These Hallowed Grounds: Matt’s Story

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Before Matt was Matt he was gaysubtlety, at least to me. He blogged behind anonymity (like I’ve been doing) and then courageously came out, creating a new blog under his name and filling it with a wealth of story and humor and a life lived in grace. I have had the privilege of getting to know him in bits through social media and his blog and I can tell your right now, he’s a far better writer than me and many other writers I know. So excited to share his story with you here today. 

~ ~ ~

I’m not sure I’ve ever “come out” the same way twice.

 

The first time, four years ago in a small discipleship group, was prefaced by a slurred, twenty-minute preamble that feverishly bounced between references to a distant father and a lack of male friends and a blistering self-loathing and a fear of the future and a desperate hope for change and a terrible sense of guilt about it all.

 

The most recent time, last week at church, was a nonchalant, “Um, no?” when a particularly nosy teenager asked me if I liked girls.

 

In between the two I’ve used many different forms and phrases, addressing large groups or just one person, sometimes looking for help and sometimes offering it.

 

I used to think coming out was primarily about a declaration, a statement, a transfer of knowledge; I was letting people know who I was, nothing more. In a way I was right, coming out involves all those things. But now that I’m totally out, writing publicly about my faith and sexuality, I’m starting to realize that the decision to “be out” is so much more than simply making personal information generally available:

 

It’s a promise I have made with myself to live each day with honesty and grace, to never again hide behind a tenuous wall of fear.

 

Coming out is not a one-time thing, nor is it even really a “thousand-time” thing; it is a constant process of rejecting hypocrisy and self-deception, a lifelong journey toward integrity.

 

Time for some kind of embarrassing real-talk, everybody. It took me two years after my first step into the open to come to terms with the fact that God didn’t need to make me straight in order for him to be very, very good. I still wanted to be straight, mind you, but I had to admit that it probably wasn’t gonna happen. (The only dream that has been harder to give up is of getting a letter from Hogwarts – maybe it’s just twelve years late, you know?)

 

One year after that, I had to admit I no longer even desired to be straight. This confused a ton of people, including myself, because I have a pretty conservative sexual ethic and therefore am committed to celibacy. All I knew is that I had finally found contentment and peace in life, and being gay wasn’t the problem I used to think it was.

 

One year after that, only a few weeks ago, I realized I was now terrified of possibly finding a woman attractive. There have been moments, rare moments, in which I’ve casually noted that, say, the female barista who just made my latté was cute. An innocuous, meaningless observation to be sure, but in the split second it moves from subconscious impression to conscious awareness it undergoes an insane transformation, and within minutes becomes nothing less than a berserk thought-Godzilla rocket-punching the skyscrapers of my equanimity.

 

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Pictured: sanity?

 

I was terrified by the possibility of becoming a stranger to myself, just like before, and I was terrified of being used as some twisted example for “People Can Change” sloganeering that would be wielded to harass vulnerable kids and promote the harmful idea that they needed to, or even could, become “straight.”

 

This can’t be happening!” I thought, “I’m gay! I just won’t tell anyone and things will be fine. Just gotta get these thoughts out of my head.”

 

And suddenly I was struck with a deep sense of conviction: I was moving back to square one. Despite being healthier, happier, and more in love with life, I was rapidly sliding into that closeted frame of mind in which I was ashamed of my sexuality, even afraid of it.

 

I was confronted by the reality that even though I’m out of the closet I haven’t been able to shake all of its sicknesses, in this case an addiction to control. Somehow that first desperate act of vulnerability had, over the years, contorted into a grasping attempt to become invulnerable. It appears that openness can be its own kind of mask.

 

Sexuality is a crazy, bewildering, wonderful thing that constantly defies easy understanding. And, if I’m being honest (which is the whole point of this post, anyway), that scares me.

 

I’ve become used to admitting that I’m a gay man, but I guess I’m still struggling to admit that I’m a sexual human being, that I’m still discovering who I am, growing up, learning and struggling and screwing up. If I can’t be honest about that, about simply being human, then I haven’t done justice to the bravery of that trembling sophomore who sat in a tight circle and forced the truth out through stammering lips and into the open.

 

I don’t want you to make the same mistakes.

 

So this is my hope for you, beautiful and beloved person that you are: that you would know the freedom of not having to hide, not having to crawl into bed each night replaying all the small deceptions that let you keep “it” a secret for one more day. My hope is that you will be surrounded by people who, when you reveal the truth that you’re a lesbian woman or trans* or just completely confused, will remind you of the truth that you are, and always have been and always will be, worthy to be loved.

 

And don’t forget, at the end of the day coming out isn’t about the transfer of information or the assumption of this or that “identity,” it’s about giving those around you the blessing of fully knowing you, in all your complex and inspiring individuality, and allowing yourself the grace to finally be honest, to never again be enslaved by the pressure to be anyone other than who you really are. I am so excited for you!

 

Coming out doesn’t mean you have all the answers, as if such a thing were possible – it just means that you’re willing to start asking the hard questions in community with others, beginning that long, thrilling adventure toward reconciliation and joy.

 

Blessings on the journey, friends, and may the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding be with you always.

 

With love,

 

Matt

These Hallowed Grounds: Kate’s Story

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Kate Green is a reader of this blog and I don’t know how to express how profound her friendship has been to me. She has told me what my writing has meant to her, how it has helped in her in areas of her life that don’t have to do with the LGBTQ world, and it was both wildly refreshing and deeply moving to know her story and to know that this blog spills over into other regions of life as well. 

And she says she’s not a writer, I call BS. This is a wonderful piece and I couldn’t be more excited to share it here today. Kate’s story.

~ ~ ~

1998. My high school bff Donna calls. I haven’t heard from her since college – maybe 1994 or thereabouts. My memory is terrible (as she can attest to). But this moment, I can remember vividly, as we would discuss years later. She tells me to sit. I do (on one of the swivel stools in my big, old kitchen that I loved dearly). She says, “I’m gay”.

