Day Four Canvassing and Why Sometimes You Don’t Need to Hear it’s Your Fault

Childish Innocence

 

image credit

I’d rather not have another day in the field like I had yesterday. No, I am not grumpy nor am I bitter. I am, however, still a bit annoyed. Let me explain.

 

The day started around 345 and the weather was sweltering. Within 5 minutes I was sweating profusely, my pen had started to slowly leak onto my hands and I walked around until 6 pm without knowing about the smear of black across my cheek.

 

I went to approximately 90 houses and I was amazed at how, coming off of a couple nights of bringing back more dough than the rest of the office, I was hardly able to get a few people to say and listen to me. Some were downright insolent.

 

“I am NOT interested- AT ALL. BYE.” One woman said as she slammed the door shut and then very loudly locked it up, I think, just so I’d know she believed I was bad news.

 

“Go work for Jesus man.” Said one Duck Dynasty resembling, beardy old guy. “I aint giving you shit.”

 

Apart from the angry closers, there were many people who said, no, not right now, and they were very polite about it. They were, in fact, in the middle of dinner or taking their kids to football or simply having a quiet moment in the house after a long day of work. I hate that I am the one disrupting these people’s lives. But then again, the cause, which I still believe in my bones to be good. I also believe in the means, but not my role in them and we’ve talked about this before.

 

I met up with my trainer at a predetermined location and we did “stats analysis.” He began very kind about it, but then started pestering me with questions about what I was doing wrong.

 

“Is it the intro?”

“How’s your confidence?”

“You’ve kept is short and simple right?”

“Are you using time-sensitive words?”

 

To which I said, “I think it’s just this neighborhood. Everyone is busy and no one wants to talk.”

 

We were walking down the sidewalk and he stopped. Turned to me. Smirked. And then said, sharply:

“Never the neighborhood, always the canvasser.”

 

I stood there in my sweat-stained black shirt, my cheek still inked, feet stung with blisters and head hurting with dehydration and I wanted to toss the clipboard aside and throw down. This was the most exhausting day. I had been hustling around houses, receiving insult after insult, breaking up family dinners and quality time, and suddenly it was my problem. I wanted to quit yesterday- badly.

 

Again, I reminded myself, temporary.

 

I ended up making a few bucks by only begging people after they said no. Telling them I was new at this and completely going off script. Informing them of my unmet quota and need to please the bosses.

 

And here’s what I know about blame: Sometimes, yes, it is all my fault. Sometimes, I am too tired and excuse myself from trying. There are days when I fall short. You bet. Other days, the house just aint in the mood. People are busy making dinners, watching a movie, drinking with friends.

 

I marched up the porch to one glass door, it was late in the evening, and across the plane of the house I could see three women sitting in a room. The one in the middle was heaving heavy sobs and another was rubbing her shoulders while the other gently patted her hand. I stood there for a moment, so desperate to make my quota, that I actually considered knocking. I actually considered putting the possibility of a few bucks over this woman’s deeply vulnerable moment of god-knows-what tragedy. Thank God I left them in peace. Perhaps that’s the only blame I’ll take proudly. I didn’t ask for money in the middle of a meltdown.

 

My trainer ended up encouraging me at the hood of the suburban, saying that there are nights like this and all we can do is reflect about how we can do better. But I still felt I gave it my level best.

 

I went wordless, listless into the office that night. In the corner of the conference room, I sat quietly filling out my sheet, presenting my failure before the Gods of Clean Water. The boss of both the trainer and I came over to me excited, asking how the night went. I knew his excitement was based on the prior two nights in which I did exceptional, sending the office into applause at my potential as a canvasser.

 

“Uh, in a word, sucked.”

 

“It was a hot day, wasn’t it?” He asked, still standing in front of me. Still maintaining his cheer.

 

I stopped writing, looked up and said. “Yes. I was dehydrated and-and look at my shirt, sweat-stained, and look at my cheek, pen leaked. I was tired and felt uncomfortable and obviously, it must’ve impacted my try at the doors.”

 

He nodded pretty slowly, and after a moment said:

 

“Ya, you know, I remember when I first started canvassing neighborhoods and one extremely hot day, I was drenched and dehydrated and hated the whole thing. Also, it wasn’t completely my fault. People just weren’t interested and if they’re closed off at the beginning, there isn’t much you can do. Look at the board-“

 

He pointed up at my numbers, still starred for their greatness. I gave a more leveled out shrug.

 

“Days, like this happen. And it isn’t always something that you did.”

 

I’ll tell you what, I wanted to give this guy the biggest bear hug because that is exactly what I needed to hear. I needed someone who got it and told me about it and knew that a bit of guilt and shaming wasn’t going to do me no good. I needed someone to tell me, flat out, that I was good at this, because he could tell I had forgotten.

 

Some days we need water to keep us hydrated. A bit of shade to keep us from burning out. Sometimes a friendly canvasser that will let us work out our mourning without bothering us for a check and a signature.

