Monday, April 6, 2009

Personal Postscript: Calling All Angels

Lee McKinley Davenport
April 13, 1968-March 29, 2009 

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

                        Psalm 91.11

Having posted today’s devotion, I set out to catch up with the blogs—mostly by readers here—I’ve not had time to visit due to work and other commitments. I opened FranIAm, first queued in my reader since her latest post was the most recent. After a weak stab at a clever response to her clip of “Hosanna” from Jesus Christ Superstar, I scrolled down to a post informing her readers Lee Davenport, a Straight-Friendly reader whom I came to know and care for via email, ended his life last week.

The whole world flipped upside down.

I first met Lee at John Shuck’s place through comments we traded following his post challenging those who classify same-sex orientation as “unnatural.” In it, John quoted a bit from a similar post here and I initially intended to reply with a brief “thank-you” for the honor. But as I scanned the responses, primarily back and forth between Lee and another reader, I wound up diving in head-first. Lee’s remarks clearly identified him as a casualty of religious and family intolerance. I encouraged him to hold fast to hope that those who judged and rejected him so cruelly would eventually realize the truth of God’s love and acceptance for everyone. Wary of hijacking John’s blog after a couple of lengthy exchanges, I suggested we continue our conversation by email. I heard from him within hours.

“Thank you for your comforting words,” he wrote. “I hope I’m one day soon able to be something other than hurt or angry. I’m not able to be something else right now.” He explained why, describing a phone call three days prior from a relative—a profoundly misguided Christian—who expressed anger about Lee’s sexuality so viciously it shook me to tears and nauseated me at the same time. Suffice to say she wished he’d died before being born.

His last few lines broke my heart as it clenched in righteous indignation: “I feel shame for being something so awful that she would resort to such hateful words. So I’ve got a little ways to go before I can hold onto hope. I’ve got to hold on to my sanity first.”

We spent the next few days in a flurry of emails. I prayed over every word I typed in answer to the long, incredibly trusting notes Lee sent explaining his story in fine detail. Rather than spend time trying to condense it, I’ll quote the summary Lisa posted in her tribute to Lee on My Manner of Life:

Lee was dealing with more trials and tribulations than anyone should have to endure all at once. Lost his satisfying journalism job. Got a cancer diagnosis and had to endure hugely expensive chemo treatment without benefit of health insurance … and suffering the government bureaucracy to get disability benefits. Coping with huge financial concerns, lacking a “real job.” The dissolution of his marriage, coming out (first to himself), and dealing with his parents’ Bible-thumping condemnation. Searching – sometimes desperately, it seemed to me – for a lover and partner. It seems like life on every front was fraught with pain and felt hopeless to Lee. And he finally took the ultimate step on Sunday to be delivered from that pain.

There’s more to Lee’s story—traumatic childhood events and shocking blows of adult betrayal—that Lisa tactfully omits. But added to what she includes, the sum comes to a life dogged by repeated abuse and distress. No matter where he stood, it seemed Lee couldn’t escape being targeted by one shattering hardship after another.

Lee’s last email came a few days before he took his life. It was a forwarded collection of silly (and chaste) animal cartoons, which I mistook to indicate his darkness was lifting. One minute earlier, he forwarded video of a sand artist creating a series of tableaux depicting God’s concern and protection for us. In the subject line, Lee wrote, “This is stunningly beautiful 'UNBELIEVABLE'". The piece was called “You’ve Got a Friend”.

His final personal email also contained rising glimmers of hope. He was in the early stages of a potentially loving relationship. Of his new interest, Lee wrote, “He wants to do nothing to destroy what we’re building, and I’m trying to be very patient with him. I know in my heart it will be worth it, as he has so much to give. We both want to give in to what we’re feeling, but we also want desperately not to be hurt. Considering the storms we’ve both weathered, it would be nearly unbearable for both of us.”

Lee talked at length about their plans to introduce one another to their respective best friends and his friend’s trepidation about meeting Lee’s children for the first time. He added:

He's agreed to go to church with us as well, although he has great reservations about it. For one thing, many people at church are aware that I'm seeing someone and that my someone is a man. [He] thinks that means he'll be rejected outright, as rejection has been his only experience with organized religion. (He grew up in the United Methodist Church, and a very conservative faction of it.)

 

Still, he's willing to go. He wants to know the God I know - the God of love and acceptance and understanding. But he's not sure yet that such a God exists. I'm trying to show him that yes, that God surely does exist and that he's accepted and loved by that God, the same God he's always known.

