Tomorrow, October 3rd, will mark three years since I came out. And tonight I’m feeling wistful.
People will surprise you.
If you give them the chance, they will. I know that sounds like crap. I know that every time you think about this, you see your heart laid out on the cutting board of another person’s reaction and response. And yes there is good reason for caution. This is a dangerous game to play with the wrong kind of people. But there’s something you need to know. Something you need to get through your thick head: You have the right kind of people.
Contrary to what you might think, there are many good people out there. Empathetic and thoughtful and loving people. Even in the Church.
One night, not too long from now, you’ll be sitting in the basement of a church building in Chicago, surrounded by a dozen other lgbtq Christians. You made the six hour drive because in the great expanse of wildly liberal Minnesota, there was not one space in existence for people like you, lonely Christian people struggling with so many faith questions. And though you’ll arrive excited and nervous, you’ll hardly say a word in the hour and a half conversation.
Then, the courage will come rolling up your throat and the worry that has been twitching all night long in your stomach will speak.
“I’m afraid to tell my guy friends.”
Well of course you are. Why wouldn’t you be? Straight Christian Men can be utterly barbaric in their rejection of those who are different. Especially gay guys. Statistically speaking, I think, 99.9% of homophobic jokes are born in locker rooms or late nights at the bar or sometimes, randomly, in everyday conversation. You’ve heard it all your life. You’re mostly numb to it. Some of your closest friends partake in the jokes, too. You’ve heard them. You’ve seen the deep discomfort shade over their eyes when it is brought up. So you understand that coming out might mean saying goodbye. And you’re afraid of that.
Across the room, a guy slowly lifts a hand in the air and speaks directly to you.
“I get it. I had the same worry. I was not worried at all about telling my girl friends, but my buddies, my pals, I was horrified. Then, one day in our dorm, I finally told them- I just said it! And their reaction was to bear hug me to the ground. And then they told me they loved me no matter what. Nothing had changed. I was so excited that I told my girl friends… and they were not so understanding. Go figure!”
It’ll be a long year until you tell just one of your guy friends.
It’ll be at the spot at the lake, at night, in winter, and you won’t know what it was, exactly, that had taken over your will, but suddenly, you’ll pull out your phone, make an abrupt call to your buddy in the car behind you, following you back to your house to hang out. You’ll tell him to pull over at the lake. There’s something you have to say.
He comes into your car and for a moment, you’ll nervously breathe and laugh. Then you’ll stumble over some words about this thing you have to tell him and how it’s kind of a huge deal and you’ve been worried sick over this for forever, but you just feel you have to tell him. You have to tell him right now. You’ll take a long sip of air, and then you’ll say it. You’ll say the thing.
And then you’ll feel fragile as glass. You’ll watch and wait for the swing of the hammer as he nods and blinks and says okay… okay… okay.
Things will settle. Less than a minute later, he’ll look you straight in the eye and tell you he loves you. That he is so thankful that you placed your trust him. That he is so damn happy you’re friends.
And you’ll still feel like glass, but in a good way. You are fully known and fully loved. You are seen at your core. And this is what you’ve always wanted from a friend.
This is just the start of it. There will be many more moments filled to the brim with surprises. A night of beers and laughing and sincere reflection with one. A tear shedding moment in a busy uptown coffee shop with another. And all of them will be so good, over and over again good. And you’ll remember something a gay friend texted you during this season of telling.
“Cherish these moments. You’ll want to hold them later on.”
And you will.
People will disappoint you
It’ll be the Sunday of Mothers’ day, and though you won’t be expecting it, about five minutes into a sermon you’ll be hoofing it out of there, struggling for breath. For weeks, you won’t be able to shake that feeling of being spotlighted. The announcement about opposition to marriage equality and the measured pause after he delivered the punch line, allowing the people all around you to spring to their feet in the most fiery applause. You won’t be able to forget that quiet moment for your family in the pew. The seconds you reflexively turned to your mom and mouthed: I have to go. Then she and your sister decide to go with you.
You won’t be able to hold all this in, so you’ll vent it out in a big angry post. A few days later, you’ll find out that your mom has been making a serious effort to schedule a meeting with her pastor, but he continually refuses. His secretary continues to tell her that he does not meet with congregants (what?). So she just emails him your post. Within a day, he replies to clarify that he was only Speaking the Truth in Love, which he would also do to a married man who cannot stop lusting after other women or an overeater who can’t stop eating or an overspender or a porn addict, an alcoholic. If you cannot practice self-control, he wrote, you will be damaged.
This is up there, but not alone, with some of the biggest betrayals you’ll deal with from your faith. It will leave you dejected. It will make you bitter. It will make you ashamed.
But you’ll resurrect.
You Will Disappoint and Surprise Yourself
It sounds strange, but when you leave the faith, God’s going to shuffle along behind you. Not that you’ll notice Him. You’ll be too busy averting your eyes from all things religious, plugging up your ears in every conversation about the faith.
Distance and time, you decide you need both. So you scrub as much of this faith off as you can.
And there will be a dark season. An irritable season. A time when you will hold a little notepad and pen, scribbling down every single thing you abhor about Capital C Church. They are a parody, you’ll think, and they don’t even know it! The music is manipulative. The people are naïve. Most who pursue the Church’s version of Christianity are actually naturally stupid people with their hatred towards logic and questions and their allegiance to the policies of discrimination against people who do not meet their white upper class upturned nose criteria.
You’ll know yourself as victim. And you’ll become a cynic in the nosebleeds. A fury shouting into the void. You’ll say you LOVE Jesus but you couldn’t care less about his people and you won’t even register the irony of your words.
Then things get weird. You’ll miss God. Achingly so. You’ll miss the feeling of a community, however imperfect, surrounding you in song. Once or twice, you’ll have “mystical” moments that to this day, you are skeptical of, but in your heart, you still choose to believe they did indeed happen.
One will involve a prayer walk in the spring. You’ve been wanting to paint dragonflies after hearing a gorgeous poem about them, but they haven’t shown up anywhere. Like God, you think. You walk eyes closed and through the acre of tall grass behind your college house, praying for Him to show up. You open your eyes, and there they are. A cloud of blue and magenta and red, all wiry arms and translucent wings revolving around you like you’re the sun. The truth will steal your breath: He is everywhere.
And you’ll come and leave church, continuing, even still, in your nomadic ways. That is an ongoing story for you. But it’s also different now. There will be a newfound peace in your walk. An understanding of the God of grace for your imperfect self, for all the imperfect people who treated you beautifully, who treated you horribly, and one day, you’ll unexpectedly trip over the truth that you are Accepted. It’ll take time, but you’ll soon accept this truth. You’ll clutch it like a fistful of diamonds. You’ll know it as your essential identity. The one thing that is strong enough to bear the weight of both your light and dark. The one thing that will never change. You are accepted.
Just keep walking, Ben. Keep searching. Never lose a holy curiosity.
This faith is an endless exploration into the fold of the heart of God. And you belong here, too.
here’s to many more years to come