A Love Letter from Hännah Ettinger

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I have only met a handful of friends from the internet, but I am so glad Hännah Ettinger was one of them. Shortly after I made my move to DC, she invited me out for drinks where we had the chance to get to know each other on a deeper soul level. She introduced me to her friends and new places and then…. We both moved out of the district- (sad face).

 

Hännah has written a poignant letter that will leave you feeling touched and encouraged and motivated. I was so moved when I read this that I read it several times over. Friends, I cannot encourage you enough to go check out her blog here (that is, if you haven’t already heard of it, since it was mentioned by SETH MEYERS a couple weeks ago)

 

Here is her letter. Be so blessed.

 

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This post is not a big deal. This post should be obvious. I told Ben I wouldn’t write this post, last year when he first asked me. I said that I didn’t want to make a big deal out of something that isn’t mine.

 

But I don’t want to receive another letter like the one I did this morning, a letter where an old and dear friend came out to me and asked if I would be comfortable having a lesbian as a friend, because she couldn’t tell from my blog.

 

I don’t want there to be any question in the minds of my siblings where I stand on this issue, because statistically speaking, there are nine of us, and right now the official word is that one in ten people identifies as LGBTQ+.

 

I don’t want anyone to be afraid of me knowing who they really are.

 

Let this be crystal clear, then, for I am about smashing shame and isolation.

 

I love you. 

 

I will stand up for you to our friends if they talk about you behind your back, saying that you chose this and how cruel and selfish it was to have the audacity to come out.

 

I will be angry with you at your parents when they send you away with your boxes full of your inheritance, a prodigal child made wanderer by the older son’s bitterness.

 

I will answer the phone and sit with you when you call me to tell me that your mom found your birth control and you think you’ll have to tell her you’re bi.

 

I will cry in relief with you when she doesn’t tell your dad.

 

I will beat my inner English major asshole into submission and carefully use your preferred pronouns despite my habitual stumble-trip awkwardness.

 

I will try to gently educate those who I introduce to you if it will make you feel better to not have to explain to more people that you are called they or hen or ze or Ivan.

 

I will solidarity-drink with you late at night and invite you over to stay at my place and marathon Buffy when you feel you can’t face explaining yourself to your family yet again.

 

I will grieve with you over our alma mater’s choice to pretend that you don’t exist, and howl with glee when you indulge the imp of the perverse and subvert their policies.

 

I will shut up and listen and let you tell your own stories the way you want them to be told, and when you need to yell a little I’ll hand you my megaphone if you want it.

 

I will tell you you’re cute or beautiful or handsome and offer you hugs if you want them when you’re feeling floaty and can’t quite connect to your own skin.

 

I will take endless selfies so you don’t feel alone when you need to take one to see yourself staring back and know you’re really you.

 

I will make you coffee and cookies and have you over to talk or sit alone together in the same house if you need to not be really wholly alone.

 

I will crow profanities in crowded restaurants with you if you need to rage against the universe in public.

 

My parents used to have a tile they got when we drove through New Mexico on our pilgrimage east, and it hung in our entryway at home for years and years. Mi casa es su casa, it read.

 

All of these things I have said, they have a lot of “I” in them. This post shouldn’t be necessary, because this isn’t my story. I prefer to be quiet and let you tell your story.

 

But because invitations are sometimes hard to accept if they aren’t made loudly, let me make it very clear: mi casa es su casa.

 

This house always belongs to you, too.

 

Love,

Hännah

 

~

A Love Letter from Bethany Suckrow

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Much has happened to the gay community the past couple years that has been both uplifting and heart-wrenching, but mostly- exhausting. World Vision encapsulated perfectly the way things have gone. Beautiful affirming moment. Crushing defeat. Anger. Resilience. Restoration. Phil RobertsonMichael Sam! Chick-Fil-A. Rob Bell!

 

It’s been A LOT these past couple of years and I’ve been longing a return to the roots of this blog. Look above this post and see the Love Letters tab. Look through there and you will see the saving grace of this site.

 

It is everything I wanted to find on the internet when I was in the closet. When I felt the whole world growling all around me and I didn’t know where to turn. There was It Gets Better but I doubted it would for the Christian. There were theological treatises, but those went over my head, and after all, the collapsing was happening in my heart. I needed words for my wounds.

 

And I am now restarting the series- well, sort of. I began soliciting requests for more letters, but then life kicked into warp speed and I lost track of it. So this will be more of a rolling basis as they come in. (feel free to send me yours!)

 

AND TODAY we have the incredible, the wonderful, the unbelievably talented Bethany Suckrow publishing a powerful letter to LGBTQ people everywhere. I am so thankful to her for her grace, compassion and encouragement. I am so thankful for her voice. Please, please go check out her site hereYou’ll thank me later.

 

(Also, a Trigger Warning for this post: discussion of suicide.)

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Dear Friend,

 

A few nights ago I was fiddling around on my phone as I waited for my husband to get home from work when I found a message. It was from a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. We don’t know each other well anymore, but we catch glimpses of one another’s lives through links and statuses and photos. I was surprised to see she had contacted me directly, and even more surprised by what she said.

 

“I just want you to know that as a Christian who is also a lesbian, sometimes reading your posts is the only time I feel a glimpse of love from a brother or sister in Christ. Just wanted to say thank you.” 

 

As I sat in the silence of my living room and let her message sink in, a bittersweetness welled up inside of me. My heart aches for her. I feel honored by her words, but I also feel profoundly undeserving. The things I share on social media these days reflect my changing opinions on many things, not the least of which is my growing conviction that the faith culture I’ve participated in has deeply wounded the LGBTQ community.

 

I haven’t always understood this, though. Like so many raised in conservative evangelicalism, I was a teenaged Jesus Freak, deeply committed to my youth group, zealous in my attempts to convert people, and profoundly naive about what it meant to love others as Christ loved me.

