neighborhood until the last of the sun light was just about gone. I think about the ice cream truck coming down the street and me racing towards it to get a frozen bomb pop. I remember going to Myrtle Beach every summer and playing mini-golf, building sandcastles, swimming in the ocean, and having huge gooey sundaes. I have fond memories as well during college of pledging and helping build a chapter for my national fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. There is a vast wealth of treasured thoughts about many parties I dj’d, sports I partook in, and social outings that I had a lot of fun doing during my undergrad years. In my post collegiate years, the same thing holds true with many things I can remember being a part of, doing, or going to, that bring a smile to my face. Unfortunately, I can also remember during all of them, that I was always partially present as I experienced each of them. One part of me was enjoying them and the other was thinking about something down the road that I wanted, didn’t have, or felt like I needed to be happier.

With all the health issues I’ve faced in the past few years and having been slowed down immensely from being able to do what I once could, I have caught myself wishing that I was younger again. I see how much I might have lost by not remaining in the moment and making the best of what I had all those years. Today I’m doing all that I can to be more present where my feet are like on my drive home from the gym today. I noticed how picturesque the clouds and blue sky behind them appeared. I took a deep breath in and thanked God for still having two eyes to see it.

No matter where I am in my life, no matter what state my health is in, and no matter what experiences I am having to go through, there is always something around me in every single moment that is God-given, amazing, and filled with light and love. I just have to remain in the moment and stop wishing for something that the future may or may not bring. If I can do that, I know I’ll never miss again experiencing for ALL its worth, another great moment of my life.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson