Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Bowl

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5.13)

With deepest gratitude to Sylvia Gomez and Jon Duncanson for teaching Walt and me about The Bowl.

Veering Into What?

Though less now than before, we socialize most gay kids alongside straight kids without allowing for differences taking place in their minds and bodies. There’s a reason for this. Humanity needs to reproduce. So gay boys and girls grow up observing rites of passage that reinforce heterosexuality. In America, these include “going steady,” first kisses and dates, school dances, sexual initiation (rounding the bases until you hit a homer), engagement, marriage, childbirth, and restarting the cycle with a new brood of procreators. As a result, the gay youth’s personal circumstances—where he/she lives, family traditions and values, religious upbringing, ethnic background, etc.—seriously impact the point where he/she can veer off this course.

But veering off the beaten path with its clearly marked milestones means veering into what? Gay longings are the same as straight ones—loving companionship, stability, affection, and integrity. Without a proven model to emulate or social and legal bumpers to steer them, many gay people step right out of the closet into the woods. It goes beyond dangers associated with looking for love in wrong places—promiscuity, substance abuse, emotional injury, and so on. When love presents itself, many of us jump in over our heads. We fall too easily and give up far too easily. After a few failed tries, many of us settle for “single life,” which basically means self-imposed loneliness or frequenting places where it's most likely Mr./Ms. Right-Now will drift by. This suggests gay men and women struggle less with finding love than making it last.

Ironclad Reasons

I admit I’m knee-deep in presumptions here. I’ve also not mentioned many straight people wrestle with identical issues and tendencies. I beg forgiveness for this. My intent is not to perpetuate these stereotypes. It’s to guide all of us—gay and straight—away from considering them worthy of us as believers. The wisdom and discipline we gain by following Christ are not to be minimized in how we approach our personal lives. If anything, His principles apply more aptly to our most intimate relationships than anywhere else in our lives. Our relationships' importance to us, our desire to sustain them, and our ability to build them on Scriptural truth give us ironclad reasons to infuse them with faith.

Too often we presume since our partners know us so well, we’re free to indulge lower instincts—our sinful nature—and prevail on their love and forgiveness after the fact. And they may continue to love and forgive us. But every time we wrong them, we build higher walls and set narrower boundaries. We compromise real freedom and ease that make for healthy relationships. This isn’t just reckless of us; it’s contrary to our faith. Galatians 5.13 says, “You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love.” Relationships founded on service in love are relationships that last.

“You Gotta Get a Bowl”

Very quickly, Walt and I gathered the dynamics and stresses common to people in love are fundamentally the same for everyone, regardless of gender or orientation. One is neater than the other. One is more candid. One manages money better. Etc. Hence, the first phase of any relationship is invariably its most fragile and bruising. But especially as a freshly minted gay couple, every time we bumped into each other became a crisis. Our insecurity goaded us to magnify minor mistakes into intentional affronts. As expected, there was a fair share of “Shouldn’t he know this by now?” and “Why would he assume this?” and “This is who I am. Better get used to it.” We wanted our love to last. We just had no idea how to make it last. When we mentioned our anxiety to our friends, Sylvia and Jon, they smiled. “You gotta get a bowl,” Sylvia said. Jon agreed and they told us about the bowl—what it is and how it makes love last.

“People tell you the surest way to stay together is never to go to bed mad. Well, the bowl’s like that, only better,” they said. Here’s what we learned. When two people fall in love, they create a third entity—their union. It’s made from both of them, but it has a life of its own. It becomes the most important thing they share, and both make it their duty to nurture and protect it. “Think of it as a bowl between you guys,” Jon and Sylvia told us. “You need to love that bowl more than anything in life—in particular, more than yourselves.” They explained the bowl’s survival depends on each partner filling it with an act of kindness for the other every day. It’s the motive for the gesture—not its size—that’s important. “There will be plenty of times you won’t feel happy with each other,” they said. “But even if it’s the last thing you do, you don’t let a day pass without doing something nice for the other guy. So what if you don’t love him at that moment? You still love the bowl. You’ve put a lot into it. You want it to last.”

Now, 18 years later, I see Sylvia and Jon taught us the principle in Galatians 5.13. Commitment and intimacy don’t liberate us to give in to whimsy and weakness. They free us to show our commitment to one another in intimate ways. Every day, we add a special act of kindness to the bowl. A candy bar. Doing the dishes. Vacation tickets. An “I love you” Post-It on the mirror. A new car. Size and distinction don’t matter. Our willingness to nurture and protect the bowl is all that counts. Love worth having is worth the effort to make it last.

You gotta get a bowl.

(Tomorrow: Golden Opportunities)


Gary Lewis said...

That was a really great concept the two of you have shared. I love the bowl idea, and when you can take something so conceptual and make it tangible, it has huge long legs.