 

When I was tenth grade, a girl from my freshman softball team committed suicide. She was a star athlete, a naval cadet, a good student with a kind heart and a quiet spirit. And she was gay. The issue I’d been taught to oppose “because the Bible clearly condemns it” suddenly had a face, a name, a story that ended in tragedy. I went home from school the day we learned of her death, laid myself face down on my bed and wept. All I could think about were all those moments when I looked back at her on the bus ride to and from our softball games and saw her sitting alone. I didn’t go and sit with her.

 

It was the beginning of so many questions for me about how to love you, my neighbor. Still, it took a long time for me to get past my prejudices and preconceptions. In the years ahead, as people from high school and college came out, I realized over and over again that in my devout religiousness I had never been a safe person for my friends to be themselves.

 

I was a clanging symbol of ideology instead of a voice of love.

 

And I am so sorry.

 

These last few years I’ve been working to connect the dots and discover ways to be an active participant in reconciliation for Christians and the LGBTQ community. I’m deeply thankful for people like Ben Moberg, who have bravely shared their stories. The scales are falling off my eyes and I’m finally learning to see my privilege.

 

Today as I write this letter to you, I have this vision in my head. It’s bittersweet, but also hopeful. I’m standing up from my seat on the bus and I’m walking back to where you sit.

 

May I sit next to you? I would understand if you didn’t want me here, if you need more space and time to heal. But if you’re willing, I’ll sit down and loop my arm through yours and say the words I wish I would have said all along:

 

Your story and your being matters to me.

 

I’m listening now. Please forgive me for all the times that I haven’t.

 

I want you here.

 

I want you here.

 

I want you here.

 

 

With all of my love,

 

Bethany

 

I’ll Do Whatever it Takes- Jessica [Love Letter Series]

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I’m unsure of how to perfectly describe my deep appreciation of Jessica’s blogFaith Permeating Life. It’s unbelievable. She has a deep, God-given passion for the LGBT community and I don’t know how often we, sexual minorities, thank those for putting that passion into action. The posts she has written have given me so much encouragement and hope and, a little itch for activism myself. She has put together the greatest list of resources on Faith and LGBT issues that I have come across, along with resources on privilege and her favorite books and comments (see if you can get yourself featured on the comment carnival!) 

 

I cannot stress enough how important her blog is. Follow her, in all honesty you’ll be happy you did. 

 

Here are her words to the LGBT community. I truly hope they move you as much as they did me. 

~ ~ ~

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“I hope you aren’t receiving communion,” the comment started.

 

It was on the monthly column I write for my local LGBTQ community center’s blog about issues of faith and the LGBTQ community. I don’t remember if I actually stated my support for gay marriage in the post — I try to write about current events and keep my personal views out of it — but it didn’t matter, because this guy had gone to the trouble of Googling me and had found my personal blog, which lays out my views in no uncertain terms.

 

The comment went on to say how my support of gay marriage was in direct contradiction to the Catholic church (of which I am a part), and then some ramblings about how the fact that I myself had saved sex for marriage didn’t make it OK to support gay marriage — a convoluted argument I’ve never attempted to make anywhere.

 

As a blogger writing about controversial topics, I’ve attracted haters, trolls, and angry dissenters before, but it was that opening statement that punched me in the gut. It’s one thing to tell me my beliefs are wrong, but to tell me you hope I’m not receiving communion?

To tell me, essentially, that my beliefs are so abhorrent that you hope I’ve separated myself from Jesus?

 

After I’d stopped shaking, I wrote to the blog’s editor asking that the comment be deleted under the blog’s guidelines, as it was a personal attack. He’d already caught it and apologized that it had even gone through.

 

As I reflected on this incident, I realized that I’d had a taste — just a taste — of what my LGBTQ sisters and brothers go through all the time.

 

When you write about things like faith and sexuality on a regular basis, you get used to people telling you that you are wrong, wrong, wrong, or even that your beliefs are sinful. But as a straight ally, it’s rare that people attack me so personally as to make sweeping judgments about the state of my soul or my relationship with God. I’m more likely to be seen as horribly misguided than as being an abomination unworthy of even receiving communion.

 

Not that it’s easy, having your beliefs viciously attacked. Sometimes I find myself not wanting to write about the very topics God places so strongly on my heart, particularly the call to all Christians to show love and understanding to LGBTQ individuals. But every time I think about walking away from the conversation, I remind myself that my LGBTQ friends don’t have that option.

 

And after catching that one stray, painful arrow that pierced me to the core, I realized that no matter how hard I fight, no matter how much of an ally I try to be, I will never be on the front lines. I will never have the experience that too many of my LGBTQ friends have had of having their personal faith identity, their very worth as a child of God, constantly questioned or openly mocked.

 

So what I want to say is that I will stand with you, in whatever way I possibly can, knowing that it will never be enough. And I hope that every arrow I do attract is one that I’ve saved someone else from getting that day.

 

I will speak out as much and as loudly as I can, not only so that I can continue to challenge people and to change minds, but also so that I, in my straight privilege and secure in my faith identity, can redirect some of the trolls who might otherwise go after someone else that day, someone struggling with their sexual orientation or wavering in their belief that God still loves them.

 

I know it’s not enough, and that I’ll still never know what it’s like to get more than a stray arrow once in a while.

 

I just want you to know that I would take them all, if I could, if it meant that nobody ever again had to question whether God loves them.

Love,

Jessica

~

Check out the other Love Letters here

I Will Stand Beside You- Steph Spencer [Love Letter Series]

medium_3002607644Stephanie Spencer is my friend IN REAL LIFE- and she’s also incredible. She has been a strong and steady source of support for me in my journey and I’m indebted to her for it. The psalm posts that I have done are with her link up “Journey through the Psalms” (join us tomorrow!). I am always grateful for her writing, the encouraging message she shares and her insight into scripture which always reveals something new and inspiring to me.

 

If you know what’s good for you, you’ll head to her site, Everyday Awe, and subscribe!. 

~

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I almost didn’t write this letter. Writing an open love letter to the LGBT community is outside my comfort zone.