 

And sometimes, even if they believe it was, we need someone to tell us it wasn’t our fault. Someone that will tell us that they believe so strongly in our strengths, that they know there had to be something about the heat, the lack of water, the lack of interest and just plain bad luck. Someone that will cap the day off with a good pat on the back and a thanks for trying and I know it’s hard, but let’s have fun tomorrow.

 

And that may have kept me from quitting.

 

RR

 

These Hallowed Grounds: Ben’s Story

Fotor0903230719

I can’t tell you what reading these stories has done to me. Maybe I can try, let’s see, it has made me realize how connected we all are. Why are stories matter more than most things. I am starting to see how we got to all the ugly- the shame and the resentment, the lack of trust and inability to receive. It has been a privilege to read these stories. It has brought out every good and strong feeling. 

 

Ben Moore is sharing a short story today about his roommate and what it is like to know, but not be directly told. And it is quite beautiful when you read how he felt, He wanted to understand and he wanted to be let in and isn’t that what we all want from one another? Those exchanges of honest story?

 

Ben is a pastor, husband and an excellent writer and I hope, after you read this, you’ll go check out his blog here.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I came home one day and there was a new picture hanging on the wall.  Of two men- kissing. 

 

I was a junior in college and rented a two bedroom apartment with two other guys.  I shared a room with Kevin, while Josh got his own room.  I knew the picture was Josh’s.  That was the only thing I was certain of.  He had done a good job of faking being interested in women.  There was a girl I was certain he would be in a relationship with soon, if he wasn’t already.  And yet, there was the picture.

 

What did it mean?  Did he just like the picture?  Was he making a statement about his support for gay rights?  Was he coming out?  He left for Christmas break the next day, and neither of us saw him in between.  The questions would remain until the new year.

 

And new questions came.  Questions about myself.

 

If he is coming out, why didn’t he just tell us?  I started asking myself if I had ever done or said anything that might suggest I wouldn’t be there for him.  And I got mad.  I got mad that he would think I might have a problem with it.  That he didn’t trust me to be a friend no matter what.

 

I didn’t get it.

 

I didn’t get how terrifying it all must have been for him.  I didn’t get that it had nothing to do with not trusting me, and everything to do with a world that was untrustworthy with this secret.  I didn’t get how vulnerable just hanging up that picture would make him.  I didn’t get that my other roommate may not handle it well. I didn’t get that he had to go home and face his family and what those feelings must have been.

 

I didn’t get it.

 

Thankfully before he actually came out I got it enough.  I realized he couldn’t understand that he would be loved and accepted until he was.  He couldn’t get that I was there for him until I offered it.

 

I still can’t say I get what it’s like to come out, and I’ll never be able to.  But what is it like to receive something so vulnerable?  I get it.  It is holy.  It is sacred.  It is a blessing.

~

Be sure to go check out Ben’s blog.

Maybe YOU can hire me?

Illustration of a hand flipping a coin in the air

 

Maybe it’s all the canvassing. Maybe it’s the knocking on doors until it’s too dark to see, asking hard-working people for their hard-earned money. Whatever it may be, I have come to believe that I should address the elephant in this blog’s room.

 

If you look to right and flick your eyes down to the end of the column, there used to be a big ugly DONATE button (now a shiny coffee cup). For a long time I was wary about adding one, because the whole point of my writing is to share my story and bond deep with others. Adding that kind of button seems to cheapen all of that. It looks like some kind of scheme.

 

A couple weeks ago I pasted it on the site and a few times since, I’ve opened my email and saw that a few sweet souls made some too-kind contributions to me. I didn’t believe any one would actually give. I was struck. I was humbled.

 

My words are my own as is my story and I put a lot of time into telling it right, but I do not expect you to donate. This has always been about the journey for myself and then it became about lighting comfort into others and I didn’t set to make money. That is still not what this is about.

 

Having said that, if you enjoy my writing, or the different series I’ve put together, if you believe in the work I am trying to do here then I would welcome you to flip a coin or two into the can. But I also want you to know that tip or none, I will still be writing for you. I will carry on in creating a space where I can tell my story, address injustice in the church and find healing for us all through connection and empathy and honesty.

 

Currently, I am working in Washington DC at a minimum wage job and though I have a college degree, I have yet to land a career or something resembling it. That means loans on top of loans. That means traveling to interviews and sometimes (ONCE) due to my stupidity, getting a $100 dollar ticket right outside the office. It means being able to set aside time to write pages on why I have a donate button and literally cringing through the entire thing.

 

So in the effort of making this not simply about supporting the site, but something more- something for you- I want to make a proposition. My email is registeredrunaway1@gmail.com and if you would like to hire me for any freelance writing assignment, I am yours. I play pretty fast and loose with the anonymity so that won’t be problem. I will make time for it and work tirelessly. So- if you like my style, my way with words, then shoot me an email and we’ll make it happen.

