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Leaving for the YOBBERS retreat late on a Thursday night was an escape. I wanted to get away from the chaos and stress that had defined my life. I wanted to find rest, but not the kind that satisfies in the moment. No, it was much more than that. I wanted to find the rest that God provides, such that defies all logic and understanding. If it took flying all the way across the country to seek where the Lord would teach me about that kind of rest, I would gladly do it again in a heartbeat.
When you are 60, you'd think that you no longer experience growth spurts. It's more recognizing life's process of devolution and slow decay, at least on the outside. This year’s YOBBERS retreat was not about expecting profound change, or gaining insights into myself and God that I would carry home; rather, it was seizing an opportunity to meet a group of men with whom I had dialogued, listened to, and only seen in postage stamp-sized pictures on Zoom – men of faith who share a common struggle to live the sexual ethic of the Gospels as they understand it.
It was surreal meeting brothers who I know better than many of my closest friends. We went from Zoom calls and private messages to meeting and communicating in person for the first time. I've been on many Christian retreats, and I have to say this one was spent with the kindest men. We shared a common experience as gay/SSA men, along with a real sense that each of us wanted to give all the other men a respite from the daily trials of life, if even for two days.
I guess we're really doing this again, I thought, this whole retreat thing. Is this officially an annual event now? Can I handle that? Goodness, can I really put on a retreat every year for the rest of my life? Or need I only focus on this year's retreat, letting tomorrow's retreat worry for itself? I entered this fourth camp retreat in perhaps my most unhealthy headspace of the four. I felt rushed in the preparation, behind on all the decor and planning which led to a lot of sacrificed self-care, too. Because how can I sleep or eat or exercise or socialize at the same capacity with such a mammoth task at hand?!
Beyond its romantic, mysterious plot-line, Love, Simon is an exploration of queer adolescence in the 21st century, complete with social media postings and aliases. The coming out experience lies central to the story, as Simon explores the new terrain of his sexuality with friends, family, and his entire school. I'd love all straight people – straight Christians – to watch Love, Simon, because it will show them how gut-wrenching (and also beautiful) the coming out process is for a gay person: of finally letting another human into the biggest secret of one's life.
How many of us have decided not to come out to our fathers because we knew it wouldn't go well? How many have been wrestling with the idea of telling our fathers for fear of the unknown? And how many of us have already come out to our fathers, a topic never again spoken about?
Although the teasing continued for the rest of the school year, I honestly learned to ignore it. I became a recluse at a very young age. This reclusiveness made the other kids – especially the other boys – a bit of a mystery to me. Particularly physically. Looking back, I realize I was in a bit of a paradox: I didn't want the other boys to see any of my body, but I also had somewhat of an interest in theirs.
All the other gay films I'd watched were nice, but this was the first gay film I watched and thought: I wish I knew what it was like to be in a relationship. All the other men I've ended up with were only about sex. I didn't care about them or their feelings, much like the son at the beginning of this film. This film brought up feelings I never knew I even had or wanted, for that matter.
Fours are emotional creatures. We feel things. We feel things deeply and often. A leaky faucet doesn't do the metaphor justice; my heart feels more like a fire hydrant turned loose on a city street. Handling the hydrant has challenged me my whole life, but especially these last few years. I've seen some success. And I also recognize how much room I have yet to grow.