 

I usually shy away from controversial topics when I write. I leave them to the people I deem better equipped than myself to handle criticism. I thought about the contentious nature of these discussions, about how a letter like this could blow up in my face or get people angry with me, and I wondered if it would be worth it.

 

And then, I thought again. Love should not be controversial.

 

So, I want to start with an apology. On behalf of myself and anyone else who has ever placed you in a category. You are not an issue; you are a person. You are a person who is loved and worthy of love. I am sorry that I almost said no to writing to you.

 

But, still, I’m scared. I am anxious about what I’m going to say next. Will you bear with me please? If I stumble over my words as I attempt to express my thoughts, will you read along until I get to the end?

 

I want to write to you about wrestling.

 

If you are gay, follow Christ, and believe that the Bible is the Word of God, there will likely be wrestling for you. There are verses in the Bible that talk about homosexuality, and those verses are difficult. They may already be triggers for you because of the many times these verses have been misused and abused to make you feel unworthy or unloved.

 

I am so, so sorry for that.

 

But, we can’t pretend those verses aren’t there. They are imbedded in culture and language and history. They are difficult to interpret and frustrating to read. But they are there, in the Bible. (They are along side many other challenging verses, by the way.)

 

In a deep way no one else can understand, you will have to decide what to do about these verses that talk about homosexuality. They are words that will push you to think, not about what you believe about an issue, but about what you believe about your life and your God, about your choices and your doctrine. As you decide where you fall on the spectrum of interpretation of not only these verses, but the Bible as a whole, you will end up agreeing with some and disagreeing with others.

 

The wrestling match between you and God will likely be unavoidable for you.

 

What is frustrating is how many Christians have put themselves in the ring. They have positioned themselves between you and God, and forced you to wrestle with them. Some have done this by making you think you have to have it all figured out before you approach the Lord. Others have stood as gatekeepers, acting as if you have to agree with them before you can pass through to God’s kingdom.

 

But it is not the role of Christians to stand-between. It is our role to stand-beside.  

 

We are called to bear each other’s burdens. If you are wrestling with God, then it is my job to be there with you, offering you strength. To be a listening ear as you sort things through. To voice concerns, and share encouragements, and be there with you no matter what you decide, now or in the future.

 

In the midst of this stand-between culture, there has also been another barrier built. It has been built upon the idea that there is something wrong with wrestling.

 

As we struggle to interpret the Bible, we should remember the characters it displays. There is Jacob, who, after an all-night wrestling match, is renamed “Israel” which means “he struggles with God.” There is David, who fights with God over and over again in the Psalms, asking why he has been abandoned, wondering why God isn’t acting differently. And then there are the disciples, who over and over again told Jesus that what He was saying was difficult and confusing.

 

If you wrestle with God, you are in good company. Wrestling does not show a weak faith, but a strong one. Wrestling moves towards instead of walking away.

 

Whatever you decide to do about these particular verses, there is a much bigger narrative that happens in the Scriptures. It is the narrative of a God who loves us. Who pursues us. Who pours his grace upon us. Who shares His presence with us through His Son and His Spirit.

 

The Bible is the story of a God who lets nothing come between He and His people.

 

So please, don’t let anyone position themselves between you and God. If you get frustrated, please don’t walk away. Chose to get into the ring. That is what gets you into close proximity to the God who loves you.

 

And please, find Christians who will stand-beside instead of stand-between. I will be there among them, outside the ring, ready with water when you need it.

 

With love,

Steph

~

~ be sure to check out more over at Everyday Awe~

The Truth Comes Out [Love Letter Series]

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I came across perfectnumber after she linked my blog to her “blogaround” post and, after spending some time mining through her work, I knew I was a supporter. Her story is one of many in our generation- of those that once had this whole faith thing figured out- until they didn’t. Until they started asking questions and received unexpected answers which led to more questions and more questions and, well, you get the point.  

More than that, she has developed such a drawing voice in her work. I am brought back to it because you can feel the raw emotion, the humor and the honest wrestling that she lets animate across the screen. I highly recommend you go check out her blog. And while you’re at it, throw her a big bon voyage for her upcoming move to China!

If the words below hit you square in the heart, like they did mine, drop in a comment. Let her know what this means to you.

~ ~ ~
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First, I want to say I’m sorry.

 

I used to believe all those anti-gay warnings, about how “the homosexuals” are trying to destroy families/marriage/America, and how as Christians we need to take a stand for what God apparently says about sex and marriage and gender. And how there’s this movement of “homosexual activists” outside the church- definitely outside the church- that’s trying to deceive the culture into believing that gay people are real people who deserve respect and equality and compassion. But we Christians need to stand strong in this war, this us vs them war.

 

There are many arguments put forth in support of this anti-gay ideology. How love doesn’t mean letting people just do whatever they want. How this is really a threat to religious freedom. How children need a mother and a father. And it’s all internally consistent and I could argue from that point of view all day long.

 

And that’s what I believed. Until reality happened.

 

I guess I took “hate the sin and love the sinner” a bit too seriously. Actually, I skipped the “hate” part because I wasn’t sure how that would work- which sin, exactly, am I hating? Unclear, more research needed. But I knew that loving people means listening to them and valuing them and helping them if I knew how. So I started listening to what gay people had to say.

 

And SURPRISE! It was totally different than all those stereotypes based in ignorance and fear.

 

Because you can only hear so many accounts of what it’s like to come out… before you realize it’s just not true that people decide to be gay as an act of selfish rebellion against God.

 

You can only read so many statistics on LGBT students affected by bullying and suicide… before it’s obvious that those warnings about “homosexual activists in schools trying to indoctrinate our children” are a bunch of garbage.

 

You can only read about so many same-sex couples in long-term, committed relationships… before you realize how wrong that stereotype was, saying that gay people are all promiscuous and don’t care about actual love and commitment.

 

You can only listen to so many LGBT Christians talk about their lives… before you reject the “us vs them” mentality, the idea that we Christians in here need to respond to those sinful LGBT people out there.