 

Otherwise, TIP or don’t, keep reading no matter what. I will still be here. I still want to be your friend. I still want to help.

 

Blessings,

 

RR

Day Two of Canvassing and Hating and Loving It

George_Caleb_Bingham_-_Canvassing_for_a_Vote_-_Google_Art_Project

It was a long day and each house sort of bled into the next. I was tired, like, the whole time. I spent the sidewalk transition doing some self-talk about why I believed so strongly in this cause and also, consoling my broken spirit that this was only temporary. Pulling out my phone, I refreshed my email about a dozen times, checked my spam mail, waiting for an email requesting my presence for an interview. Then I shook off the loss, puffed up my chest and knocked my rhythmic knock on the next door.

 

There was a surprising number of ill people in this neighborhood. They were sleeping off their surgeries and upon hearing me knock, they rose out of bed, strained themselves across the floor with their walkers, perhaps hoping to see an old friend- finding me instead. With my clipboard. Telling them to give me money. As the door would slam I would ask, “don’t you drink water?” Every time it was intended as a left hook to their coldness. I wasn’t myself. They should be in bed getting better, but this job makes you prickly. It takes slammed doors personally and charges every one with crimes against nature.

 

One house I came to, the woman stepped outside smiling at me. A year ago another canvasser had come to her door and she made it clear, she was passionate about the work we were doing. “Unfortunately,” she said, “I’ve had cancer since the last visit and it’s squeezed our budgets out. We’ll have to say no this year, but thank you.” I know what I’m supposed to do here. Ask for a token donation, shoot high, and then work your way down to something reasonable. But I just couldn’t. I just stared into her kind eyes and said. “Yah. Thank you for your time.”

 

That felt like kindness and grace and understanding, but I knew I couldn’t tell my boss about it. That was a missed opportunity with a passionate supporter and I blew it. But then again, I was happy I still retained some semblance of humanity.

 

I hit a lucky streak with one house. It was absolutely enormous. The girl that strode out from the patio door was dressed in diamonds, with long blond hair and a sort of buoyancy radiating through her, like one who has just read a book on positive thinking or been drinking through the entire afternoon.

 

“Whaddya you got for me?” She said, plopping herself down on the top step.

 

“I’m a community organizer working to protect our waterways-“ gently, she clasped her long fingers around the clipboard and removed it from my hands. She stared at it, fake reading, and then glanced up at me.

 

“Y’know, I’ve had a really, really crappy day.” Definitely been drinking, I thought. “I want to do some good. I want to help. You guys are doing good right?”

 

Despite how much I’ve hated my role in canvassing, I had to agree. I couldn’t help but give an exhortation about how half of our waterways are no longer federally protected and companies are already pouring their waste in our small streams and the consequences of inaction could be dire. I believed all this as it shot out.

 

She held a finger up. “I’ll be right back.” And she bounced back into the house.

 

When she returned she was holding a checkbook and writing fastidiously.

 

“I am going to give you $120.” And I nearly fell on my back like a plank of wood. I thanked her and thanked her and promised I would work to make sure her money was used to hold our politicians accountable. And then I left, feeling like I should’ve mowed the lawn or washed the windows or something.

 

At the end of the day my leaders were all slapping me on the back and congratulating me on making quota, and also, reminding me that my trainee pay was still the same and that trainees don’t get commission. I was also critiqued.

 

“These numbers,” the leader said to me as we stood beneath a street light, my clipboard in his hand. “You need to get the clipboard in their hand.”

 

“Sometimes,” I admitted, “I struggle to ask-”

 

“No, you need to Tell not ASK. Remember, tell them we NEED this.” I heard traces of doubt in his voice. There was a subtle suggestion that I didn’t actually care about keeping our water clean.

 

“Right.” I said and looked at the ground, scratching the pavement with my feet. I walked slowly back to the suburban, hopped in the furthest row back and pulled out my phone to distract myself from all this.

 

Here’s what I know about this job. I can love the cause and hate the means and believe in the means all at once. I can continue being human and that sometimes means asking not telling. I can take a small victory lap when a wealthy woman having a hard day uses my cause to make herself feel better. I can feel okay about telling a neighbor that I’m sorry, that while I believe in the cause, the canvassing thing isn’t my thing. I can be happy when I hear about all the money brought in and the letters collected and allow myself to be blown away in the bliss of my fellow canvassers on a job well done as we drive back in the dead of night.

 

There’s no shame in taking a job you hate and there is also no shame in making space for humanity. I have very legitimate reasons to believe I am not getting paid what I am due, but I also have dwindling savings, a speeding ticket and a parking ticket to pay for, and let’s not forget about the student loans. I have not many choices, but I also can choose to see only bad.

 

And this is the place where we begin with the weakest fix and we make the most of it. Be it a check for $365 from a kindhearted person, a hug from a not-today-donor, or a new, luxurious job- with benefits. I am learning that just as easily as I can see my ugly reflection in the glass porch door, in my bank account, I can also see the good. I can wrap myself in the strands of good will and good cause and a hard day’s work and feel proud of myself. And there’s no shame in that.

