Our Cookie Cutter Culture

Repost-  I have busyness and writers block.

There is a pattern of reaction I have picked up on when friends and family find out that I am gay.

My sister once confessed, “I always thought it would be fun to have a gay brother… but you’re not that gay…”

“You don’t sound much like a gay guy!” My brother has teased.

“You are the first gay guy I have met that I didn’t know was gay.” Gasped a gay friend.

One laughed, “it just never crossed my mind!

Some have smirked, “ahhhh… I don’t think you are…”

As funny as these conversations are, they expose an underlying problem.

The way I have always carried myself has been an honest reflection of who I am. Never have I been attempting to cover up an inner feminine soul nor have I tried to project a Herculean image. I am just… me. I can’t explain it any more than you can about why you are the way you are.

But sometimes, it seems like the world has more expectations for me once they find out I am gay, than they do for me just as a man. Like the script gets switched and suddenly I’m supposed to care about interior decoration and hair product.

But then again, what can you really expect in a society that specializes in one-size fits all clichés?

The media tells us that every gay man is flamboyant and fabulous. He is equipped with an eye for fashion, making him a trusted advisor from everything to shoes, hairdos, and picking out the perfect dress for that thing on Friday. In the kitchen he can whip up a decadent Creme Brulee that will leave you begging for copies of his cookbook. And each and every Friday you can find him at the Salon with his BFF Susie getting dolled up for a night of sipping champagne and dancing like a fool.

My apologies to every Susie out there, but I may not be the buddy you’re looking for.

Because I don’t shop until I drop. No girl should ever trust me with dating advice. I prefer Labs to Yorkies, and under no condition would I shame one by putting it in a purse. When I talk, I don’t use extravagant hand gestures or cute catch phrases. When my hair gets too long, I let my brother buzz it. Night Clubs of all sorts weird me out, and don’t define “a good time” for me. I fancy a Coors over a Cosmos and the Economist over Vogue.

But can I still be your friend… even if I’m not your idea of a gay one?

I know it sounds like I am tooting my own masculine horn, but don’t be mistaken. Like I said, I am no Joe Six Pack. Just ask me to throw around a baseball and you’ll see that.

Also, please don’t read this the wrong way, none of those stereotypes are necessarily bad things.

They just aren’t me.

Yet every time I see Cam and Mitch on Modern Family, or an episode of Glee, this is what I see. Gay men are fully feminine.

Every time the news plays tape of a Pride Parade, I cringe at the Go-Go dancers showcasing the most depraved elements of the LGBT community. All it tells me is that all gay men are promiscuous.

And all this does is reinforce a belief that I still don’t belong. It once again leaves me feeling like a man without a country.

Then I tap the brakes and think.

How true is this pigeonhole persona of the gay community?

My story suggests its not. Same with the stories of my other gay friends. So do the ones of my straight-male-effeminate friends. As do those of “tomboys” and boys who cry.

And let’s not stop here, because honestly, we do this all the time.

We know that…

Not every little girl plays princess and not every little boy plays baseball.

 

Not all moms choose to be full-time homemakers, nor all dads dive into the corporate world.

 

Most Muslims are not extremists and most Mormons are not polygamists.

 

Not every Asian you meet is a Rhodes Scholar and not every African American can dunk a basketball.

 

Some Californians are conservative and some Texans are liberal.

No one is a caricature.

 

These superficial stereotypes based on gender, race and creed are just as detrimental as those dictated to gays and lesbians based upon their sexual identity.

We are a mosaic of tales that cannot be type-casted for the sake of conformity.

Diversity matters more.

RR

Love is an Ability

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In one of my favorite movies, Dan in Real Life, Dan is telling the boyfriend of his thirteen-year-old daughter, Marty, that he should stop seeing her; love, after all, can be such a dangerous feeling.

 

“Love is not a feeling, Mr. Burns. It’s an ability.”

 

 

The other night, as many of you know, I spent two hours in a severe tongue lashing from a fellow Christian brother who lamented over the fact that some folks, like myself, were openly questioning Church tradition regarding same-sex relationships. I asked him what his thoughts were on how he should treat his gay or lesbian neighbors and he replied with this. You can probably guess it before it’s even said.

 

“I love the sinner, but I hate the sin.”

 

I found myself laying in bed that night thinking about what people truly meant when they said it, and furthermore, what it really means to love.

 

And my mind wandered back to Dan and Marty.

 

Love is an ability.

 


 

Most of the time, an ability is not given, it is grown. You have to feed it and nourish it and work like hell to make sure it thrives through each and every season. Love is no different.


 

I am convinced that saying you love someone doesn’t count as love. I am also convinced that willing your mind to love someone that you’ve never reached out and touched, doesn’t add up to much.

 

Love cannot exist merely in the mind, it has to have legs and arms and kisses-to-give in order for it to be real. Feelings are fickle and don’t reflect love, because there are so many people in my life that drive me mad, but my love for them never ceases. Feelings are far away from ability.

 

Love cannot choose ignorance. It doesn’t describe a five second Google search of “homosexuality + Bible verse” as a true study of scripture. It strains the soul through prayer as it pleads for divine revelation. Love looks deep into the wisdom of others. It applies the mind in understanding the text by digging into cultural context, church tradition, the aim of the author and consistency of scripture.