 

And you can only hear so many accounts of how the church has mistreated and misunderstood LGBT people… before you refuse to believe for a minute that “the most loving thing we can do is tell people about their sin.”

 

So that’s what I want to say to the LGBT people reading this: Your voice is so powerful. Your stories and your openness about your own experiences changed me. And slowly, through your voices, the truth is coming out, and the stereotypes and ignorance and fear will have nowhere to hide.

 

If you can, tell your story. Some people will listen and some will not. But in the long run, I really believe that the light will win. People will no longer be able to deny the fact that you are real human beings with complex lives, and you deserve respect and love and equality. And straight Christians cannot continue to be so blind to the existence of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

 

There is so much ignorance and fear and hatred. But I hope and pray that, as more and more people speak out about the reality of LGBT people’s lives, the truth will win.

 

With Love,

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“Promises”- Alise Wright [Love Letter Series]

 

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Today I am thrilled to have Alise Wright contribute to the Love Letter Series. I first came upon her blog after I had read a few tweets by a few big name writers, all suggesting that her work is worth looking at. As always, I went into it a little skeptical, a little judgy, but before I knew it, I became a devoted follower. What I appreciate most from her is that she speaks from a place of conviction without arrogance. She’s strong and civil and knows what she’s doing. I didn’t really realize that this was the type of work I was searching for until I came upon her site. Currently, she is doing a series called “Mixed Up Faith”, a fascinating discussion on interfaith dialogue.

Today, she is addressing an email she received months ago from a friend. It’s a powerful testament to the need for allies like her.

Join the ranks with me and subscribe to her blog.

You’ll thank me later.

~ ~ ~

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Dear friend,

 

You sent me an email a few months ago. I’m pretty sure I responded, because I usually try to get around to responding to messages that people send me. But I don’t know that I said everything that I needed to say in my email back to you. And even though it was months ago, I want you to know that I think about your letter to me and I think about it often. And I want to take this opportunity today to say more of the things I wish I had shared with you when you originally emailed me.

 

You shared so many difficult things with me. You told me about your parents who were not supportive of you, and a church that tried to change you. You told me about your struggles with belief after you came out and how you were coming back to faith, but found it so hard in the midst of the hateful words that had been said to you and the questions from in your own community of why? Why go back to an institution that actively works to remind you of your inferiority? Why go back to a group that considers your love to be a sin? Why go back to a God who some believe will send you to hell because you’re a woman and you love another woman?

 

Yet despite all of these objections, you long to be a part of the Christian faith community.

 

First of all, I’m so sorry that you feel like you need to ask to be a part of a community that is supposed to want everyone in the family. But when it comes to you, we put it up to a vote, like those of us who are already on the inside have some magical powers that are able to determine that “people like you” are worthy enough to be a part of our club. Even when someone like me comes to the conclusion that yes, you’re okay, that hardly seems like something to be proud of. I’m sorry that I treated your orientation like a theological puzzle to be solved. I often shake my head at those who still want to treat you as a second class citizen, but I ignore my own arrogance at treating you as an issue that I had to figure out.

 

But I don’t want this to just be about apologies. I want to work with you to make this better. I want to stand beside you and join our voices to change things.

 

I promise I won’t keep silent if I hear someone speaking about you like you’re not a real person. I will remind them that if we’re going to have a conversation about the LGBT community, we need to include someone from the LGBT community.

 

I promise to remember that as an ally, my job is to speak with you, never for you. I will always make room on my platform for you to share your thoughts. And if you’re not able to share because you don’t want to invite more pain into your life, I will always share your stories with as much dignity and honor that I can.

 

I promise that I will continue to speak to my children about the humanity of every person. We’ll talk about why equality matters and about ways that we can work locally and nationally and globally to help bring that about.

 

I promise that I will always be available to talk if you need me. Not to offer advice or to fix you, but to listen. I want to hear all of your story. Not just the hurts and the pain, though I will always listen to that, but I want to hear about the lovely things that happen to you as well. I want to know about the good parts of your relationship. And I want to know about stuff totally unrelated to your sexuality, because you are way, way more to me than that. So tell me about the project you crushed at work or the fun concert that you attended or the great recipe you tried.

 

I promise that sometimes I’ll screw up. I’ll think of you as my gay friend instead of my friend. I’ll feel whiney about what these promises may cost me in terms of other relationships or professional opportunities. I’ll think of the LGBT community as a monolithic group instead of as individuals.

 

But I also promise that when I screw up, I will ask for forgiveness and I will do whatever I can to make it right.

 

I know that “I love you” can sound shallow from someone you only know through a blog and email. But please know that you ARE loved. By me and by a God who created you just as you are and who has promised always to be with you.

 

May that promise hold you through whatever you face.

 

Much Love,

Alise

 

~~~

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Alise is a wife, a mother of four, an eater of soup, and a lover of Oxford commas. Her writing reflects her life and her relationships with all of the “wrong” people that God keeps bringing into her life. She is the editor of Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression with Civitas Press. You can generally find her sitting behind a keyboard of some kind: playing or teaching the piano, writing at her laptop, or texting her friends a random movie quote. You can connect with her on Twitter, on Facebook, or at her blog.

 

 

 

~~~

Reminder- Subscribe at the top of the right column. Thank you!

“To Be Who You Know You Are”- Nathan Kennedy [Love Letter Series]

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Quick note: I changed the title of this series from “Open Letters” to “Love Letters”. Initially, the word Open meshed well because it flowed with my original post Open Letter to the Closeted I now know that the term “Open Letter” can carry some negative connotations. A lot of times it is a public indictment of someone or some institution that is meant to point out something the recipient of the letter has done wrong. And many times, they are justified.

But that doesn’t really fit this series at all. This is about loving others as you love yourself, empowering individuals to love themselves. That’s what this is.

~

Nathan Kennedy is an incredible writer. He is gay and he loves Jesus. I met him through twitter and then got to hang out with him over G + Chat. The piece you are about to read is both emotional and intellectual. It is understanding and poignant. It is one of my favorite reads yet. Seriously.