 

1988. At 15 I was moving following the divorce of my parents and my mom’s subsequent remarriage. I knew no one in this new city except for my mom and step-dad and new step-grandparents. The first week of school, I met my best friend. We made plans to meet up after school. At the flig, at least that’s what she thought. Really, it was the flag, but with my still thick Wisconsin accent, she couldn’t understand what in the world I was saying. Months later riding on a bus for a choir tour, as the song Satisfaction came on, we turn to each other and at the same time say, “Have you ever seen that movie?”  And with that, our friendship was cemented, eventually leading to spending every weekend together. One at her house, the next at mine. Frick and Frack, we were nicknamed.

 

1990. My music teacher, who was a second mom to me, warns me about Donna. Tells me there is something about her. Wants me to keep my distance. And so I do. I wish I could go back and redo it, to make my teacher spell it out for me. I know now what it was and it sickens me that she felt it something worth tearing a friendship apart, and really I could cry all over again because at that point, Donna herself couldn’t have even put into words what it was.

 

1994. I reconnect with Donna after being out of high school for three years. She visits me at college, I visit her at her apartment in another city. Her apartment is haunted. I see the ghost of a cat and it freaks me out. I don’t know if that was a sign of how things were, but our reconnecting didn’t really stick and we moved on in our lives.

 

Which makes that call in 1998 so very brave. We were as close as two people could be in high school but that closeness experienced an unraveling that neither one of us understood. But really, there was – there is – something about Donna and I that can never be torn apart completely.

 

When she told me she was gay, everything clicked into place and I knew that I had always known. It was like a scene in a movie where a character experiences flashbacks- all of the situations that have led up to that point race through my mind. So that was my reply: “I knew that”. I remembered I laughed, slightly, when saying it but I don’t remember what I said next, or what she said. It really wasn’t a big deal at all. (to me, but to her, well, like I said it was one brave call and I am so proud and thankful that she made it).

 

Sounds good so far, right? It would have been except…

 

Being the good, conservative Christian girl that I was, when Donna and I connected after that (I lived super close to her then girlfriend) I made sure to let her know that I loved her but that what she was doing was wrong. That being gay was a S I N. That while I could be her friend, I could never accept the “lifestyle” she had chosen. I remember her calling me to tell me that she and her partner were trying to have kids and my response was, “you know I think that’s wrong”.  At that point in my life, I loved Jesus with my whole heart. I was fully devoted to Him. But I was judgmental, legalistic, proud and very concerned with being R I G H T. Because that is what mattered. And it was my duty to let Donna know every time we talked that what she was doing was wrong.

 

2012. Donna and I are facebook friends. God has been doing some major work in me. Some gut wrenching, painful, beautiful work in me. He put someone else in my life – a fellow school mom – and I feel like I’ve known her my whole life and we spill our secrets one night on the playground when we really have barely known each other but know that we were meant to be friends. She is gay. And it isn’t a “problem”. It isn’t an “issue”. It is just a fact that she has a wife. And in that friendship, I sense the shift in me. So I send Donna a message on facebook and we chat a little bit. But not much and I don’t hear back from her for awhile. But when I do, something magical happens. We connect. Really connect. And we exchange message after message and email after email. I say I’m sorry for the way I treated her. For the “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude I had, which always translated as “I hate you”. She shares her story. I stammer through awkward questions that slowly become natural. Nothing is off limits. She educates me about being a lesbian. About gay culture. About exactly how she feels about Christians. (it wasn’t pretty). I share my evolving views. I read about the Stonewall Riots. I tell her about how much I love Jesus and about the things in my own life that are crumbling down around me and how amazing His love is in all of it. She accepts my faith as a part of me – which I am so thankful for since that faith has been hurtful to her.

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Sometimes I wish there would not have been that 14 yr span. It seems a long time to get to the point of loving someone in the way they should have been loved from the get go. But I know I wasn’t the person back then that I am now, and God in His mercy gave me another chance. He gave me the chance to make things right. It still disturbs me sometimes looking back and knowing that at the moment, I was saying and doing what I thought were all the right things. But that is so water under the bridge for us. And I pledged to Donna that I would do my part to fight homophobia. To stand up for her rights. To be brave enough to go against the majority of my Christian friends and family in loving her completely as she is and embracing the gay community without reservation.

 