 

Love is born through deposits of affection. It is intentional. It takes effort. You cannot love someone until you know someone and there is a clear-cut difference between knowing of someone and really knowing someone. You can put people on pedestals, but you can’t love them until you know them. You can leave the word love as the lasting residue of your rant, but you don’t love the folks you’re talking about, not really.

 

Love needs more time, likely more than the minutes you have to offer it. You need to sacrifice some schedule space for the other if you want it to be real. Love gets up at the crack of dawn because the other has classes and work, leaving them with little time to talk over coffee. It prioritizes the other person. Love makes the other matter more to you than the frivolous things of this life.

 

Love wears a cape. It arrives before it is even called upon. Love surrenders its shoulders to runny noses. It holds no pre-requisite for its remedies and it does not ask for that which is inappropriate. It comes without strings and is abundant in grace. It just wants to sit, just wants to listen, just wants to nod and stay until you’ve said all you need to say.

 

Love doesn’t dip into your past like a paintbrush to create an idea of who you must be today. Love asks questions and honors how far you have come. Love doesn’t whisper about you- it converses with you. The most unloving words can be said in the name of love, when the person of discussion isn’t present at your Bible Study.

 

Love is the two-minute response my mom received from the good people at the Marin Foundation regarding her endless list of questions. Love is the calls that were answered on our way to our first Living in the Tension gathering. Love is Laura who waited outside the Church building for God knows how long until our taxi pulled up. Love is the hug she gave us when we went for the handshake.

 

Love dwells. It doesn’t stop by on its own terms and convenience. Love is born into the dumpster of poverty. It snuggles with the shipwrecked instead of rolling with royalty. It goes off the map into dangerous territory because there’s a woman at a well that needs to know something. Love selflessly dies for those indifferent to its sacrifice. It rises three days later, because it never ever fails.

 

Love is engagement. It is entering into polar opposite worlds. It lives and moves and breathes, and is only real if it exists in both the heart and the hands.

 

Growing in love is messy and exhausting and tedious. But little by little it gets easier. Our jagged edges get sanded down. After all the stumbling and tumbling and screw-ups along the way, it will become an essential part of how we live. We will experience it in one another without thinking or trying. We will live to love. Truly.

 

And it will be as easy as breathing.

 

RR

 

Under Umbrellas

“During the war we… we never knew what would happen next. So they are my way of showing both paranoia and protection. That’s why I paint them.”

As she sat there spilling her story to me, I couldn’t help but fall apart. You’d have to be cold not to. My Aunt and I talked as we walked through this woman’s studio, looking at all of her work, the ghosts of her horrifying past. And inside most of her masterpieces were beautiful umbrellas. She saw them as symbols of safety, an expression of her fear and, a surprising discovery about her childhood. One day, sorting through her five-year old doodles, she found that as a kid, she always drew umbrellas. Psychology suggests that this may have been a way to fill a void of security. It’s not easy growing up in a war zone.

Following her into the next room she pulled out an enormous framed piece. The subject was a nude woman collapsed upon the ground. Her body was colored in a deep crimson red before a gray backdrop. Umbrellas and a fading sun filled in the negative space. The sun was on the left, umbrellas on the right.

The woman was her grandmother. Her two sons had been taken captive by enemy soldiers when they were just teenagers, only kids. And in the aftermath of the conflict when the mass graves were being dug up on a weekly basis, her grandmother was tortured by two hopes. One, in which her boys would be in the mass graves so she could carry them home to a proper burial and the family, might finally have peace. The other- that her sons may still be alive.

“She was strong for all of us. Tortured within, but strong. She covered us, like an umbrella.”

Stepping away a bit weepy, I started seeing all the umbrellas in my life. The places I go to find peace and protection in times of duress. In times of war.

Upon returning home, I hopped on the laptop and saw a flash roll across my news feed. A major Christian leader tweeted his support for the proposed Kill-the-Gays bill in Uganda. He actually called Uganda, a nation “returning to God”. As grotesque as his support may be, it’s important to note he’s an outlier within the Christian community. But in the same token, his militaristic tone is rather mainstream evangelical.

The Flock has always had a tendency to talk about it’s beliefs in battle metaphors. The “armor of God” in Ephesians gets a lot of airtime and most Christians understand what it means. It’s spiritual war. The invisible world of darkness that we cannot see, but only feel. That’s the darkness God is waging war on every day. Tragically, some believe God’s war is on the physical not the invisible. Some believe gays and lesbians should be wiped off the face of the earth.

When folks fancy themselves to be “soldiers for Christ”, I get really uncomfortable. While everyone knows that the “Armor of God” scripture clearly points to warring with the spiritual realm, Christian Extremists struggle with a temptation to mix the spiritual with the physical, ultimately driving divisions between whites and blacks, gays and straights, Muslims and Christians. Different is dangerous.

And there are times, when I hear the story of both the war ravaged grandma and the new African genocide, I feel their swords encircling me. Quite literally, they’re encircling the LGBT community in Uganda. Some call it a nation “returning to God”, others say its purifying the human race, and others say that it’s the divine will of God.

I call it Hate wearing a crucifix.

And when things like this happen, I step backwards and walk until I am under the cover of the umbrella.

Like Runaway George’s “golden cloud of protection” I run until I’m in the safety of His shadow. Where He holds my head to His heart, just so I know it’s really Him. He shields me from the stones, the hate, the misunderstanding. He says he’s “not like them” and that it’s okay to be afraid, just as long as I stay at his side.

