Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Listening to Amy Grant again

Having just written about my past with Amy Grant, I figured it’d be appropriate to listen to her music again, so yesterday I pulled up my Amy Grant albums on Google Play on my phone and headed out for a drive in the gay car with the top down and Amy Grant blaring.

I got as far as the first song on Amy Grant’s first album before I burst out laughing.

“Beautiful Music,” the first song on Amy Grant’s self-titled debut album, wasn’t a song I remembered. Part of what makes this song unmemorable and rather laughable is that its melody so fits in with the 1970s bubblegum pop genre, contrived sugar sweet teenybopper music.

What really killed me, however, were the lyrics.

Fresh-faced and virginal, the teenaged Amy Grant in 1977 was singing to Jesus, “Since you came inside me… I’m hooked on your lovin’.”

Yes, no one wants to be judged years later for choices we made when we were seventeen—I wasn’t much older than Amy Grant when I first had someone come inside me (don’t judge me). “Beautiful Music” isn’t even a song Amy Grant wrote (no, Lanier Ferguson is the one to blame), but oh my God, Amy Grant liked the lyrics well enough to sing them with a straight face.

Amy Grant’s not the only Christian singer to love having Jesus inside her. In “Christian Rock Hard,” a 2009 episode of South Park, Cartman becomes a Christian rock star, and he, like Amy Grant before him, sings to Jesus, “I just want to feel you deep inside me.”

Jesus Christ, South Park didn’t even have to make this shit up. It’s real.

An Amy Grant song that I do still like musically is “Angels,” from her 1984 album Straight Ahead. But, again, the lyrics get me.

If you ask Amy Grant (at least 1984 Amy Grant) what Christianity’s about, she’ll answer that it’s in large part about “Angels watching over me, every move I make, angels watching over me, every step I take!”

That’s a nice comforting “His Eye is on the Sparrow” kind of thought, isn’t it? Have faith, and God and God’s angels will protect you from any “reckless car” by making it “[run] out of gas before it [runs] [your] way.”

Except God doesn’t work that way.

I know I said my last blog entry about Facebook would be my last. I lied. This FB post is such a good illustration of what some Christians believe that I wanted to share it here.

God loves you but if you don’t repost this on Facebook, God will have no choice but to send you to hell.

Don’t believe me? Ask the four girls murdered in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. God protects Amy Grant from runaway cars but God won’t protect innocent girls worshipping in church?

Or google “pastor killed in car crash” and then tell me why the fuck God can spare angels to watch over Amy Grant but not over any of these dead pastors and their families.

Maybe there is an omniscient omnipotent God who works in mysterious ways but we have evidence before us that God does not work as Amy Grant claims in her song about angels.

Another of Amy Grant’s songs does give us a clue as to what Amy Grant’s songs as a whole tell us about God and Jesus. That song is the oh-so-aptly named “Fairytale” from her 1979 album My Father’s Eyes. The melody and Amy Grant’s youthful high pitched singing in this song are about as appealing as the bubblegum “Beautiful Music,” but the lyrics of this song, written by Amy Grant and Brown Bannister, are informative.

 

On the one hand, Amy Grant sings:
My life was just a fairytale.
I was letting an illusion
Come into this heart of mine.

 

While on the other hand, in the same song, she sings:
There’s a world out there that human eyes can never see,
But it’s just within the reach of the heart.
Two princes wage the battle for eternity.
But the victor has been known from the start.

In other words, Amy Grant’s been fooled by fairy tales before, but now, with the tale about the struggle between princes of light and darkness, she just “know[s] this time the story’s true.” You gotta have faith and all that.

I don’t have faith, not in the literal truth of the fairy tales in which evangelical Christians believe.

Fairy tales aren’t all bad, however. Melissa Taylor does a good analysis that provides “8 Reasons Why Fairy Tales are Essential to Childhood.” And of course Joseph Campbell did great work examining the purpose and value of myth. Truth can be found beyond facts.

Indeed it’s only by looking for the truth beyond the facts that I was able to find value in returning to involvement in a church, and it’s only by considering Amy Grant’s music as old familiar fairy tales that I’ll ever be able to listen to any of it again.