When I think about what to say to someone, what advice I would give to anyone who has someone come out to them, is what I hope to teach my children to do if anyone should come out to them. I would want them to tell that person how much they love them, how proud of them they are, and how honored they are that that person would be willing to share with them. I would tell them they should stand by that person and fight for that person. I would tell them to ask questions and not assume. And most importantly, I would tell them to have fun with that person. To laugh. To create amazing moments together. In other words, to be that person’s friend. I am guessing that it would be a friendship that would enrich their lies in ways not possible through any other friendship. And that being an ally will teach them more about love than many other things.

~~~

Kate doesn’t blog, but she does have twitter! 

@CGMama

This morning

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I went into Wednesday night thinking, I’ll give this a try. It was the men’s bible study at this episcopal church and for whatever reason, episcopal church is synonymous with progressive in my mind, so there was excitement. An entrance into a world that was not set with evangelical short answers, but holy curiosity, and liturgy, and stained glass windows.

 

I walked passed the room, peering my eyes in to get a feel for those lounging on the couches and chairs, and I probably would have kept walking straight for the door had the men not noticed me, asked if they were the ones I was looking for.

 

I hopped in saying hey! This is the men’s group? And they all gave me introductions as I settled in the corner chair, furthest point away from the door and stayed quiet and smiled, but was completely on edge.

 

Really, it’s hilarious that I was even offended by the conversation that took place, because I chose a men’s group. A gender segregated study grounded in the assumption that men and women walk different avenues of faith. Separate, but equal.

 

Oh, if only that was all they had said. If only they had just talked about how men find God in sports or the grill or chopping wood or some other crap.

 

But no. This felt both completely irrelevant to me and seriously mistaken for a Bible Study. The question that we all huddled around was What does it mean to be a man? And it was made clear that the answer could only be found in scripture, so we looked at the passages about how men are fighters, the nice piece in Timothy about how stay-at-home dads are worse than nonbelievers, and then some about breaking your children (although, not everyone agreed with he who brought that up), and then the nods of agreement, exhales of pent up frustration, when we talked about how to  keep The Wife from assuming our role as spiritual leader. As the medium through which she meets God.

 

The problem with my seat was that to leave, I would have to cut through the center of the circle to get to the door and I didn’t want to say anything. I wanted to run, but not have any of these guys chase me, ask me, what is it something we said? Because it was clear that we were living in two different universes. Reading two different books. Living in two different families. Adhering to two very different definitions of love.

 

So I sat there the whole hour and fifteen. Afterwards, by my car in the street, I called my mom, because that’s what I do when I’m shaking. I told her every last sexist detail of it and she was like, where are you!? as if I should be expecting her any moment to cross two hundred miles to pick me up. I said the Episcopal Church! I thought it was progressive like me! And then she laughed, and I admit, I laughed too. I told her I was smoking a cigarette outside, I needed to calm the hell down, but also, as a way to show my resistance. Mainly to show them that I was not like them.

 

Mainly because of the heterosexism and the ego-inflated completely by the Y chromosome in their genetic code stunk worse than the smoke. Mainly, because I was sick of going to this church and that church and finally taking time to give them a Wednesday night chance, and then finding well-meaning men with horrifying beliefs. And that was what saved me, I think. They are ignorant, I told myself, not evil.

 

And it is that difference that has been sawing my prejudices in half through the week up to this Sunday. The moments when I need to hear that not all Christians are like that, but not all Christians that are like that are evil.

 

That the ones who’s well-meaning spirits match their good loving teaching are out there, somewhere, and they are not too sophisticated, too far removed for a relationship with Jesus, and they aren’t shallow abusers of the Bible, using their relationship with Jesus as proof of their authority. These perfectly reasons Christians are out there, somewhere. And I am coming to them, sometime soon.

 

Venturing back into the proximity of the church, the place that can and has hurt me the most, left me feeling exhausted and strong. For now, this day, I will sit by myself drinking coffee by the big wide window. I will listen to my brother preach a sermon on podcast, or maybe download that Jonathan Martin everyone is talking about (thank you Micah.) I will not feel a bit guilty, that has no place here, and in today’s kitchen chapel, I’m not trying to hear my own frustration, I am trying to hear his loving whisper breaking through my prejudice, anger, ego and apathy. Over the fresh coffee and my laptop and the sun pressing through the window.

 

And this is Sunday. It is enough.

These Hallowed Grounds: Anon’s Story and the Lighted Closet

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When Carol volunteered to share her story, she asked if her friend, the subject of her story, could share her side of it as well. I was deeply touched when she asked, because there is something so healing about writing your story out and something so liberating about sharing it with others.

And how important- restorative and beautiful- is it for us to have the second part of Monday’s post. So often we write one-sided conversations, our experiences and perceptions, and right here, regarding one of the most intimate moments, we are privileged to see the whole way around. How incredible is this insight that we’ve been given? 

For personal reasons, Carol’s friend has written this anonymously. I get that.

Take a seat, soak in Anon’s story.

~ ~ ~

I have never truly left the closet, but I have let a very few people in… some leave and slam the door… some coax me to come out and not be afraid… some push “helpful information” under the door on how to free myself from this perversion … others stay and hold me… some say thank you for letting me into your world…. some lock me in the closet out of fear… and it is usually me who does the latter.

 

The first time I tried to come out to a friend who had known me since childhood, I was met with a barrage of Biblical information, emails of “deep concern for my soul”, and finally an invitation to meet a church member who had been “rehabilitated”…because, as my friend stated, “I know once you get into that, it’s hard to get out of it.”
”Get into that”….get into WHAT?  “Hard to get out of it”….get out of WHAT?  Get into being myself and loving someone completely?  Get out of my own skin and into one you approve of?  Yeah, I think that’s kinda impossible to do.  I’m pretty sure the Bible tells me that God knit me together in my mother’s womb…I can’t really undo that.  What was undone, much to my heartbreak, was that 36 year friendship.

 

Unfortunately many people….once they hear the words from your mouth that you are gay….that is all they see….as if that one piece of information that they had overlooked, that had been hidden from them, that was protected all the time because of this very fear they just confirmed….suddenly negated who you were completely.  Erased all the good…and replaced it with this blur…this shadow…this “less”.

 

