A Tribute to Michael Chase
Norman Michael Chase
by John-Charles Duffy
On May 19, 2002, Norman Michael Chase passed away of a heart attack in his apartment in
Salt Lake City. For the last ten years, he had made major contributions to the gay and
lesbian community in Salt Lake City. Although Michael was not LDS, he was a supporter of
Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, Reconciliation, and any cause for gay and lesbian spirituality. The following tribute was published in the June issue of The Pillar:
Michael Chase came to Salt Lake City because he believed God had called him here. He believed he had a work to do: to minister to the needs of gay/lesbian people in Utah.
That's not to say Michael was an activist. On the contrary, Michael felt highly ambivalent about the gay rights movement. Because he believed that we are all created in God's image and are therefore good, as God proclaims in Genesis 1, Michael was appalled by the way gay/lesbian people are made to feel "less than" or "unworthy." At the same time, Michael worried that the gay rights movement represented an impulse on the part of gay/lesbian people to extract from society and church a feeling of acceptance or validation that he believed ought to come only from God.
You see, Michael was a mystic. Powerful spiritual or revelatory experiences during a time in his life when he had lost everything that had been important to him--his wife, his money, the trappings of success--convinced him that the material concerns which occupy so much of our attention do not truly matter. All that matters is God and our connection to God.
God is everywhere, Michael believed. God shines through each of us like sunlight through a window pane. Unfortunately, we get in God's way. Our fear, our insecurity, our jealousy, our anger, our pride, prevent us from being what we were created to be--what we already are, if we would only see it. Michael wasn't much interested in changing society's attitudes towards gay/lesbian people. He was more interested in changing gay/lesbian people's attitudes about themselves.
Michael didn't like the word "gay." It was limiting, he insisted. Watching The Birdcage, Michael winced when Robin William's character declared: "All right, so I wear make-up. So I'm a middle-aged fag. But I'm proud of who I am." If defiant acceptance of the epithets and stereotypes people hurl at us is "gay pride," then Michael wanted nothing to do with it. He rarely appeared at gay pride celebrations. He refused to label his sexual identity.
In his writings for the Pillar, and in the talks he gave to groups like Affirmation, Reconciliation, and MCC, Michael kept coming back to the same simple message: We are children of God. We are made in God's image. God shines through us. That some of us happen to experience love with someone of the same sex rather than someone of the opposite sex is irrelevant. Implicitly, Michael was trying to say: We don't need society's acceptance. We don't need the churches' acceptance. All we need to know is that God accepts us.
This message is simple, even problematic; but it would be a mistake to blow it off as dime-store spirituality. Saying "I know God accepts me for who I am" is easy. It's quite another matter to feel that knowledge so deeply that nothing--rejection by your family, condemnation from your church, anti-gay rights politics, anti-gay violence--can make you react with fear, hate, or despair. "Let nothing disturb you, let nothing alarm you," wrote one of the great Western mystics, Teresa of Ávila. "They who have God lack for nothing." Michael came to possess this kind of unshakeable confidence as the result of his own mystical experiences. His ministry in Utah was to do what he could to inspire that same unshakeable confidence in the gay/lesbian individuals to whom he spoke and to whom he addressed his writings.