February 9th, 2011 / 4:07 pm

“I wish my soul were larger than it is.”

Someone asked me today whether I would be sad if I published (x) book and it alienated people from my community of origin, lost me their affection, etc. (I was raised a Southern Baptist, attended an extreme fundamentalist Christian school where many of the faculty were educated at places like Bob Jones University for the fourteen years preceding college, broke from those places to become an associate pastor in a more moderate tradition briefly after college, worked briefly in religious publishing, finally gave all of it up entirely, and I haven’t believed in god for almost ten years now.)  I said that the only time I hear from most people from that time is when I publish something they don’t like & then they reach out “in love” to express displeasure and offer correction. Those who really love me, I said, have been in my life all along, regardless of whether or not they disagreed with me. My friend said he was in a similar place in life as me, but that it wasn’t worth it for him to lose the affection of those who have been in his life since he was a child, especially members of his family. He said he feared other consequences, too — loss of opportunity at work, possibly the loss of his job, possibly even the loss of his wife and children. He said he had resigned himself to live a double life for the rest of his life, or at least until he was financially secure and his children were grown. So he would be one person in the private place where he lived with his thoughts and in the private life he kept secret from those closest to him, and another person in the public place where he lived most of his life and in his own home, around his family. Part of this idea is repugnant to me — it’s a lifelong lie he’s decided to live, right? But I also understand his choice. I fear that one day my parents will no longer speak with me because of my choices, and already I feel the loss of friendships that were once dear and important to me.

The book I’ll publish that will probably cause me a greater disruption of those relationships is a nonfiction account of the life of my childhood pastor who came out as a gay man and lost pretty much everything. The more I learn about his story, the more I identify, strongly, with what I’m learning is a condition common to gay people of all stripes. I think our culture is changing to become generally more accepting, but the pronouncement of a simple truth — I am attracted to people of the same sex and desire sexual relationships with them as a condition of my happiness — has cost gay people, especially those of the generation preceding mine, so much that many have chosen to live a similar double life. I can’t condemn them for it. However repugnant you might find the attitudes you find among your community of origin, it’s the only one you’ll ever have, and you’ll always crave the acceptance of those whose acceptance you craved early in life.

A hallmark of the kind of adult maturity to which I aspire is the acceptance of these kinds of difficult things, and a cultivation of a way of being in the world that allows them to exist in tension without undoing any chance at happiness. I wish for friends as dear as I once imagined my old friends held me. I wish, too, for a way to reconcile with old friends I’ve lost. I can see a future ahead that is full of contradictions and uglinesses, but also good relationships, comings-to-understandings, newfound pathways to decency. I want to believe these things are possible and then work to make them possible. In the words of the narrator of Andrew Hudgins’s “Heat Lightning in a Time of Drought”: “I wish my soul were larger than it is.” Maybe it can be.


  1. Tracy Lucas

      I can relate to so much of this. Very similar background, very same complaints. I still believe in my own version of God, but differently now by far than the one I was raised with. I don’t even think it’s the same guy.
      My personality has been eeking out in fits and starts, more so in some social web places than others, but I always have that niggle in the back of my head that they’re watching, they’re judging, they’re very disappointed. I’ve fought long and hard not to care, but it’s still an everyday battle.

  2. Jonathan

      It’s been interesting for me to observe – mostly from afar – the gradual evolution of my father’s Christianity over the eleven years it’s been since I told him I would no longer be attending the small Evangelical church he was pastor of in Moanalua, Hawaii at the time.

      This certainly isn’t a change I’d be comfortable taking sole responsibility for (I remember being brought to something called a “Harvest Crusade” one year in Philadelphia at which Billy Graham gave the keynote speech [and at which former Philadelphia Eagle Reggie White also spoke, beginning with the news that fellow defensive-lineman Jerome Brown had been killed in a car accident that day — kind of a cheap rhetorical ploy, I’ve always thought, as this was before people received news of tragedy in real-time, and his announcement elicited the only thunderous gasp I recall being present for], and even a decade back my dad was already putting distance between himself and that kind of extreme fundamentalism), but I do think that part of the ongoing development of his convictions has been a desire to reconcile his beliefs with his love for a son who doesn’t share them.

