Getting Off the Island

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The past few days have been unreal. My folks felt so blessed when they read all of the encouraging comments on http://rachelheldevans.com/church-stories-forgive-them-father, and on my own blog. I love you guys.

As my story was being shared on the web, I was sharing a drink with the closest of friends… and I couldn’t tell them anything. The void that always existed between us felt bigger that night than ever before. With every weekly “high” and “low” that was uttered, I struggled to think of something significant besides the replies. I wanted to tell them about it. I wanted to say, “Here’s my story, it has a purpose! Check out what it meant to so and so!” But there I sat. As they chuckled about work stories, I stole glances at the screen of my phone, taking in every empathetic word with quiet gratitude.

Being locked up in the closet is nothing new for me. Prior to cracking open the door, my life was lived in isolation. I felt invisible. One friend of mine, the author of the previous post, described our predicament as being stranded on an island just off a coastal town.

You sit on the beach looking across the water, watching families and friends have picnics and build bon fires. You sit and watch, all alone, day in and day out. You call out to them, exchange shallow conversations over roaring waves, but that is it. They couldn’t possibly get a glimpse at your gashes, and even if they could, you know they would reject your repulsiveness and expose you as alien. So you stick to superficial bonds and embrace the safety of the island.

But, as I found out, the island can’t save you from yourself.

I tried compartmentalizing this part of me, considered it a thorn to be covered. I tried therapy, thinking confidential chats would stop the broken record. I tried crying out to Christ for a miracle, for my sexual orientation to be “healed”. I tried church then tried praying on my knees. Tried to seek out scripture. Tried to pretend everything was okay. Tried to help more people. Tried to drink away my demons. Tried to smile more. Tried to befriend myself.

And then I tried to suicide.

Obviously and thankfully, I wasn’t successful, even though I was walking within distance of death.

The following morning was a miserable one. The conversation that I knew had to happen was one that I had avoided for my whole life. It was the moment where I had to choose whether I would die on the island or swim towards the uncertain. With each baby step up to my parents’ bedroom, I felt waves beating me back. I anticipated anger. I expected disgust. I felt only fear.

But then, I washed ashore.

They asked why I waited so long.

“I thought you’d be grossed out by me,” weeping.

“Son, you have been lied to. We could never love you less.”

“So you’re not afraid of me?” sniffling.

“Of course not” they whispered, and they pulled me into a pile of hugs.

My fear of what was beyond the water’s edge kept me on a nightmarish island for over a decade. Where I only saw gashes in the flesh, they saw diamonds in the rough. I felt alien, they told me I was family.  I hated me, they loved me.

But the story isn’t over yet.

Unfortunately, I still take many trips back to the island. When I am with friends and many extended family members, I return to the old distant fellow they all know. I keep my temper in check with every fleeting political or religious slur. I keep my hopes at bay when I hear someone call them out.

What I have learned is,

in some settings, the island is safer

in others, it’s unnecessary.

So here I am, playing hop-scotch in-and-out of the closet. Riding in on the waves when I reach my front door and hitting the water again when I walk out. It’s a stressful place to stand, but it’s where I am right now.

Even though my fears have yet to be realized, I still worry about those on the other side of that conversation. I worry about love lost and friendships flushed. I worry about rejection and gossip. I worry about what they’ll do.

But I still have hope.

I have hope that when I bring forth those same fears of before.

When I tell them I am afraid they will hate me.

I’ll hear them whisper back.

“Lie.”

RR

*Photo Credit

Morning Memes

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Honore Daumier, Third Class Carriage

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Quote:

“When we were children,we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

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Verse:
according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

-1 Peter 1:2

A Runaway Named Freedom

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The following is a moving testimony from an incredible woman of faith. We’ll call her Freedom. Read it. Be changed.

I watched the scene, trying to hold back tears. It was a simple scene, and I’m sure the depth was lost on most of the audience. Yet for me it was so real, so personal. Thomas was putting into words what I never could. As he spoke to the wounded soldier, he shared his pain in growing up different. Through tears he grabbed the blind soldier’s hand and united with him in the margins.

