Does it really get better?- Kevin Shoop (Love Letters Series)

 

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Today I am incredibly excited and proud to kick off the Love Letter Series. This is a big day for my blog. It is the start of something I have wanted to do for such a long time. Provide a place where my LGBT brothers and sisters can find encouragement and affirmation from a variety of voices, big and small. A place where love is the offering and hope is the message. A small push in turning the tide of evangelical vitriol toward the LGBT community. This is reconciliation. This is restoration. This is everything.

 

 The plan is to post one of these letters at the first of every month, creating a tab where they can be accessed easily.

 

For the first post, we have Kevin Shoop. I can’t think of anyone better to start off this series. I’ve read his story and it baffles me that he has had the courage and conviction to pursue Christ. He has wisdom to pour out, please absorb it.

Read more from Kevin here

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Does it really get better?

That’s a question I’m sure most of you have asked. Especially if one or more of the following is true about you today:

  • You identify as a Christian
  • You go to a non-affirming church
  • You are in the closet
  • Most or all of your family believe that being gay is a sin (or at the very least, unnatural)
  • You are trying to change
  • You have chosen a path of lifelong celibacy
  • You don’t know whether you want to be a Christian or not
  • You feel lonely and marginalized by either Christians or the LGBT community (or both)

Let me briefly share my own story with you, with the hope that you will realize the width, depth, and breadth of God’s love for you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.

I grew up in the Bible Belt and faithfully attended conservative evangelical churches until my late 20s. My elementary, junior high, high school, and college years were spent in conservative Christian schools. I worked in a Christian bookstore for over three years. I’ve been to a number of Christian counselors, had mentoring relationships with pastors, and attended extensive ex-gay group therapy. My life was permeated with the American Christian subculture in the first 27 years of my life.

I was in the closet to family and friends during this time. Although I was determined to overcome homosexuality, I was equally determined to hide it. There was too much shame associated with being gay. As a result of hiding, my relationships with others became more distant and shallow. I became desperately lonely. My vision of God became a stone figure with a passive smile: yes, He loved me (signified by the smile), but He was powerless to change me and incapable of active love.

So I gave up.

One cold February evening in Northeastern Ohio, I gave up the fight. I had prayed too many times. I had spent too much time confessing my desires and fears with mentors and counsellors. I had tried too long to change. I had spent too many hours ashamed of who I was. I was done.

Aptly, it snowed that night. I woke up to grey skies and everything blanketed in white. I felt my relationship with God had ended, and that my faith had died. I was entering the winter of my spiritual life.

Interestingly, I wasn’t in despair. I was numb. And I also felt relieved. I felt I didn’t have to try to please God anymore, because He had already rejected me.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that evening was not an ending, but a milestone. A turning point. I had finally and unapologetically let go. I had wrestled with the angel, and I was defeated—rendered incapable of fighting anymore.

Since that night, my journey has been interesting and unexpected. I’ve rejected God. I’ve come back to God. I went through a time of sexual promiscuity. I met and am now “married” to my current partner. I stopped going to church, stopped praying, and stopped reading the Bible. I started going to church again (about 6 months ago). The church I go to now is gay-affirming. Every week at the communion table, all are invited to partake wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith.

There is a common theme to my story. No matter what phase of life I find myself, Jesus continues to love me actively and passionately. He didn’t love me more when I was fighting to change. He didn’t love me less when I was hooking up with strangers over the internet for sex. He didn’t love me more when I was praying and reading my Bible and witnessing. He didn’t love me less when I questioned (and still question) his existence and his goodness. There are no qualifiers to his love. There are no “buts” to these statements. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Period.

Your journey is your own, and it is sacred. Whether you are fully embracing your sexuality, attempting to live a life of celibacy, trying to change your sexuality, have rejected the God of your childhood, are currently identifying as a atheist, or whether you are somewhere else on the continuum of faith and life, you are on holy ground. Your path may be different than mine, and in the end we may arrive at different places, but we are both loved without condition.

 

Much love,

Kevin

  • Tears. So beautiful. Thanks.

  • paul

    I suppose it the answer to that question depends on what “it” is and what “better” is. I am pretty much a de-convert from Christianity. I say “pretty much” because I have been at a “I don’t know place” for several years now and don’t see myself moving past it.

