Changing Devotions and Perspectives – part 1
Tony Dillon-Hansen -May 2014
Question was posed for the Deacons of Plymouth Church: “What was God in your life in your youth; what changed; and what is God calling you to do today?” As the question asks about experiences and how they have changed, God, in this context, can be described as religion, faith or the omnipotent being that one might call a deity. A wide breadth of change in faith is most certainly the case for me. The wealth of positive and negative memories and experiences of my life to this question reverberated, and so, I pick to split an answer to the question into two parts. This part will reminisce of the past youthful gaze and also consider what has changed especially how I found myself in constant quarrel with religion and my sexuality.
During my childhood, I was raised as a regular, Mass-attending Catholic from a devoted Catholic family that also had strong ties to Missouri Synod Lutheran via my dad’s side of the family. Religion was never a delicate subject in the house, and church was a place of sincere reverence and worship. Attendance was not optional, and I personally witnessed how important one’s religion was. This was revealed to me at a young age when I tried to tell my dad’s mother (strong Lutheran) about our first confession and communion catechism, but Dad suggested that Grandma would rather not be reminded that her grandchildren were Catholic.
I remember vividly considering an awe of priesthood, and remembering the premise of the teachings that spoke of love, honesty, compassion, non-violence, service to the community and of leading a “good-life” that is the core of the Catholic teachings. With personal strong feelings of loyalty and willingness to serve, I thought that God might be calling me to the vows of Holy Orders. Therefore, I was dutiful to the Church as an altar boy and then in high school, my duties included cantor and reading scriptures at Mass.
Yet, there was something different about me in comparison to the teachings as I began to realize my attractions did not follow what seemed to be expected of me as a young man. I was not immediately attracted to girls and wanted so much to be a model son for my family but immediately felt guilty by my mysterious sexuality. I could not why understand those feelings were so considered disgusting and vial by many leaders in the Church because those feelings were no less the reality of my being. I was at pains to ignore them for fear of discovery or worse for disgracing my parents.
During college, there was an effort to stay involved with the Church, but that soon changed for a variety of reasons (e.g. attending regular Mass was not convenient anymore, new town, and changing feelings in general). At this time, I started finding myself aligning with members of the college gay union (UI GLBTU) and studying martial arts. Many would be asking why a person would hold onto such convictions and devotion to a Church that denied the one’s very existence. That was crushing, and especially when members of the family learned of my apparent change of hearts, the extended family quickly labeled me as supposedly inferior and unworthy.
All of the good nature espoused by the Church and all of the good will that God was supposed to be was utter hypocrisy. Words were used at me, lies told against me, and manipulations of religion as fictitious evidence was destructive to me and my family. A massive collision of faith, family and personal struggle lead to me truly understand bitterness and hate.
Yet, I pursued an aspect of martial arts via the underlying teachings of the techniques. While my skill and technique grew, I found strength in the new abilities and also in the philosophies from Taoists and Buddhists, like Alan Watts. Partially in my mind, I was trying to understand how these correspond to my home in Catholic teachings, which they share many ideals despite their differences about religion. What these philosophies would do was to show me a way to meditate and to lessen the hate or bitterness that I developed. These philosophies also did not seem to ignore the natural way of the world.
I found solace in the meditations and learned better ways of connecting experiences instead of through bitterness. Natural logic of the cosmos and infinity of what we do not know had a path. These no longer required to be controlled, and God was no longer the conjured image of an old, wise man sitting on a throne with perfect plans. There was a natural order to things, but the presence of thought and action rested securely with the person conducting them. Focus turns into the betterment of oneself.
Yet, I struggled because I was essentially exiled from the Church with strong animosity towards those that professed good but proceeded to inflict great harm on others in the name of a supposedly “Holy one.” The “holiness” of religion was ridiculed by this, and I turned to despair about any existence as a bag of ego and lies.
I rejected organized religion as a whole and the aspects therein, especially as these parts of society sought to push their sinister hypocrisy upon the whole of our legal system by conscientiously denying equal protections or even the right to marry the one we love.
The loving and compassionate God I learned about in youth was either a far-flung illusion or God was being mocked by what these people were doing and professing. There are a number of people that share this exact sentiment.
Yes, Christianity and Buddhism have perceptible differences of perspective, but they have in them core considerations of what all people seek: to find and to be peace. The leaders of organized religion seemed too often interested in disturbing that peace.