But then comes a day when another someone says, “It’s okay.” “I know.” And suddenly the three most beautiful words that you have ever heard at that moment are, “Nothing has changed.”

 

A friendship spanning 34 years, from football games to slumber parties to double dating to being in one another’s wedding to going on trips together to sharing problems and laughing until we cried…to this…the opening of the deepest trust from the deepest cavern of who I really am…”Carol, I am gay.”

 

Oh, those words did not come easily or quickly.  In fact, they almost didn’t come at all.

 

The day appointed to “talk” started with lunch, which was full of casual conversation, an update on the kids, a little whining about life in general, a little laughing…then a walk around the park where the conversation became more stilted and shallow as my nerves were creating a vortex of fear inside of me…”Can I do this?”  I so needed SOMEone to connect the dots of my life and see me through the years!  She had known me since I was 16…but she didn’t know THIS…but I had already opened the door to this moment in time by emailing her that I needed to tell her something that might change our friendship…and knowing Carol as I do, she would not let this one go. This had to happen, and I knew it.

 

We made our way to some old bleachers on that breezy fall day…and I looked at her square in her beautiful golden eyes…she looked back with a questioning expression as if to say “What’s up?”  She knew something was on my heart, and she waited patiently for my words to come, but my courage was gone.  We sat there in silence for a while.  She didn’t push and I didn’t budge…

 

“What did you want to tell me?  I promise there is nothing you could tell me that would make me not love you.”

 

I remember saying, “First of all, I didn’t murder anyone.”  We laughed…and I looked away…and then the tears came…and the stammering words came…I tried to start back with some hints from high school…and work my way up…it was SO HARD…but it finally came out of my mouth…and into her ears.   AND….there was no judgment.  There was no shocking reaction. I did it.  I told her. I finally came out after all these years…and there were those beautiful golden eyes looking square at me…and she said to me, “It’s okay. I know. Nothing has changed.”

 

But something indeed HAS changed.  I now know that there are people out there who will accept me as I am…and who do not view me as scarred or less….a lesbian who is a Christian who loves the god who made her…and loves people for who they are. There is hope and safety beyond the closet…in the hearts of true friends.  And Carol proved her feelings for me were no different….when just a few weeks later…she accepted an invitation to have dinner with me and the woman I love.

 

I admit that sometimes I regret telling her, but not because of anything she did, but just because I still struggle with who I am…as the conservative voices from my upbringing still echo in my head…and I wonder how she feels about all the years I was silent.  But it feels like a new chapter to our friendship, one we only read together…inside my lighted closet.

~

Be sure to check out part one, Carol’s Story

 

Making My Email My Spiritual Discipline

 

I write on my cover letter that my “strongest suit is communication” and half of that is lie.

 

Sure, I can lecture a friend with a persuasive argument and bid them into readjusting their worldview. I can write both a convincing constitutional piece on prison reform and dribble out a creative swirl on the saving grace of Jesus. If I am being paid, I will write to the best of my ability all the projects I am tasked with and I will never miss a deadline.

 

But when it comes to my personal life. I suck.

 

My inbox is bloated and dusty right now as it accumulates emails from family and friends, from guest post writers and my bank. They want to know where I am and how I am doing and what now.

 

In this blur of a situation I have stepped in, my responsibilities are quick and erratic. Suddenly, a job opportunity. A request for an interview in exactly two hours after their email has been sent, and at this point of desperate reaching, I know better than to say no. Then they do. Or I do. And the whole thing starts again.

 

My aunt and uncle have been gracious hosts and good company. They’ve tasked me with one or more jobs to do around the house, watering the flowers and such. For letting me stay here, it really is quite the deal. We joke around, have deep intellectually stimulating conversations over beers late at night about politics and civil rights and how I probably became a liberal because of them.

 

And the day ends and I am nowhere near connecting to my family. There is guilt, absolutely, but there is also the reality that it is difficult to correspond when you’re trying so very hard to not be homesick. I’m doing my very, very best to keep my chin up when the email comes that the job isn’t for me, or the church is just too exclusive to let me in and now a madman has broken 12 different families in this city, a hundred different people.

 

And how self-absorbed does this post sound?

Yes, very.

 

Here’s what I am trying to do. Or will begin trying to do. Will probably screw ten times to Sunday, but I think it’s important.

 

Treat emails like a spiritual discipline.

 

For starters, the fact that people want to be in touch with me is a blessing. There is nothing better than knowing that people love and care about you and are missing you like crazy. That is not something to be taken for granted, that is something to be grateful for.

 

Also, I need to keep a pulse in these relationships. When things get hard my initial tendency is to beat back the bad feelings, laugh about them, let myself go a little crazy and then keep on running.

 

But sometimes it ends up with me on the couch curled up with a tub of ice cream completely apathetic, totally unresponsive to the buzzing of my phone.

 

To be clear, it’s not depression or sadness, it’s more being worn out and frustrated. And instead of my natural instinct toward hope hope hope, I have to gather some good feelings and brew them up into something inspiring. Which maybe is a skill I’m learning.

 

I miss my family, yes I do. I miss my baby nephew and his babble talk and those first peek a boo smiles. I miss my friends who I received a care package from today, it was filled with letters of encouragement, socks, peanut butter and jelly, Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, popcorn and a Tupperware container of chocolate chip cookies. I miss their company, their desire to listen and to be heard, the stupid jokes and the acting-younger-than-we-are. I miss the way Minnesota leaves turn crimson red and yellow, the way the Mississippi seems to slow in the fall to an almost dreamlike pace. I miss it all, every last leaf of it, but I am also searching for something.

 

The next step? A great escape? A fat paycheck? I’m still uncovering it, little by little.

 

And maybe one of the ways to shoo me along this path is too keep in touch with those I care and love most back home. They are, after all, a wellspring of strength for this flailing job seeker, and I know that when my back is completely against the ropes, they’re there.

 

So loved ones. I am going to be better. Or at least try. It is for you, because I love you, but it also for me, because you keep me going.

 

RR

Coming Out as Different

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He was the last on my list, but certainly not least.

 

I was leaving for DC in only a few short days and time was percussing through my head as I panicked over thirty different things I still hadn’t done. And yet, this was the most important. The most terrifying. I was as intent on doing it as I was intent on putting it off.

 