To read more from Nathan, check out his blog Petrychor.

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A middle school civics project once had me research the life, teaching, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was then that I had met one of my personal heroes, someone with whom I could identify, emulate, and look to for guidance. His ideals and his witness for the cause of racial and social justice seared into my imagination indelibly; I had found my first instance of an ideal of moral conviction and action. This project culminated when a local minister, the pastor of one of the community’s chief African American congregations, invited me to give a speech at his community’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. The invitation and the experience humbled and exhilarated me. At age thirteen, a lily-white, nerdy little middle schooler stood before a thousand strangers and preached about Dr. King’s legacy of love, tolerance, and peace.

 

And yet…

 

What nobody knew was that I had barely begun wrestling with the emergence of my gay sexuality. It terrified me more than I could say; growing up deeply religious in home and community, the tension was incredible. While I loved the experience of preaching to that congregation, it was the beginning of my feeling caught between two worlds, two equally distinct subjective realities, of being gay and Christian.

 

As long as I’ve been a Christian, I’ve had at least the intuition that being Christian involves aspiring to be the best version of myself possible. Dr. King is simply an example of someone who modeled for me (and still does very much) how to become my best, fullest self through the Christian Way.

 

Therein was the dissonance. Being gay, you see, had nothing to do with my best self. My sexual orientation was “intrinsically disordered” away from Christlike, life-giving love and toward selfish, self-indulgent desires. I lost my faith as a teenager because I couldn’t reconcile these two worlds. I knew that being gay wasn’t going to go away. It seemed surer and truer than the platitudes preached in church. Thus, I decided late in high school that being Christian had nothing to do with my best, truest self.

 

I’ve since come around and reclaimed my Christian identity, and that is a story that is both very long and very much still in process. I wish to leave out a great portion of my story of struggle, not because there’s anything I wish to hide, but because to tell it would be to write an autobiography when my purpose is to share encouragement. My story’s filled with enough twists and turns to distract from that purpose, so forgive me if I leave my personal “testimony” unfinished. What my testimony strives toward is articulating how I came to see being gay as being a true and constituent part of my best and truest self – how my gay sexuality has moved me toward being more selfless, Christlike, authentic, and compassionate – and to help you to do the same.

 

In the years before my coming out, I wasn’t “gay”: I struggled with same-sex attraction. Nobody in my church community could know about it. I would bring it up in confession but that’s where it stayed. If I needed to “come out” to any of my church friends, we wouldn’t discuss it much for fear of “dwelling” or “identifying” with my flaw. Love isn’t self-indulgent, I would tell myself using different thoughts and different words every time. If you want to love, you have to hate yourself. Love is tough. Love will kill you. Love doesn’t look for self-serving affirmations.

 

The problem with struggling with being gay, all in the confines of my nice little closet, was that, in making it a “struggle”, I couldn’t see any value in it. It was a flaw. It was extrinsic to my true identity as a Christian, as a human being. It was a patch of mold on an otherwise good loaf of bread. Being closeted – feeling like I had to hide it – reinforced this idea. This is called “shame”. “Shame” is feeling like there is something wrong with you – not with your decisions, behaviors, or attitudes, but you yourself.

 

Coming out gave me the freedom to stop “struggling” with being gay and to start struggling with being human. Once I let go of shame, I was free to start focusing on becoming who I actually want to become.

 

For me, this means finding the confidence that being gay is no flaw at all. I’m sure many of you might disagree with that; acknowledging you’re gay is one thing, but acting on it through a romantic partnership is another. Who am I to second-guess your conscience? Who am I to tell you that what your faith tradition has taught you is wrong? If you have chosen the path of celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage you have my support, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye about the acceptability of same-sex partnerships. But I want you to know, that even if you believe that sexual or romantic actions with a person of your same sex is sinful, your attractions themselves aren’t. It is very important that you should know this. Consider it a challenge to Christians of either side of the debate to understand how if Christian tradition is correct, being gay is even then not a flaw.

 

It’s important, understanding how completely okay it is to feel the way you do, to have the attractions you have, and to want to love the way you want to love.

 

It’s important, because I’m sure that you have an idea of who you really want to be, the “best version” of yourself. You see this person hinted at in the heroes you have chosen and in the ideals to which you strive. You see it through Christ himself. And your sexuality is important to becoming that person.

 

Your sexuality comes from the deepest, most intimate center of your being. It’s the part of yourself that stretches out in search of connection, in search of intimacy, because that part of yourself knows that you have something to give. Your sexuality exists because you have something to give – and in giving that, you make the world the better place. You bring about new life, regardless of whether or not you have ever or will ever have children. You should never fear it, be ashamed of it, or want to get rid of it, because your sexuality is a part of the gift you have to give to the world.

 

Your sexuality exists because God made us to need people and to be needed by people.

 

This is true whether you realize that your best self should arise through a romantic partnership, or if you realize that your best self should arise through celibacy. Every relationship you have, whether it is family, friends, teachers, employers, coworkers, etc., is in a very broad sense “sexual”. “Sexual” doesn’t mean “genital” or “having sex” – it means “relational” and “reaching out for the other”. You are a creature of relationship and your sexuality is beautiful. Your queer sexuality is beautiful. It’s beautiful because you are beautiful – you are beautiful through your sexuality. Being straight, gay, bisexual, or transgender is a crucial part of what you have to give to the world. If you embrace it – if you embrace yourself in the very deep and intimate part of yourself – you are saying yes to what you have to offer.

 

It took me a lot of hard and painful lessons to realize this. It’s so easy to repress it out of fear and shame, or to turn it on itself by being a libertine. But to embrace it – to embrace your fundamental drive for love, relationship, intimacy, and connectedness – is to embrace your identity as a person of love.

 

Because, in those moments when we’re told by our own self-criticizing voices about the toughness and painfulness of love – sometimes given us by our own churches and families – we absolutely must remember that love is patient, and love is kind, and it keeps no record of wrongdoings (1 Cor. 13).