I find my stillness and strength when I wake up to him whispering: See! The winter is past, the rains are over and gone” (Song of Songs 2:11) Like the artist’s grandmother, I see the sun hanging off in the distance.

God is an umbrella. He’s a shelter from the storm and a refuge for the runaway. He is not a sling to shoot with. We don’t wire him like a bomb to throw.

Your bullets are not blessed and your shackles hold no salvation. Your guns are Godless.

Pray a prayer for Uganda tonight.

RR

Pride?

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A grandpa of a friend mine wrote a letter to his family about why, as Christians, they voted Republican.

Listening to it read aloud, one passage pricked my ears.

“gays are so sex obsessed. They’re like animals!”

Nods of agreement all around.

In the same minute that I muster up the courage to call them out on their bigotry, they turn on the TV and call their first witness. Drifting across the screen is a float carrying a couple of nearly-naked dudes grinding on each other to some techno jams blasting away in the background.

They are followed by ten more doing the same.

There is hooting and hollering and kissing and… more than kissing

And… just barely murmuring through all noise is… some sort of spontaneous frenzy… like reminiscent of the people of Tokyo in the shadow Godzilla… We strain our ears and crawl over to the speakers just to make it out

a chorus?

No, a mob- A mob made of moms and dads frantically calling for their kids, placing their hands over their eyes, preserving what innocence they have left and then… running like hell for the hills.

In this moment, with both convictions and pride on the line, I cannot bring myself to hum and sway along. I cannot shoo them away with my hand while whispering, “it’s fine by me- you intolerant pig.” I just can’t. It would defy my conscience. It would be dehumanizing. It would be calling pornography art. It would diminish the debate of equal rights.

Because what we’re watching is not a response to injustice,

Nor is it a celebration of diversity.

it’s just a sex romp.

My mind travels to the clientele regulars leaving the strip club only to cross paths with the old lady crying, “that is someone’s daughter in there!”

When was the last time we called out a Pride Parade like that? I’m speaking to the Christian LGBT folks and allies alike. How is the parade reflective who we are? Better question- How does it reflect our faith?

I know what you’re thinking and you’re probably right, if I looked like a J Crew model I too would be tempted to show off my tip-top bod via form fitting jeans and topless jogs. Really, I just might…

But if I believed that this was all I had to offer, wouldn’t you call me shallow? Moreover, wouldn’t you tell me that I am selling myself short?

I hope you would. I’d do the same for you.

Even if the conversation was completely limited to my sexual orientation, do you think I would define myself in such a slutty way? What If the tables were turned? Would you say the same for yourself?

The blogger at Gay Christian, Very Anxious gives a more generous description of what it means to be gay than I have seen any other Christian, gay or ally, do:

“My sexuality has allowed me to have uncomplicated friendships with women, deepened my empathy for the marginalized, and strengthened my faith through intense, personal questioning. It amounts to so much more than attraction to other men, which anyway is as emotional and spiritual as it is sexual. Christians ignore that, because they focus so intently on gay sex, moralizing a very minor component of homosexuality.”

I wish so much that this was the perception of every gay person.

But then I hear the battle cry rolling down the streets of Pride telling me that it is my body that is my best. That I can only know how to exist when someone else wants me in bed. That I am a body with a soul and not a soul with a body.

More than just clothes get stripped away when we reduce ourselves to sex toys. With the shirt goes our dignity and with the pants what’s left of our pride.

And with the parade, goes the perception of us all.

But I sympathize with these kids. They have been told for far too long that all they are is their sexuality; a lie said enough for them to start believing it. And it may surprise you, but it’s a lie that leads us back to the conservative church community. It is a weird circle, but a circle nonetheless. For those already inside, the Church encourages suppression creating a time bomb of affections. Attention is drawn to one detail and it becomes the whole painting. It becomes the prison. An iron mask. For those on the outside, the church accuses them of being sex-obsessed and animal-like.

The parade is an upper cut swing to the Church’s low blows. It is a mirror reflection of how the Church has whored itself out to the lowest common denominator through hateful rhetoric and prejudicial politics.

One calls the other perverted imps.

The other freaks out the faithful through naked float grinding.