 

RR

These Hallowed Grounds: Brent’s Story

Fotor0903230719

I reached out to Brent awhile ago to see if he’d be interested in contributing to a series I was doing leading up to National Coming Out Day. Unfortunately, he is a full time Student and so busy with stacks on stacks of homework and Life and he knew it was best to not commit if he didn’t have time. Fortunately, he has written about experiences before and he took the time to send me the links. This is the one I selected to reprint today because it is most relevant to this conversation. Although, I might reprint a few of his others as the series goes along. They’ve all taught me so much. 

 

If you aren’t following Brent, you really don’t know what’s good for you. Kid is one of the wisest people I know in the conversation about LGBTs in the Church. I’m absolutely honored to reprint this piece today. After you read this, go check out his blog Odd Man Out. Trust me. It’s a treasure.

______________________________________________________________________________________

I finally psyched myself up to watch the video of an airman coming out to his father the day DADT was repealed, a video that has received plenty of attention and over 4.5 million views.  I put off watching it because, although I already knew the outcome of their conversation, watching someone come out fills me with anxiety.

 

When it comes to social events and conversations, my memory is usually awful, but I remember clearly every single time I came out to another person.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had that conversation, but if you give me a name, I can tell you the time and place of our dialog as well as the reasons I decided to tell the individual.  It’s happened in dorm rooms, living rooms, and offices; it’s happened on walks outside at different times of the day; it’s accompanied meals at Jason’s Deli, Joe’s Pizza, and a Texas steakhouse; it’s lasted anywhere from ten minutes to two hours plus; and it has involved the mediums of face-to-face conversation, phone calls, and email/Facebook.  I can also remember clearly every time someone else came out to me, simply because I know how huge of a moment it was for the other person.

 

After watching Randy Phillips’ video, I thought it would be helpful to share from my experiences coming out.  What’s interesting about the list I created is that my generation has commandeered the phrase “Coming Out”  to refer to any sort of conversation in which one person reveals something about him/herself heretofore unknown to the another person, and I think this list will resonate with anyone who has made a difficult self-disclosure within a close relationship.  So, whether you are the person coming out or someone comes out to you, and whether the “coming out” involves being attracted to one’s own gender, doubting one’s faith, or even voting Democrat, here is what you should know about coming out:

 

1. It’s terrifying every single time

As the list of people I had told grew longer over the years, it became easier for me to find the right words to say and to prepare myself for the emotional exhaustion that would follow; but the anxiety leading up to each conversation never decreased at all.  Every time I came out, I had to take the risk of potentially ruining or changing a significant relationship in my life, and that gamble never gets easier.  The strange irony of it all is that my closest relationships caused me the most anxiety, because even if I could predict with near-certainty how the other would react, I still had the most to lose in those cases.  (This is the anxiety that makes it so hard to watch videos like Phillips’.)

If someone should come out to you, then, receive it as a gesture of trust and intimacy, because it’s not easy to say those words.  Recognize, too, that the person’s fear and hesitation may have nothing to do with your open-mindedness, your trustworthiness, your compassion, or your lack thereof; it’s scary regardless of the recipient.

 

2. The initial response is not nearly as important as the long-term response

I think some people feel a lot of anxiety about receiving self-disclosure because they’re worried about saying or doing the wrong thing.  I may be unique here, but I care much less about how people respond to me in the moment and much more about how they respond in the days and weeks that follow.  Obviously, there are some major things you can get right or wrong in that initial conversation (my experiences have all been positive, but I’ve heard horror stories you wouldn’t believe), but those are pretty self-evident and are not likely to change much based on your reading this post.

Many of the people to whom I’ve come out had very little knowledge of homosexuality before our talk, and I think it would be selfishly arrogant of me to expect people to say exactly the right things and ask the most profound, penetrating questions.  I’ve been thinking very closely about the topic of homosexuality since middle school, but many of the people in my life haven’t had a pressing reason to do the same and may be in unfamiliar territory.  So—barring the obvious extremes—someone’s initial response is not going to permanently torpedo our relationship.

What’s been much more important to me is how the other person responded in the long-term.  Did s/he respect my wishes that our conversation remain confidential?  Did our relationship change drastically?  Did s/he stick around?  These questions matter much more for the future of the relationship than the first words out of the person’s mouth.

 

3. Conversations and relationships go two ways

Lest it sound too much like the outcome of any conversation or relationship depends entirely on the person who receives the self-disclosure, I do want to say the person coming out has a lot of power in the situation as well.  Even though I think the recipient should be as accommodating as possible in light of the difficulty for the one coming out, there are most definitely good and bad ways to disclose something big and to handle the relationship afterwards.  If a relationship goes bad after someone comes out, it’s entirely possible that it has nothing to do with the response given and everything to do with the baggage the person coming out was already carrying.

