jim chandler

bear hug

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In the winter of 2004, I dropped into a Sunday service of The Denver Church of Religious Science at 1420 Ogden. To my surprise, there was a small dark room peppered with normal looking folks all hugging teddy bears  of all colors and sizes, some bears in bow ties and some bears in leather vests and chaps. Everyone was listening to this guy (turned out to be Jim Chandler) giving what must have been a sermon.  It was the bear-hug service. It felt as if I had stumbled onto the set of a “Will and Grace” taping. It was completely surreal and I hope I never forget it. Here’s a tiny blurb I found about Bearhug Service.
On Valentine’s Day, our little messengers will make their final trip to Hospice.  Each hospice resident will have the opportunity to select their special bear – a bear to be there even when their family or caregivers cannot.  A bear to give them comfort on their journey from this life expression.  The caregivers at Hospice who give so much from their heart will also choose their bear, to fill their hearts again with our love.  And, any family members or friends of those in care may choose a bear to help mend their hearts at this time of loss.
The next time I saw/met Jim Chandler was when a friend and I were looking for a space to house a recovery meeting for meth users. There was another genre of recovery meeting that has just moved into the Ogden location and it seemed perfect. Jim was a complete advocate to get us clearance to use the space. He talked about how many of his gay male church members continued to struggle with meth issues, many to the point of devastation of their lives. He indicated he felt it was like a plague and wanted to help with more than just lip service. It turned out he took quite a bit of flack from his board. Many were not at all happy that tweakers would be roaming the halls of the church in the evenings unsupervised. Those meetings that started in those days are still going strong and it is not completely known how many Denver gay men (and others) that have been supported in finding their way back into a healthier lifestyle. He would never have acknowledged it, but it was because of Jim Chandler that gay men in recovery from crystal meth had easier access to find their own sober voices.
These are my experiences with Jim Chandler. He did a lot more than this for our community without fanfare and without a calling card. He didn’t always require grant money and he didn’t require research strategies to do outreach and help provide services. He was not perfect by any means, but he was a valuable and colorful member of the Denver central HIV community.
When I started this newsletter, I immediately asked him to contribute. He always did, without reservation- something I struggle to get service providers who get paid very good salaries to care for HIVsters to do. He sent article after article peppered with his own brand of idealism and religious science. I was truly saddened to hear about his transition. And I am still sad. I feel for his longtime companion Steve.  I guess I will continue to have a bear hug service for the both of them. 

rolling stone

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image credit… denis darzacq

here i am on wednesday evening after finalizing the agreement to list my townhouse for sale. it has become embarrassingly evident that the loss of 28 percent of my annual income has taken a toll. i am a mixed bag of emotion- shame, sadness, worry to name a few, and have been scattered and detached for awhile. once i came to the decision that i did, i have felt myself pulling back into the present.

i have changed my job duties, my job title, and the department i work for and now am beginning a transition for my residence and my financial life. i have been in the middle of a storm of sorts in my life and by the grace of a power greater than myself, i have managed to maintain a spiritual life. sometimes the ordinary can appear so very extraordinary.

it is sad to think of leaving my comfort zone. i have been here for 4 years and have grown up quite a bit emotionally here. i first truly came to feel and recognize how stunted my emotional life had been before sobriety. i never understood how toxic shame really is until i found an ancient seed germinating after reliving a drama. it has taken almost 4 years for me to learn how to begin to soothe myself when someone i trust does not  continue to be trustworthy. and it does continue to happen. and i am sure i trust much less easily.

with all this in mind, perhaps this residence shift is a metaphor telling me it is time to move on. moving on is not the easiest task for people with trauma. my experience is that i am much more comfortable when terrorized than i am when things are unknown. and today, i feel confident that moving on will reap some rewards and offer me new insight and a new focus for my future.

my friend jim chandler passed away this week. he had been staying at a hotel in ohio (on kaiser’s dime) waiting for a liver transplant. something went awry and he was in icu for 21 days and the whispered away. jim was a minister at the denver church of religious science. he contributed fairly regularly to the newsletter we publish. jim was always  wearing a positive message with spiritual undertones.

i remember when my friends and i wanted to start a gay men’s 12 step meeting that focused on meth, he offered space at the church. there were already other meetings there, however my understanding is that many board members did not want tweakers roaming free in the building in the evening. jim advocated for the meeting, citing the outrageously high number of gay men who had meth issues, as well as the hiv transmission rates that involved meth. he never boasted about this, he just did it quietly- and potently.

i watched part of the 2011 vma award show and particularly liked russel brand’s tribute to amy winehouse. he pointed out succinctly and lovingly that although amy lived with a very evident drug and alcohol issue, that there indeed is a solution for this. and he wanted to remind all the patrons of the show that a solutions did exist.

i have remarkably come to believe that living with an active faith is far more prudent than not. i love my atheist friends, but i am more enamored with the safety net that faith provides. i never wanted to have to rely on anything like faith when i was young. it seemed so weak. but as the gray antiques my temples, i realize that i struggled with relying on anything because i didn’t grow up with a lot of that around. i believed then that a rolling stone was less prone to heartbreak and i lived much of my life that way.

and here i am on the move again.