From the "Straight Front" of "Youth News" in the "Midwest" (No, I don't have any more Quote tickets), I have good news.

Michele and I live a block, literally, from a 3,000 teen, very diverse high school and we're indoctrinating our pre-freshmen boys to root for their future alma mater so we go to a lot of events.

My middle boy London, 9, is going to a Dance Clinic tomorrow where he will learn a routine and perform it at the half of the HS varsity soccer game. He did this two years ago and he was the only young man in a group of 25-30 young ladies. They paired him with a HS dancer whom I reluctantly assume is gay, without any proof. Mannerisms spoke loudly and he quacked like a very cool dancing duck.

Tomorrow's Coach said she expected a good number of younger guys to be there tomorrow. I have also noticed a deeper respect for the guys who come and cheer at games, run the flags after a touchdown, etc.

Maybe it's my community? Maybe it's people becoming more embracing of social differences? Maybe I'm crazy...

But I can say with confidence that I don't think any of the kids I have noticed in the last couple years are still called "Band Fags, Art Fags... Fags."

That is, for the most part. Every school will still have a share of intolerant morons with a bag full of labels.

And yes, this heterosexual Art Fag just found two more quotes :) And you can take that to the bank, just like I do for the mortgage every month!

Tim said...

Gary, the idea sure has worked for us. I've been madder than a hornet at the man, but forcing myself to get something in the bowl invariably put the brakes on my anger. When you have to get past lousy feelings to do your job, feelings become less decisive.

Everywhere I turn, I see progress in our young people of the sort you describe. It's encouraging to see gender and orientation lose their stigma. Without a doubt, this starts with parents like Michele and you teaching your children real values and supporting their endeavors.

But here's the coolest thing about this. Kids learn as much from other kids as they do at home. Your children (and others like them) are teaching those whose parents don't care or promote gender/gay hostility a better way.

As for that duck... You never know. I've got quite a few buddies that quack like ducks but underneath it all are big ol' roosters!

Thanks for this, Gary. It made me glad--and giggle, too!


Cuboid Master said...

Tim, the bowl concept is beautiful. Yet another creative way to apply Scripture to our lives!

I was most taken by the first few paragraphs, however. Your analysis of *why* many gay and lesbian youth dive head-first into sexual excess was excellent. I mean, how can a young gay or lesbian know how to effectively transition into dating when there are no social conventions beyond destructive stereotypes? Add to this the *expectation* issued both within and without the GLBT community that a fresh-out-the-closet kid will be promiscuous, and you have a recipe for disaster...or worse.

It does not need to be that way. As a mother, I don't *want* it to be that way for my son. I believe it is possible to be the most flamboyant and wild gay man on the planet and still honor the body God has given you and the one you love. Most of the gay and lesbian couples I know have been together 10, 20, even 30 years. Yeah, and a few of them are waaaaay over the top, ha-ha, but so what? At the end of the day, they are devoted husbands and wives, very domestic and ho-hum.

My son and I talk a lot about morality. As I see it, the same concepts promoted to heterosexual kids of "How to Navigate the Dating World" apply to homosexual kids. For example, my son and I discuss the importance of self-respect. I tell him he is too precious in the eyes of God for casual affairs, that his body is sacred and worthy of real love. We discuss the challenge of putting off sex until a loving commitment has been made, and we talk frankly about how painful waiting can be.

Most importantly, we discuss the spiritual nature of monogamy. He understands God wants him to devote himself mind, body and soul to his future partner, forsaking all others out of devotion to God and the one he loves. Unfortunately, he is only human. So, like me and everyone else, he may stumble on the journey and some immature so-and-so may break his heart, but he will persevere and find real love. He understands his ability to express love is not a toy but a sacred gift, a gift from God.

Tim, I just discovered your next book: "How to Navigate the Dating World With Christ: A Guide for GLBT Teens." I'll buy the first copy.

claire bangasser said...

Tim, thank you so much for The Bowl idea. I will pass it to my children. From my daughter and her husband, I had learned the idea of the "We", as in taking care of the "We" ...
[oh, right now, from my seat, I see hundreds of swallows getting in formation to fly to Africa...]
But your idea of Bowl turns the We into a real object of beauty and a concrete symbol of belonging :-)
Beautiful, from the beginning to the end.
Thank you.

Tim said...

CM, I wholeheartedly share your concerns about the messages many gay kids have received (or pay attention to) regarding dating, courtship, monogamy, etc.

As with the straight community, we are surrounded with establishments--i.e., bars, clubs, baths--that thrive on the constant search for love and sexual gratification. Many of them purport to "promote" romantic fulfillment. But their atmospheres and the media they serve up tell a different story. When GLBT folks learn how to establish more secure, enduring relationships, it will no doubt sharply reduce the customer base for these joints. I pray God hastens the day.

