Forty-Eight. Sinking.

water rising

salt sittingImage

not the first time the riptide has pulled me in

waves crashing

white caps blown

i set these sails parallel to escape the undertow

Your wind leaves me compromised

the bow absorbed

into the ocean this shipwrecked heart sinks

splintered

but Yours

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Forty-Seven. When Your Parents Aren’t Okay With The Gay

In the months preceding coming out to my closest friends and family members (most of the Traditionalist variety) I developed a series of presentations in order to describe my evolution of  thought/belief toward my orientation. Putting aside how telling that is of my nerd-shaped heart, the reason I did this was because of the disagreement I knew would arise from what is a different theology on sexual ethics. Having attempted to live out the ex-gay narrative, transitioning out of that into a still non-affirming but also non-practicing model, and eventually landing on my present convictions of total LGBT complete inclusivity and affirmation was a process that lasted nearly a decade. I consumed any and all resources that could offer Christian insight on the topic. I consulted pastors, scholars, and contemporary theologians whom are considered experts on the issues. I searched the Bible, prayed, and meditated for thousands upon thousands of hours. And alas I cried.A lot.

All of this to say, coming out first to myself and finding peace with my sexuality required the kind of time, energy, and thought that to this day puts me in a position where I wonder how I managed to graduate college, well,  really to wonder how I psychologically survived. Given the difficulty that I myself experienced with being gay it was no surprise to me when I was met with resistance, confusion, and rejection from many of the people who for years loved and cared for me. In fact, it was this foreknowledge that kept me in the closet for an additional 6 months even after my beliefs transitioned. I didn’t want to lose the trust, respect, and fellowship I had with other devout Christians and yet I felt compelled to share the whole truth about my identity and the different direction that my mind and heart had been led. So I did, and as previously mentioned it was bad. Sparing the details and offensive quotations from the first three months of text messages, emails, and a bombarded Facebook inbox, we will just say I was deeply hurt by the ideas and sentiments reflected through those mediums. As I consulted friends and other individuals within (or supportive of) the LGBT community I was met by the exhortation to take some drastic steps towards forcing non-affirming people to accept and approve of my newer convictions and understood identity. I was told to not tolerate the judgment or ignorance I was experiencing from these people. I was told that if my mom could not support my whole existence as her daughter who happens to be gay that I needed to refuse her attention and affection. I was told that I needed to distance myself from all those who would or could reinforce the negative attitudes that I for many years had toward myself. I was told a lot of things that as a collective whole communicated, “forget the haterz,” in addition to another choice f word.

There are a lot of problems with this approach but my primary concern is that it doesn’t account for the fact that the most effective education and advocacy we can ever do is amongst the people who are closest to us. As a person who participates in the fight for LGBT equality on a professional front there are conversations I (or other “activists”) can’t  have with your mom, your sister, your best friend, and your pastor that only you can. There is a more compelling argument in your story than any of the biblical or sociological arguments asserted by history, science, and or academia. I am not diminishing the contributions such disciplines have made to guiding society’s and the Church’s understanding of human sexuality but what I am saying is that severing one’s relationship to their loved ones on the pretense that their views are disagreeable only perpetuates the ignorance that fuels anti-gay rhetoric and mirrors the same kind of conditional and vapid love that has caused us as LGBT people so much pain. In the words of MLKJ, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This being said I have compiled a short list of important ideas to consider as one attempts to navigate relationships with their parents and loved ones who are not LGBT affirming.

1.)   You’ve been working through your orientation since it occurred to you that you were different; this is the first time they have had to acknowledge that you are not straight.

Your parents are going to cycle through an entire catalog of extreme emotions: shock, disbelief, anger, and guilt. They are going to ask similar questions that you asked; “Why did this happen?” “Where did we fail?” And “How do we as Christians and loving parents respond to this?” Give them time, respect the initial months of their process, and enter into it with them for the long haul.

2.)   Your parents (and friends) are going to grieve what feels like the “loss” of you as the person they thought you were.

 Obviously, we know we aren’t any different than we were the day before we came out, or any different than when we were 16 and secretly kissing a girl at Christian camp… or even any different than back when we were 8 and liked Britney Spears not because we wanted to be her but because we wanted to be with her…) The love that God grew in us for Him because of belief in Jesus as savior isn’t any different…and our personality in general isn’t any different… but many others are going to believe so. The expectations they had for your life (which in all likelihood involved you meeting an opposite-sex partner, falling in love, marrying, and producing adorable grandchildren) is no longer a possibility or (quite as feasible of a possibility if one identifies as b or q) The hope for you to live a good, healthy, and Godly life was inherently attached to the hetero-normative social construct and in order for them to believe that there is another alternative it is going to require that you both show & tell them. For some parents hearing that their child is gay (bisexual, transgender, or queer) feels like hearing that their child has died…It’s obviously annoying to have to prove your existence, health, and beliefs are as in tact as they have always been and that you are still growing and developing into the person God made you to be but I am convinced that this is an effort worth engaging.