 

Love does not default to pain and suffering, but it goes there if necessary.

 

This is my challenge to you, whether you are in the closet or not: be who you know you are. Be everything you are. Being yourself takes courage, and it means discovering things about yourself that will shock and amaze you. You are stronger than your realize. You are more beautiful than you think you are and your sexuality is a part of that beauty.

 

Be brave. Be strong. Be who you know you are.

 

Love,

 

Nathan

 

 

“Speaking Up With My Friends”- Emily Maynard [Love Letter Series]

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Great writers across the blogosphere are like a few bright stars shining in the inky black sky. Rare and powerful. One of them is Emily Maynard. When I started reading her blog, I simply could not stop. She is a source of inspiration for me. A must read for me. If you aren’t a regular reader yet, fix that Right Now by clicking here.

As I’ve told Emily already, her heart is gold. She genuinely wants the world to know the love of Jesus, especially the shoved out and shut down. I feel so honored to have her voice Speaking Up here on my blog.

Lastly, take in these words with a box of Kleenex nearby. You may need them.

~

Hi Friend,

 

Emily 1I feel compelled to start with an apology, because I know the power of someone taking on the words that I need to hear and writing them out for me. I have felt the whispers of grace that come in the form of someone seeing me and offering support. I know the energy that rises when someone standing next to me grabs my hand and says “I’m sorry,” even when it wasn’t their fault.

 

What happened to you may not be my fault directly, but it is corporately. It is my fault in part because I participate and benefit from the culture that has kept you down.

 

I’m sorry.

 

What happened to you was wrong and I’m sorry. I’m sorry you were told that something inherent in you was a dirty rotten choice and you knew it and you don’t deserve cosmic or human love. That’s so wrong.

 

I’m sorry people, even people in the church, said they were safe for you and then stared unflinchingly into your eyes as they led the angry mob forward.

 

I’m sorry for the things I said and did, the fear I let sink down in me, the “othering” I did to you and your life. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to publicly validate your love and worth. I was bullshitting around because I have the privilege to decide what I want to say about this “issue” and when, but it’s your life every day.

 

I’m sorry I treated you like an issue instead of a person.

 

If you need more apologies, if you want to trace your fingers over your past and name them for me, I will apologize for each one. Because you are not alone and the true words we speak together are part of the physical act of spiritual healing.

 

But if you are ready, I want to move past the apologies. Even those can set us apart, and I want to talk about the drawing together (which reminds me of my favorite cartoon).

 

You and I are gay and straight, but we also so much more than those attractions wired into us. We’re more than the shame piled on us when we step out of line.

 

You and I are gay and straight, but we’re so much more than those attractions we express. They are a part of our days, and some days they are ever so important, but other days they are the most minuscule, unimportant parts of our lives. We’re people: working, studying, crying, learning, praying, laughing, and being human. That’s what makes us people: the being, not the gay or the straight.

 

When we are being together, we are a community. We are common. Maybe we find that commonality because we’re both human, or both have crazy dreams about becoming BFF with Taylor Swift at a Rhianna show (oh, that’s just me?), or because we’re both trying to follow the same Jesus way.

 

I know that the church hasn’t been and still isn’t a safe place for you. It’s probably not the first place you think of when you think “community.” Some people there think the adjective “gay” negates the noun “Christian.” But I don’t think that. And I really don’t think Jesus thinks that, based on what is written about him.

 

It’s Jesus who shows me the power of taking on someone else’s burden and saying enough. I can’t carry you cosmically the way Jesus does, with the Spirit guiding and the Father pouring out love. But I can stand next to you. Together we can all echo the chant: this is finished.

 

This division has to stop. I hope the church, gay and straight, proclaims that Jesus alone takes the weight from us and we can stand as equals. We are equals together. I don’t think our biology or our behavior puts us outside the bounds of love.

 

Speaking of behavior, I want you to know that I don’t care who you like. I don’t expect you care who I like.

 

What matters most to me is Who loves you. (Pro Tip: it’s the Jesus God-Revelation I was talking about a few words ago.)

 

Second of most, I care about how you love and are loved. I care about whether your love is safe, growing, dedicated, fun, healthy, supportive, and chosen freely. I hope you care about those things for me, too, because that empathy is the foundation of community. It’s an action of friendship, and we both need friends.

 

I had a hard time writing this letter, Friend, because it seems to silly to have to say all this. I hesitate, as a straight and cisgender person, to tell you that you’re okay, because it could seem like I’m the one allowing you in. I’m not. It’s God who did that, who does that, by forming you and knowing you more than anyone ever could. That’s the God I worship and love, at least.

 

But I also know that I have privilege in society that you do not. I know that in some small way, my speaking up may invite others to let you in or encourage you to let yourself in. So I’m saying this: I’m handing you back your power and I will help break down the social and religious structures that say you’re not okay. There’s nothing silly about that. That is a serious, holy sort of work. It’s the work of redemption. It’s the action of friendship and community.

 

I think it’s better when we do it together.

 

Love,

Emily

 

~

Emily Maynard is an outgoing introvert from Portland, Oregon. She is a big picture thinker who gets excited about questioning, exploring, and watching people find their voices. She writes a column for Prodigal Magazine and blogs at Emily Is Speaking Up. She is not the Emily Maynard from The Bachelorette. You can follow her nonsense and truth on Twitter: @emelina and Instagram: @emelinapdx

God is Love- A.J. [Love Letters]

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I am incredibly grateful to this next Open Letter. AJ is one of the reasons I have changed my opinion about what kind of proximity the online community can bring. There were many times, many times, when I was going through difficult situations and after a quick tweet for prayer, AJ would respond, and then shoot me a direct message with words of encouragement. Most of the time- he is just plain witty and hilarious. He’s the real deal!

 

AJ also (with a bit of urging on my part) has his own blog that you can visit here.