It’s a boxing match.

~~~

I am all for living openly and authentically, but the Pride Parade just doesn’t fit that definition for me.

I want this community to be more than that.

Save your six-pack, I want to see your soul.

And hear your poetry. Your songs. I want a testimony told through blood, sweat and tears. The true one. The battle scars. The worst days and the best. Everything besides what your body looks like.

Despite what the media, LGBT friends and allies, and the church may tell you, who you are is not where your attractions lie.

As the sea change gets stronger in both the country and the church, I am praying that my LGBT brothers and sisters enter with a sense of grace and self-respect. We owe at least that to ourselves.

RR

Back Roads to Bethlehem

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It’s the pilgrimage for the proud.

For those with halos screwed on too tight.

 

In every precipice that we slip down

And in all our detours into darkness

We are taken aback by our own depravity

Our worthiness in our unworthiness

 

You may start from the north

And I may from the south

But we both see the same star

We seek the same savior

Before I even saw it shining off in the distance, I was told it wasn’t really for me. I was told if I wanted to find it, I had to start where they were. I had to be one of them. I had to match them step for step. From on top of a peak, they peered down upon me. Asking to come, they said I could not; unless… I severed my scarlet letter. It would repulse the King, they said.

I refused and they called me a contradiction. I told them I tried and they said my faith was too small. Either way, that star was not speaking to me.

So I ran on alone.

Down back roads to Bethlehem, driven by nothing more than a hunger for hope in something I did not, do not, will not and cannot understand. I ran and I ran and I ran. Through thickets and thorns, over daisy dressed mountains, into towns of the gutter, I ran. Until the gravel turned to grass and stones became fertile, with my eye on the star and hand over my heart, I ran and I ran and I ran.

Down back roads to Bethlehem I found a burrow of new faces. Everything was so different there. Saints spoke of scripture in words I had never heard; yet their language felt so familiar.

Clothing me in a love I thought to be legendary, I was drawn in to the hearth of their fires. It was there that stories were swapped and songs were sung and laughs were loud and tears were sent trickling, as we uncovered each layer of the other. For a moment I thought I was already there.

Leaving I turned as I heard one say, “I’ll see you… I’ll see you at the star.”

Faster I flew down back roads to Bethlehem. With each place I met more living in love than not.

And shedding my shame came all the easier.

Soon enough the star hung not twenty yards away. Below it sat the saints of the burrow and the soldiers of the peak. All of them waving me to a spot they had saved.

And stories were swapped. Songs were sung. Laughs were loud. Tears were sent trickling and love, oh love, burned again.

Beneath the umbrella of the star, we experienced our own rescue. None of us deserved it. None of us could earn it. None of us could pay it back.

It just was.

He was.

Down back roads to Bethlehem, saints and soldiers and even runaways like me reached our redemption. Along fault lines of faith, regardless of the rules, we all found the prodigal’s father. We were made new and perfect. We were celebrated as sons and daughters. We were loved as we were.

And we rolled up our sleeves and traded tales of our bruises… denying the lie that we were ever really alone.

 

RR

The Education of a Church: Recognize

Floating Church

My brother works at a church which is making an aggressive push to heal the wounds between the (capital C) Church and the gay community. In one of the most honest and awesome efforts I’ve seen to build a bridge with the gay community, they are pulling together a vast number of resources to promote the process of reconciliation. This church is golden.

And, with this, my brother asked for my perspective on what I think the church should do to move forward. He texted me this question, to which I told him I would need much more time and writing space to articulate a proper response than I could in a TEXT.

There is just so much that needs to be said.

So, here is the first of a few recommendations I am making to him and his church.

~

When conversations arise as to how to make churches more welcoming for lgbt individuals, a couple things come to mind.

First, Christian folks uncomfortable in the first place will inject definitions on the difference between “welcoming” and “affirming” which swiftly slides into rather offensive statements about “their lifestyle”.

Second, there is an apparent lack of recognition of those already within the church. The conversers put the cart before the horse in talks of making the church more magnetic to gays outside its walls instead of recognizing those already isolated inside them. If anything is to change, this where to start.

My friend, and Oddmanout blogger, Brent Bailey, put it best when he wrote:

“It is not the church’s job to make room for LGBT members; it is the church’s job to recognize the room God has already made for LGBT members (just like God carved out space for everyone else) and then to delight in the diversity of people through whom God is revealed to us.”

Retracing the steps of church history, there is a clear pattern of struggle amongst the faithful when it comes to inclusion. Early on, the people of God made a real mess of things… They adhered to old rules and rituals, like circumcision, racial classes and gender roles. This essentially left every demographic different from the disciples disqualified from admission.

But a greater truth emerged. One that was lost on those peering down from pedestals.

God isn’t a brick and mortar building. He doesn’t keep some people in and other people out. God is not religion.

Only minutes after the ascension did the disciples start selecting saints like those captains in gym class. These earthly followers, being left in a divine power vacuum, struggled to find their sea legs for church ministry.

For centuries, routine fights would break out, disputes that divided brother from brother. There was always something wrong with this group or that group for the Church. Religious rule always trumped faithful community. This often led to a divine Last Word of sorts where God would step in and say, “yes, them too.”

If there is any story in the Bible that illustrates this best, it is that of Peter and Cornelius. At this point in Church history only Jews could be saved because of their heritage and their circumcision. Racial supremacy was simply an accepted practice of God’s people.

