The List

I have a list of wants and needs that swirl around in my head and I’m determined to either address them in earnest or cross them off and let them go. I’m convinced that allowing the items to occupy space and energy in my mind without doing anything about them is negatively affecting my mental health by causing anxiety and even depression.

My plan is to post the beginnings of the list here and come back to it, adding to it if I need to. I can already tell that I will need to. It will take honest reflection and untapped courage to admit these desires to myself and to confess them to persons who might read what I reveal. From the list, I will break out entries and record my progress in unique posts, giving myself a means of accountability and a way to measure success or failure.

One more thing before the list: I remember the original intent of this blog—the plea, the demand, the awareness of the presence of grace. For ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead this list.

  • Achieve financial security
  • Walk Gracie every morning
  • Practice yoga daily
  • Read daily
  • Write daily
  • Get rid of junk and clutter in my home
  • Get rid of junk and clutter as it applies to the way I use my time
  • Plan a vacation in another state or country
  • Intentionally maintain and grow relationships
  • Garden
Advertisements

Why Is Madonna Making Me Cry?

I mean, she’s good. I remember thinking when I first heard the album that she sounded richer, fuller, and the music was much more diverse and interesting compared to her previous pop offerings. But I’m not a music critic. The quality of the work isn’t what’s making me cry.

I have a friend who would say, “You’re in your feelin’s.”

On this lazy Sunday morning, I’ve got the time, so I’m going to take the time to figure out why I’m in my feelings, even if I have to put Ray of Light on repeat.

The album was released in America in March of 1998. Ruth was 1 1/2 years old. That makes Ben 3 1/2 and Sam 4 months shy of 6.

Those mathematical calculations may be completely off. I have always been terrible with dates and with nailing down the events associated with them. I rely on the kindness of others to correct me and set me straight. But if I’m right, in March of 1998 I was in the throes–IN THE THROES–of wrestling with my sexuality. I was living in fear, and I was scared to death. I was also excited at the prospect of joy.

Unpacking all of that is something for another post (or perhaps a book). But within it lies the answer to why Madonna is making me cry. 20 years later I feel the same way: I’m still afraid, and I’m still exited at the prospect of joy.

If I’m alive, I expect that 20 years from now I will still feel the same. The key is for there to be more joy than fear. When I compare now with 20 years ago, I can say with conviction and gratitude that there’s more joy than fear. While present fear brought to light by Madonna this morning may be the source of my tears, there’s also a healthy dose of joyful gratitude mixed in.

Nothing takes the past away
Like the future
Nothing makes the darkness go
Like the light
You’re shelter from the storm
Give me comfort in your arms
Nothing really matters
Love is all we need
Everything I give you
All comes back to me

–Madonna, “Nothing Really Matters”

A Young Man Died of AIDS Last Week

My name is Doug Hagler, and I am HIV positive.

My first post on icanhasgrace was on May 16, 2009. That was 9 years and a few months after my HIV diagnosis. I have known my HIV status for over 17 years. It has taken me this long to share my status on this blog for one reason: Stigma.

I started icanhasgrace for many reasons. The blog has meant a great deal to me, even though its place in my life has waxed and wained. But for all these years, I have denied, suppressed, and hidden, the main reason I started blogging: I wanted to claim grace—unconditional love—over the fact that I am HIV positive. Why didn’t I do that until now?: Stigma.

When I was diagnosed, I immediately started treatment. At my first appointment, the nurse who cared for me said, “Be careful who you tell. It will change the way they think of you.” Why this warning?: Stigma.

I am ok. I have my problems, but HIV isn’t one of them. After 17 years, through medical advancements and by the grace of God, I have figured that shit out. I have amazing support from family, friends, and from the medical community. Seriously, HIV as a disease is not an issue for me now and it hasn’t been for quite some time. Concern about my health is not why I am disclosing my HIV status. Stigma is why I am disclosing my status.

A young man died of AIDS last week. I want to share his age. I want to disclose his location. I want to say his name. But I cannot. Why? Why can’t I honor him with the details of his life?: Stigma.

So what I wrote is wrong: This young man did not die of AIDS; he died of stigma.

Even though we have all we need to not only treat this virus, but also to prevent new infections, stigma infected him, and stigma kept him from getting the treatment he needed.

