Quaker Theology #14

The Importance of Context

Joe Franko

"He has brought me to his banquet hall
and his banner over me is love."
Ė Song of Songs 2:4

"This is just my opinion. I could be wrong."
        -- Gay Spirituality by Toby Johnson

Above my desk as I write, there is a statue of a horse, a blue horse, a cheap, thoroughly plastic, nondescript thing. When my son deals with the cleaning out of my house after I have moved on, he will see only something to sell for a quarter or fifty cents in the inevitable garage sale dispersal of the physical remains of my life. He will not give it a secondís glance. He will not know that I bought this horse in Arizona on a trip made to bury, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the ashes of one of my closest friends, Shar. Every time I look at it Iím reminded of her and our final trip together. My son will see only a cheap plastic horse. There are other things that will be important for him to keep, but not the horse.

Context is important. You should know that I am a gay, 60 years old, grandfather, trail runner, hang glider pilot and mathematician for whom the real world is sometimes puzzlement and all the time a wonder. Iíve been a Quaker now for about 40 years, coming into the Society of Friends through Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and am now a member of Pacific Yearly Meeting and Orange Grove Monthly Meeting.

I write this with some trepidation. It will be another coming out story for me. Forty years ago I came out as gay. This is my coming out story as a Christian. Iím not sure which has been a more difficult road. I didnít walk down either path by choice. As a younger man I thought it was all by choice. Looking back on things now it seems that all the really important things in my life were only choices about timing and not about the journey.

Iím fond of telling the kids in my campus gay group that they always have a choice about when to come out, but that life will continue to press them to reveal who they really are. Itís how youíre quite certain youíre gay. It wonít go away. Each time you deny it, it diminishes you. Thatís what the Christian right never quite gets. Every denial is a diminishment. Every denial is a chance to add to the store of self-hatred. Every missed opportunity for disclosure is a missed opportunity to be who I really am with those I really love. Coming out is about letting others know you truly love and trust them.

The irony of it is that every denial of my gayness is also a denial of an authentic relationship with God. Who can hide from God? Who can run from the hound of heaven that pursues us and seeks to be our beloved? What shall I answer to a God who seeks me behind every corner and demands openness to his love?

I get ahead of myself. Let me return to context. I am a mathematician. I have loved mathematics all my life. I was the kid in the cafeteria who did math problems and puzzles for fun. In the tenth grade I fell in love with mathematics in high school geometry. I got a "C" in first year algebra! But six weeks into geometry a light came on. I saw a beautiful world of Platonic forms. Proofs, the bugaboo of high school math students, came to me effortlessly. I found beauty and elegance in the shortest possible proof of a thing. I wound up writing a perfect regents exam, a thing I am still proud of 50 years later! I am thoroughly a mathematician.

Context is important. You also need to know that my home life was chaotic. My mother was a prostitute and my father was an unskilled, illiterate, laborer who left school at the age of 12 to dig ditches to help support his family. He was 9 when his family came here from Italy. We were nominally Catholic but the police were over at the house a few times a year to deal with the chaos. I saw my father run after my mother with an axe. He broke my motherís jaw. My twin sister took off after my father with a knife. She was raped multiple times by my uncle. My mother was in and out of mental hospitals with what would have been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. We were on welfare most of my growing up.

There are lots of stories here I could tell you, but the only one important at this point in my life is the beauty I found in a platonic world. I found in mathematics a perfect world without pain, perfectly structured and inevitable. One only had to choose the right axioms and postulates and the system was perfectly consistent. It would be years before I discovered GŲdelís Theorem, which brought the whole damn structure down!

[Ed. Note: "GŲdelís first incompleteness theorem, perhaps the single most celebrated result in mathematical logic, states that: For any consistent formal, computably enumerable theory that proves basic arithmetical truths, an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory, can be constructed. That is, any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. There is much more to it, of course, and for further exploration, the reader would do well to begin with the Wikipedia entry on the Theorem, which is at:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6delís_incompleteness_theorem ]

A few years after discovering geometry, I became an atheist. I could not believe in a God who would allow sisters to be raped and parents to be violent to each other. Only a sadistic God would allow such a thing. So I denied God and if he existed, after I died I would spit in his face. I would gladly march into hell rather than be with a God who would create such a world. Plato replaced God and it would be years before I realized we are co-creators of this world. It was only a few years later, though, that I realized how little trust I should place in our government.

I bought the argument our government gave us about Viet Nam. I bought it so much I enlisted in the Navy and was assigned, eventually, to the USS OíBrien, a destroyer. I thought I was saving the world for democracy. Then I met Rick Thompson, a Quaker from Iowa. After his graduation from Iowa State University, Rick at first went to Washington DC, but then decided in late spring of 1972 to go to Viet Nam to work at the rehab center in Quang Ngai (an AFSC program).

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