Cornelius had a hunger for God. He was a prayer warrior, an incredibly generous man in his community, and held to squeaky clean moral values. To him, even if the first row was forbidden, he wished to just eavesdrop on the message of the Messiah. It captivated him. He was a huge fan.

So imagine his excitement when an angel appeared before him, telling him that God had heard him from the back row and had a task for him to take on. He was to send a few men out to go find the apostle Peter and invite him over for a meeting.

Meanwhile, Peter, busy running the ministry and avoiding persecution, had a vision from God of a heavenly sheet dropping down with all different kinds of delicious animals before him. Then the voice of God commanded Peter to kill and eat.

“Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”

15 The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.” (Acts 10:14-15, MSG, emphasis mine)

Awakening from the trance, a Holy whisper spoke to him: “Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.” (Acts 10:20, MSG)

Upon Peter’s arrival, Cornelius broke down and began worshipping him. It’s important that this moment not be misunderstood, as I’m sure many have. Cornelius is on the outside, a wannabe, someone not worthy of tying the rabbi down the road’s sandal. At least, that’s what the world told him. His view of himself is an example of the bruised fruit of a faith that diminishes some and elevates others based on human characteristics.

Obviously uncomfortable, Peter stops him saying, “None of that—I’m a man and only a man, no different from you.”(Acts 10:26, MSG)

Settling in and sorting out exactly what was going on, Peter first acknowledges that their meeting is unusual, after all, being in the company of men like Cornelius was a big church no-no. Then Peter curiously asks why Cornelius sent for him in the first place.

Cornelius, probably a bit puzzled, responds that God told him to extend the invitation. Nothing more than that.

Now, you have to take a break and laugh a little at this, because it sounds just like something a kid of separated parents would do to get them back together.

Like the kind where the wife meets her husband at their favorite table at their favorite restaurant, and says, “I loved the flowers you sent me!” and he says, “what flowers?” and then they sit confused, only to widen their eyes five seconds later and simultaneously sigh, oh…”

This is what happens to Peter. Ever since his vision from the previous day, he hadn’t a clue what God was trying to tell him.

And then it all clicked.

“Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

37-38 “You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.

39-43 “And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.”

44-46 No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.

46-48 Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”(Acts 10: 34-38, MSG, emphasis mine)

Cornelius’s conversion runs parallel to the Eunuch’s. Remember how the Eunuch asked Phillip the same question about baptism? The point is the same. The exact same. Christ’s body was broken for everyone. He plays no favorites, he sees no pedestals, he could care less about whether you’re black or white, male or female, left-handed or right-handed, or, gay or straight. The God we serve comes with no pre-reqs.

What he wants is for us to love him first and foremost, and then love our neighbor as ourselves.

Can the Church say its in obedience if its debating whether or not to let gay folks in?

The fact that the church needs to accept is that lgbt population does not need its approval to be a member of God’s family. It does not need the Church to measure and weigh the pros and cons of accepting their membership. That’s not church, that’s a country club!

The church needs to accept that we all stand as equals before the Eucharist.

The gay community does not need your help in finding God.

It was Christ that first cut the temple curtain. He brought the burn outs back in. He drank of their wine. He fished with their nets. He kissed on their cheeks. He washed clean their feet.

God’s been with outcasts like us for over two thousand years.

If the church is to be the body of Jesus, it has to be more like the Olympics and less like the country club. Instead of figuring out the best approach to allowing gay folks in the door, it needs to check its back closet and notice all its gay members hiding among the flock. Hell, notice all of the diversity within its walls. Stop seeing what you’re lacking and starting seeing those you already have. Racial minorities, women, the disabled, immigrants and so on.

So, for my brother and his church- Recommendation Number One: Recognize the space God has already created for the lgbt community. Just like he did for Cornelius, Hagar, the Ethiopian Eunuch, African Americans, mentally ill, women and so on.

This is a framework to move forward on.

RR

Biting Bad Apples

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“But what is a bias towards fairness?” Maggie looked on beleaguered.

“Bias toward fairness means that if the entire Congressional Republican Caucus were to walk into the House and propose a resolution stating that the Earth was flat, the Times would lead with, ‘Democrats and Republicans Can’t Agree on Shape of Earth.'”

This is the message of HBO’s Newsroom created by Aaron Sorkin. Mackenzie and Will explained that there are not always two sides to every story, sometimes there are five sides or five hundred sides, and to position a one-two argument sometimes leaves the Crazy with way too much legitimacy.

Oh how art imitates reality.

The other day I heard about Dr. Oz’s now infamous episode in which he gave the ex gay cohort the best Christmas present ever: A platform.

Dr. Oz argued that although people may be upset about his show presenting this conversation, it is one that has to be had in light of California’s ban on minors entering into such therapy.

Reality is not so sweet.

The media slapped this story to the front page, and Dr. Oz got the ratings spike he sought. And as a consequence, ex gay looked legitimate.

Shortly after tuning into the program, I felt the strike of a nerve and a tide of terrible feelings washing over me.

There she was.

Julie Hamilton is an endearing lady. She speaks with the softness of that favorite grandma that lives over the river and through the woods. There is a warmth to her that sets the frame for whatever comes out of her lovely face. Her charming voice is disarming. Her tone is not without sympathy. And the angry voices of GLAAD and GLSEN, the Harvard psychologist and the audience, made you want to rescue her. She looked like a mouse cornered by a cat.

When I wrote my post Forgive them, Father, the video that tormented my dad was the creation of none other than Ms. Hamilton. Her deficient father talk that bears no resemblance of my own life, or the children of single parents, or ones of actual bad dads, one that has been routinely refuted by leading psychologists, is still a sufficient explanation in her mind. And even though the consequences of such a theory leads to torturous tales of blame and shame, her conscience still insists that she’s right.

