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God Says No by James Hannaham

April 18, 2016

GSNYet another author who teaches creative writing. This is his first novel.

Gary Gray marries his first girlfriend, a Samoan, a fellow student from Central Florida Christian College who loves Disney World as much as he does. They are 19 years old, God-fearing, and eager to start a family, but a week before their wedding Gary goes into a cottage/tearoom and lets something happen. God Says No is his testimony — the story of a young black Christian struggling with desire and belief, with his love for his wife and his appetite for other men, told in a singular, emotional voice. Driven by desperation and religious visions, the path that Gary Gray takes — from revival meetings to “out” life in Atlanta to a pray-away-the-gay ministry in Memphis, Tennessee — gives a riveting picture of how a life like his can be lived, and how it can’t.

He learns Tearoom etiquette very quickly and suffers paranoia and suicidal thoughts.

When involved in a train crash, his first thought is that God has saved him for a purpose p- he even thinks he sees Jesus, with the nail wound through the wrist instead of the hand, which is an obsession of his. Then he thinks it’s the ideal chance to be thought missing, presumed dead… He throws his wallet into the wreckage, yet later says it was stolen and still later has cash to pay for a cab – the author should have decided which of these two to discard.

He has a relationship with a good guy but he cannot give himself freely because of his guilt.

Gray spends the novel’s last third in a gay reform camp outside Memphis, and even though it’s clear that Hannaham views such efforts as fruitless and damaging, instead of mocking southerners, Bible-thumpers and gay reformers, Hannaham humanises them.  The ‘Resurrection Ministry’ programme is similar to those offered in such places – wearing new clothes, engaging in manly sports and learning how to mend cars and build things. Stupidly, the men sleep two to a room. Lead us not into temptation?

At one stage, some men break out and get told off for smoking a cigarette as if that was worse than them beating up a gay guy cruising.

It’s a satire of conservative Christianity and as a sensitive portrait of a struggling Christian. Hannaham’s contemporary South is a complicated place, where lust makes people strange, and love comes in more varieties than man-woman couplings. Through Gray’s example, Hannaham shows how God might say “no” to Christians’ rejection of homosexuality.

Quotations:

“No wonder old people go here to die, Going to Heaven from Florida, you wouldn’t notice the change. I spotted palm trees as the aircraft flew down, then I saw Disney World just before landing and thought, I am returning to paradise. Not even Adam and Eve got to do that.”

The way our classmates talked about it, getting saved came naturally, like a sneeze. Jesus would illuminate your soul and touch your heart until it blew like a volcano into ecstasy and new life. Color and peace flood your world…Salvation was like trying to think of a name you couldn’t remember. It would come faster if you didn’t force it. Maybe getting saved and liking women happened in the same way. Maybe if I let go and let God in, He’d mend everything.

“I wasn’t a homosexual, I just had same-sex attractions, and I did guy stuff sometimes, but I could sort of perform with my wife sometimes now, so that was that.”

“What does Jesus say when He talks to you?” I asked my brother Joe.

Joe was big like me and good in science. He kept a chemistry set under a corner of our bed, potatoes on sticks in plastic cups on our windowsills, and a hurt bird in an animal hospital in the yard.

Without looking up from his forbidden X-Men comic book, Joe said,

“Jesus don’t talk to me. He don’t talk to nobody. That’s some hokum they

say at church.”

Confusion and fear came over me. Joe stared at me like a puzzle he

didn’t feel like solving. “You think God’s talking to you? In your head?

Boy, you’re stone crazy.” He iced his rejection with a sneer.

“No I’m not. If that’s not Jesus, then whose voice is answering my prayers?”

“Gary. Damn. I must say, I’ve never known anybody who could fool themselves as good as you. That’s your own voice. You’re pretending that it’s Jesus.”

I put my Jesuses side by side and knelt by the nightstand. Clasping my hands, I put my forehead right up against them. “Lord, I can’t live this way,” I said. “You’ve got to change me right this instant. I have to be normal by Saturday.”

