Being effeminate

Years ago, while living with my grandparents for a short time, my grandfather and I were driving home from work when he took the opportunity to bring up some things about me that he had issue with. As he drove, he lectured me about helping them out more financially before getting to the heart of what he really wanted to talk about.

He started by telling me I needed a hair cut. I had been letting my hair get sort of long. It wasn’t even shoulder length, but was several inches long on the top and sides. Although having short hair was a requirement for men in the Holiness faith, this wasn’t exactly the reason he brought it up. As he talked, he recalled a verse in the Bible about being effeminate.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Now we were getting to the root of his issue with my hair. It wasn’t just that it was longer than normal for men in our tradition, it was that he thought I was trying to look like a woman (I was really trying to look like Michael Jackson, but whatever).

Not sure how to respond, I brought up two highly-respected men in the Holiness community who were very effeminate. Both had soft voices, had never married or exhibited any interest in women, and were perfectly manicured. “No,” he said, “They are just different.”

I began to get angry, more at his refusal to admit these men fit the very definition of effeminate than at his insistence that I did. Surely he could see what I saw, but just refused to accept it because these men claimed to be holy. My anger took a more personal slant when he told me I was being a bad influence on the younger males in our church. I realized this talk we were having was more about his fear of me being gay than the length of my hair.

When I get mad, I usually clam up and stew in it. That means I have to find other ways of releasing my anger. When we arrived home and he finished belittling me, I decided to go for a walk. I removed the cap I normally wore to work and let the wind blow through my hair as I journeyed down the country road in front of our house. I always loved the feeling of having my hair in my face, so I enjoyed it as long as possible. Then I returned home, grabbed the clippers, and shaved my head in the bathroom. From my perspective, this was an act of rebellion. If I couldn’t have long hair, I would have barely any hair at all.

After showering and getting dressed for church, I walked into the kitchen. My rebellious act wasn’t seen as such, but was embraced as me having finally seen the light. Both of my grandparents exclaimed how much better I looked, but the damage was done. I knew I no longer wanted to live with them, and I moved out a few weeks later.

It is worth noting that a couple of years later while visiting a local gay bar, I bumped into one of the effeminate Holiness men that I had mentioned to my grandfather during our conversation. That was definitely an enjoyable moment for me.

The other man never married, but maintained a close relationship with a single Holiness preacher. Apparently they traveled around the country together and often slept in the same bed. Maybe they were in love, maybe they weren’t. It was a long time ago and doesn’t really matter anymore since they have both passed away.

So, what does that verse in Corinthians really mean? I don’t know. Some newer translations have changed it to “men who have sex with men,” but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the Apostle Paul just had a problem with women, and by extension, men who looked or acted like women.

Misogynistic, if you ask me.

More money than sense

So… I just paid $50 for a compact disc. It’s a rare one, but good grief.

My journey toward this purchase began a long time ago when I first heard the delightful “One Of Us” by Joan Osborne. The album version begins with an a cappella version of a southern-sounding gospel song titled “The Aeroplane Ride.” It is at once whimsical and slightly disturbing.

I didn’t think much more about it until recently when I began adding some of my CD collection to Google Music in order to stream songs from my phone in the car and at work. “One Of Us” was a natural selection for my “Awesome Songs” playlist, and I was again immediately drawn to the catchy intro. My curiosity about the lyrics and the singer drove me to look online, where I quickly discovered the sample Joan Osborne used was from an original recording by Nell Hampton in 1937. It also turns out the song originated in the Holiness movement, and was recorded in Salyersville, Kentucky. Is it any wonder I am so taken by it?

Disappointment set in when I read that the album Hampton’s version appeared on, “The Gospel Ship: Baptist Hymns & White Spirituals from the Southern Mountains,” is no longer available from New World Records. Not being one to give up easily when it comes to music, I tracked down a few used copies of the CD on Amazon, and a vinyl copy on Etsy. The prices on Amazon were staggering, ranging from $50 to well over $200. Etsy was far more reasonable at a mere $5, but I have no way of getting the songs from a record to my computer, and I figured by the time I purchased a record player and software to convert it to a digital format, I would be out well over $50. The lowest priced CD on Amazon was looking more and more like my best option, so I bought it.

It better be awesome.

Growing up Holiness

And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. – Isaiah 35:8 (NIV)

The small Holiness church I grew up in had cement block walls lined with single-pane windows along each side, two plain wooden doors at the front, and a modest parsonage at the rear. Inside, bare bulbs dangled over harsh wooden pews and a cement floor that was often moist with condensation. A sturdy lectern stood in the middle of a small stage at the front of the sanctuary, and a long altar for kneeling and praying stretched across the space between the stage and the pews. I’m not sure which was more plain – the building or the people it inhabited.

Our church was founded when some members left a local Pentecostal Holiness church to begin their own. Our new church would be known as Free Holiness Church, although the word Free was later removed because the pastor didn’t want our church associated with hippies and their Free Love movement.