 

4. In the best cases, it leads to better relationships

As I mentioned above, I have been overwhelmingly blessed by the responses I’ve received.  In my experience, even people who know nothing about homosexuality care enough about our relationship to ask good questions and seek understanding.  Unfortunately, I’m starting to realize that my positive experiences are more of an aberration than the rule, and there are too many stories of self-disclosures that resulted in conflict, physical or emotional violence, and broken relationships.

When coming out goes well, though, it changes everything for the better.  There is nothing like the closeness and intimacy it allows.  The scriptures paint a beautiful picture of the kind of community that can develop if we are only willing to trust each other: we can “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:16), and “encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11).  I do not believe any of us were meant to be alone, and the fear of coming out to anyone can lead to crushing loneliness.

 

What are your experiences with coming out in any capacity and on either side of the conversation?  What has been the most helpful, the most difficult, and the most wonderful for you?

 

*Be sure to head over to Brent’s blog: Odd Man Out!

On Day One of Canvassing and Finding My Place

Liberal MP, Simon Hughes, Campaigning in Bermondsy

I stand at the door exactly how I am supposed to. Clipboard resting on the hip. Feet square to the door. Posture perfectly straight. A big dumb grin below my electric eyes. I look so fake, I think, begrudgingly. By the end of the day, this will be all I can do:

If they don’t answer on the first knock, I wait ten seconds, as I’m told to, and then knock again. This time, if they don’t answer, I write down the house number and make a note of returning to it later on.

 

But they do answer and I begin. “Hi, I’m a community organizer with ___ ___ ___ and we’re doing our local community fundraising drive to protect our water.” Stop, extend the clip board straight so they’ll have to take it and then say, “take a look at our goals, they look good right?” and then wait, like a predator for the nod, a vulnerable opening, and then strike. “Well, here’s the problem” I say and I go on about some seriously important problems that I only learned about today. Half of our waterways are now no longer federally protected and our politicians need to be held accountable. “Strength in number is our strategy” I say and then ask again, “you agree with all this?” Once they nod, I am to extend the pen. I am to say, “Great, sign and donate with your neighbors.”

 

*

 

Truth be told, in my first day of canvassing, I never got to the part where I tell people to donate. It was noted by my trainer that I am not to ask, I am to tell, just like a banker would do. Telling strangers to give me their money, especially in such an abrupt and almost inappropriate way, is not a strong suit of mine. Over and over with the trainer, rehearsing it, I continued to blow this part of the rap and his quietly growing annoyance would sometimes erupt like this:

 

Of the 60 doors I knocked on yesterday, half of them were slammed in my face. A few times there were whispered conversations about me behind the now ajar door, “It’s those environmentalists. What do I say?” Another young woman, with her coworkers all at her house, began shouting, “are you Mormons?” And then, to my great surprise, a few emerged with money and a signature and a promise to hold our politicians accountable.

 

Yesterday, I found myself thinking that this was eerily close to evangelicalism. The pitch, the sell, the guilt inducing “you care about the water you drink? Then sign up!” It is a lot of pushing people to their limits and arm-twisting them for even more money after they shell out a twenty (arm-twisting is part of the rap.)

 

And at the same time, I completely believe in them. I believe in the cause, I am all about stopping environmental degradation and I firmly believe that protecting our planet is part of the Kingdom call. I am romanticized by the idea of communities standing up to the billionaire coal companies and saying, Our voice means more than your wallet! I love communities that are forced to, for perhaps the first time, care about their neighbors. And I like how canvassing pushes people to do that because suburban isolationism is no joke.

 

But I am also not a salesperson. I am not someone who can shove statistics in a stranger’s face after a deceitfully friendly opening, finger tapping on the clipboard, “CARE. SIGN. GIVE. WE TAKE CHECKS.” The cause is right and the other canvassers are brilliant, but in my own particular skill set, this flies in the face of who I am.

 

When I thought about yesterday more this morning, I thought about the Body. The environmental campaign of this non-profit is not so different than the body of believers. Some of us fit in some roles and some of us don’t. And I’m not even talking about being worship leader or usher or daycare provider, I am talking about the stunning mess that is the church today.

 

We have critics and I am one of them. I am outside, knocking on the door, asking the Church folk to let more in. I am speaking my story with all the dignity I can muster and asking that they listen. Like really listen. Asking that they invite me into the conversations they whisper behind the door about me. Hoping that maybe they could one day see me as just a person, someone crafted together by God and who Jesus is insanely in love with. And I think that’s important, speaking up, it is the only way the church, the world, has ever changed.

 

We have the defenders of the institution and while often, I believe they’re dead wrong, they aren’t all wrong. Yes, they speak specifically to what they don’t like about me, but they also believe in the church as community, even if it’s a little skewed for them. They believe in personal discipline, which I more aptly call Personal Growth, something that I think is important to someone who takes Jesus seriously. In all of their bad (and believe me, there is still so much bad cough cough Joe Carter cough) they have good things to offer as well.