      The God he once believed in was very similar to Milton’s (the “Torture Monster,” in William Empson’s formulation); in Paradise Lost, of course, God’s self-contradicting stance is that man has been given the “freedom” to choose salvation or damnation, so that in the event he chooses poorly, the responsibility for his eternal punishment isn’t God’s, but his. It’s fine for man to exercise his freedom not to choose what God has already determined that he must; there will be consequences, though, for which you can’t blame God.

      So I think this cosmology became a whole lot more difficult for my dad to stomach when its most immediate implication for him became the infinite suffering of his firstborn son at the hands of a God he’d always equated with Love. I’m not exactly sure what he thinks about eternity these days – we don’t talk all that much – but I suspect he’s shifted towards the humanism of C.S. Lewis’s “Why I am a Christian” and done his best to simply accept his son’s siding with Bertrand Russell, who famously explained why he is not.

      Anyway, this was another excellent post, Kyle. Thanks as always.

  3. deadgod

      That Hudgins poem has a strong Waste Land feel:

      If there were the sound of water only
      Not the cicada
      And dry grass singing
      But sound of water over a rock

      I also thought, in a less anguished way, of the io voglio una donna (‘I want a woman’) scene in Amarcord: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au02p8huOuU . (Unhappily, the clip stops before the scene’s punchline . . .)

  4. c2k

      Hah hah. I love that scene.

      The final line in the Hudgins poem – quoted in the title of this post – strikes me as an addendum. The rest of it is not bad.

  5. Kyle Minor

      It doesn’t strike me as an addendum. The abstraction is more than earned after three pages of narrative/image/metaphor/complicated juxtaposition. Cutting it would be akin to striking “I have wasted my life” from James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock.”

  6. c2k

      The abstraction is more than earned after three pages…

      Well, I obviously disagree, but I understand your point.

      “Lying in a Hammock” is far shorter and the tone so very different that Wright’s final line has a power that Hudgins’s doesn’t. To me at least.

  7. deadgod

      Well, the Hudgins line is calm, prosy. Nothing like the inward blast detonated by Rilke:

      […]: for there is no place
      That does not see you. You must change your life.

      But look again at the mood of the “I”: worn out, sweating and dessicated both, fending/attending the wolf in its hour. For me, it’s an earned enigma.

  8. Kyle Minor

      That’s true. Poetry can do more than one thing. The place the Hudgins poem ends reveals something very different about the speaker than the ending of the Rilke poem does, even though there are commonalities in the path from here to there. One is fierce, the other is passive and resigned. I’m glad to have both.

  9. c2k

      Okay – but to me those final aberrant lines in “Lying in a Hammock” and “Archaic Torso” are artfully delivered – with the length of Rilke’s poem similar to Wright’s not being coincidental.

      “Heat Lightning in a Time of Drought,” conversely, is an outward blast – mostly, not entirely – with an inwardly calm final line, as you point out, and that, combined with the poem’s significant length, delivers an incongruence that nearly undermines an otherwise good poem, for me, although will give additional reads to each.

  10. c2k

      What do you think about the fact that what is revealed in the Hudgin’s poem, in its final line, is that the speaker desires a larger soul – specifically a “soul”, suddenly?

  11. Valnieman

      “Cultivation of a way of being in the world that allows them to exist in tension without undoing any chance at happiness.” An outcome devoutly to be wished. Thanks for the post, Kyle.

  12. mjm

      Is it not possible to not believe in the god you were presented with and begin realizing that there is actually god out there in the universe, and it is called the universe, and our minds cannot fathom the way things can actually live? Man… being godless is a quite terrible thing. You miss out on so much as most people who lose god lose spirituality and forget the many layers of this weird thing we exist in called reality. There is much more to the universe than it seems you are giving it credit for, and the universe exists not as some vacuum that is simply checks and balances, acting and reacting. It is a conversation. But whatever, most people are just stuck in this manufactured bubble you think is the real world. And you’ll keep doing what you’re doing and not think you’re missing a thing. It is okay. God still loves you. And as writers, it should be pretty easy to understand that I can say God loves you and not mean whatever God has been manufactured for you.

  13. Cheryl

      Wows. Dis is some reductive bool-sheet.

  14. deadgod

      I wish quantity were more soulful than it is.