Member Testimonies

Good Morning. My name is Paul Bognar. At this time of year I'm also known as a Grinch, a grouch, a humbug, party pooper, and worst of all for December, Ebenezer Scrooge. Unlike the Grinch, my shoes aren't too tight, my head's screwed on right (mostly), and my heart isn't three sizes too small. You see, I don't like Christmas.

Oh, there are many things I don't like: Barbara Streisand movies, parsnips, gangsta rap,... It's OK for me to dislike things like that. But because I don't like Christmas, people feel the need to try to change my mind.  Almost every Christmas movie or special on television portrays someone like me: someone who dreads Christmas. Those stories always are about redemption. The character has lost the "spirit of Christmas," because they've lost something from their childhood, or lost a love, or a family member. The poor soul needs to rediscover the magic of the season to be saved. These are tales of intolerance. It is just not acceptable in our culture to dislike Christmas, thus the need for redemption.

At this time of year, when people are supposed to be filled with "joy," when we are meant to have heard angels sing, when we are to give generously and perfectly the equivalent of leaping lords and golden rings, all the while listening to bells jingling on a silent night, my halls are decked with ever darkening grey. A cloud of dread, the grey of seasonal affective disorder, often the blackness of depression. Fa la la la la.

Many people think that a blue Christmas is for those who can't enjoy the holiday because they're grieving, or lonely, or poor. I've been all of those, and I want to say that while those conditions didn't help, neither are they the cause of my blue Christmases.

Thirty years ago, still a teenager, I was walking home very late on a Christmas Eve. A heavy snow was falling, all was quiet. Three blocks from home, warm light poured from the window of the old house at the corner of Dunkirk and Rosedale avenues in Hamilton. Inside, I could see the Christmas tree, lights and candles, and a young man and woman dancing the polka. The young man and woman were looking into each other's eyes, and laughing, laughing with joy and love. Somehow I knew, even then, that I would always be outside the window at Christmas, that this was a time for others, but not for me.

I suppose I have many reasons for not liking Christmas. It is absolutely impossible to ignore. It's too commercial, too tiring, too expensive. It takes up too much of the year (did you notice that decorations appeared before thanksgiving this year?). Wassailing when I don't drink alcohol. The stress of not spoiling the holidays of those I love. And the carols. Endlessly reminding me of a saviour that isn't mine, in a religion I've long left behind, pressing Christmas spirit on me, demanding seasonal joy from me, turned on as if a faucet.

And then there are the truly painful holidays. Five Christmases ago, I faced my first Yule alone, ever. My marriage had broken up, and for the first time in almost twenty years, I would not see my daughters on Christmas. I bought my usual tree, and since I had no decorations for it, I improvised with odds and ends . I went to the Christmas Eve service at First Unitarian Hamilton. I sang Christmas carols whose theology meant nothing to me anymore. I spent most of the day alone in my apartment, only one or two people phoned to wish me "Merry Christmas." I drove to my sister's for dinner with her family. Her invitation was a caring, loving thing to do, but because I was not normally part of their holiday celebrations, I was the fifth wheel. I coped and I survived. And each holiday season since only brings back painful memories of the last days of my marriage, of the Christmases I spend without my children, and of my parents, both now deceased.

I don't have to justify not liking Christmas. For me, it is one long Streisand rerun, that I have to endure for nearly three months every year, served with parsnips instead of popcorn, and a soundtrack of gangsta rap carols.

Oh, I like turkey, the smell of pine in my home, lights, candles, quiet, snow, and many other things that one can find at this time of year. But don't ask me to like Christmas. Don't ask me to explain why I don't like it. To me, it's the parsnip of holidays. If you like Christmas, I want you to revel in it, celebrate it and find joy in it as you never have before. But if you don't like Christmas, or your Christmas this year is too painful to celebrate, I want you to know you are not alone, and that there are people who understand and respect you. And a few of us are found here, in this safe place.

Today is the day that I will, for the first time in public, reveal something to you, my fellow Unitarians, that is extremely personal, concerning my sexual orientation. Though many of you have had contact with me through my work on the church’s finances, at an adult education program, or maybe just recognized me as one of the amateurs that happily, albeit nervously plays and sings his heart out every Father’s day.......none of you, until today will know the truth. Oh I’m sure that some of you have a suspicion; there have been hints and clues that some of you may have noticed over the past several years. Well here it goes..........I Jack McFadden am straight. As long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to members of the opposite sex. I also strongly suspect, that I will remain heterosexual for the rest of my days.

It sounds so strange doesn’t it? Were any of you thinking.........Is he gay? It is after all Gay & Lesbian Pride Sunday and I did say I was about to reveal something about my sexual orientation. Granted, the small army of children that I’m seen with every Sunday did pose a logic problem but maybe , just maybe I had a few of you thinking for a brief moment. And what if I had "come out" as a gay man. Would it have changed your opinion, of me ? (be that good or bad !).

When I was asked to give a testimonial as a part of this service, I kept struggling with the question," What could I possibly offer to the theme of gay pride ? The word normal kept coming into my head. Believe it or not that is why I started with such an abnormal opening. After all, in our society, there is no need to "come out" as a heterosexual. It’s just so normal ! As I started to ponder my normal orientation, I also began to realize how easy it has been for me because of that orientation. Society has never scorned me for my inclinations and in actual fact, I have no doubt been stroked and possibly even rewarded for my attractions to the opposite sex. I was in the "in" crowd growing up. Would it have been the same had I been attracted to members of my own sex? And today, my lovely wife and three beautiful children are not just my family but also an asset to me at work, because I so neatly fit the good corporate image. It’s been pretty easy being normal.

But I’m not here today to try and shoulder the blame for the fact that up ‘till now, I along with other heterosexuals have benefited from the makeup of our DNA. Nor can I do much more than say that I realize that up ‘till this point in time, it has been much harder to live life as a gay person. I wish it had been different! What I am here to say is that to me, Normal is a society that does not judge based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. To that end, I’m proud to be a member of a church that not only states that as a part of our principles and purposes, but regularly encourages us to re-examine our thoughts, words and deeds for traces of prejudice that might still exist due to the indelible mark that "normal" society has placed on each and every one of us. By recognizing and celebrating the fact that there are good people here, doing good things, and that it doesn’t matter at all that some of us are straight and some of us are gay, we are helping to redefine the word normal. On Gay & Lesbian Pride Sunday, that is something in which we can all be proud.