 3.) Your family and friends have long been taught that the Christian thing to do in this situation is to withhold fellowship and affection in order to avoid appearing to condone what they believe is a “sinful lifestyle.”

Even though the Bible certainly exhorts people to refrain from judging those outside the Church if you are a Christian and amongst their faith community than there are other biblical texts that seem to suggest they should correct the “false teachings” you’ve come under. Naturally, this conversation creates a lot of fatigue for both parties but for you to become embittered and resentful of their opinions it is going to disable your ability to care about them as people in general. There is good, logical, and biblical reason to believe in affirming theology but just like everything previously mentioned it takes time & energy to work through these thoughts and having your support and continued effort to preserve your connection to them is going to be vital in that process.

4.)   Once parents overcome the immediate shock and erroneous notion that this is something we did “to them” out of rebellion often they transition into a place of calling this our “struggle” or our “wound.” This often forms a kind of emotional distance from them to us and it is very easy to internalize and interpret as rejection or even hate.

 Your loved ones are just as much in process as you are. They are going to make mistakes, they are going to say and do hurtful things, and they are going to live out of their unintentionally and unconsciously homophobic beliefs. If you are in a situation of blatant emotional (and or physical) abuse one should consult additional help and GET OUT but apart from such harmful circumstances I think it can be incredibly sanctifying for us and life giving for them if instead of abandoning their relationships we lean in and work to find a way for all of us to thrive in the midst of our disagreement.

5.)  Your parents do love you.

Given that the above things (and worse) have happened to us it is easy to write off the fact that we dependently lived in our mother’s womb for 9 months, stubbornly refused entrance into the world despite her begging, pushing, and pleading, kept her and our fathers up at all hours of the night for years, made messes only they could clean up, scared them half to death when we disappeared for the afternoon to go play with the puppies down the street, were encouraged to be creative, passionate, and genuine in all of our efforts, were picked up and dropped off at endless softball, basketball, and soccer practices, had pride taken in us even when we didn’t succeed, were pushed to become the best us we could be, were brought (albeit, dragged at times) to church so that we could have exposure to (whilst still given the personal choice in )the gospel of Jesus, and ultimately were given the tools and opportunities to come to an honest conclusion about ourselves all by them and the people they allowed to be a part of our lives. I realize at this point I am speaking out of experience instead of principle but for so many of us with Christian parents I know it is not a stretch to say that they want nothing short of God’s best for our lives and the only reason they are responding the way they are is out of fear and misunderstanding. If they aren’t hearing you now there is not a way they ever will unless YOU give them the opportunity. This requires forgiveness, patience, self-control, kindness, gentleness, and a whole host of other spiritual fruits and qualities that are difficult (if even possible) apart from the work of God… but that resource is ready and available to “whosoever should believe.”

Ultimately this isn’t nor will it ever be easy. But I’m convinced that the only way to move closer to true and legitimate unconditional love is by asking each other “what is like to be you?” and living out of that discovered reality.

Forty-Six. Dimmesdale, Derek, The Church & The Gay.

“Before Mr.Dimmesdale reached home, his inner man gave him other evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling…At every step he was incited to do some strange, wild, wicked thing or other, with a sense that it would be at once involuntary and intentional; in spite of himself, yet growing out of a profounder self that that which opposed the impulse.” (The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne)

If one isn’t familiar with the classic (you, like me, obviously lied to your high school English teachers about your summer reading at some point between 9th & 12th grade) one should be. It’s an amazing narrative that addresses themes which include but aren’t limited to legalism, sin, guilt, and repentance. Even though I threw a temper tantrum for the first 60 pages trying to interpret Hawthorne’s formal (and kind of ridiculous) lofty language I would highly recommend the read. There are at least seventeen different aspects of the story I could address and unpack but I’ve decided it most important to address the dynamism Mr.Dimmesale experienced as a result of committing his sin,  the torment that ensued in trying to hide his sin, and the actions that transpired upon coming to terms with his sin as mentioned in the excerpt above.

