Change Is Good

Just a few days ago I was shivering wearing a winter coat and watching reports that the area might be getting a few more inches of snow. Winters really can be tough in the Northeast, especially like this year when in just over a month, more than 60 inches of snow dropped and the temperatures remained frigid for weeks on end. I can’t say for sure if the groundhog correctly predicted things this year. What I do know is that winter seemed like it was never going to cease and then suddenly it did when I awoke yesterday with the sun shining and a temperature close to 60 degrees.

While I really don’t enjoy winter at all, I have come to co-exist with it knowing that its days are always numbered. But more importantly, I’ve come to appreciate winters knowing I wouldn’t if it was warm all the time. Southern Florida and Southern California always seem inviting to me because of their year round balmy temperatures. I’ve hesitated though in relocating there because many people that migrate there from the north, end up leaving and coming back. Most say it’s because they miss the change in seasons.

I believe that if I did move to a year-round warmer climate I would probably take vacations up north just to occasionally see the sun twinkle on the snow a day after a storm. I love to see a wet snow come in and coat all the trees and then for the sun to emerge with a blue sky around it. It really does create a breathtaking masterpiece in nature.

Life is really like this isn’t it?

Would summer vacation have been as great when I was a kid if I never had gone to school?

Would taking a week or two of vacation in the winter have been as exciting if I was able to go on vacation all year?

Would dining out at a restaurant be as alluring if I could eat out at one every night of the week?

There was a time in my life when I could answer questions like this. It was a time when I had plenty of money to go do what I wanted. I did take vacations week in and week out. I went out to many different restaurants daily. And I grew bored. I no longer was excited about anything because nothing ever changed. Today I can’t afford to live a life like that and I’m grateful to God for that. I enjoy when I’m able to dine out a restaurant now. I am excited to take my once a year vacation. My appreciating these things comes from not having them all the time just like the seasons.

As much as I may not like the cold of the winters, and as much as I like the hot and steamy summers, I truly love to see the seasons change between them.

Seeing flowers pop out of the moist ground.

Hearing that first thunderstorm pierce the sky.

Watching the grass become greener and greener.

Smelling the first lawn being cut.

Spring then turns into Summer.

Jumping into a bluish cold pool on a hot and steamy day.

Eating that icy popsicle while melting all over the hands.

Playing a game of mini-golf getting a hole in one.

Sitting on a sandy beach while hearing the lull of the ocean.

Summer then becomes Fall.

Listening to the leaves rustle as a breeze whisks on through.

Staring at their dazzling colors as they drop one by one.

Blowing cold rings of air when the temperature begins to dip.

Eating a bowl of oatmeal trying to soothe the cold away.

Fall then turns into Winter.

Catching a flake of snow on the tongue as gravity brings them down.

Making snowballs when enough has fallen to throw at a friend.

Building that first snowman to proudly put it on display.

Drinking a cut of hot chocolate in front of that crackling fire.

Winter then becomes Spring again.

Remembering why I love the change in everything.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson

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