I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and slid into my pajamas without leaving the locked bathroom. Annie and I prayed together, asking the Lord to look down and bless our marriage. Silently I added my usual wish to be changed.

I got under the covers. With the lights out and a heavenly glow fro the neon display outside coming through the drawn curtains, An climbed into bed beside me and asked for a goodnight kiss. I rolled over and puckered up. As we kissed, she kept her lips pressed against mine, then opened her mouth and tried to wedge her tongue between my lips.

“What’re you doing?” I struggled to say against her tongue.

“It’s our honeymoon, Gary!”

I didn’t respond. Instead I listened to her breathing, hoping we co let this drop and go to sleep. No way could I have a marriage where had to be important.

“Gary,” she said carefully, “I would like to express my devotion to in Christ through the act of love.”

Annie never complained about the lack of sex, but I saw her frustration rising like a flood tide. She knew that the Bible required her to submit to her husband, but she wasn’t afraid to express herself, either. “What happened to ‘Go forth and multiply’?” I heard her sigh to herself once, as she changed into her nightgown. She had just left me on the couch as the second volume of Dances with Wolves played out on the VCR.

The woman said Dios es amor so many times I had to nudge the lady next to me and ask what it meant. She said “God is love,” and nodded, in agreement with herself. I nodded, too, but I got to wondering. Now, if that was true, why would He make you fall in love and then strike you dead for obeying Him? Clearly, the Lord didn’t mind

the love part of homosexuality. It was the sex part that got Him mad. Two men could love each other without giving in to animalistic urges. I bet they could still be good Christians. I took that as the main message for my year of free checking.

I bought him a religious self-help book for his birthday. “Catho-lick!” he said, waving the book in his hand. “Got it? I was raised Catholic, and I’m never going back there, let alone evangelical Christianity. I’m plenty crazy as it is.”

I held back from proselytizing now, but I couldn’t stop completely. I wanted the best for his eternal soul, plus I felt like Heaven wouldn’t really be Heaven without him. “I don’t want you to go to Hell.”

Thinking that I hadn’t used enough shampoo, I lathered extra amounts of the creamy blue goop into my hair during showers, but nothing changed. By the end of the month, I was filling my entire palm with Head & Shoulders and working it around furiously during each shampooing. I lathered, rinsed, and repeated several times during every shower. But still my head itched all day and I couldn’t concentrate when I spoke to anybody, because I thought they were just gawking at the snowstorm on my head.

I finished two bottles of the product and was about to request a third, but as I filled out the slip and gave it to Gay, I mentioned that it didn’t seem like the shampoo was doing its job right.

“It creates a seal over the scalp,” Gay said matter-of-factly.

“And the seal is what flakes off as dandruff?”

“Uh-huh.”

In Gay’s view, the makers of the product understood that the people who used it would be the same folks who worried most about dandruff The advertisements targeted those people. The product made the problem seem worse, so that the worried people would worry more and buy more.

“Really? That’s awful sneaky of the Head & Shoulders people,” I remarked.

“We’ve all got to eat,” she said, leaning over the request form with her pen held up.

Even though I didn’t like it when the shampoo company did it. I wonder now if everybody at Resurrection Ministries lived under the philosophy of We’ve All Got to Eat. Many of the men I counseled became involved in a cycle of sin and forgiveness after sin and fogiveneness that kept them emotionally dependent on the center. But as long they confessed their thoughts and deeds, pledged their commitment to getting better, and didn’t fall too hard, nobody could doubt the goodness of the program.

How can George say that God thinks homosexuality don’t exist? That’s like saying God thinks dust don’t exist and then spending your whole life vacuuming the rug. No wonder it’s so hard to get over these urges. How do you get rid of an urge if you’re blabbing about it all day?

“And sex without babies is purposeless—like, to you guys, it’s in the same category with art, it’s like synchronized swimming, or interpretive dance, right?”

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