In the gay community (HIV is not a gay disease), stigma comes from families who, in overt and subtle ways, tell their children it is shameful to be gay, and shameful to get infected with this disease. Stigma comes from churches that write into polity phrases like, “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Stigma comes from a gay community that is too lazy and self-absorbed to educated itself about the virus. Stigma comes from a society that would rather live in fearful denial than in light-bringing truth.

I suspect (for I can only speculate regarding his experience) some or all of the sources of stigma coalesced on this young man and froze him in fear. I remember that fear. I can name the time, the place, the state of the weather, the first person I called when I found out I was positive. The paralysis was overwhelming, but only for a time. That paralyzing, stigma-based fear didn’t let this young man go.

I never met him, but I know he was black. I hesitate now because my ignorance warns me to remain silent. But I know it is a fact that “blacks are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV in the United States.” It is a fact that 1 in 2 black men who have sex with men will get this disease. It is a fact that resources meant to combat HIV are more easily available to white folks than to black folks. Now we’re talking about racism in addition to stigma, which itself is magnified in the black community.

These facts overwhelm me, but they killed this young man.

I struggle with my thoughts and words because I want this post to be about him. Instead, it keeps coming back to me. I feel the need to reaffirm and strengthen the promise I made at my baptism “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” The only way I know to do that is to combat the evil, injustice, and oppression of HIV stigma with the faith, the hope, and the joy of grace, of unconditional love.

I want to proclaim grace—unconditional love—to this young man. I want to proclaim grace—unconditional love—to anyone who is paralyzed by stigma, but especially to those who are disproportionally affected by it. But first, I have to renounce the last remaining hold that stigma has on me and claim the grace—the unconditional love—already given.

So on this day, while this young man’s family and friends gather to mourn and to celebrate his life, I claim the grace he now knows in full, as I sever stigma’s hold on me and declare: My name is Doug Hagler, and I am HIV positive.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Grant [this young man] eternal rest, Lord, and let perpetual light shine on [him].
Amen.

(UPDATE: For more information about racial disparities relating to HIV treatment and prevention, see this article at nytimes.com.)

Just Breathe

A friend messaged me this morning and asked me to pray for him. That alone is holy in itself: that my friend would be vulnerable enough to ask (vulnerability doesn’t come easily for him) and that he knew I would pray if he asked.

“I’m about to start yoga,” I replied. “I’ve been stuck setting my intention as inner peace for several days. I’ll include you in that today.”

Things played out differently on the mat, though. Instead of inner peace, I started thinking Love as I inhaled and power as I exhaled. These words felt like they fit the need my friend expressed. They also worked well for me.

As I began breathing and moving through the practice, I was surprised by how I focused on the words and the breath much more than in other sessions. It felt good. 

My mood changed when I started a sequence of poses where I began to exert myself. I started to breathe rapidly. That made the words that were contemplative before (Love…Power…Love…Power) become demanding and forceful (Love…Power…Love…power…Love power). Love power? That didn’t feel right at all. I started to feel uncomfortable with the words even as the flow was making my body uncomfortable. 

Despite the discomfort, I kept going and I kept breathing the words. Eventually I slowed my pace, moved into stretches, and switched back the more acceptable, Love…power.

Savasana, or corpse pose. My breathing began to slow even more. Not long into this restful state, my exhale word became Love, too. Love… Love…Love…Love….

The morning breath prayer stayed with me throughout the day. I thought about how I have to inhale (love)  before I speak. In the space between the inhale and the exhale, I choose what words I will say with the breath that supports them. Will that breath carry with it love? 

The same holds true for an action. I breathe before I take a step, make a decision, react to a situation. Will inhaled and exhaled breath, supporting my actions, be cradled in love? 

What is more powerful than any power? Love. And it took the little death of corpse pose for me to remember this truth. 

Merry Christmas

I attended my first Gaytivity last Sunday. It’s a Christmas pageant held every year at a gay bar. Imagine every raunchy, off color, some would say blasphemous joke possible applied to the Christmas story, add a bar full of mostly gay men, alcohol, and you’ll have figured out Gaytivity. For example, dressed as Sister Ann Wenita Morelove, I was one of the three wise-ass bitches. I gave baby Jesus a merkin instead of myrrh. The Dickson Chicks, two part-time campy queens, write the script and narrate the farce each year. 