When I asked him for coffee I picked a place in uptown, a safe distance from my suburban surroundings where an overheard word could catch wind and wave out to the edge of my world. Taking all control right out of my hands. That wouldn’t be happening, especially right before I flew away.

 

So we went to this small indie cafe, one that I had never been to and neither had he. After a few moments of chit chat while we waited for our coffee, we took two black chairs and sat, waiting for me to begin.

 

I was all business and couldn’t fill the air with more bullshit. My heart couldn’t support the pressing weight of this secret for a minute more. There would be no small talk, the breeze would not be shot. We were in survival mode here and I wanted to bring him into the circle that he did not know he was standing outside of. And this is the kind of friend you want in your corner. This is the kind of person that shows up when all else fails.

 

“I am gay” I said, staring calm and serious into his eyes. It was the first time I said it and I didn’t twitch or feel uncomfortable as the words passed my lips. My tongue didn’t turn to rock, it flipped easily, and might I add, proudly. There was certainly a tension leading up to this very moment, but.. I don’t know. Maybe gone through this a dozen times before had made this place familiar, safe in the structure of the conversation. Safe in talking to this friend.

 

He nodded, smiled and said, “When you began with ‘there is something I have to tell you’, I wondered if this was it. Not that I suspected before, but just in that beginning, the thought shot up my mind.” and then he laughed and I laughed back and I began the painful process of letting him all the way in. I told him the whole story, the warm days where God felt as close as my breath and the cold ones when I was so broken by shame that I could barely get out of bed. He wept when I told him that I known since I was in sixth grade, that I walked through this world convinced I was something foul, unloved by a God that loved everyone else.

 

“You’ve already changed my heart, man. You have. I love you brother” He said after awhile.

 

The lighter side of my story I told with great excitement; my spiritual close encounters in the wake of coming out. I’d share the stories and then let the colors unfold all around us. My cold night beneath the stars when He told me He wasn’t like them. The intimate conversations when I broke through my own fear and the courage awoke in someone else to share their story, their kind of different. The way my coming out seemed to bring others into the light. And how warm it felt to stand there with them in all their authenticity.

 

These are my stories and they matter to me. I hang them down my memory like bright chandeliers, a constant presence upon my darker ones. I think about the time God snatched up my heart from the ditch I had left it in; He held it close to his and warmed it with whispered love. Or the repeated instances where He shook my shoulders, reminded me of the beautiful painful reality that sometimes, the Least of These that I am to love, is me.

 

I once thought of coming out as a confession of something seedy. A sin-infested lesion on my life that needed the attention, the antidote, of real Christians with their intentional prayers of change. That since I was sin and unable to go to God, they could on my behalf, make me holy so I could bring glory to his name.

 

But that’s not it at all. Coming out is quite the opposite. It is like sharing light.

 

It is saying this is how I have felt perceived by the world. Ugly. Rebellious. A gutter-blooded mistake. This is how I have hurt myself: By my hiding, by the bottle, by the coldness of stare in the bathroom mirror. I was wounded by others and by myself, but I am healing now, thriving forward, because I accepted that I was loved.

 

I accepted than I am acceptable. Adored. Fawned Over. By the God of Big Things. And once I did that, at the pit bottom of my heart, my flame sparked. My light burned brighter and brighter up through the dark places of my soul. I was confident in his love, I could hear Him in the words, I felt him with me in both the valley and the peak, and I felt how his presence in me allowed me to cast a glow on others. Make them believe they can love themselves too. Acceptance is contagious like that.

 

When we accept that we are accepted, we are like lanterns floating through a darkening world. Casting a light into the deep darkness in others. Sparking a flame. Spreading a wildfire.

 

What would happen if we posted up, radiated out waves of grace into this world that has grown so cold within? What if we glowed from each new morning, into every honest word, through holy conversations over coffee? Would it roll out wide and all encompassing? Could Kingdom come at last?

 

RR

Stirring My Humanity, Yesterday in Washington

Lonely boy sitting on a staircase, Cologne, Rhineland, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, Europe

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Yesterday morning a man entered into an office and massacred twelve people. By the time the dust settled, he too was dead.

 

I was drinking coffee with my aunt, at the table by the large window, while the warm autumn light pushed its’ way through the trees and filled our home in DC.

 

The way I found out was my CNN app buzzing my iphone on the table and when I read the news clicker out loud, we sat quietly for a moment, shaking our heads. We talked about gun control, the culture of violence, and how to combat this vicious infection of evil that seems to be expanding, accelerating through our homes and schools and movie theaters and places of work. Where do you start to stop it? Where are the answers?

 

I sat in these question. I went about my day.

 

As the death toll rose, I wondered about the news. I wondered if this would be big enough- the final straw driving us toward real and lasting change. If the twelve dead would be so haunting for the NRA politicians that they might reconsider their stances on gun control. I sat in downtown traffic angry and annoyed and for the entirety of the day I didn’t once think about the victims.

 

I didn’t think about the horror of being hunted by a madman, one armed with something so terribly powerful that no one could ever outrun it. The way they must’ve hid beneath desks decorated with framed family photos, behind hallway corners waiting, feet pressed up against the bathroom stall doors. What sheer grief felt like, knowing you would never see your family again.

 

God placed in me a heart that pumps for justice and it is a gift. It is a good quality I have. But I also hate its’ tendency to pull me past the grieving, skip over it for the actions, resolutions and new laws. I am pointing fingers at all around me, like pistols, and someone else is waiting for their loved one to come home.

 

In these kind of events that snatch away the nation’s breath, I have always thought about proximity. The tsunami was too far away and the death toll too high, too overwhelming for a prayer to fit. Aurora is in Colorado, Newton is in Connecticut, Oklahoma’s tornado felt out of this world.

 

But this is my city now and nothing in me changed that day. Shocking violence and a death toll piling up are still not enough to shake awake my humanity. I’m still skipping over it on my way to justice.

 

I remember reading this from Addie Zierman after Oklahoma and I think what she’s getting at here is something so deeply spiritual. About all of us forgoing are tendency to look away from the carnage.

 

“In the mornings, I sit at this chair, turned toward the big window, waiting for words, waiting for God.

I was here the morning after the theatre shooting in Colorado and the morning after Hurricane Sandy. On the mornings after Sandy Hook I forced myself to look at the photos of each of those children, weeping and saying their names out loud in the silence. For myself. For their Mamas. Saying it all to a God who often feels so far away from it all.” – Addie Zierman, On God, Storms and Asking the Hard Questions

 