She has to be. What else would ex gay groups do?

Bringing me to my point.

Ex gay is not a ministry.

It’s an industry.

People are throwing thousands of dollars away towards years of therapy that proves to be about as successful as your local palm reader.

Okay, fine. That was unfair… To the occult.

See, séances with dead spouses and love potion recipes don’t typically lead to addiction, depression and suicide. Yet, that is exactly what the fruit of the ex gay industry has been. High rates of addiction, depression and suicide.

The leading psychologist from Harvard put it as “so simplistic, and operating under an agenda” I’d put it as an agenda operating under the guise of empathy. It’s exploitation of the emotionally broken’s desire for acceptance in a culture that calls them abnormal.

For sexual minorities within the conservative Christian community, this therapy is charming and convenient. It is seductive. It is colored with compassion. It says it will strip the societal target off their back. Enticing words are used like “freedom” “truth” and “healing”. The ultimate escape from the threat of hell.

Courageously, the CEO of the leading Ex Gay organization, Alan Chambers of Exodus, recently said in an interview that “99.9%” of people that walk through their doors don’t leave changed.

“But we have thousands of success stories!” Hamilton exclaimed.

It seems someone forgot to tell Chambers.

And then, when confronted with the heartbreaking stories of near suicide from those surviving exgay, Hamilton seemed sincerely sympathetic… for a moment:

“Well, I am very sorry to hear that… But ya know, sadly there is a high rate of suicide within the homosexual community.”

Because homosexuality is innately depressing, completely unrelated to society’s shaming attitude.

And even though the medical community has uniformly rejected reparative therapy as unethical and harmful, some Christians still argue that medicine is no substitute for faith. The Bible speaks in only negative tones about gay behavior, so it makes sense to switch out the gay with the straight. As Dr. Hamilton says:

“You can’t change the thousand year old texts”

True.

In a famous exhortation, Jesus warns his followers against false prophets. He explains explicitly how to discern who is of God and who is not.

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”(Matthew 7:15-20, NIV)

The Message has an interesting translation of this passage:

15-20 “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.”(Matthew 7:15-20, MSG, emphasis mine).

“A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook.”

This is a bad apple. It is a predatory practice. It is emotional exploitation and it is spiritual abuse.

And it is so antithetical to the gospel message that I start to wonder how inept our leaders of the Church truly are when it comes to faith and sexuality.

I mean, seriously, Are we still HERE?

The legitimate and valuable conversation to be had within the Christian community is what life means for LGBT Christians. That is the one that has the potential for real freedom, truth and healing.

There are good and Godly people who see things differently. Not all saints share the same side of the table. A position against same sex relationships does NOT make someone a bigot. A position in the affirmative does NOT make someone a secularist.

But the line must be drawn between good and poisoned fruit.

And like lobotomies, leeches and cocaine medicine,

Ex gay’s shelf life has expired.

RR

Me, the Box and the Hiring Manager: Check yes or no.

Pen Checking Box

 

So I encountered something new and strange and awkward today.

 

A few weeks ago I dropped my resume into a job bank website for DC, and tonight, I got a curious little email.

 

It stated that it had made some changes to the bank website and if it so pleased me, I could resubmit my application including the questions that lead up to the CONFIRM button.

 

Specifically, it stated that they now included “LGBT Individuals” under the minority category and if the applicant in question identified as such a person, they should make their mark.

 

Um.

 

Immediately after reading this, an ethical dilemma with a billion caveats began spinning in my head like a broken record.

 

Can I do this? Can I really use my sexual orientation as a step-ladder to employment? Why shouldn’t I? Why should I? What specifically do they mean by LGBT? Like is it ONLY people that are practicing? If I get the job will they welcome me in as their Gay employee? Will I become a poster child for someone else’s diversity cred? Is it disrespectful to myself if I let them define me? Or is it disrespectful to myself if I deny myself an advantage? Am I lying if I don’t check it? WHO is going to read this anyway?? And does this suddenly become public information? Why am I still reading this? Check the box! No no no no NO, don’t check the box! It’s just a box! IT’s a big BOX!

 

I’ve since moved on.

 

But it is a question all sexual minorities need to reckon with… Do we check the box?

 

Especially individuals not all the way out and those still wrestling with it all.

Which raises another question- Can you only identify as LGBT if you are fully out?

 

I believe in the box because of its principle. LGBT folks have had a history of being denied employment because their orientation. Equality and diversity matter.

 

But on the flip side of that token, I worry about the box casting a shadow over my qualifications. I worry about the hiring manager sifting through submissions, and upon seeing my mark, shouting to his manager, “found one!” I worry about that big cloud of suspicion hanging over my head if I was hired. I worry about questioning why I got the job. And what if I decide to be celibate forever? Does mere orientation count as LGBT? What makes someone LGBT?

 

Weigh in.

 

RR

A Year Ago Today

So a year ago today, at 10 PM, in my parents’ bed, I came out of the closet.

It’s funny how fast time has flown since then.

On this day, I can’t help but think about my life before. Today makes me remember all of the miserable mornings that paralyzed me beneath the sheets. It brings me back to a time when the only prayer I could muster up was for strength to walk out under the sun. I am pulled back to the world of my thoughts where I played both patient and therapist.

that cold and cruel closet…

Up and down the walls were scrawled the maddening lies that kept me.

“You are disgusting” one said.

“No one has to know” said another.

In big bold letters, “take it to the grave”

“If you love them, you’ll save them from this” printed on the doormat.