Two profound observations came to me at Gaytivity. One, everyone knows what it’s supposed to look like even though there’s no rehearsal. The “actors” move to the traditional spot associated with their role without direction. The image of nativity is imprinted upon us. That doesn’t and shouldn’t mean anything to a person from another faith. I’m not one to force beliefs on anyone. But I find it significant. 

Second, there was this wonderful moment on the patio. I’d heard that the baby Jesus’ entrance is always a big deal. Last year, baby Jesus flew on a zip line through the bar to the manger. Knowing this, I was surprised when Joseph asked me if I had any ideas about how it should happen this year. 

“Hasn’t it already been planned?”I asked.
“There was a plan but it didn’t work out,” Joseph answered.
“Let me think a minute,” I said.

“I’ve got it. You know that big trash can full of ice that the barback rolls from back in the kitchen up front to the bar? Put Jesus in that and roll him to the manger.”

I thought more about it and I decided this was inspired in the true sense of the word. I’m saying the idea came from outside of me. That barback rolling around ice is disruptive on a crowded night. He cuts right through the dance floor. Jesus’ birth was disruptive. Run with that in your imagination. 

A few days later, I was talking to the bar owner. I told him it had been my first Gaytivity and that I had had a blast. He said some people think it’s blasphemous. I said, “It is blasphemous!” But the idea of incarnation is blasphemous. God becoming flesh, becoming human, is blasphemy. God born in a manger, or rolled in a trashcan through a bar is blasphemy. We can’t stand it, so we add lights, delicious food, often a lot of liquor, gift giving, and even Gaytivity in order to distract ourselves from the outlandishnesss of the original story. 

That story still cuts through the distractions, even in a gay bar in Nashville. It is the story of a God who is with us, who loves us–loves creation–so much, the story of a God who is love, and who is willing to do anything to be in love with us. 

This is nativity. This is incarnation. This is Christmas. 

Merry Christmas from icanhasgrace. 

Feast of Lights 2016

The Feast of Lights is a service of lessons and carols held at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. A 60-plus-year tradition, there are elements of the service that folks have come to expect and cherish. It begins with a child singing the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s  City.” It ends with choir members carrying lighted candles into the congregation as we sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and “Silent Night.”

The tenors and sopranos sing a descant on”O Come, All Ye Faithful.” As a tenor, this is unnerving for me. It’s loud and it’s high, and I sing it relatively far away form others, but close to the congregants seated near me. It’s basically a solo. 

I decided to pull all the stops and sing that descant full throttle. I processed to the spot where I was supposed to stand, closed my eyes, and let ‘er rip. On the last phrase of the descant verse, I remembered to enunciate,  nailing the “CH” consonant in “CHrist the Lord.” I opened my eyes and saw that I’d blown out my candle.  

I got tickled. A few folks around me started suppressing laughter. I had to make a walk of shame to a nearby choir member to relight my candle. I recovered, and I successfully transitioned into the much more manageable “Silent Night.”

We sing the last verse of” Silent Night” accapella. As we sang, I saw that the members of the orchestra were singing, too. This was significant to me because, while the choir is all volunteer, the orchestra is composed of paid local musicians and members of the the Nashville Symphony. They hsd finished their gig. But their singing said they had transitioned from employees to participants. 

Mom and I have a tradition of sharing our Feast of Lights Christmas moments, that moment when the transcendent message of grace that is Christmas becomes incarnate. It happened for me when the orchestra began to sing. 
Merry Christmas. 

Love to Orlando

13427775_2022738491285399_9116249765354341715_n

a vigil
a march
a demonstration
an act of civil disobedience
a prayer

a mayor
a pastor
a police officer
a politician
a Muslim
a bartender
an advocate
a choir

a bear
a twink
a fat
a fem
a leatherman
a rugger
a Mr. Friendly
a Sister

a straight
a lesbian
a gay
a bisexual
a transgender
a queer

a bar
a community
a city
a state
a country
a world

a friend
a mother
a father
a sister
a brother
a daughter
a son
a boyfriend
a girlfriend
a husband
a wife

a shooter

a survivor
an injured
a victim

“I see you and you are loved.
I see the pain, the grief, the confusion.
I see you and you are loved.
I see the anger, the fear, and the loss.
I see you and you are loved.
We see you, Orlando, and you are loved.”