 

Christians are called to be united and this is where we must remember that unity is never the same as uniformity. We orbit around Jesus, we disagree over the Bible and all in all, that is okay. That is important. We all have our different perspectives, strengths and roles in which we put them to the very best use, all for the greater good of Kingdom.

 

*

 

I stand at the metro at ten thirty at night, talking to my dad on the phone as I wait for the train. “I just, I don’t know if canvassing is my thing” I say weakly, tired from walking and slammed doors. “But you believe in the cause don’t you?” My dad says in the most genuine reminder. “I do” I exhale as the train zooms in. “I do. I just have to wait and find my place.” And I think about how I’ve done that with Church and with other areas, I’m still searching. I smile inside at how I tired I am. I am pleased that  I’m moving my things forward and learning one slammed door, one disappointing opportunity at a time. And that’s important.

 

RR

These Hallowed Grounds: Bethany’s Story

Fotor0903230719

I said before that this was a two-part series, a two-part deal, as Coming Out always is. National Coming Out Day is October 11th and leading up to it, we’re going to talk about this thing- Coming Out. What it’s like, how it happens, all the mess that occurs through stammered speech and so many tears. One part is for gay Christians to tell their story. The other part is for straight folks that have had gay friends come out to them.

 

I’ve heard the constructive note of: “is it my story to tell?” from straight Christians wary of sharing something that they were merely a minor character in. But here’s the thing, coming out is a spiritual moment that requires more than one voice. There is a beautiful give and take that occurs. And it’s important to talk about.

 

Doing this is also pragmatic on my part. I want to give tools for those who have either recently had a friend come out or will, probably, have someone in the future come out to them. I am intent on making this moment as gorgeous as I believe it was intended to be. A moment for community. Love. Friendship. God.

 

Today Bethany is sharing her story of her friend coming out to her and I am so grateful. She’s a powerful voice in the blogosphere, writing over at All That Jazz, and even though our friendship has been brief, she has already given me so much encouragement. I love what she wrote for us today.

______________________________________________________________________________________

                       

                           “I have something to tell you… and it’s really bad.”

                                                                                                         “Okay… what is it?”

                           “I just… I don’t really want to tell you.”

                                                                                                         “Are you doing drugs?”

                           “No.”

                                                                                                        “Did you get a girl pregnant?”

                          “No…but it’s just as bad.”

                                                                                                        “What is it?”

                          “…I think I’m gay.”

 

Hearing those four words absolutely changed my world. My friend (we’ll call him Chris) and I were sophomores in high school. He was my best friend at the time, and I had noticed something had changed with him. He was pulling away from me, and I could tell he was hiding something. He kept assuring me that he wasn’t, but then after two weeks of prying, he finally told me.

 

I remember exactly where we were and even what kind of shoes he was wearing (I looked at the floor a lot). We were sitting on the couch in my parents’ basement, and he was wearing white K-Swiss shoes. Tears were streaming down both of our faces after he came out to me. Neither of us had any words for a long time, and I had no idea how to react.

 

When Chris first told me he was gay, he told me he didn’t want to be. He told me that he wanted to change. So being the “good Christian” that I was, I got materials from my youth pastor on how not to be gay and gave them to him. At first he was grateful, but over the next couple of weeks he started to change his perspective. As he came out to his friends from his high school, they encouraged him to accept who he was and realize that he couldn’t change.

 

Two weeks after he came out to me, he came over to my house. He stood in my bedroom doorway and said,

 

“Bethany, I can’t change. This is who I am.”

“…I think you can change.”

“I can’t. And I need you to accept that. I need you to accept me for who I am.”

“I just… I can’t, Chris. I can’t accept that you’re gay, because it’s wrong.”

 

…And that was it. From that point on, my friendship with Chris was disjointed, superficial, and is now non-existent. We tried to be friends, but I couldn’t get over how wrong I believed his homosexuality to be. While we would start out talking about what was going on in our lives, I would always somehow change the topic to his lifestyle and why he thought being gay was okay. Needless to say, he pulled away from me pretty quickly after that.

 

I did so many things wrong after Chris came out to me. I still don’t agree with same-sex partnerships, but I do believe that some people are born attracted to the same sex. I treated Chris as if he wasn’t acceptable as a person, and that there was something wrong with him. He still professed to be a Christian, but I didn’t believe him. For a long time, I believed that if a person was gay, they couldn’t possibly be a Christian.

 

To this day, I still mourn the loss of my friendship with Chris. He was my best friend and closest confidant. I trusted him fully. We had been through so much together, but as soon as he told me something I didn’t like, I threw all of that away.

 

As much as I felt that I was doing the right and loving thing by not accepting him and where he was at, I was incredibly wrong. I hurt him deeply. I hurt him to the point where our friendship was beyond being saved. …And it was all done in the name of love.