And above the door hung the words “Emergency Exit”, glowing in red.

For sake of space, I won’t delve into all of the details of my departure, I’ve written about that in previous posts. But I will say, that night was one of the most loving experiences I have ever had.

After I made the “great leap” to my folks, I was met with shock, tears and then the gift of unconditional love. The single most important development after I came out was the fact that my folks still loved me. Just me. The same way they always had.

Looking back now it all seems so ridiculous to think that they wouldn’t, but when you’re in the dark, you can’t see truth. The only thing I could see was that they loved the boy they raised. The little boy they watched grow up.

But what was unseen was unlovable,
whispered the writing on the wall.

Their declaration by way of words and kisses and hugs, made love truly real for me. For the FIRST TIME, I believed that maybe God extended his unconditional love to me too.

I have spent the last twelve months sharing the secret I had buried for the last decade. There have been days when the weight of it all has left me undone. But those days, echoes of my time in the closet, have become few and far between. The intellectual and spiritual tug-of-war still rages on inside my mind. But the war is now more or less food for thought as I am able to focus on other areas of my life. Feeling the exposure of my shame still stings a bit, but it isn’t deadly like it was a year and a day ago.

Today is my anniversary. It is the day I celebrate my own emancipation proclamation. It is marked in my memory as the day I finally found freedom.

And I’m letting freedom ring..

I have been on the receiving end of so much blessing this past year. Christ once said, if someone asks you to walk a mile with them, walk two. Those in my corner have bent over backwards to try to better understand, stood by my side through all of my breakdowns and refused to ever let me give up. Christ said two miles, they’ve gone two thousand.

I don’t stand in the shadow of this past year, this past year is my own shadow. And it makes me look so tall, and to be honest, I feel really tall today. I cannot stop smiling! Everything good that has happened has taken me by complete surprise. I never thought I would be here. Never thought this life was really possible.

But the reality of all of it is that I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for Christ’s furious pursuit of my soul. He has taken me through fire and he didn’t let me get burned. It is his light that shines ahead and casts the shadow of my testimony behind me.

I stand on the cusp of another year with more excitement than I expected to have. Over and over I have fretted about the future and how it would look for me. Checking the calendar today, I can see how wrong I was. I’m still here, I’m still standing and I’m still wrestling with my savior. I look forward to so many things in these next twelve months, but honestly, the answers to my questions about my sexuality are not one of them. What I look forward to is more questions and more throw downs with God. No more do I worry about my life in five or ten or thirty years because the reality is, I don’t know if I’ll have tomorrow, or even the next ten minutes. In year two, I plan to accept every sunrise I am given.
And at this moment- here are some memories I am holding on to.

~a few of the best moments of the past twelve months~

It was only a few weeks after I came out to my parents that I told my best friend. Her immediate reaction was a gasp, but, without missing a beat, she leaned in and said, “nothing’s changed. I can’t explain it but you look no different to me than you did a minute ago.” She is one of the most life-giving people I have ever known. It’s pure providence that this friend entered into my story. Perhaps she was called for “such a time as this”. In any case, she has carried me. She doesn’t know how to judge or reject. She doesn’t know how to not care. She can’t leave a conversation with me without pulling me close and whispering in my ear, “I am so proud of you.” She has, more often than not, been the answer to my prayers.

Months later my brother spoke to me about a book he had picked up, one that stepped directly into the conversation regarding reconciling homosexuality and faith. The book, Love is an Orientation, made more of an impact on me than most things in my journey. It offered me the grace and peace I needed. It assured me that there were others out there, other gay Christians, trying to figure out how to approach this area of their lives in light of the Good News. It told me it was okay to be unsure.

My mom and I took a trip to Chicago to visit the Marin Foundation in search of the one thing we both desperately needed: Empathy. There is no greater feeling than empathy. And as we sat around the tables with others, it was intoxicating. Being able to stare down the lie of being alone with the faces of fellow travelers provided an inexpressible peace that I couldn’t possibly explain in 10,000 posts. Taking the time to sit with my peers, my fellow runaways, old, young, men, women, gay and straight, seemed to rip open my heart in the best possible way. I asked them questions, they responded with their testimonies. I asked, “how do I know who to tell?” they shared stories, some of rejection but most with good surprises. They told me to look for people of character and trustworthiness. One said that I had to consider the responsibility I had to tell my story, for the sake of my LGBT brothers and sisters. All of them encouraged me to pray my heart out to Christ.

Perhaps what struck me most that night was how proud I was of my mom. As people emptied out their baggage, she moved into the mess. With pen and pad in hand, she jotted down notes and questions. Immediately following a story of a woman afraid to tell her family, she choked up, looked her in the eye, and said, “I just want you to know that they’re going to love you. Just knowing you now, I know they will.” There was another mom there too. She saw the grace and perspective that my mom was raining on the room and turned to her to ask questions that only a mom would ask. It was weird, and she’ll think its weird that I write this, but she seemed more comfortable in this crowd than any I had seen her in before. But that really shouldn’t surprise me, because that’s her heart. And I’m not just talking about the heart of a mother, but an indelible mark of her maker. Her conversations with the others in that room reflected Christ’s compassion in it’s truest form. The grace that spilled out in her words and tears flowed down to the deepest parts of their lives. I love this woman!

A month or so ago I began writing this blog. It has been a way for me to share my stories and engage with fellow travelers in the blogging community without having to make the “great leap.” I’m not sure if remaining here, out to some and closeted to others, is the healthiest way to go, but I still don’t feel ready. I’ve been affirmed by many of you that it’s okay to not be.