The more people I interact with across the LGBT spectrum, the more convinced I become that at least half  of us not only arise out of a strong faith background but at one point or another even went so far as to make sense of our whole identity in the person of Jesus and His gospel message which (for most of us) meant a total rejection of our sexual orientation and all associated emotional impulses. Most of these men and women after years of struggle, prayer, and study eventually came to embrace their orientation, began pursuing relationships, and because of this were rebuked, judged by, and ultimately ostracized from their faith communities. In experiencing this kind of trauma it is no surprise to me that at best many LGBT people continue to identify with Christianity but not whatsoever with the Church…and at worst many LGBT people no longer feel as though they can identify with Jesus at all. Regardless of what the means to these ends look like, it seems there are a few steps along the journey to disassociation with the Body of Christ and/or Christ altogether that run standard in both Dimmesdale and those who have left the Church because of their sexual orientation.

1.) Disillusionment  with the Church

“Something about who we are as a faith community is wrong, dishonest, and harmful towards other people and I don’t know if I can be a part of it anymore.”

2.) Questioning of faith all together.

“If I have been deceived by those who are understood to be the ambassadors of God then perhaps I’ve been deceived by the notion of God as a whole.”

3.) Wandering.

“If the worldview by which my entire life has been underpinned has proven false by my experiences where else can I go?”

4.) Exit.

“I don’t know where I can go but I can’t stay here.”

I understand this trajectory, I can empathize with this trajectory, I hurt with those who have been hurt because of this trajectory, and yet I am deeply challenged and encouraged by the stories of people who the ‘Exit’ wasn’t the final answer for them. I am deeply challenged and encouraged by the stories of people who refused to give up on on their love for the Church when the Church had rejected and refused their fellowship because of something about themselves that was unchosen and unchangeable. I am deeply challenged and encouraged by the stories of people who after a season of raging against the institution and being so troubled by her inconsistencies… looked inside themselves to find the problem instead of harboring bitterness towards the limitations of our humanity that live inside us all. Regardless of what the means to these ends look like, it seems there are a few steps along this part of the journey to reconciliation with the Body of Christ and/or Christ all together that run standard for those who have left the Church because of their sexual orientation (…or really any of the things that put us in a position where we feel like one doesn’t fit.)

1. ) Re-exploration of Jesus as a person apart from the Church (Well, really Evangelical Conservatism.)

6.) Restoration of faith.

7.) Realizing that there is no mutual exclusivity when it comes to Jesus and His Church.

8.) Missing the Church despite her flaws.

9.) Falling back in love with the institution, flaws included.

10.) Sorrow, repentance, starting over.

Derek Webb, a writer, musician, and incredible thinker when it comes to ecclesiastical issues has often been painted a rebel by Conservative faith communities for the way his lyrics challenge their beliefs and more specifically the practice of those beliefs. Many have accused Webb of ridiculing and criticizing the very people his music aims to be made for (the Church.) Although I believe there have been times when Derek has surely been upset with the Church, I think he is also well adjusted to the reality that he is as guilty as they when it comes to both hypocrisy and folly. On his most recent album, ‘ I Was Wrong, I’m sorry, & I Love You,’ Webb explores many of the complexities associated with being a human trying to seek God alongside other humans… especially when inherent parts of one’s personal humanity bumps against the jagged edges of the Church’s shared humanity.

I love this for a lot of reasons but primarily because over the last 9 months I know a lot of the people from my own faith communities have been hurt and disappointed by things I have said and done (…or not said and done) in reference to coming to a LGBT affirming theological perspective. I cannot apologize for being gay, for my over all change in beliefs, or my convictions about the necessity of advocacy within the Church for LGBT people… but I am sorry for causing anyone to feel as though I thought of them less (or as evil or unintelligent) because they didn’t share the same conclusions. I am sorry that the hurt I experienced because of rejection led to resentment. I am sorry that I spent so much time trying to prove that I was ‘right’ instead of continuing to love people exactly where they were in the midst of their own journey to unraveling all of these hard things.

So in order to avoid the dark and dismal downward spiral of Dimmesdale and in the words of Derek,

Dear Church,

I was wrong.

I am sorry.

And I love you.

Forty-Five. The History of Love

During the Age of Glass, everyone believed some part of him or her to be extremely fragile. For some it was a hand, for others a femur, yet others believed it was their noses that were made of glass. The Age of Glass followed the Stone Age as an evolutionary corrective, introducing into human relations a new sense of fragility that fostered compassion…The anatomical illusion that had seemed so real slowly disappeared and-like so much we no longer need but can’t give up-became vestigial. But from time to time, for reasons that can’t always be understood, it surfaces again, suggesting that the age of Glass, like the Age of Silence, never entirely ended. – Nicole Krauss

Forty-Four. People > Ideas.