Lost somewhere in the midst of the familiarity, my heart was suddenly ejected into reality by the girl sitting next to me on the couch. She covered her eyes and scoffed a homophobic comment, certain that Thomas was trying to seduce the soldier. She must have uttered “gross” five times within a second.

I closed my eyes, and I was on another couch – a young girl watching television with her mother. Two men grabbed hands and my mother covered my eyes, grasping for the remote with urgency. She too expressed her disgust with homosexuals – their behavior was so repulsive to her she couldn’t bear to watch, much less expose her child to that indecency.

I learned two things that day: (1) I was detestable and (2) God did not love me. I vowed to spend my entire life burying my secret. Even if it killed me.

The ignorance of my mother brought only death into the world; it extinguished any candle of hope with utter darkness. With each homophobic expression, I lost hope that God would ever love me – though I desperately cried out to be free. I didn’t want to be gay, I didn’t choose this. How could they say this was a choice? Every day I would wake up soaked in self-hatred, trying to motivate myself to get out of bed. I didn’t feel worthy to live, though I didn’t know my crime. I dreamed of death, of freedom. Why would anyone choose this? They could never understand. Science could never understand.

October 17th, 2005. I woke up that morning knowing freedom was imminent. My neighbor’s shotgun was loaded in his garage, ready to secure my departure from Earth. I didn’t know my destination, but I did not care. I could not imagine any reality worse than the one I lived in. I was only hours from the end, and my heart was full of hope. The curtains were about to be closed on the most horrifying script of all time.

I found freedom that night, but not from the barrel. God wrapped me in His embrace as I wept for the first time in a decade. What kind of child doesn’t cry? The child that doesn’t believe they deserve to cry. The child that feels so wretched that tears do not belong to them, only to the righteous.

I came out of the closet that night, and was met with love and grace. The lies that I was a divine mistake or an irredeemable outcast were shattered. The mother that had unknowingly kicked me to the margins held me in her arms, a broken mess. Her lifelong battle with homophobia was cured when she looked in the eyes of her beloved child. A child she would willingly give her life for.

That night I began to walk towards freedom – for me it was a freedom from self-hatred, guilt, and shame. For her it was freedom from ignorance and bigotry. Jesus welcomed us both. He transformed us both. He is transforming us still.

I wanted so badly to lash out at my friend – to point a finger at her ignorance, her hatred. I immediately assumed she could not know the Jesus that I know. How could anyone saved by the grace of Jesus condemn anyone else? How could she not show compassion, knowing how much grace it took to save her?

I lay in my bed that night, stewing with a righteous anger. I was plotting my exit from our friendship – wondering if it would be best to inform her why or to simply stop returning her phone calls.

The Lord spoke to me in a vision.

I saw the group of men prepared to cast stones at the prostitute. I was certain my friend was standing in the fold, rock arched.

Yet I saw my face in the crowd, with a handful of jagged rocks – my face ugly with anger. She was the prostitute, and Jesus stepped in my way to defend her. Her lovers were pride, ignorance, and intolerance. And Jesus was offering to pay them off – to pay the price for her freedom.

As I prayed that night, Jesus asked me to be the one full of grace and love. To kneel and wash her feet, to share the truth that saved my life. The gospel wasn’t only for my breed of sin, but hers as well.

Before I would have mocked her in front of my like-minded friends – puffing my chest as I displayed my humble affection for tolerance and love. But now I find myself on my knees in prayer. Praying that she too will find freedom.

 

Lord, give me the courage to defend the voiceless and the marginalized in the GLBT community, and the boldness to do it with love, understanding that I too am a sinner who struggles to offer grace.

TreePeople

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“22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into[a] the village.”

         – Mark 8:22-26 (NIV, emphasis mine)

One of the greatest treasures within the story of Christ is his sneaky way of inserting subtext into all of his actions. It keeps us guessing, and more importantly, expresses the eternally relevant messages that freshen our eyes with every turn of the page.