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I used to care what Amy Grant thinks of me

When I was a teenager I loved Amy Grant’s music.

Amy Grant (1977)
Amy Grant (1977)
My Father's Eyes (1979)
My Father’s Eyes (1979)
Never Alone (1980)
Never Alone (1980)
Age to Age (1982)
Age to Age (1982)
Straight Ahead (1984)
Straight Ahead (1984)
The Collection (1986)
The Collection (1986)
Lead Me On (1988)
Lead Me On (1988)
Heart in Motion (1991)
Heart in Motion (1991)
Home for Christmas (1992)
Home for Christmas (1992)
A Christmas to Remember (1999)
A Christmas to Remember (1999)
I bought each of her albums as they came out, and I listened to them over and over. It was a rough time in my life, I was lonely, and Amy Grant’s music brought me some comfort as I struggled with something that at times seemed life threatening — yep, figuring how to deal with the fact that I was a big ole queer was a big deal to me then.

I don’t remember for sure where I first heard Amy Grant’s music, but it must have been at my church, Good Shepherd United Methodist* in Mad River Township here in Dayton.

To the left you can see copies of Amy Grant’s various albums that I bought when I was a fan. I was pretty religious about getting every new Amy Grant CD, continuing even after I stopped going to church but eventually tapering off. I skipped 1994’s House of Love and 1997’s Behind the Eyes but I did buy A Christmas to Remember in 1999.

If you were ever an avid Amy Grant fan, you might notice that 1999 was when Amy Grant got divorced, a shocking event that caused many of her devout Christian fans to drop her. However, my no longer buying Amy Grant albums wasn’t because of her divorce—I wasn’t shocked by that and thought it made her more human—it was just that Amy Grant’s music didn’t speak to me as much as it once did.

I’ve still played the two Amy Grant Christmas CDs I own each December, but other than that, I haven’t really thought about her much.

Until yesterday, when I saw a clergy friend (interestingly now that I’m out I have quite a few friends who are clergy) post a link on Facebook to Amy Grant’s first ever interview with the gay press. Of course I and a bunch of other gay Amy Grant fans flocked to read the article—we were all dying to know “how she reconciles Christianity and homosexuality.”

Michael W Smith Project (1983)

Amy Grant’s friend Michael W. Smith was another Christian singer whose music I liked, in part because he was cute.

That he’s now a close friend of Santorum makes me think he won’t be talking to the gay press any time soon.

You see, how Amy Grant reconciles Christianity and homosexuality is something I’ve wanted to know for a long time.

Indeed I wanted to know so much that back in the 80s, after I stopped going to church but while I was still an Amy Grant fan, I wrote her a letter. This was back in pre-WWW days, before many people had email, when you actually had to put your message on paper, stick it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and put it in a mailbox. A disadvantage of those days before email and scanners is that I don’t have a copy of what I wrote, although I remember the gist of it. I know I didn’t use the phrase “How do you reconcile Christianity and homosexuality,” but I did tell Amy Grant that I was gay and I did ask her what she thought of people being gay and Christian.

 

I did get a response to my letter but not from Amy Grant and also not from someone on Amy Grant’s staff. No, the response came from a very compassionate woman, a stranger who found my letter in a seatback pocket on an airplane, where Amy Grant or one of her assistants had left my letter, probably by accident. This woman didn’t know me or Amy Grant, but after reading my letter, she felt compelled to write to me because she said she could feel my pain. She wanted me to know what had happened to my letter and, more importantly, to know that she would pray for me in the hopes that God would heal me and help me to leave the homosexual lifestyle.

God must not have heard that stranger’s prayers for me because God never healed me of my homosexuality, and instead of leaving the homosexual lifestyle, I embraced it, coming out and realizing that if there is a God, God loves me for who I am, including being gay. I was cured of something though, cured for the most part of internalized homophobia, cured of caring whether others, including Amy Grant, approved of me despite my being gay.

I don’t know what I expected when I read Amy Grant’s interview with PrideSource. I guess I was hoping, knowing that Amy Grant had no ground on which to stand about the sanctity of marriage, that the reason she finally wanted to talk about teh gayz was because she wanted to come out, as so many others have recently, in favor of marriage equality.