The difference between straight and gay "singles" venues is largely a matter of concentration. While one can find "straight bars" in virtually every area--if there's a mall, there's a spot--their GLBT counterparts are largely confined to what we affectionately call "gay ghettos." These areas (like Boystown, where Walt and I live) become a sort of wonderland for GLBT kids and imagery feeding the Mr./Ms. Right-Now syndrome spills out of the clubs and into nearly every commercial establishment up and down the streets. With deft skill and no shame, the commercial environment as a whole adds to its patrons' suspicions they can always find someone "better" or "cuter" and there's more than anyone's share to go around. This fosters a toxic sense of relationships as easily disposable and not worth working at. Thus, encouraging GLBT folks to buy into this assures their patronage for big chunks of their lives.

But there is hope. First, when parents like you accept their children's orientation, the focus of the upbringing shifts in the manner you describe. It's not about "changing" them, but strengthening their fiber and understanding of the virtues of making love last. Second, as I mentioned re Gary's response, when this sensibility permeates the younger mind and culture, it will change what society as whole expects of GLBT culture and what it fosters.

CM, God bless you for the passion and dedication you have for raising a healthy, stable young man. When the times comes, I have no doubt he will make one lucky guy very happy indeed!

Blessings always,

Tim said...

Claire, first I must confess some jealousy about the swallows--and your living in France in general. It's our dream to do the same one day.

The "We" and the bowl are basically the same, as you point out. But, for us at least, the image of the bowl heightens our tangible sense of the "We" and strengthens our determination to maintain it. I pray your children also find it an inspiration.

Thanks for your comment. As always, it's an utter joy to hear from you. (And when we're next in France I foresee a long, lovely dinner together somewhere...)

Blessings and joy,

genevieve said...

Tim, I love the analogy with the bowl. When I married my spouse the best piece of advice I ever received was never go to sleep if you're angry with each other. It falls in line with 'the next day is not promised to us'. If something happened to one of us without resolving the issue, the person would have to carry the weight of that the rest of their lives. This advice was shared with us by our pastor in 1980. We still follow that advice today.

Annette said...

Beautiful post and exactly what I needed today...as always. Thank you for feeding me from not only your experience, but the scriptures.

I love the "bowl" concept! It's interesting to note that I've always hated the "don't go to bed angry" thing. Not because I like anger, but because sometimes it's just best to let the disagreement breathe and let your head clear. Most of the time, I find that you wake up terribly humbled with the realization that you could have handled things better, or have curbed your selfishness in some manner. Sometimes, "sleeping on it" works.

But the "bowl" is a GREAT way to ask myself if I've given and strengthened and uplifted my husband. I love the thought of assessing my giving sooner, rather than sorrowing over my selfishness later.

Thank you for your generosity of spirit today!

Love you!

Tim said...

Genevieve, your following the pastor's advice is no doubt a big reason why your love and marriage endures 29 years later. Knowing tomorrow isn't promised to us is crucial in everything we do. I wonder how many people live in regret, knowing they missed their opportunity to do something kind for someone by delaying--and then the other person was taken. It's something to consider.

Then again, Annette, I also see your point. Sometimes we need a bit of time to simmer down, lest in our rush to resolve things, we re-ignite the problem and make it worse. That's the beauty of the bowl. It puts a detour around our emotions, gets us back to self-discipline quicker than we would normally. And what's most amazing about it, I think, is that once we make that detour, we look over our shoulders and bumpy road we avoided taking is already straightening itself out. (Sorry for the strained metaphor...)

How grateful I am for both of you, for your compassion and wisdom and generosity with all of us. I pray added blessings to you both. Thank you.

Peace and joy,

Anonymous said...

My goodness! (Lord, I sound like my grandmother...)

I hopped over here from my reader to let you know how much I appreciated this post, and how I plan to reflect on it and use it in my own relationship.

What a pleasant surprise to find/receive even MORE excellent insight from everyone else and the ensuing dialogue!

So rather than the usual, "Thanks, Tim. That was great!", I'll have to say:

Thanks everyone!

(I think I need to pop over here more often! Anyone know how to subscribe to a blogs comments without leaving one first?)

Tim said...

Jake, as a friend of mine might say, sounding like your grandmother looks good on you!

This has turned out to be a particularly rich dialogue that also helped me greatly. There's so much wisdom floating around this place, it's always a great joy when it sort of settles on a particular post. (Wish I knew what the secret was, I'd write every one that way!)

Speaking of secrets, I don't know how to include comments in the Reader, but I'll do my best to find out and let you know when I find out something.

Thanks for dropping by and adding to this lovely thread. It's all the better now that you're a part of it!

Blessings to you and yours,