Taking the blind man by the hand, Jesus led him to a remote location where they could be alone. No crowds, no ovations. Just an intimate one-on-one conversation.

Between the lines of this story remains that mysterious walk and the conversation that must’ve occurred. It seems, and I have no real historical evidence for this, that Jesus intended this walk to be an intake of sorts. I think he wanted to hear this man’s story. More importantly, I think he wanted to establish a friendship.

After they settled into their makeshift hangout, Jesus spit on this man’s eyes and then laid his hands upon them. When he asked him what he saw, the man gave one of the most easily understandable descriptions, people look like trees, I know they’re not trees, but that’s what they look like. Jesus received the man’s perceptions, laid his hands upon his eyes again, and perfected his vision.

In 1st Corinthians, Paul writes:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  -1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV, emphasis mine)

 

Jesus did not have to make a second go at healing this man. He was all-powerful. If he wanted to, he could’ve snapped his fingers and given this man the eyes of a hawk. But there was a deeper subtext he sought to convey.

We all have moments when all we need is perspective. Two weeks after I came out, I remember lying on the couch in the living room, burying my face in a pillow, shouting at my parents about the loss of my sanity. Seriously.

In the tangled mess of my thoughts I started to question whether I truly existed or if I was living in some sort of Matrix. I threw my middle finger in the air at a God that I had reduced to a mere flight of the imagination. And I just laid there, shivering in a nightmarish world that I had no hope of waking up from.

My mom looked at me, smiling.

“Honey. You’ve known that you were gay for roughly ten years and have been afraid to open up about it until now. Furthermore, you came out to the whole family and you did so less than 24 hours after a failed suicide attempt. That is a lot to happen all at once, for anyone. Now, here’s what we can do. If you believe that you are truly losing your grip on reality, you can come upstairs and lay in our bed for as long as you want. We could just sit on this for a few days. I think after this night is over, you will see that much of this is simply the anxiety of the moment. If it turns out its not, we’ll go to the hospital.”

She couldn’t possibly put herself in my head that night or roll the tape of my past decade. This was completely unfamiliar territory for her. But yet, she could still relate somehow. She knew what it was like to be swept away in the anxiety avalanche and she knew where to look for the clearing in the clouds. She took what her tears taught her and showed me that trees are not people.

That what I see is not necessarily what is.

The dialogue that takes place in Mark is an undertone of a greater truth. It is an intentional example of how we are all blind when left to our own devices. Without the hands of healers and the words of the wise we will always fail to see where we are situated in the greater story. I don’t think that this account is simply about repairing the fellow’s retinas. It was about restoring reality.

In our prayer life, the old adage: “pray until something changes or you change”, fits this story well. When we meet with Christ, he desires us to vent about our life. He wants us, if just for a minute, to forget the fact that he already knows and instead let him in like we would a confidant. I think he wants to take that walk with us first. As we return and return to that oasis of confidence, he continues to rub our eyes clean of lies.

It’s clear that Christ is the only force capable of clearing out our inner cobwebs, but that doesn’t mean that this happens only through prayer.

It’s a call to walk with one another no matter the distance. It’s a promise that when we reach that place of intimacy, we will see that our walls are stumbling blocks not shields. In that place, we stop theorizing about the future. We cry out: Carpe Diem! The scales slowly pile up at our feet and our distortions no longer deny us that sweet breath of life. And then, we dust one another off and take a different road home.

We see trees and we see people.

RR

Runaway Ragamuffin

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“If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. ”
― Brennan Manning

Befriending the Boogeyman

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“Hey, Mike, this might sound crazy but I don’t think that kid’s dangerous.”

“Really? Well, in that case, let’s keep it. I always wanted a pet that could kill me.”

Sully and Mike had just past the point of no return in bringing little Boo back to their apartment after an accidental breach of security. And even though Mike didn’t admit it at the time, the scales were certainly falling from his eyes. They both sat there watching her, laying across the floor, coloring with crayons and humming sweet songs to herself.