 

I wish I could articulate just how much I regret my actions to Chris. My heart still aches deeply over the things I did and said, and it aches for the lost friendship. Besides my husband, I’ve never had another friend like him. He was a once-in-a-lifetime friend, and I threw it away.

 

If I could give any advice to anyone trying to figure out how to respond to a friend/family member who comes out to them, it would be: Listen. Be patient. Give grace. Love unconditionally.

 

Even if you disagree. Even if you think they’re wrong. Love them, love them, love them.

 

Tell them you love them.

 

Tell them you won’t stop loving them.

 

Tell them that nothing they do or say could ever make you turn your back on them.

 

Embrace them.

 

When a person comes out to someone, odds are they really, really need a hug. Even if you feel you have no words to give, you can always hug them.

 

Cry with them.

 

When Chris came out to me, we just sat hugging and crying for a long time, and that’s okay. It was incredibly difficult for him to do what he did. It took immense bravery for him to be so honest.

 

I can’t tell you what to believe. I only know what I believe, and I must learn to love my gay friends in the midst of that.

 

Be compassionate.

 

If the person coming out to you is in the Church, then they probably are incredibly confused. They’re probably trying to figure things out, and they don’t know what to do. Be compassionate towards them. Understand that they are going through an incredibly difficult time, and don’t expect them to be in a different place than they are.

 

Pursue them.

 

Most likely, after they come out to you, they will try to pull away. Pursue them. Show them how much you love them. Show them you care about them for more than their sexual orientation. Don’t just tell them… show them. Show them they are important to you. Show them that your friendship doesn’t hinge on their orientation.

 

And I will say it again and again… Love them. Love them with everything you have.

~

 1 Corinthians 13:13

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

~

Fruitvale Station

 

Last night I went to bed with a lump in my throat that had refused to go down since I walked out of that theater. I saw Fruitvale Station, the true story of the last 24 hours of 22-year-old son, father, boyfriend Oscar Grant, before he was murdered at a train station by a police officer. This isn’t a spoiler for the movie, since it’s made clear at the beginning what will happen, but Oscar ends up in a fight on a train with an old enemy from prison. With all the commotion, the train stops, police order everyone off and then snag every black man who might’ve been involved and throw him against the wall of the station. After a beating and verbal altercations, Oscar is thrown on his stomach, cuffed, and then an officer shoots him in the back. The officer ended up spending 11 months in jail and then was released. This happened in 2009.

 

I had to text my mom and tell her first, that I was crying, and then, that I saw a movie that changed my life and that never ever happens to me. What some call the “intensity of effect” I call bawling into the steering wheel. It was a fantastic film, a horrible tragedy of a system so far off. And I don’t know how I am supposed navigate into conversations about race right now. I am a privileged white man, but I want to listen. I want to know what I can do. I want to know what I should know.

 

As a human being and a lover of the “cinema”, I was blown away by young, debut director Ryan Coogley’s human portrayal of Oscar Grant. While yes, it is hard to not be sympathetic to Michael B. Jordan (one of the best actor’s of our generation, hands down), there are also parts where I leaned back and tilted my head. Oscar wasn’t a martyr, as none of us are, but I assumed Ryan would make him to be such. I assumed that since this movie dealt with racial profiling/police violence that Oscar would become a great symbol, antithetical to racial stereotypes and proven to be a virtuous man we should emulate. But he wasn’t. And in many ways, he was. He had both good and bad in him. This is particularly emulated in the moving, heartbreaking scenes of him playing with his daughter, washing dishes with his mom, all the while we know what’s coming in just a few short hours. But he was also a work in progress with some moral shortcomings. He was trying to give up drug-dealing, find a job and stay faithful to his family, and you found yourself frustrated with him because you feel like you know him and you know that he’s better than that. Coogley sustains his story as one of being human.

 

And maybe that was the most moving part. Maybe that is what had me tear-streaked at the credits. He was a beautiful disaster, just like any of us. He was a father. He was a boyfriend. He was son. And that story packs a punch so deep in your gut because it’s true and when you think through racial injustice, gun violence, police abuse, the realities that many of us do not face, you realize how many Oscars there are out there. You realize that you are actively participating in, paying for, a criminal justice system, an economic system, a political system that still treats minorities as less than. And that’s sobering, and motivating. And I’m still learning and I don’t want to stop.

 

If you are going to go see a movie this weekend, I highly highly recommend Fruitvale Station.

 

RR

Coming Out On Hallowed Ground

A pair of Pied Oyster Catchers on the beach at sunrise, Moreton Island, Queensland, Australia

Coming out is the scariest thing any one you know will ever do. It takes all the courage at your disposal and when you say finally those three words, it drains a lifetime of pent up emotions. It will make you feel relieved, but vulnerable. Light, but exposed. Afraid, but held. A million different emotions, but by any estimate, it is better than the closet.