For those that remain in the dark, I want this space, this blog, to be an open place for you to feel freedom. For you to hear my stories, and those of others, and gain courage to keep moving forward. You don’t have to be out to ask advice from me, or from others on the many other blogs out there. I realize that for many of you, coming out is actually a dangerous thing depending upon your circumstances, I hope that you will reach out to the many resources being offered out there. For those that are sitting in the Christian circle afraid to speak up, realize that the armageddon that you’re anticipating is nothing more than a funhouse mirror reflecting your worst fears. More than anything, dark forces at work want you to remain silent, for this to eat away at you, and for you to be convinced that your life will be over once you’re out. Don’t buy it. Be brave and strong, and understand that despite the fact that this will probably be the hardest thing you ever do, it will also be one of the best things.

It really does get better my friends.

To those that are in my inner circle, that know who I am and have walked with me through all of this, you have truly been Christ to me. In one way or another, each one of you have saved my life.

To all those that have written to me (I’m thinking of you Julie! Kate! Survivor Girl! Mike! Jordan! Aiden!) I have been moved more than you could possibly know. I hope to keep these friendships alive and thriving!

All of you- I love you.

RR

Killing Time With a Vote

Image

On the morning commute that I travel every day, I pass a sign that reads:

Marriage: One Man + One Woman.

Vote Yes!

I put pressure on the gas.

Then I pass another. And another. And another.

Immediately my mind goes to the water cooler conversations these folks must take part in. I hear “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” and “can you imagine being attracted to guys? How gross!” I see them sitting at home, sending out emails about Sodomy. I see people that really don’t like or love me.

And this may not be the case. There are hateful bigots who say hateful things and do hateful things and love hateful things. But there are also good and Godly people who simply believe in traditional marriage. We should always give those with the yard signs the benefit of the doubt.

Yet it’s still hard. It’s hard because every time I see a sign, read a tweet or watch a commercial in favor of the amendment, I feel like I just got cut from the team. Words, whether written or spoken, can rip at the core of me. When the faith that I so strongly believe in elevates one characteristic about myself as its default punching bag, it makes me feel like damaged goods.

The vote has hurt me more than I expected it to.

Now, before you write me off as just another marriage equality supporter, keep in mind a few things.

1) I am gay.

2) I am a devout Christian.

3) I don’t know if God does or does not bless same-sex relationships.

The journey I am on will likely be a long one. Quite honestly, most of the time it feels like I’m hollering over a crowded room to Jesus, trying to read his lips. Daily, I wrestle with the words of scripture. I read and pray and talk to others and I STILL cannot say definitively that I know where I stand. Or where God does.

So much has been learned and so much let go. And on this road, I was once close to giving up the search.

Thank God I didn’t.

There was a night when the world seemed to be throwing its full weight upon me. I tossed and turned and after several hours, I still couldn’t sleep. Moments before I had hit the pillow, I caught the evening news playing a story about a pastor in North Carolina. He was calling for my imprisonment in a concentration camp. Just a couple days before I watched another pastor say my parents should have beaten me.

I got up. I walked outside, and I wept.

Hard.

Looking skyward, staring at the stars, I asked, ”How could these men speak for You? Could they possibly be right? Are you even there?”

I buried my face in my palms.

And then, I heard it.

In my heart of hearts, five words consumed my being.

“I am not like them.”

It took a moment for me to grasp what had been spoken. And then it sunk in. Every mold I had made of the distant Christ came crumbling down.

The wind hit my face, and I knew he was there. An owl hooted, and I knew he was singing. A star shot across the sky, and I knew he was dancing.

He was real.

For the first time, he was real for me.

He told me he wasn’t like them, and now I know to never mistake the will of the majority with the will of God.

Even though there is definite daylight between hateful pastors and principled supporters of traditional marriage, between the good and the Godly and the hateful and heartless. Even though I know not to mistake the two, why do the signs and the sermons hurt me all the same?

Why do I feel like those people would be ashamed to call me their son?

The vote itself feels like a punch in the gut. It feels threatening.

It confirms the fears of my folks about the world I am entering.

It makes me think the darkness behind the closet door is still safer than the darkness on the outside.

What Minnesotans should know is that a vote for this amendment doesn’t just hurt same-sex couples. It hurts single gay people. It hurts celibate gay people. I am even willing to bet it hurts “ex-gay” people. It hurts children that are told their family is not a family. It hurts people with LGBT friends. It hurts teachers of LGBT students. It hurts seniors with LGBT caretakers. It hurts bosses of LGBT employees. It hurts straight couples looking for a church home to love. It hurts gay couples looking for a church to love them.

And if the yeas have it, they may stop searching.

Don’t mistake my words as a full-throated endorsement of same-sex marriage. Like I said, I still wrestle with this. But when a group of leaders in my home state decide to hold a public roasting of a particular demographic, I cannot stand idly by. This is not a vote for or against gay marriage. If the nays win out, gay marriage won’t be legal on November 7th.

The only thing that will happen is the defense of dialogue. Christians may have to ask themselves what it means to be a citizen, a Christ-follower, and a loving neighbor. LGBT folks may have to engage with and learn from people that hold a different perspective. Christians may stop calling LGBT people special sinners and gay folks may stop calling Christians Biblical bigots.

A cease-fire is possible here.

But it can only happen if you vote for more time.

If you vote for dialogue.

If you vote for reconciliation.

If you vote to take that morning commute with me.

If you vote no.,

RR

 

*Photo Credit