Learning of the abject miseries Lee endured naturally raised questions in my mind about why God willed it so. But my heart always silenced them with reminders He created Lee and put him where he was for a unique purpose. A plan was in place, which we’d understand in the end. And now, the end brings more questions. I don’t know what triggered Lee’s suicide, whether it was a specific disappointment that plummeted him into despair or surrender to the physical and emotional exhaustion from years of bearing such a heavy load. Dan, who knew Lee longer and better than I, in his tribute on Toujours Dan, suspects Lee’s troubles may have been magnified by inadequately treated depression.

Only God knows. He knew all along. In departing so inexplicably and suddenly, though, Lee leaves a sobering last will and testament. He etches the value of life in our minds and scars our hearts with awareness we’re surrounded by wounded souls whose pain is greater than any one person can survive alone. Is this why Lee suffered? To help us see this in such a vividly stark, unforgettable way? It seems like such a paltry return for such relentless sorrow. Yet if we truly allow the meaning of his loss to grip our hearts, we may come to realize God's plan for Lee included reaching all of us. Right now, that's the only sensible reason I can find.

We are one another’s keepers. We must bear each other’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ. We are called with the angels to guard one another in all our ways.

Lee rests in God’s hands. Meanwhile, countless others like him are left in our care. Those assigned to Lee’s safety and wellbeing—particularly the professing Christians—will one day account for failing him so horribly.

We must not fail.

We mourn Lee and pray God’s grace for him, healing for his children and all who loved him, and mercy for those who wronged him. Amen.


Ilana Yahav: You’ve Got a Friend (2009)

15 comments:

Annette said...

Tim,

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. I'm even more sorry that the experiences he had via the hands of "Christians" was so hurtful and painful. I have no idea how people can take the words of Christ--words of love, forgiveness, acceptance, mercy--and twist them into judgment, abuse and damnation. I believe Lee is in his Maker's arms right now, being given the balm of peace and the purest of all love.

In the end, I'm grateful for you and your acts of friendship that so many around you benefit from. You are truly an angel with a heart of gold. May God bless you with knowledge of the good you do in His name.

I adore you!

Annette

Leonardo Ricardo said...

¨Lee rests in God’s hands. Meanwhile, countless others like him are left in our care..¨

That´s exactly as I see it...moreover, that´s my experience and ¨calling¨...my dear Jose was Murdered over ten years ago...for years I was simply confused, befuddled, not blaming God, I put one foot in front of the other...I didn´t know what else to do...I lived not ¨blaming¨ God (there was no one to blame) but still being loved by God even though I didn´t care sometimes if I woke up the next morning or not...God doesn´t kill innoncents (even innocents who kill themselves)...but God expects me, and ¨countless others¨ to give back the view of grace that I have seen...I remain vigilant and try to be of service...up close or from afar.

The pain of living life in REALITY is sometimes/often more of a challenge than some can handle, it´s a HUGE quest...being able to keep in the REAL is a blessing...Lee was courageous until he couldn´t ¨be¨ brave anymore...he apparently needed to ¨rest in Gods hands¨ as he was overwhelmed...he knew where to go.

Lord have mercy

Lisa Fox said...

Thank you, Tim. You've helped me fill in some other dimensions about Lee.

I long ago gave up the deep "Why?" questions. I cannot see that Lee's death had a positive purpose. It just seems like a tragedy. He missed the springtime. He missed the chance for the love he wanted. The rest of us are left to live our lives and -- as Dan, Fran, and you have suggested -- perhaps we will treat our lives and our friends a bit more tenderly and gratefully.

You have a great blog here, and I'm glad I discovered it. You're going a good ministry here.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

So immensely sad! And horrible! What a verdict on us all!

Good job God is little interested in retributive justice, but only in Righteousness!

Else we would all be lost instantly…

Tim said...

Annette, thank you so much for your comment. I think what we've seen here is more than enough to lead us back to the central message of this blog: as GLBT and other alienated believers, we can't afford to wait for "the Church" and "Christians" to overcome their fears and love as Christ commanded. WE must do it. While I join you in reviling those who exploit His name for hatred's sake, more than ever, I encourage all of us to do all we can to counter their efforts by presenting Christ to a hurting world as He truly is. It's our privilege and we must not avoid it or fail.

Lisa, how wonderful to see you here, having just got acquainted with you and your blog as a consequence of Lee's loss. I echo your compliment about S-F: My Manner of Life is a soul's harbor and I plan to point readers here your way. Tragedy of this scale can be redeemed by our banding together ever more tightly to encourage one another to fulfill Christ's law of unconditional, selfless love. I look forward to a long and mutually uplifting friendship!

Göran, you're absolutely right. There is judgment here for us all--not only those who failed Lee. And how fortunate that God is slow to anger, quick to save. We would all be lost instantly, as you say. This horrible occasion brings us to our knees in true penitence. And I pray it brings us off our knees with a greater, ever more incorruptible determination to love and accept everyone as our all-knowing and all-compassionate God loves and accepts us.

