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Clayton Bond: "A Sort of Homecoming"
Clayton Bond: "A Sort of Homecoming"
Clayton Bond has been a Foreign Service Officer since 2001 and he is married to Ted Osius, a fellow FSO. He has served in Bogota, Washington, New Delhi and Singapore, and he and Ted are presently assigned to Jakarta. After reading one of Clayton's stories in the AFSA book "Inside a U.S. Embassy," I knew he'd be a great author to feature on our blog. I asked Clayton if he might be willing to write about what it means to him to be both black and gay. I thought our readers (most of whom would not fit both of those categories) would appreciate something that opened their eyes just a little bit.
I think you'll find Clayton's story, titled "A Sort of Homecoming" will let you walk in a different pair of shoes, but to a destination you can relate to. It's an excerpt from his recent book "Djakarta Djournal," and if you're motivated to buy a copy you find both paperback and kindle versions on Amazon.com. All proceeds benefit Yayasan Suwitno, a charity that provides free HIV/AIDS tests and care to low-income Indonesians.
An air of conviviality pervaded the church as Pastor Flowers encouraged visitors to make themselves at home. “Make yourselves comfortable, adjust your wig, your weave, your girdle; kick off your shoes,” he told us.
I don’t remember when was the last time I had been in a church, as other than a tourist. And, perhaps, in some way, it was as an observer that I accompanied my mom to church, on the Sunday following her mother’s funeral there.
For most of my memory, church was always important to my mother. I think it hurt her deeply when I came out to her as a non-believer, several years ago. It was as though she felt she had done something wrong and couldn’t figure out what it was and how to fix it. It didn’t compute. You could almost see her going through the checklist in her mind: I made sure he went to church every Sunday, even when we were traveling, unless he was deathly ill; I made sure he was in at least two church activities (the choir and the usher board); I gave him a new Bible almost every Christmas, making sure he even had small travel-size Bibles for quick reference; I monitored what he watched on television and in the movies; I kept close watch over the other kids he would play with; and so on. She told me, “I don’t understand. I brought you up in the church.”
Sometimes, I think my mom is among a minority of people who actually believes everything the pastor says, and is truly there for some spiritual purpose, rather than to network, or simply out of duty to cultural tradition. She devoutly reads the Bible and goes to prayer meetings.
I was angry, I think, at the church, and perhaps at Mom, too. Church wasn’t always a comfortable place for me. While I often found love and support, there were also times when I found it a judgmental, uncomfortable place. I probably resented and was jealous of the priority Mom placed on the church, above me. She would be blunt to me and other family members about her priorities: church, yoga and family, in that order. Finally, as I began to think critically about church, I found I didn’t actually believe the mystical happenings such as the virgin birth, resurrections from the dead, and walking on water. I could not will myself to digest the dogma.
As the years passed, my anger toward the church and toward my mom subsided, and I decided to accompany Mom to her new church. She had spoken of her new church home and pastor several times, and Ted and I were privileged to meet him on one of our last visits to Detroit. Pastor Flowers is charismatic and good-hearted. His skin is the color of milk-chocolate, and he uses ointment that adds a luster to his tightly-curled hair. When he smiles, he beams. He is an outwardly happy, optimistic person.
Our actual meeting took place in an odd manner. In advance of Ted’s and my arrival for a typically short visit to Detroit, we invited her and two or three other close family members to lunch. Mom kept pressing me to invite Uncle Wendell, a dear man whom I would have loved to see, but I like smaller gatherings, and I preferred to get together with him another time. Finally, I relented; she could invite Uncle Wendell. And then she mentioned his driver would come along, too. Driver?
We arrived at the restaurant at the appointed time, and waited. We decided to go ahead and order, 30 minutes later. Uncle Wendell finally showed up, with his “driver,” Pastor Flowers. It turned out Uncle Wendell was Pastor Flowers’s “spiritual father.” They had known each other for decades, since the time Pastor Flowers was a high school student and Uncle Wendell was one of his teachers. And wasn’t it a small world that Mom was “led by the spirit” to Pastor Flowers’s church? My mom had decided to leave her previous church about a year before our lunch meeting, and, as she looked around for another church home, she found Greater New Mt. Moriah, where it happened that Pastor Flowers was pastor. Mom didn’t know of his connection with Uncle Wendell until after she joined Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church.
Ted and I wondered what was up. Why did she want us to meet her pastor? We knew she hadn’t given up on my spiritual salvation, or on helping me to find a wife, for that matter. We braced ourselves. I think Mom felt that if she had informed me earlier that her pastor was coming, we would have begged off.
We made polite chit-chat, and then Pastor Flowers told Ted and me about the time he spent as a student in Atlanta, when he befriended Coretta Scott King, whose work, along with that of her famous husband, he admired. Unprompted, he explained that they became somewhat close, and he got to know her assistant, an openly gay man, and how it hurt him to see that this assistant was not being accorded the respect he deserved during Mrs. King’s funeral. Pastor Flowers successfully intervened on his behalf.
I mentioned how much I, also, admired Mrs. King. Though I didn’t know her personally, I knew that she stood for equality and justice, and that she felt strongly that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and other immutable characteristics was wrong. We were dancing in step. Flowers mentioned that he likes to bring people together, and that all are welcome in his church – gay, straight, black, white, whatever. I was pleasantly surprised. The last time I attended a church event with my mom, I walked out after the preacher (a different pastor), plainly exclaimed his disdain for gay people.
Later in our lunch conversation, Mom referred to Ted, hesitatingly, as my “mate,” which for her was another way to say “spouse.” It was a major breakthrough. We remember envelopes addressed to “Mr.Clayton Bond + friend.” Now, we’re “Messrs Clayton and Ted,” or “Sons.”