    I was a Jesus freak for most of my life. I was even asked by a congregation to be their ‘pastor’ at one point, a position I refused because I didn’t believe I qualified because of my fight with “same sex desires” (for the uninitiated, that’s what “gay” is called in the evangelical/fundamentalist church). On one hand, my life is so much better as a de-coverted Christian guy who is mostly attracted to guys. On the other hand, my simple honesty has cost me pretty much everything (long story, but I do mean everything, friends, family, finances, etc.). Sorry, maybe tmi. My point is to establish that I am familiar.

    I spent decades wrestling with that “angel” also Kevin. I saw it the same way. I came away limping too. Another way I saw the process was of being ground to dust, then being reformed and having new life breathed into me (I love metaphor, if I could only find a way to put it to music it might find a place in the gay community).

    I so understand what you write. My guess is you so understand what I write. So I wonder how some are like Kevin and Stephy who still identify as Christian, and others are like me saying, “no, can’t say I ‘know’ enough to call myself Christian anymore.” We seem to come from such similar circumstances? By “know” I mean knowing that what I once attributed to Jesus can truly be attributed to Jesus. It comes down to belief vs. knowledge. For me, I cannot substantiate that the Bible is any more accurate than the book: “Gone With the Wind.” Sure, I can substantiate that there was a civil war, slaves, even Atlanta Georgia, but did Rhett Butler ever exist? From what I have found, there are a lot more different sources that can support things written in “Gone With the WInd” than different sources that confirm what’s written in the Bible.

    Lacking reasonable substantiation, I am left with feeling. I don’t discount my feelings. Indeed, I give them a great deal of credence. My guess is some peoples feelings name themselves and mine haven’t? I dunno. I quip in a dating site profile that “I pray to my ceiling fan.” Which is to say: “I pray (because of my feelings), but just to some location over my bed.” My prayers are prefaced by words like: ” I have no idea who you are or if you even exist and are just an imaginary friend, but you seem to be and I often feel taken care of by you, so if you exist I want to acknowledge you as best I can and express the gratitude I feel….” That’s so much “better” for me than when I was thinking and saying stuff like “Jesus this, or that” or “God this, or that.”

    “It” is a place of not knowing, but really is a place of knowing. “It’s” just a place of knowing that I don’t know, and it is indeed “better.”

    • Yep I totally understand what you are writing about, Paul. I love that you say: “I don’t discount my feelings. Indeed, I give them a great deal of credence.” As long as you are trying to listen and understand the feelings, I don’t think it’s always necessary (or possible!) to “name” them. I don’t know if you caught this, but I did say that I still question both God’s existence and his goodness. The way I see it, faith, doubt, and non-faith–and everything in-between–are all part of humanity wrestling with spirituality. One’s position on this continuum can change daily. I wrote this particular piece for people like us when we were still in the conservative evangelical church, when serious doubt (not “acceptable” doubt) was something to be greatly avoided and feared, and being gay was equated with sexual brokenness and/or perversion. Sadly, I’m afraid there are many young people out there who live with that fear and shame every day.

      • paul

        I try and listen to reason as well as my feelings. Try to find a balance point between listening to them and questioning them? Feelings get a bum rap from some, often in the name of “reason.” I’m not convinced feelings are unreasonable just because they are not reason. I doubt we can find understanding if we deny something as intrinsic as feelings.

        I did catch that you “still question both God’s existence and [God’s] goodness.” Do you still “identify as Christian” during those times or does your identity change (not sure “change” fits, but cannot think of a better word now) on that continuum as well? What you describe is familiar, i.e., I went through a time where I went back and forth about identifying as a Christian, reached a point where I didn’t feel or find that identity reasonable anymore. Which is not to imply that’s the ‘right’ place, just where I have been for three or four years now. I wonder about people like you and Stephy, and many others who have retained their beliefs and why or vice versa, why I have not when you have?