As I sit a morning removed from the wreckage, I am saying their names out loud. I am saying them to a God that does feel far away, often, but I am also saying them for myself who has become too numb to pain of others.. I am doing it selfishly to hem together my humanity, nourish my heart with a real cry. And I am reminded it is also our call to grieve with those who grieve. To sit in the dark and remember those we’ve lost.

 

I am in the perfect warmth of fall within the city where, less 24 hours ago, evil rained fire. But really, I could be a million miles away. I can click off the phone, change the channel, turn to my to-do list and fret over the important and foolish anxieties of the day. I can choose to turn my head away from the bullet battered office, the family paralyzed in pain, the screams and the bloodshed. Being close doesn’t make any of the world’s horrors matter more to me.

 

But speaking them does. When I read those names, let them mix in with my heart, and then fill in my voice there is a connection that occurs. I wince with a fraction of their pain. I hear more of their cries for a God that never came. I am less distant. I am less numb. I am more present. More human.

 

Right now, at 10:15 AM, there have only been seven names released:

 

Michael Arnold, 59

Arnold and his wife, Jolanda, had been married for more than 30 years, Hunter said. They had two grown sons, Eric and Christopher.

 

Hunter said Arnold returned to Michigan for Labor Day to visit his 80-year-old mother, Patricia.

Rochester News

 

Arthur Daniels, 51

 

For the last two years, Arthur Daniels has relocated and installed office furniture in federal government buildings around the region. On Monday, he went to work inside Washington Navy Yard. His family and co-workers say they wish he was anywhere but there.

That’s where he spotted a gunman running down the hallway of building 197, according to witnesses at the scene. He and a colleague started running. They arrived at an elevator and frantically pushed the button to get it to open.

 

His wife Priscilla Daniels wept while recalling how she waited all day to hear news.

 

Washington Post

 

Sylvia Frasier, 53

 

“The Frasiers prayed and watched the live TV coverage. They clutched their iPhones and clasped one another’s hands every time a cellphone rang or beeped with a text message. Their minister came over, and everyone sat on the couches and sang from the Bible.

 

“No matter how we feel, no matter what information we get from the FBI, we have got to forgive,” she [Sylvia’s sister] said. “We have to forgive. We can’t become bitter.”

 

Finally, shortly before 10 p.m., Lindlee and a brother arrived at their parents’ home with news they couldn’t bring themselves to deliver by phone: Sylvia was dead.”

 

Washinton Post

 

Kathleen Gaarde, 62

 

“In an e-mail to The Associated Press, Gaarde’s husband, Douglass wrote: “Today my life partner of 42 years (38 of them married) was taken from me, my grown son and daughter, and friends. We were just starting to plan our retirement activities and now none of that matters. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet but I know I already dearly miss her.”

 

Washington Post

 

John Roger Johnson, 73

 

“He always had a smile on his face,” the neighbor said. “He loved children. He loved our grandchildren. No one could ask for a better neighbor.”

 

Washington Post

 

Frank Kohler, 50

 

“A neighbor of Frank Kohler in St. Mary’s County said he was married with two daughters. A family member declined to comment.”

 

Washington Post

 

Vishnu Pandit, 61

 

One neighbor, Zhaohua Zhou, said that a steady stream of cars arrived late Monday outside Vishnu Pandit’s home in North Potomac.

 

“I’m astonished,” Zhou said. “I’m just so sorry.”

 

Another neighbor, Mike Honig, said Pandit and his wife have lived in the neighborhood for at least 20 years. He described Pandit as “a very nice man with an Irish setter.”

 

“All of the neighbors are doing all they can,” Honig said. “It’s a terrible tragedy. . . . It’s a stain and strain on the nation that we haven’t put public safety laws in place to prevent this sort of tragedy.”

 

A man who answered the phone at the Pandit house said the family did not want to comment.

 

Washington Post

 

Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46

 

Kenneth Bernard Proctor, a civilian utilities foreman at the Navy Yard, didn’t work in that building, his ex-wife, Evelyn Proctor, told The Associated Press. But, she said: “It was a routine thing for him to go there in the morning for breakfast, and unfortunately it happened.”

 

The high school sweethearts had spoken early Monday morning, before he left for work, she said. They talked every day, even after their marriage ended in divorce earlier this year.

 

“We were still very close. It wasn’t a bitter divorce,” she said. “We still talked every day, and we lived 10 minutes away from each other.”

 

He was, she said, “a very loving, caring, gentle person.”

 

After failing to reach her ex-husband by telephone, Evelyn Proctor drove to the Navy Yard, fearing the worst, according to The Associated Press. She waited about three hours with other people looking for their loved ones and was informed around 8 p.m. that Kenneth Proctor was among the shooter’s victims.

 

He was 46 years old and loved his boys and his Redskins. He’d been born and raised in Charles County, Md., and was still living there. He’d worked for the federal government for 22 years, his ex-wife said. They’d married in 1994 and had two boys together – both now teenagers. Their youngest son, Kendull, is 15. Their eldest, Kenneth Jr., 17, recently enlisted in the Army.

 

Washington Post

 

RR

These Hallowed Grounds: Carol’s Story and The Three Most Important Words

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I was very happy when Carol DM’d me after I tweeted about this series. There was a story of a moment she shared with a dear friend of hers, and before she would permit me to publish it, she wanted to make sure her friend would be okay. Turns out, her friend, like all of us do, wanted to share her story as well. She’ll be posting on Friday.

Godly grace poured through Carol in this moment and her friend’s brave vulnerability. I am so honored to have you all read this. 

Carol writes at Upside Down Grace and is definitely one to add to your list. 

~

It all began with a message after I started writing my blog. I’m paraphrasing here as I can’t find the originals but it went something like this:

 

I’ve been reading your blog. You seem to be changing. Evolving. Being more honest. I need to tell you something that might change our friendship or possibly even end it…

 


I think that’s the point at which my thoughts were confirmed. Somehow I think I had known for a long time. But how do you ask the question, “Are you gay?”

 

I replied that nothing could ever change our friendship. There was nothing that would be so devastating or so bad that it would have that kind of impact on a friendship of 34 years. Nothing she could say would surprise me. I had done enough in my life to pave a road to hell and back brick by brick.

 

And then, silence. If I remember correctly, she begged off somehow saying it was nothing or not important. Basically, don’t worry about it. I am nothing if not persistent. I wasn’t going to let this go.

 

We eventually made plans to spend the day together. We enjoyed lunch at a Mexican restaurant and then decided to head to a nearby park to walk off our meal. We walked around the small lake a couple of times chatting about this and that. Just enjoying each other’s company as we had done many other times in the past. The further we walked, the further away she became. We eventually took a seat on the bleachers of the soccer field and sat in silence for a while. I didn’t want to push her but we had come too far to turn back what had started all those weeks ago with that original message. I have something to tell you…

 