Monsters Inc may be one of the greatest achievements of Pixar, or at least, my personal favorite. The plot revolves around two monsters living in the alternate universe of Monstropolis. As Scream Collectors, their job is to cross portals that take them into bedrooms of little boys and girls, with the sole objective of getting them to release the most gut-wrenching scream possible. The screams power the city’s energy system. A “necessary evil” you might say.

But scaring kids never really conflicted with their conscience. Kids were public enemy #1, the piranhas of the ocean. As the CEO of their company, Mr. Waternoose, put it:

“There’s nothing more toxic or deadly than a human child. A single touch could kill you. Leave a door open, and one can walk right into this factory; right into the monster world.”

After Sully accidentally brings Boo into the world, the accusations from Mr. Waternoose start to seem a bit silly. Neither him nor Mike shown signs of illness, nor did Boo appear to be aggressively attempting to kill them. And the veil continues to tear as he sees that she not only comes in peace, but has an enormous affection towards him.

As the film comes to a close, the villain, Mr. Waternoose, reveals himself as the mastermind behind the lies about children. And, if this wasn’t criminal enough, he says that parents have given children too much confidence about the non-existence of monsters in the closet, and due to the eventual energy shortage, he planned on taking Boo hostage as a permanent source of scream power.

When Mr. Waternoose is taken down, Mike becomes the new CEO,  and shifts the business model from frightening children, to making them laugh. Laughter is found to be much more palatable to the public and a much more powerful source of energy.

In our non-fiction world we have a tendency to towards the Waternoose model. We pick camps, draw lines and hold seminars about why the other side is made up of sadists. Any attempt made at upholding the dignity of those with whom we disagree is crushed as we crank up the volume on a five-second sound-byte.

In our abandonment of Christ’s call to a reconciled human race, we forfeit the game. The pictures we paint of our perceived enemies are only as true as they are convenient. And the worst part of all of this is that our stereotyping only serves to widen the Grand Canyon between us. Christians that have not met gay and lesbian people have no reason to believe that they are nothing more than glittered up, sex-crazed, pawns of the devil. Gay and lesbian people that do not know conservative Christians have no reason to believe that they are anything more than hateful, narrow-minded, prideful bigots. The wells we drink from color our world in the shades that suit our opinions.

We are something akin to the dad telling his kid not to name the stray he found in the storm. Inevitably he will fall in love with it.

Think about what would happen if we chose to call each other by our names. What if instead of seeing the bigoted Baptist pastor, we got a glimpse of his ten adopted children or his weekend plans at the local soup kitchen? What if instead of seeing the gross gay couple kissing in protest of anti-gay legislation, we flipped through the scrapbook of their mission trip to Haiti and heard about their own accounts of suicidal thoughts? What would happen if we called the other by their name instead of the ones we pick for them? What if we befriended the boogeyman?

Too often I hear both ends of this story. I have the rare experience of standing in the portal between the two worlds, and I have heard every lie imaginable about both.

“gays are trying to destroy the church”

“Christians are trying to force their views down my throat”

“scripture says clearly that these people are an abomination”

“Christians are idiots in their interpretations of the Bible, selectively picking and choosing”

And too often, I add my own fuel to this fire. My previous post about Mark Driscoll was written in anger, something one should never do. But if I am totally honest, attacking Pastor Mark makes me feel better, like somehow I am contributing to the greater good.  Calling him “Pastor Macho” becomes a means to an end type of thing. But I don’t know Pastor Mark. I may think his views are destructive, but that doesn’t mean his intent is destruction. He is likely a very good man, good husband and faithful follower of Christ. AH! Just typing those words makes me cringe because it starts to unravel the boogeyman of my own creation. Which is a good thing.

Maybe we need a Boo invasion, or (in a Biblical parallel) to be swallowed by a whale and shot out to Ninevah. Maybe we need to be forced on a walk around the block until we learn to respect each other, or possibly, love each other.

RR