The movie Touch of Pink illustrates my journey towards becoming family. The main character, Alim, a young gay man of Indian decent living in London, has an ongoing imaginary friendship with the actor Cary Grant. He tells Cary Grant any personal difficulty he is experiencing and his imaginary friend always has the right answer.
Two conflicts in Alim’s life keep him coming back to Cary Grant for solace and direction: Alim is closeted to his pushy but warm and caring mother, and is in a relationship with his lover with whom he feels immense insecurity. As long as he is closeted from his mother and indulges in feelings of rejection from his lover, he clings to Cary Grant as his only true intimate, his only confidant, his only significant other.
Alim’s life unravels and he is outed. His mother is more than accepting of her son’s sexual orientation and his lover. Alim comes to trust enough to rest secure in his relationship with his lover. It is at this point that Cary Grant and Alim have their final conversation in which Cary Grant kindly, gently steps aside and fades away. The imaginary childhood playmate is no longer needed.
Alim has at last stepped into family. He has an accepting mother who is able to adjust, and he is securely partnered with a loving real significant other. These two characters, his accepting mother and his loving partner, were already in place; it was Alim who needed to make some critical mental changes to make real that understanding. Once these changes came into Alim’s life, the imaginary Cary Grant was no longer the substitute parent and the perfect lover, and so Cary Grant fades away.
Alim’s journey toward family in some ways mirrors my own. Jesus was my Cary Grant, the perfect childhood playmate. The Bible was my play script from which I could adapt whatever words I needed to hear from my Cary-Grant-like Jesus. This, sadly, was pretty much the totality of my family until age forty-four. My playmate-like Jesus was the only person with whom I could be honest and open about myself and find full acceptance, understanding, and validation. Members of my given family – parents, siblings – did not have the resources or the power to do so. I had to hide from my given family for years and then, unlike Alim’s situation with his mother, I was made an outcast once my parents and siblings knew that I was gay. It’s no wonder that Jesus took on proportions like that of a childhood imaginary playmate for thirty one years of my life.
Unlike the movies where everything resolves in 90 minutes, my cordial good-bye with my Cary-Grant Jesus played out over the course of three years. Beginning at age forty-one, I rose up daily before anyone was awake and I walked out of my house and into the still morning. With tears coursing down my face, I talked with God out of my brokenness, and in those arguments and pleadings that I placed before God, I believe I began to love the Triune God with my body and mind. With the self disclosure that was characteristic of my life with God, I prayed, “Father, I cannot wait for the ascended resurrected Christ to some day place his physical loving arms around me and hold me. I need loving male arms now to cradle me. Send to me now, I pray, that man who will tenderly, lovingly hold me.”
That person I prayed for came into my life more than ten years ago. He held me for literally hours on end. The tender warmth of his physical touch and the mutual self disclosure we shared through speech, healed my broken spirit. I revived. We bonded, coupled, committed ourselves in love to each other, and found in the other meaningfulness and fulfillment that we had not known prior to our love for each other: “Like coming home to no home I ever knew” (Sleepless in Seattle), or Like being family like no family I ever knew.
My Jesus as playmate faded from my life. He was no longer the focal point around which everything revolved. I came to understand that in this particular area of my need and longing, Jesus sustains me through his appointed means. As Eve was distinct from God and as Eve, not God, satisfied Adam’s incompleteness, so my in-the-flesh-significant-other life-partner is distinct from Jesus and he, not Jesus, will complete me in the sense that God intended. God completed Adam through Eve his appointed means. Though God walked with Adam in the Garden in the cool of the day, God’s presence with Adam did not suffice in all things. Adam was incomplete without Eve albeit God was there. Building a life solely around Jesus as though he was all I needed as family to meet my needs for belonging, fellowship, community and communion, is what warped my Jesus into an imaginary playmate.
With the realization that Jesus had functioned by-and-large as an imaginary playmate for some thirty years, and along with other faith related questions of doubt and re-examination, I experienced a personal faith crisis in my mid life years. It caused me to enter into a process of rethinking my faith and then mending, rebuilding and redirecting my faith. I refer to this process as loving God with all my mind.
As I reviewed my thirty years prior to my faith crisis, I became aware that Jesus had not been real to me, not in the areas of intimate relationships, fellowship and family. No, in this area of my life Jesus had become an imaginary playmate as the perfect significant other who would fulfill all these needs. I didn’t need family. I didn’t need a relationship. I had Jesus. But this way of thinking is fatally flawed. I had made Jesus the end. Instead, he provides the means to the end. In this department of life, he is not the end.
Suffice it to say, that in these last ten years of being family, that is partnered with my loving spouse, life has become real for me. I suppose that’s why Cary Grant smiles in Touch of Pink at the end of the movie as he fades away for the last and final time while looking fondly on Alim: at last life became real for Alim; at last Alim was truly connected to his significant others – his mother and partner; at last family. When I watched the movie for the second time, I saw Jesus – that is, the imaginary playmate Jesus – smiling fondly upon me as he faded away.
At last a real Jesus who is not someone simply meshed in with my personal intimate needs so that there is actually no distinction between what I feel and who Jesus appears to be. No, he is the Other, standing apart from me, who has heard my plea and provided for me by giving me a family, a significant other.
Rev. Stephen R. Parelli, formerly an ordained evangelical Baptist minister who pastored in the states of New York and New Jersey, became the Executive Director of Other Sheep in 2005. Other Sheep (othersheep.org), founded in 1992 in Latin America by Rev. Dr. Tom Hanks, an American missionary, author, and contributor to the Queer Bible Commentary (Romans and Hebrews), is a multi-cultural, ecumenical Christian ministry that works worldwide for the full inclusion of LGBT people of faith within their respective faith traditions.