The story finally came. Hesitantly. And not without a few tears. I remember saying, probably more than once, that nothing she could tell me would change how I felt about her. She was my friend and would always be my friend. Sometime before the words were actually spoken I told her, “I’m pretty sure I already know what you are going to say.” I have no idea if that helped or made it even harder to speak them, but her words did come. “I am gay.”

 

We sat there on those wooden bleachers in silence as time seemingly stood still. Yet the breeze still blew, the birds still sang and the sun continued to shine. And a friendship continued. Yes, the next 34 years will be different, will be changed. Because of three small words…I love you. Because that’s what true friends do. And the more you truly know someone, the more you can truly love them.

~

Be sure to check out Carol’s blog here

How Taylor, Colbie and John helped me process all my feelings

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After I quit my job, I drove home listening to Taylor Swift. She is both famous and infamous for singing about her feelings and I think I needed to hear someone that liked to dwell on them. Mine were coursing and clotting through my veins. Taylor’s song, The Moment I Knew, played and it could’ve been written for my night. It’s about Taylor standing in the middle of her birthday party in red lipstick, eyeing the door expectantly for the man that said he’d come- but doesn’t. After awhile, she cries in the bathroom and she knows it is over. And it is heartbreaking. And irresistibly cliche.

https://soundcloud.com/christianmleroymusic/taylorswift-themomentiknew

 

It began with the cringe-inducing, slow shutting of one door, the old woman saying sadly-almost scared-like, “leave us alone, please.” Then there was the view from the glass door, late in the evening, where I saw three women huddled on a couch, the middle one crying, and I still nearly knocked because I hadn’t made quota yet.

 

At another door, an elderly couple appeared and the lady asked me, “why would you knock so late in the evening?” I replied, “just doing my job ma’am.” And she shook her head. She muttered, “Quite the work.”

 

One house I went to belonged to a friendly gentleman standing firm on the other side of his glass front door. I gave the pitch, told him about the water that was at risk, and he held up a hand to stop me, “we have clean water, we don’t need any, alright?” Immediately I could tell he didn’t understand me, so I held up my hand in response. I said, “Oh, I’m sorry Sir, Let me explain. We’re working to protect national waterways. Our small streams and rivers?” He smiled big and I should’ve seen his sickness. Staying behind the glass door, he pointed past me and I turned to look out. He said,

 

“see where the grass meets the neighbor’s driveway? Run to it. Get the hell off my property. I’ll sick my dogs on you!”

 

I was totally taken aback and, obviously, offended. As I walked away I swung up my clipboard and said tartly. “Thanks again, Sir!” And then I heard the door creak open. Then I heard him say, “get him boys!” And I booked it beyond the invisible fence where bloodhounds screeched to a halt and growled savagely, eyes fixed on my face.

 

All I could think to say when I looked back was, “Really?” And I knew I was about to lose control. I knew I had had enough of slammed doors and games with psychopaths and invading family dinners and emotional moments. All these events pancaked, one on top of the other, right until the moment that the hounds were sicked on me. The moment Satan’s voice scowled, “Git him!”

 

The Moment I Knew.

 

I kept listening to the song, but then I got sad. I thought about money and where to, now and why hadn’t I stuck it out? The whole idea of this move started mock me. I was once again unemployed and heading nowhere fast and I berated myself for it. How stupid could I have been to leave a good job in Minnesota to pursue pipe dreams?

 

Nestling into these thoughts, I clicked the next button three, maybe four thousand times until I came across, “Think Good Thoughts” by Colbie Caillat, letting it weave its way gently into my ears.

I won’t let the negativity turn me into my enemy. She says.

 

After several minutes, I was able to put some space between my feelings and I. I could think logically about these thoughts, were they true? How can I know? What is the history of my bad thoughts? What are the good ones? Where are the blessings?

 

And I began to muster up a little laugh. Two weeks- TWO WEEKS I have been here and I cannot believe that I was already throwing on the victim garb. Oh what drama. What a dramatic little tantrum I was having. Take a breath, in and out, this is nothing a glass of milk and the novel on the nightstand can’t fix. Think good thoughts.

 

By the time I had gotten home I mellowed out with John Mayer’s Paradise Valley.

I was able to roll my eyes about the nice woman who offered me a job. She gave me her number, the address of where to meet her on Saturday morning, but neglected to tell me the name of the company. Only later did this make any sense as it was a semi-scam dressed in good intentions. Then I recalled another scene from the night: A foreign woman’s voice calling out to me as I left her door. “Vatch for ve snakes. I saw them around my yawd earlier.” It was pith dark and slippery from the rain and I must’ve looked so weird high-kneeing it off her property like Richard Gere in Runaway Bride. I thought about how each one of these stories were like huge hilarious things in one week and a half of work. Experience you couldn’t get anywhere else.

 

I was good at canvassing, but I care more that I am getting better at handling disappointment. More and more I am shaking myself awake before I get lulled into all the lousiness. Because it’s not all lousy, despite what the bad feelings argue. It’s quite beautiful. It is another pit and climb in my story. It is the night Taylor got me and Colbie saved me and John Mayer coasted me home. It is me reflexively reining in my mind. It is me, seeing clearer and feeling better.

 

RR

These Hallowed Grounds: Nathan’s Story

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I’ve had Nathan Kennedy write here before and it’s been for all the best reasons. Nathan has written many posts that have really resonated with me, taught me so much about the joy of coming out and how to move forward in this unique identity with dignity. He’s good people.

If you haven’t already, check out his blog here. 

~ ~ ~

The other day I bought some shoes. The dearth of great selections at most department stores and retailers disappointed me as usual – after all, I have the unfortunate combination of extravagant taste and cheapness. I bypassed several racks, refusing to bedeck myself in either Chacos or Sperrys, instead perusing the clearance racks to see what overlooked gems remained in stock. I didn’t know it, but this shopping day would prove to be a major personal milestone: it would help me learn a crucial ingredient to what it means to be “out” as an LGBTQ person.

 

I came out a while back. Well, I came out on my personal blog and my Twitter account, and though I’ve always been “out” to my closer friends, my understanding of what it means to be “out” has changed at different times. Most of the time I just think, well, I’ll just be myself and people can figure it out. They usually do. I honestly don’t like spelling it out – I just let my personality speak for itself.

 

