Sunday, September 23, 2012

Must Read Memoir by Kelly Barth

I went to church yesterday.  Not in the literal, time honored sense, but I finished a book I've been reading and felt as if I had been to church.  The book is ironically named My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus by Kelly Barth.  Told with sincerity, honesty, and humor, this memoir could have been my life on so many levels - not so much in specific details, but in many of the passages Barth traveled on her journey as a gay woman of faith.  I like that better than describing her as a woman of faith coming to grips with her gayness. For while she hesitated to publicly acknowledge it, she always knew she was gay.  Her journey was in discovering how to reconcile that fact with a faith that went through so many permutations, only she and "Imaginary Jesus" could really discover the truth and substance of that faith. 

As I've been reflecting on the book last night and this morning, I've chuckled again at Kelly's ability to describe her experiences with a humor that avoids insipid superficiality.  And admirably, for this reader, she is able to reconcile both her sexuality and her spirituality with a depth that defies many of the more shallow memoirs I have read of late.

Perhaps the most touching moment in the book for me was after she "came out" to her parents, and met with them for the first time after that revelation in her childhood home.  The image of her parents with their "powerful" clipboards of questions, Kelly sitting as a dutiful child in a chair where they "both could see her," and the clinical, yet far more tender way these two parents attempted to both understand and respectfully protect their child after having received news that no doubt turned their world upside down is one of the most moving moments of the entire memoir.  For these parents, nothing changed the fact that they loved their child, and no matter how their previous acts or words may have indicated otherwise and how unsettling the news may have been for them, they ultimately wanted only that their daughter know that she was loved and accepted.  "'You're ours and we love you. Nothing wrong. We just go on from here.' . . . Daddy picked up his clipboard, found a clear sheet of paper, and started a letter to Lisa, welcoming her to the family."

Acceptance by my own family and close friends - many of whom I feared simply wouldn't be able to make the leap - was very similar. As was my partner's.  I had worried overmuch about their reactions and potential rejections. My therapist even suggested that perhaps I didn't give my parents enough credit.  I'm not naive enough to believe all people are so lucky in their coming out experiences.  I know they aren't and that lack of family acceptance is one of the key causes of suicide among LGBT teens.  Perhaps we "late bloomers" have a greater capacity for dealing with the ramifications, or maybe we are just fortunate to have the families we have.  

I'll not say more on the book because I could not possibly do it justice. But this I will say, this book isn't just for gay people of faith - although, it will speak deeply to them.  It is not just for families of gay people of faith.  This is a book that anyone on a faith journey should read.  It is a book about a person. Someone with an aspect of their personhood that isn't readily accepted by everyone else - yes.  But isn't that true of us all?

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