Next month, on October 11th, it is National Coming Out day and it feels fitting that we share coming out stories and advice and prayer. I’ve been haranguing some writers to tell their own experiences and the goal is two-fold. I want my gay friends to tell what it was like to come out and offer advice to those that are reading that might be preparing to. I want to see some stories, hear how the courage came and how the world has felt on the other side.

Also, I want my straight friends to talk about how they received that confession. How they felt and reacted, what they said and what they wish they hadn’t, what they wish they did. I want their words to guide any reader, currently ill-equipped, and that has or will find out someone close to them is gay. Basically, I want this moment of coming out to be as perfect and holy as I believe it was intended to be.

 

___________________________________________________________________________

 

It will make you sick to your stomach just thinking about it. Rehearsing the script in front of the bathroom mirror you’ll try a new line, a different tone of voice, but words really fail here, don’t they? Who can sum up an ache carried for a lifetime in a noun and a verb and a few choice adjectives? Where will you even begin?

 

Staring hard at your reflection you’ll put on your best brave face and for a moment, you might feel it as true, but then there’s that cold realization- the big words to be said and the inability to take them back. And for days, weeks, months, you will pick your moment and at the last minute cancel, because it is Too Much all at once. It is This Big and it is This Sharp and those words will fall like three sticks of dynamite. Who’s to say how they’ll land? Who’s to say you won’t end up tossed out in the cold?

 

I want you to know that you’re in the right place. Things are coming into true focus. Perhaps for the first time. This is normal. You’re almost there.

 

It isn’t your fault that you’re here, no doubt- you grew into it. Only after some time did it start to materialize around you, thick and safe, whispering about a world that doesn’t want you. You inhaled deeply, inside your secret secured, and without realizing it, you were swallowing shame, like a poison. The longer you stayed the more convoluted and chilling the world outside appeared. Before you knew it, it turned on you. The secret shook you thin and smashed you to bits and Beloved, you don’t belong in there. God’s children are to live in the light.

 

What I know about being inside the closet is that everything is upside down. For instance, what is Truth is that you are beautiful and human and created by the Holy, but the closet will twist that all up. It will say you are gross and icky and un-normal and everyone out there, the rest of the world, they are beautiful. They are whole and natural and the second you choose to surface, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. You cannot be known because you will not be loved.

 

So you decide that being alone is probably better, for all parties involved. Who needs a world so eager to reject me? Who needs all that pain? Who deserves to know my secrets? (this is the closet’s greatest trick. It convinces you that this dank space is Safety and what’s waiting out there is Pain. It is a delusion of shame.)

 

After years of wanting to and then receding from, I finally cracked open the door. I’ve come out in tears and in laughter, in eloquent speech and disjointed words, but what I have learned, through all of it, is that there is some kind of holy beauty in the moment. There is something about allowing yourself to be authentic.

 

You know exactly what I mean when I say that word, authentic, because it is all you’ve ever wanted. To be real in friendship, to go deep in intimacy, and no matter how many other parts of your heart that you’ve bared open, it is still like not enough. You are still so distant.

 

I remember sitting at the bar with one of my friends one moment after I stepped out of the closet. He folded his hands on the table and looked over at me. He asked me, “have you ever felt like, like you could go deep with anyone? Any of us?”

 

Memories fell open all around. Wednesday night Bible study and it’s the time to be vulnerable. Everyone goes around, bares their soul, tells us where it hurts and we stretch out our hands in prayer. I’m sitting against the wall, knees tucked beneath my chin and at my turn, I say something about homework. In this memory I am acutely aware of how fast I am disappearing into my own darkness. How badly I wanted to stop and say so.

 

But now here I was, at the bar, sunk to the base of my authenticity. My truth and heart transparent, with all their beauty and oddness, and he was smiling. Smiling. He told me how much it meant that I brought him in. How through my opening up, he felt better about us. He felt more confident in our friendship. And I realized that this moment, with all its’ joy and warmth, wouldn’t have happened the same way if I hadn’t arrived from where I did. I realized there is some kind of privilege of leaving the closet.

 

It’s a spiritual thing, this coming out; it’s not a solitary act. It is something shared. It is something risked. It is lowering one timid foot to the ground and trusting the other will make it hallowed.

 

And it is here, on this ground, that you chose them. That you chose yourself. You leapt off the edge in hope and they caught you and, Beloved, that’s a moment both of you will never forget. You will celebrate it forever.

 

Look, all I have are my stories. All I have is my promise that you are loved. And all I want, more than anything, is for you to experience that love. For you to taste it. For you to rest in it. And that means coming out. It does.

 

And as you think about your moment, your day, your person that you choose, I don’t want you to see it all as something to get through. I want you to appreciate how holy that action is. How it will be commemorated, consecrated, frozen in time forever. Easing yourself into the light of day, person by person, confession by confession, I want you to hold each memory tightly. Because, the Truth of it is, you’ll never want to let them go.

 

RR