Distorted Love: The Toll Of Our Christian Theology On The LGBT Community

Though not my usual fare, I am re-blogging this post because I am so impressed by it’s poignant look at a very real condition. I have long said that the majority of Christianity will have to answer one day to the people that it has turned away from Christ through intolerance. It’s refreshing to see a pastor who’s finally caught on and is sharing the message.

john pavlovitz


Love doesn’t always look like love.

When I published this blog post two weeks ago, I was prepared for some people to applaud it, and for others to condemn it. That’s what happens whenever you put an opinion out there.

I was fully prepared for the waves of both support and hostility that accompany any vantage point on anything, especially a controversial topic like Sexuality. 

What I was not prepared for in any way, were the literally hundreds and hundreds of people who have reached out to me personally, to thank me for bringing some healing and hope to their families. Parents, children, siblings, and adults have confided in me (some for the first time anywhere), telling of the pain, and bullying, and shunning they’re received from churches, pastors, and church members; from professed followers of Jesus.

Scores of people from all over the world have shared with me their…

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Living Through Death

At 7:15 AM on Thursday morning, 12 September 2013, the love of my life closed his eyes and won his 5-year battle with cancer. He will no longer play host to this hellish disease. No more will it eat away and destroy his body. No more hospice workers, medications, blood draws, infusions, scans and probes. Because cancer rendered him incapable of swallowing, no more must he agonize from going over 40 days without nutrition, save small amounts of water misted into his mouth with a squirt bottle so he could just let moisture trickle down his throat. No more will it cause him to worry about those he leaves behind. Yes, James won his fight with cancer, despite the fact it claimed his life.

To know James was to know a man of great faith. He had no fear of death and no fear of dying. He only feared what his death would do to those cherished loved ones he would leave behind. I believe that James won his battle, despite the fact cancer took him from us.  I believe this because, while it took his body, it did not take our love. It did not take our hope. It did not take our memories. It did not take the warmth that stirs in the heart when we think of James. It didn’t erase the impact he had on so many lives nor what he meant to so many people. It didn’t destroy friendships. It didn’t erase the innumerable acts of kindness and charity that James performed throughout his life. It didn’t unrescue all the animals he so compassionately rescued nor his ability to always put others before himself. It didn’t undo the joy that I learned comes from serving the one you love; from giving of yourself completely in order to care for their every need in any way you can.

In October, James and I would have celebrated 22 years together. During the course of these years, James taught me what it truly meant to love others. He provided a daily example of the life and vitality that comes from having a relationship with God – even if you’re gay. Prior to getting too sick to do so, each morning as James would get out of bed, he would walk straight to our bedroom window, raise the blinds, look outside and thank God for another day of life — another day for us to be together and another day to be with Him. By his examples, he taught me so many lessons with no awareness that he was doing so.

iPhone selfie moments after we were married in D.C.

iPhone selfie caught moments after we were married in D.C.

On June 26, when we first heard the news on MSNBC that the Supreme Court had struck down DOMA, James – not feeling too great after a chemo treatment – looked at me from his bed. With tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, he asked me to marry him. It is one of two moments I shall forever cherish. The second was July 29th, when – despite being weak and unusually sick from chemo, James insisted we stick to our plans to fly to Washington D.C. to be married, returning home the same day. Those few minutes it took for Rev. Cedric Harmon to officiate as we exchanged our vows in the shade of a tree on the courthouse lawn are among the best minutes of my life; I have never been so proud. That the events around DOMA unfolded in such a way and a time that James and I could realize our long-held dream of getting married was a blessing and a gift.

The photo of James below was taken in June, when his sister and childhood friend TC were down for a visit. We drove over to Canaveral Seashore, and I managed to capture this shot of James looking out at the water from the safety of the wooden steps leading from the parking lot to the sand. I was pleased because James hated having his photo taken and seldom would let me do it. I think he probably knew it would be one of the last times I’d ask.

As I heal from my grief and begin to refocus my energies back toward photography and building my business here in Central Florida, posts on I Shutter at the Thought! will resume and eventually take on some regularity again. Thank you for your support during what has been a consuming and stressful time. So many of you have reached out to me and offered me words of much needed encouragement, support and prayers. Please know your efforts have sustained me.

"James" [Click the image to enlarge/reduce its size.] Nikon D800, ISO 100, f/2.0 at 1/5000 sec., 50 mm

“James” [Click the image to enlarge/reduce its size.] Nikon D800, ISO 100, f/2.0 at 1/5000 sec., 50 mm

In closing, I include this video from Carly Simon, which I was thrilled to find on YouTube. It is my favorite version of a song I often sang to myself and subjected James to as I cared for him over the last year, when things got so bad. It’s a song about light, for a person who was a light and a beacon for so many.


Find me on Instagram at @EarlHarrisPhoto, where I am posting photos captured and edited solely on my iPhone. If you like cats, I seem to be posting a lot of photos of them there… #instagramcats

Stepping Forward

I received an unexpected email this week from a wonderful friend that has inspired me. She is standing up for what she believes is right by speaking out for those whose voices have been silenced. With her permission, I am sharing that email with you. Aside from being a means to convey some remarkable news with you about my partner’s cancer, it’s a touching example of how our suffering has the potential to help others. It’s further evidence that we can never know how lives may be touched by our own experiences. It’s further evidence of the power of love.