Thanks to all of you for honoring Lee with your comments here. I apologize for not responding sooner. Yesterday was a lost day for me, as I sort of spun a cocoon of reflection to try to sort through and absorb the emotions and meanings I needed to find in this sad, sad moment.

I love, appreciate, and respect each of you, and pray God's blessings on us all.

Tim

johnmichael said...

I am sorry for the loss of your friend. May he rest in peace.
I will keep his family in my prayers, I'm sure they are suffering.

Tim said...

John, thank you for this.

My heart grieves for his children in particular. Up to now, observing and sensing their father's turmoils, can not have been easy to understand and handle. This final blow surely will leave permanent damage.

Your prayers--all of our prayers--will be answered, however. And though it's likely we'll never know how God's healing restores their emotional and spiritual health, we must believe it will be done.

Blessings of life and peace to you, my dear brother.

Tim

Lisa Fox said...

Right back at ya, Tim.

I understand your needing to take time from the blogosphere. This is new news to you; I, too, had to take time away. Be gentle with yourself. God loves you beyond your wildest imaginings, as God also loves Lee. And now -- at last -- Lee finally knows that.

genevieve said...

Tim, I prayed for Lee's famly just before posting this. I'm reminded that many in the lgbt community are hurting and need a hug of affirmation and acceptance.

Tim said...

Thank you, Genevieve. Not only those who are shaken by his loss, but also those who contributed to it need our prayers. Even before Lee left us, I prayed for God's Spirit to awaken those around him to obey Christ's command to love and forgive. After this, I pray this all the more.

At one point, when his despondency about his family's rejection (based on religious grounds, mainly) seemed at its worst, I pointed Lee to Psalm 68.6: "God sets the lonely in families." I truly believe that. And I feel it's our responsibility in Christ to be the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers that so many GLBT people have lost to religious and social bigotry. They have a home--and it's in our arms, in the "hug of affirmation and acceptance" you describe.

Somehow, by God's grace, all of us have found love and acceptance we expected from one place in another. We have been truly blessed. We can't afford not to bless others looking for what we've found.

Blessings to you always, and thanks so much for your comment.

Tim

holyfoolishness said...

Thank you for your beautiful and moving post.

Tim said...

Leonardo, Blogger didn't publish your comment as I requested. Fortunately, I have an email copy, so I'm pasting in here:

Leonardo said...

¨Lee rests in God’s hands. Meanwhile, countless others like him are left in our care..¨

That´s exactly as I see it...moreover, that´s my experience and ¨calling¨...my dear Jose was Murdered over ten years ago...for years I was simply confused, befuddled, not blaming God, I put one foot in front of the other...I didn´t know what else to do...I lived not ¨blaming¨ God (there was no one to blame) but still being loved by God even though I didn´t care sometimes if I woke up the next morning or not...God doesn´t kill innoncents (even innocents who kill themselves)...but God expects me, and ¨countless others¨ to give back the view of grace that I have seen...I remain vigilant and try to be of service...up close or from afar.

The pain of living life in REALITY is sometimes/often more of a challenge than some can handle, it´s a HUGE quest...being able to keep in the REAL is a blessing...Lee was courageous until he couldn´t ¨be¨ brave anymore...he apparently needed to ¨rest in Gods hands¨ as he was overwhelmed...he knew where to go.

Lord have mercy

Tim said...

Holyfoolishness, I'm grateful for your comment. More than anything, the post attests to Lee's affect on my life. Despite his abysmal sorrows, he somehow always managed to convey the love and joy of Christ. He moved me in ways I'll never forget.

Leonardo, I share your compassion and outrage for lives like Lee's and Jose's that are heinously stolen by hatred and fear. And I truly admire your determination to do all within your power, "up close or from afar," to protect those suffering mindless abuse and violence. Your example is one we all can learn from and follow. We must speak up. We must reach out. We can't allow one troubled soul to fall victim on our watch. Your passion never ceases to amaze and bless me.

And to you both, I first apologize for the delay on posting your comments. Somehow they weren't forwarded to me immediately and only surfaced a few minutes ago. (In fact, Leonardo, when I checked Sitemeter and noticed you came by, I anticipated you'd comment, but didn't know you had until just now.)

Blessings of love and peace to each of you.

Tim

Kay said...

I knew Lee in high school and just found out that he killed himself through the information on theses blogs. I was shocked.

Tim said...

Kay, as you can see, we were all shocked. How blessed you were to have known Lee in person, as many of us only came to love him through our online conversations with him. He was a valiant man, and though he left us, his legacy lives on.

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope we see more of you!

Blessings,
Tim