And then I stood in the shoe department at JCPenney and found myself face to face with a pair of white leather loafers, as sleek as they were attractive. I had that familiar impulse that we all get when we see something that we like so much. I have to have those! Yes, it sounds vapid, but it’s true. I don’t like shopping that much, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune from that instant infatuation with particular consumer goods that lifestyle marketers cash in on. A marketer would tell you that I didn’t see on the rack the other day a pair of shoes but an identity, a ploy known very well to retail marketers obsessed with peddling fashions and clothing. Smoke and mirrors the illusion may have been, but the fact that these shoes were so damn awesome wasn’t.

 

But I hesitated to buy them. My interior shriek of delight (which, I assure you, was very interior) dampened as I realized that to wear these shoes is, according to some law somebody made up some time ago, “less than acceptable” in some gendered, socially accepted norm. My main concern, once I came to put it into words, reduced to a simple, “No, I can’t wear those. They’re too gay!”

 

They’re too gay.”

 

I let that realization sink in for a moment. Obviously marketed toward men nonetheless, I hesitated to buy a pair of shoes I really loved because I was afraid that people would see me as gay. But I am gay—I’m not only gay, but I’m out. It’s not that my wardrobe tends to be on the dull side; walking down the street, I’ve heard crude epithets hurled at me from a car full of mulleted college students. I’ve been at the grocery store picking onions only to hear someone in a group of frat boys mutter just loud enough for me to hear, “[Expletive] fag!” Middle school and high school were a series of emotional gauntlets I somehow survived. I’ve never described myself as “effeminate,” but I’ve come to terms with the realization that regardless, I’m most definitely queer.

 

And yet, I mourn the fact that I don’t always feel at ease with my surroundings because I am gay. I live in Texas. There are some places, contexts, and crowds that to be conspicuous is at best unwise or, at worst, dangerous. Even walking down the street, shopping in the grocery store, or going to church can be an occasion of high vulnerability. I’m sad to say that even with family, I haven’t always been at ease. When I was 14 and my parents began to fear that I was gay, I remember a big fight breaking out with threats of being kicked out of the house and dying of AIDS and my mother forcing me to read out loud the Bible passages supposedly condemning homosexuality. I remember one of my high school teachers explicitly telling the class that it’s not okay to be gay. I remember my Boy Scout leader having a conversation with one of the other leaders saying that if he were to find out one of his Scouts were gay, he’d show them the door. Coming out has been a process that’s involved great risk to my relationships, standings, and, perhaps, my safety.

 

About four years ago, I pushed myself to the point of a severe nervous breakdown. In the course of living out what I believed to be God’s will for my life – celibacy, spiritual perfectionism, and obedient submission – I carried on too hard and too fast for someone of my constitution. I was in a Catholic seminary at the time, and if my behavior wasn’t policed enough by the institution, some part of my mind took exceeding pleasure in policing it for me. Every mannerism, inflection, and aspect of my appearance and personality fell under uncompromising internal and external scrutiny. As time went on, I began feeling the effects of severe anxiety: extreme insomnia, lack of concentration, and withdrawal. Eventually, my body began to feel the physical effects of this anxiety. I had recurring, splitting headaches, and my left arm developed a sizeable tremor. And then, one beautiful post-Easter Sunday morning, I blacked out and collapsed. A trip to the emergency room led to a CAT scan, an MRI, blood work, Percocet, and a referral to a psychiatrist. It led to my decision not to return to the seminary after the end of the semester. Most importantly, it led to a process of growth and change that, in time, would help me learn to live a more authentic, honest, and joyful life.

 

I believe that a great many of us have been so enamored with an image of God that bespeaks of some demanding, judgmental, perfectionistic entity whose call to discipleship is heavy on the Cross but light on the joy, that to break away from it means a radical break with one’s very notion of God. For me, it means that I’ve been so damaged by this “god” that I had to leave “god” to find God. This false god granted me no identity outside of an ecclesial structure or theological system; it convinced me that discipleship consisted of an endless series of “purifications” that would leave me broken, deconstructed, and crushed with no way to go but up. This “god” had no likeness to human love—it certainly had nothing to do with the kind of love I felt drawn to. This god was no more than a projection of my own interiorized voice of self-criticism and inadequacy—and I suspect that when a great deal of people talk about God, that voice is exactly what they have in mind.

 

So much of my process of coming out has been preparing for and recovering from being deeply hurt. It’s also been listening to voices of support while ignoring voices of detraction. It’s meant learning to make coming out my choice, based on my readiness, not someone else’s idea of how or when my coming out should be, if ever. Given what I had been through, it somehow occurred to me what a defeat it would be were I to pass up on a pair of shoes simply because I was afraid to seem “gay.” My ability to acknowledge and embrace who I am was hard-won and precious.

 

I bought the shoes. They currently encase my feet, dangling over the chair I sit in, revealing a hint of black argyle socks on crossed legs. In keeping with the pervasive lifestyle marketing techniques of which retail is resplendent, they’re “so me.”

 

That’s what coming out really is, after all. It’s looking at the different options for your life and, having come to know yourself, you forge the path that is “so you.” You make the outside of your life reveal the inside of your soul. That involves a lifelong process of discerning and choosing, of a journey outward to express and deepen your journey inward.

 

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For those of us who are LGBTQ, we have the decision to make as to how this affects us. How does being LGBTQ affect my interior life, and how is that to look on the outside? What direction does my experience of being LGBTQ move me in, and in what contexts do I find the most meaning in it?

 

Most of all, how does being LGBTQ deepen my experience and my understanding of what it means to be fully, truly, and authentically human?

 

And yes, people will make fun of me for being the guy in white loafers. They will mutter their insults and their epithets, try to convince me that the God I seek hates everything about my sexuality, and even have me fear for my very safety at times. But they can never take from me what I have won for myself: the unity of my outer and inner worlds; the integrity of my identity with my expression. That, after all, is what being out means. It’s the reclamation of the humanity of my sexuality – and the refusal to submit it to inauthentic definitions.

 

I cannot tell any soul what decision to make regarding coming out. It’s a profoundly personal, dare I say, sacred codification of one’s experience and identity, to which I remove my sandals (or white loafers) and stand in awe at the revelation that takes place to another’s soul. I can only ask anyone considering it to be as authentic as possible. Don’t cut corners in your soul-searching, and don’t try to side-step difficult issues. To those who have family, friends, or loved ones going through this process, my advice is this: stand in awe at the burning bush that you see before you. What is happening is a miraculous revelation that demands respect and humility, regardless of what you believe regarding homosexuality or gender identity.

 

Remember, always, that this is a person’s sexuality, one’s own or another person’s. The ground on which you are standing is holy.