Back in October I spent a few days at home with many of the people who have contributed to my personal and spiritual formation in the most fundamental  of ways. I am talking about  the people who appreciated and befriended me amidst the awkwardness born of my gender ambiguity in the 4th grade, the people who loved me through my angsty adolescence, the  people who first communicated the whole gospel message to me with both conviction and intellectual honesty, the people who designed my paradigm for true friendship, the people who introduced me to the kind of music you can hear with your heart …and not just your ears…And yes, the people who now though supporting me, do not share the same theological conclusions about my orientation.

As this was my first trip home since officially coming out and beginning my career with Planting Peace/The Equality House the questions of Christian ethics, faith, and sexuality were a centerpiece in many of theses conversations. Despite the fatigue born of discussing the debate, working through all the different aspects of such a discourse,  and the divisiveness associated with it all in general…I was overwhelmed by this single thought;

that is that people, if we let them, can pleasantly defy the logical conclusions of what their ideas suggest about them.

You see, it has been my long-held assumption that all of those holding a non-affirming position on gay relationships within the Church  inevitably have to exclude those with the opposing perspective from fellowship and from the consolations of biblical community at large. It has been my long-held assumption that my shift in theology puts me under their scrutiny, their criticism, and their judgment…And it has been my long-held assumption that those with a non-affirming position on gay relationships believe it within their jurisdiction to suggest both privately and publicly that I am no longer following Christ. Granted, there are PLENTY of those holding a non-affirming position who do fit into these assumptions the point I am trying to make is that not all of them do…

What seems to be happening, amongst my friends at least, is an increasing awareness of our (ALL of our) theological limitations. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to at length about these issues have expressed a profound interest in being able to be wrong, wanting to learn more and desiring a stronger understanding of the painful and confusing experiences associated with being a person who identifies as both gay and Christian. As my prejudices are being shattered, I listen to Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror’ on repeat, and I reflect on a concept a friend of mine refers to as “mutually transforming relationships” I feel encouraged to keep asking deeper, harder questions, and to never settle for my own understanding of Truth. In agreeing to disagree I think we have the potential to pull one another closer to the center of biblical tension and to do so in both love and respect.

This is civil discourse.

This is life-giving admonishment.

This is focusing on the majors instead of the minors.

Maybe this is bad for ‘activism’ but I think there is something to be said about pursuing/maintaining relationships with people who hold a different conviction than us instead of reducing our all conversations to tasks of conversion.

Forty-Two. Happy Birthday.

I AM 

always telling you to write poems because your brain holds a pen like it was born that way.

Like it was made to spin to wind and run and dispel so many of the mysteries that have destroyed and created quandary, confusion, blindness, and sight. 

Your brain holds a pen like bluebirds have nests and foxes have dens always chirping and preaching that the running of orphans and black sheep can cease; that their drifting can end and that because of the son of man’s tramped and torn life we will have a home, we will find that home and that it doesn’t matter where we came from or who we have been.

i am

always telling you to write poems because your words are far from cheap.

And every time you put your thoughts down your two cents roll out and make the first payment towards a disheveled child’s future, a lost sojourner’ way, a promise that hope is so much more than a 4 letter idea to imagine or make up

because you actually believe it

you actually live it

because it has cost you your whole life and somehow managed to give you back everything more than you or i or any ever spoke, or claim & named.

i am

always telling you to write poems because i know that every person you ever meet is the best story that you have ever read- and when you turn the pages its never because you are seeking to finish so much as simply looking, searching, digging, and reaching for the beginning.

The beginning of that tattered and frayed blood red chord of redemption that runs standard through everyone’s – EVERYONE’S God awful, God beautiful life –

tragedy turned comedy

comedy turned epic

epic turned timeless, priceless classic;

Turned ashes to ashes and dust to dust, naked we came and naked we will damn leave

And not because its sexy not because its enchanting but because and ONLY BECAUSE that is IT-

That is The Story, the one story that we all get with one pen, that same pen that I said looked so right held tight in your white-knuckled fist dearly pressed against your skull because it never forgets and we both know that it sure as hell never erases but its been washed,

hallelujah

its been sanctified by the tears of grief that maybe you yourself can’t cry but I know you’re moved by which bled out the Savior’s burning eyes the night the world kissed that divine Palestinian skin with the same filthy lips that made prophets come apart- the same filthy lips that for the joy set before Him , He came and buried His perfection into this fragmented crust so that we could know the light from the dark

so that even when no one could get it right you… could still give life

when you would just write.

I AM

telling you to write poems, love

and not to worry if they sound okay or if they make sense or whatever that bullshit reason was that you don’t write poems

because your brain holds a pen-

Your were born so your brain would hold this pen.