As a child, I wasn’t allowed to wear short sleeves, short pants, or any form of jewelry. Men weren’t allowed to grow beards; women weren’t allowed to cut their hair. Some ladies took the admonishment about cutting hair to the extreme, even refusing to shave their legs and underarms. Some took the disapproval of male beards to the extreme, even removing the large painting of Christ that hung at the front of our church because he was depicted with facial hair.

We weren’t supposed to have a television, although there were a couple of times my father kept one in a bedroom when he wasn’t attending church regularly. Radios were okay, but only Christian music was allowed. Drinking and tobacco were strictly off-limits – even during communion when grape juice was substituted for wine. Cursing of any kind, including using crude words to describe bodily functions, wasn’t allowed. Sex before marriage was a huge no-no. Dancing, sports, and board games were discouraged. Some of the most faithful even avoided doctors, relying on God for healing of any infirmities.

Although most of these beliefs might seem extreme to even the most devout Christian, there were Bible verses to back up all of them. Verses about idle words, not setting anything evil before your eyes, long hair being a woman’s glory, etc. Nothing seemed far-fetched when it could be backed up with the Good Book.

Having been out of that particular faith and church for many years, I have had some recent interest in reading about the roots of the denomination. Although we were raised under the assumption that our particular way of faith was the Only Way, the Straight and Narrow Way, a quick search of Wikipedia shows that the early Holiness movement actually started around the middle of the 19th century by way of the Methodists and Evangelicals. Pentecostals (those who believe in speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, etc.) emerged around the beginning of the 20th century during a multi-year revival in Los Angeles.

What is really interesting to me is that although our church identified as Holiness, many who called themselves Holiness in the early 1900’s strongly objected to the growing movement of Pentecostalism because of speaking in tongues. Seeing how our church believed in baptism of the Holy Ghost, our church would have clearly been categorized as Pentecostal Holiness.

Because church history was never taught and rarely discussed, I grew up believing Pentecostalism was the predecessor to the Holiness movement. It seems the opposite is true.

I drove by my old church this afternoon. The building hasn’t changed much since the days when I stood and played my tambourine as music and praise roared around me. I hear the congregation is much smaller now, with only a handful attending on a regular basis.

It has been almost two years since I wrote that I will always be a Pentecostal in my heart. I’m sure my mother would be delighted to know I said that, even though I no longer attend services or live the lifestyle I knew as a child. I may no longer hold some of the beliefs I grew up with, but I do hold a special place in my heart for the people and their way of life.

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Out of order

mose_gingerich_out_of_order

I recently began watching Amish: Out of Order on the National Geographic Channel. The reality show features Mose Gingerich, an ex-Amish man who is struggling with issues pertaining to faith and family. Because Mose left the faith of his childhood, he is shunned by his family and considered damned for eternity. I can empathize with him on many levels and had a very visceral reaction to the show.

Like Mose, I was brought up in a strict religious home. My family worshiped at a small Pentecostal Holiness church that placed much emphasis on appearance and behavior. Our church leaders were able to pick verses out of the Bible to back up all of the strict rules we lived by. Women were required to have long hair (most wore it up in a bun), long dresses, and no makeup. Both sexes were expected to wear long sleeves and no jewelry… wedding bands included. Our pastor went as far as preaching against women shaving their underarms and legs.

Like the Amish, Holiness people didn’t fit in very well with the outside world. This “outsider” status wasn’t considered a negative attribute, but was actually taught as part of God’s plan for his people. Verses like the following were often used to explain why we were supposed to be different.

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:19

As I grew older, I began to question many of the things I was being taught. On one hand I was being told the world was bad, while on the other I was hearing how God loved the world so much he sent his only son to die for it.

It didn’t help matters that my sister and I were attending a Baptist school where we were learning things that contradicted what we were hearing at our Pentecostal church four times each week. The differences weren’t huge but large enough to make me realize religion wasn’t so black and white. My Baptist teachers were reading the same verses but coming away with a different meaning. I began to understand reading the Bible and creating a belief system based off of it was completely subject to interpretation.

As I grew into a young man, I parted ways with organized religion – although it wasn’t so much a conscious decision as a slow weaning away. I didn’t feel like there was a place for me anymore in the little concrete block church where I spent countless hours as a child, so I simply quit attending services.

Although pulling away from the church community alienated me from most of my friends and family, I don’t think I was prepared for the rejection I was to experience after coming out as a gay man. While I may not have been shunned to the degree of Mose or other ex-Amish, I have had my share of rejection by members of the faith of my childhood.

I have now been living my life openly for almost 18 years. I have a wonderful partner, and I have been attending a loving and accepting church since 2006. Regardless of how stable and normal I might consider my life to be, I realize most of the people I grew up going to church with believe I am deceived and damned to hell.

Like the Amish, most of my family believes the only possible path to spiritual reparation for me would be returning to the Holiness community. Like Mose, I have no desire to participate in a denomination so encumbered by dogma and tradition and so separatist that they relish in their alienation from the rest of humanity.