 

This letter is one of my favorites. 

~~~

Dear Reader,

 

When RR first asked me to write this letter, I was tempted to send him the following email:

 

Hey RR, here is my post for your blog:

 

 

“God is love.”

 

 

….That’s it.  Best, AJ.

 

However, I thought that, along with being banned from ever writing on this blog again, some context may be helpful.  But really, if all you take away from this post is that God is love, it will have been successful.

 

I think people say that God is love so much that we become numb to it.  It becomes routine, dry, worn-out.  So, to help with this, I’m going to start off with a story.

 

It’s the story of why I am a Christian.

 

I was born and raised Catholic.  And like anything a person does from the time they are young, I became really good at it.  I had all the accessories: the rosaries, the hymnals, and the statues.  While some boys collected baseball cards, I collected holy cards.  I won an award for my mad altar serving skills and could tell you more about the sacraments than anyone in my grade.  Not to brag or anything, but if Church were a sport, I was on track for the Olympics.

 

Then things fell apart.  Why, exactly, is neither relevant nor helpful here, but by the end of college, I was pretty content with all that mumbo-jumbo being behind me.  Like the guy who finds the childhood basket of stuffed toys in the basement, it was a part of my life I saw as slightly pathetic and best to move past.  The rosaries and holy cards stayed in my dresser drawer, forgotten and dusty.  By the time graduation day rolled around, I was itching to set off on my new life: no God, no girlfriend,[1] and nothing holding me back from an exciting future.

 

Then the sad times started.  Like so many of us, I’ve always had my bouts with the sorrow monster, and not long after leaving my friends and the safety of college, he returned with a vengeance.  I struggled to make new friends.  I was not succeeding professionally like I had expected.  And I generally hated where I was living and what I was doing.  By the time the spring thaw came, and that first anniversary of my college graduation drew near, I was near full emotional free-fall.  And I didn’t have a parachute.  It was really, really horrible.

 

There are some moments you never forget.  It was spring day, though it was still cold.  I was working in my room when a rush of anger overcame me for no real reason.  I slammed the large book I had open shut and, looking straight ahead, I said out loud: “I’m gay.”

 

[Insert dramatic sound effect here]

 

If the statement ever had context, I honestly don’t remember it.  All I remember is the rush of words forming themselves in my mouth.  And then I said it.  And there it was.

 

Gay.

 

I’m sure many of you understand what I’m about to say next.  While this was not the first time I knew I had these feelings, this was the first time I understood this about myself.  They are very different things.  I knew how I had always felt about men, both abstractly and in particular, but a person just gets so good at lying to themselves, that it is easy forget.  I had become a master of the narrative, and it took this complete emotional collapse to allow myself to feel what I had always known: I’m gay.[2]

 

The next few years were a roller coaster, which themselves could fill many blog posts.  But, skipping to the end, something amazing happened: I learned what love is.  I had always subconsciously kept my capacity to love on a pretty tight leash, lest I love the wrong person or, worse, someone caught me loving the wrong person.  Yet, once I admitted my sexuality to myself, I found myself able to feel things anew: compassion, desire, and, most of all, love for others.  I was able to connect to people more authentically than I ever had before.  I was able to laugh with them more heartily and cry with them more honestly.  And behind all of these feelings, behind all of these joys and tears, I found something else.  I began to glimpse a transcendent essence that goes beyond human understanding underlying all of these emotions.

 

To be cliche, I found God.

 

I always get mad when people frame the conversation as “reconciling” Christianity with being LGBT, like it is some accounting error that needs to be settled.  This never made sense to me.  You see, I am not Christian despite being gay; I am Christian because I am gay.  Had I not been honest with myself and opened myself up to love, I likely never would have returned to the Church.  And I never would have experienced what God truly is, beyond the statues and laminated holy cards.

 

This is why I tell this story today, reader.  Because God loves you.  And He[3] doesn’t love you despite being LGBT; He loves you because you are LGBT.

 

As humans, we experience love in many ways.  We experience it through canoeing trips with friends.  We experience it by reminiscing with family.  But we experience it perhaps most powerfully through falling in love, in those moments when eyes meet and, even just for a second, the universe makes sense.

 

I don’t want this to become a post about what role same-sex relationships should have in Christian churches, if at all.  However, regardless of whether you feel personally called to act on your feelings, the fact remains that we, as LGBT Christians, experience love in a large part through same-sex attraction.  And regardless of all the ethical and theological issues, as LGBT people, we experience the world and human relationships largely through the lens of same-sex attraction.  And this includes relationships with the Divine.

 

Now, I’m not saying that there is a “gay way” to pray–of course not.  However, we come to the Divine as a whole person: body, soul, and mind.  And like any other person, our sexuality is a large part of who we are.  And were we to repress and deny this core aspect of who we are, if we were to shut down how we experience love, we would risk shutting down our pathways to each other.  And by denying God access to every inch of our being, we risk shutting down our pathway to Him, too.

 

So, reader, on those days when that you find yourself all a-twitter because that girl/boy looked at you in gym class, and you feel ashamed–

 

On those days when you criticize yourself for wearing that t-shirt and those jeans because of what people will say–

 

On those days when your world seems dark and empty because you are a [insert derogatory term here] and no one, not even God, could love you, take heart.

 

As I said at the beginning of this, God is love.  He is the heat that makes the calm waters of life boil over with passion, with joy, and with meaning.  He is the sun, the energy behind all of life.

 

And, above all else, He wants you to know Him.  He wants you to love others and, in doing so, love Him.

 

He wants you to love.

 

So, as you continue down this admittedly long road and discern how to best live your life, realize that the love you feel is holy and good.  And while we may debate what actions are or are not allowed as faithful Christians, we must never think that love, honest, true, and selfless love, is ever wicked. The accident of anatomy cannot make Our Lord a demon.

 

Yes, we may slip-up from time-to-time.  Because of our honesty about who we are and how we feel, we may sin.  But, if my story says anything, it’s my personal belief that loving too deeply, even if a temptation to sin, is better than the alternative.  It is better than denying yourself the ability to love at all.

 

And even if we fail, God is love–He will understand.

 

 

Peace,

 

–AJ


[1] Yes, I said girlfriend.

[2] I use gay, bi, not-straight, and LGBT interchangeably.  Don’t read too much into this–I mainly hate labels.  And, with respect, I don’t think the distinction is that important, really.

[3] To me, debates about the “gender” of God make about as much sense as debating how to count an auburn breeze.  I use He rather than She or (my preferred) It for convenience sake and because I don’t want to ruffle feathers more than necessary. But, again, don’t read too much into it.

“Someday your *blank* will come” by Michael Overman [Love Letters]

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The following post is from Michael Overman. Michael is interning with the Marin Foundation this year while working towards his Masters of Divinity at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. You can check out his blog at findingthebalance.net.

 

And I know, I said a letter a month, BUT, I’ve had such an enthusiastic response from the blogging community and their letters are worth our attention right now. This little collection is for the drowning behind the closet door right now.

 

So, for now, I will be posting a letter a week or periodically, or until the well runs dry. We’ll see.

 

But at the moment, take in this piece. It’s incredible, moving and inspiring. Absorb it all.