Amy Grant declined to take a position on marriage equality, either pro or con, instead saying “I never talk about anything like that.” She didn’t say anything overtly offensive in her first gay interview, sticking mainly to “a message of honesty and welcoming,” saying that “you can either default to judgment or you can default to compassion” and acknowledging that she knows “that the religious community has not been very welcoming.”

Nevertheless something in Amy Grant’s careful interview—in which she tried not to offend anyone and stressed that “everybody is welcome” on “the journey of faith” towards having “a relationship with God”—did strike me as language I’d heard before.

I had friends in high school who eventually said, “I’m living a gay lifestyle.”
— Amy Grant, PrideSource, issue 2116, 4/23/2013
And what was it that I’d heard before? A conservative Christian’s favorite term when it comes to teh gayz: lifestyle.

Amy Grant tells us that she “had friends in high school who eventually said, ‘I’m living a gay lifestyle,’” to which I say, no, you didn’t.

I wouldn’t say that Amy Grant was intentionally lying, and I do believe that she had gay high school friends come out to her, but I don’t believe they said, “Amy, I need to tell you something. I’m living a gay lifestyle.

Unless we’re still desperately trying to leave it, “lifestyle” is not a word we queers use. No, we just think we have lives just like everyone else does.

But conservative Christians sure do love the word “lifestyle.” Are you struggling with same sex attractions? Google “leaving the gay lifestyle” and you’ll find tons of compassionate people willing to help you.

Amy Grant was probably just paraphrasing when she talked of friends telling her they were living a gay lifestyle. Despite her use of the term again at another point in the interview, talking about the ACLU’s first openly gay executive director, Anthony Romero, whom Amy Grant “felt so changed by” but who has a “very different lifestyle” from hers, given the lengths to which she went to stress being compassionate and loving and welcoming and to avoid being judgmental, I shouldn’t read too much into Amy Grant’s choice of words.

Why shouldn’t I? Because what Amy Grant thinks doesn’t really matter. I didn’t care two days ago, before I knew she was talking to the gayz. So why should it matter two days later? Maybe Amy Grant, living in what some would call an adulterous relationship, has no problem with gay people also finding love but is afraid to say so in so many words. Or perhaps instead “lifestyle” really is hidden code for what Amy Grant thinks of me.

Either way I’m living a gay lifestyle and I’m happy with it.

Good Shepherd United Methodist Church *About Good Shepherd United Methodist Church: My mother, my sister and I went to this church while we lived in Forest Ridge. It was a small church, originally part of the EUB, something older members of the congregation still remembered although the 1968 merger with the Methodists was before my time.

I never felt unsafe there, well aside from the time I was inducted into the youth fellowship group via a staged kidnapping when I answered the doorbell at home to find people on my front porch in masks who pulled me outside, put a bag over my head, and pushed me into a van that took us away. Kind of a scary thing to do to a child of divorced parents. Ended up at church where the rest of the older kids already in the youth group were there to greet me.

Except for that poorly thought out incident, Good Shepherd was a fairly safe haven for a young nerdy closeted fag. Nothing overtly anti-gay came from the pulpit there, and I had some friends, of sorts, including a girl who told me in the pews once that I had a nice singing voice (and who once also called me “faggot!” along with other kids as I got on our school bus carrying my books clasped to my chest as only girls were supposed to).

I was popular enough my senior year to become president of Good Shepherd’s youth group, or perhaps instead of my being especially popular, it was that I was willing to take the job, although I didn’t keep it long, coming to the conclusion later that year that I couldn’t be gay and be Christian and thus deciding to stop doing church. Where’d I get such an idea? The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, which declared back then and still declares thirty fucking years later that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

Good Shepherd is now closed, as of December 30, 2011, according to the latest Miami Valley District directory of churches. At some point in the last decade, Good Shepherd operated as Good Shepherd Community Church, affilliated both with the United Methodists as well as the Presbyterians (the Presbytery of the Miami Valley still has a webpage, albeit a rather sparse one, for Good Shepherd).

 
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