Nikon D300, ISO 500, 1/125 sec at f/22, Nikkor 35 mm

Nikon D300, ISO 500, 1/125 sec at f/22, Nikkor 35 mm

Each month we attend a meeting for our local Scouting District. Tonight, at this months meeting you can only guess what was the topic that has all the Bible-beaters in a tizzy – that Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is considering changing the membership standards to remove restrictions on sexual orientation. One of the speakers was our District Executive, Guy – an employee of the Atlanta Area Council. Guy spoke briefly on the topic basically telling us that nothing would change until BSA’s final decision is made in a few months. But, the Atlanta Area Council wanted feedback from the local Scout leaders. Guy also told us that he would be glad to listen to any input from us leaders…no matter which side of the issue that we we on. I did take him up on that offer.

I said “Guy, I would like to tell you a story about one of my oldest and dearest friends – a man that I have known for more than 30 years. A man of sterling character and high standards. A man with a very strong faith in God. A man that can be described with the words from the Scout Law – Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent….all the values that I want my son to have. A truly GOOD man. Last year I got some devastating news – that he had cancer of the throat. I was absolutely heartbroken that we were going to lose such a good person to such a horrible disease. Then last month, I got a phone call and when I saw the name on the Caller ID my heart stopped, my throat tightened up and my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t want to take the call because I didn’t want to hear the news that I had been fearing and dreading. The expressions on my face had to have been hysterically comical when I was told that an entire team of doctors was flabbergasted, they had NEVER seen a tumor of this type respond to chemotherapy, but his tumor was GONE! Yes, GONE! It can only be described as a MIRACLE! No other explanation – an outright miracle! He was healed by the mercy of God because God deemed him worthy of life….but he can’t be a member of BSA because he’s gay. It’s an archaic and stupid rule that HAS to change and the sooner the better. Please feel free to use my name and tell your Council Executive that both me and my husband are most emphatically in favor of a change in the membership standards.”

Poor Guy – he just stood there all wide-eyed and could only say “Wow! Thanks for sharing that with me….and I’m glad that your friend is going to be OK.” I said “I’m thrilled that he’s going to live longer, but he has always been “OK” and it’s high time that BSA thinks so, too!”

I love you both and am proud to call you my friends.

– Sarena

Isn’t that just awesome? Sometimes you’ve just got to be willing to step forward.

Thank You, Mrs. Fagerberg

How an unexpected kindness altered my life

I have been fortunate to enjoy the holidays in the company of family and friends in Central Florida. Not only was it fabulous to get out of Salt Lake City’s cold temperatures and horribly polluted air, it was a wonderful opportunity to “recharge”, de-stress, and renew some of the most meaningful relationships in my life.

I am blessed with a friendship that was born in 1977 when a high school biology teacher at the school I had just started in a new town took note of my interest in carnivorous plants. She encouraged me to introduce myself to another student who shared my interest. I learned it would be easy to find him, as he happened to spend the lunch break most every day in her classroom. Although this latter fact sounded every nerd alarm my mind could concoct (somehow I failed to see spending every day with a camera around my neck as being nerdy…!), I was intrigued enough want to meet another sophomore who shared my fascination with and cultivation of flesh eating plants. And thus it came about that I met John.

Mrs. Fagerberg - Thanks! Your influence extended far beyond the classroom and will last a lifetime!

I seriously doubt Mrs. Fagerberg had any idea of the impact her introduction would have on the two lives it involved. How could she have known she had just kindled the most enduring, heartfelt and sincere friendship I would treasure from that moment forward? Did she even imagine that she would spark a friendship that would become instrumental in the growth, development and coming to terms with difficult realities in the lives of two young men? Or could it have simply been “Fate” that directed her to suggest our introduction? Our birthdays even turned out to be exactly 1 week apart!

The interest John and I shared in carnivorous plants resulted in a number of expeditions into the swamplands in and around Gainesville to collect the species that at that time were prolific in the area. Sarracenia minor and several varieties of Drosera could be found with relative ease. We even became rather industrious, shipping specimens to other collectors in exchange for non-native varieties to add to our terrariums.

As our friendship and immediate circle of friends grew, so did our discovery of ourselves and who we were. When, at the end of our senior year I was selected to be a foreign exchange student to Austria, the potential of losing touch or growing distant from John was frightening. Yet, upon my return, this fear proved to have been completely unwarranted. I shall never forget the moment John re-entered my life, and exactly how it occurred — but that is another story for another time! Suffice to say that John and I were pretty much inseparable and, even after he moved to Daytona Beach and I to Orlando, there were very few weekends we did not spend together, especially after John moved into what I fondly began to refer to as the “Amityville House”.

As we both succumbed to the demands of adulthood and the obligations it brings, distance began to separate us again when I moved to Los Angeles in 1984. Yet even so, the friendship we shared continued to blossom and grow. I returned to Florida (Orlando) in 1990, and was delighted to discover that where John and I were concerned, it was as though I had never been away.

It has now been almost 35 years since Mrs. Fagerberg introduced me to John. And although I now live in Utah and he is still in the Daytona Beach area, the depth and steadfastness of our friendship remains. I now typically get to spend time with John only once a year, when I travel to Florida to spend Christmas with family. And to my continued delight, he and I are always in step; able to resume our friendship as though another year hasn’t passed with us being so far apart.

John, the biology and botany nerd... but at least he didn't have a pen in his pocket! He did, however, forge new ground with 80's hair post-graduation.

If I could, I’d love to tell Mrs. Fagerberg how her suggestion and introduction set the foundation for a lifetime friendship. I’d like to be able to thank her for being such a wonderfully observant teacher and facilitator of things that have affected and altered my life far more than anything I was to have learned in biology! I suppose it is correct to say that she is the teacher that had the biggest impact on my life, and for that I salute her and all the teachers out there who aren’t afraid to step out of the box, look beyond the textbooks and chalk, and dare to truly make a lasting difference in the lives of their students.

“I salute all the teachers out there who aren’t afraid to step out of the box, look beyond the textbooks and chalk, and dare to truly make a lasting difference in the lives of their students…”