~~~

An open letter to LGBT Christians about relationships and dreams…

I was nine when I realized I was gay. Around the same time, I hit puberty and I felt the first inklings of my call to ministry. Talk about a trip, especially for someone who wasn’t even a teenager yet. Almost immediately I started wondering what the future would hold for me…

Did this mean that I wouldn’t have a wife? What about kids? Could I still be a father? Would I fall in love? Could someone fall in love with me? Would I spend the rest of my life alone?

Growing up in a conservative denomination, I realized rather quickly that “people like me” weren’t supposed to have relationships. We weren’t supposed to fall in love, and if we did, it wasn’t supposed to be with the gender that really attracted us. If you’re a man, you’re supposed to marry a woman, and vice versa.

 

A relationship between a man and a man was wrong, broken, dirty and disgusting

 

Two women together is just abnormal, unnatural, inconceiveable

 

Yet for me, though I spent the time between nine and nineteen trying to have relationships with girls, deep down I knew such attempts were futile, and with every failed relationship, I felt as if God’s love for me, God’s pride in me was faltering, dissappearing into the great nothingness. Because of who I am, because of who I wanted to love, I was being led to believe that God loved me less, that my faults, my sins were worse, more vile, than those of my peers. Because my heart desperately wanted a husband, God looked down on me with shame and disappointment.

Today I’m married. His name is Frankie. We have two cats, the closest to children we’re willing to come right now. We have an apartment in Chicago. A back deck where I attempt every summer to grow herbs and simple flowers (attempt being the key word here). We have joint bank accounts and mutual debt and investments. We watch Doctor Who together, and he tolerates when I devour all six seasons of LOST in less than two weeks.

 

You know what? Some days I wake up and ask myself if this is all real

 

I grew up being told that no same-sex relationship is stable or healthy. None of them every really last. Even if they do, they’re a poor substitute for God’s original plan of heterosexual relationships. And yet here I am almost four years later. Sure, we hve our rough moments, but they’re the same rough moments that I’ve seen straight couples face.

 

Last summer, for our honeymoon, we went to New York to spend a week in the city. One night, waiting in line at TKTS for some cheap seats, we ran into another gay couple. Frankie and I were laughing, picking on each other as usual, being silly. These two guys, Steven and Alex, a Jewish-Columbian couple from Long Island, started talking to us. Frankie went into introvert mode (like he does… it’s cute), and I opened up. They were there celebrating their 23rd anniversary. We ended up not only having dinner together at a nearby Turkish restaurant, but we also saw the same show.

 

That night, everything I had been taught began to crumble. All my assumptions and preconceived notions about same-sex relationships started to shatter. That night, maybe for the first time since I met Frankie, I thought to myself

“We really have a chance here.”

Ask him. He’ll tell you the same thing.

We were created for relationship. It’s in our blood, our bones, our DNA. It’s intrinsic to who we are we God’s creation. And I’m not talking false, superficial, culturally-dictated relationships where you do what is “right” and “good” by the standards of others. I’m talking life-giving, abundant relationships, romantic and platonic. Any relationship that forms out of love has the potential to bring life. This is my hope for you, that you find this kind of love.

 

In my circle of friends, of LGBT people of faith, Christian faith in particular, there is a divide between those who believe that same-sex physical intimacy is God-honoring, and those who believe that sex of any sort, in order to be holy and right, should be restricted to the heterosexual marriage bed. While I can tell you about my own conclusions, my own wrestling with this particular component of relationship, I cannot decide for you what is right and what is not. No one can make that decision for you. But there are plenty of people out there willing to walk the path with you, the journey necessary for coming to your own conclusions.

 

While my hope is that you find the love you both want and need, my bigger point is this: you are loved, right where you are, just as you are. No conditions. No expectations. You are loved by the One who made you, a love that supercedes time and history, culture, label, sexual attraction. You are loved because you are known.

 

I don’t know you. I don’t know what your life has been like, what kind of pain and hardship you’ve experienced thus far. I don’t know if you’re out or if you’re closeted. I don’t know if you’ve decided that you want a mate, or if you think singleness and celibacy are right for you. I don’t know if you’ve learned to love yourself, or if you’re in a place of struggling with self-hatred.

 

I know this: I know God loves you. I know I love you

 

There is no rush for you to make any decisions, to come to any solid conclusions. I don’t know what you’ve been taught or led to believe, and while I hope that your lessons so far have affirmed how amazing, wonderful, and beautiful you are, I know there’s a chance that this is not the case, and I’m sorry for that. I hope you find what you’re looking for, what you need, what you long for. In the meantime, you are not alone. You are loved. As I say to Frankie, “Forever and always, until the wheels fall off.”

 

Much love,

Michael

 

*Make sure you subscribe to this blog on the right, top of the column… I swear I won’t bombard your inbox.