  • Does that cause you worry or concern that we seem to hold to some form of Christian faith and you don’t? Or is it just curiosity? I don’t know…the term “Christian” is almost useless as a term anymore, because it means so many different things to so many different people. I might as well call myself a Q-Tip; it would communicate about the same amount of information about me to anyone. The best I could do is call myself a “existential post-modern gay Christian agnostic” (a term I know you are familiar with). But I think we are also very affected by our relationships. For example, I identified as just a pure agnostic for a long time. But for whatever reason, I got curious again about God and Jesus and wondered how people believed. The church that I’ve been going to has a wonderful pastor, who has been extremely influential in how I now think about these things. I go to church (it’s an Episcopal one) to hear his sermon and to do communion. I don’t want to make it sound like I’ve got some halo on my head going to church, angels singing hymns over my bowed head, or that I have somehow figured all these things out. Did you see that Frederick Buechner quote that Stephy posted the other day? That to me is what being “Christian” is about. It’s much more about doubt and being human than trying to ascribe to a specific creed or fulfill some specific behavior prescription or salvation incantation.

    • paul

      (laughing) Please identify as a Q-Tip.

      No, no worry or concern, and am not sure it’s curiosity either? I’m not sure what to call it. I am excited by people who endeavor to listen and look. I get the sense that you want to see and hear what is (not trying to sound weird here, I don’t know how else to say it). I get really jazzed by the connection that happens between me and another/others (or even observing it with others) when we look and see and listen and hear the same thing. It’s like our lives suddenly get bigger at that moment and we expand into more than just ourself by sharing something… essential? The divide goes away, even if only for a moment.

      I wonder how people believe also.

      I go to a church also. A very cool group of people. The church is 150 years old, as are half the congregants (well, not quite). A decidedly ‘straight’ church that decided unanimously a half dozen years ago to become open and affirming. The pastor has tattoos and a pony tail and a double doctorate in philosophy. The hymns sometimes trigger me, still a fairly liturgical service, but wow the discussion that happens in Sunday school. Very cool stuff.

      I did see the Buechner quote and wrote a semi lengthy response. I don’t know how fitting my response was. I am not familiar with Buechner and only responded to the single quote. I think I tripped over a few of the words that he wrote and what I wrote is what came out when I stumbled (so to speak).

      “That to me is what being “Christian” is about. It’s much more about doubt and being human than trying to ascribe to a specific creed or fulfill some specific behavior prescription or salvation incantation.” Will you explain to me what you mean by this? Is this an okay place to have this discussion?

  • Ah that’s so profound! That reminds me a little of the movie “Waking Life” which is an animated movie made in 2000 (I think). It has a lot to do with human connection. HIGHLY recommended.

    Re: your question…the best way I can describe that is the beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart.” You know how we were always taught that being “pure in heart” meant sexual purity? Talk about missing the point. To me, being “pure in heart” is being honest with yourself and with others. It’s honoring deep, profound truths that we all have inside ourselves, about ourselves, if that makes any sense. Probably the most spiritually healthy thing that I’ve ever done, is go to a non-Christian, Jungian therapist. I’m probably reiterating stuff you’ve already read about, but, through that experience I learned how important it is to actually “take yourself seriously.” To actually listen to your emotions, feelings, thoughts, reactions, etc. because these are honest responses to what’s happening around you. I guess that’s what I mean when I say it’s about doubt and being human…it’s being honest with doubt (brutally honest).

    Your church sounds cool too. RR – OK if we are talking about this here? We can move the discussion over to my blog if you prefer! 😀

    • paul

      Thanks for the movie recommendation, just put it in my queue.

      Yes, what you say makes perfect sense to me, that “pure in heart means being honest with yourself and others.” I don’t think I discern a difference between truth and reality. Yet, a big part of CC insists that truth is something outside our ‘wretched, sinful selves.’ That truth is always ‘good’ and something to be acquired vs. perceiving something that’s already there. I think we have discussed AA meetings before? I think the alcoholic who hits that point where they, with no fight in them left to preserve what is perceived as “dignity,” state to their self and anyone else listening “my name is_____ and I’m an alcoholic,” and experiences freedom in that moment. I think this is a beautiful illustration of “… you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” I like to play with the word “know” and look at it in the King James sense, a very intimate “knowing.” My perception is that it’s the intimate “knowing” part of the truth (i.e. what is) that sets us free more than the truth we know. I so agree how the point is missed by one who equates “pure of heart” with sexual purity. It has been my experience, through a very long history of failure, that we cannot properly live with a truth until we can, as you put it, “be honest with our self and others about it.”

  • (Sorry Paul – my “replies” aren’t going underneath your comments, even though I hit “reply”!)

    • paul

      It’s okeedokee. Looks like we’re the only ones around anyway. 😉