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

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!

“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.

The Rubber Band

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There was a week in high school when I wore a thin rubber band around my wrist. I first heard the idea through a quick comment in a cabin at church camp. My counselor, a cool long-haired 20-something, said that the way he conquered his lustful thoughts was by snapping a rubber band against his skin.

Involuntary look, snap.

Look leads to thoughts, snap.

Thoughts wander away, snap.

The rubber band idea stuck with me, I couldn’t stop seeing it. Training through repetition, through conditioning, always seemed to work. Like studying after an F or flossing more after dental work or even the way my dog would listen after a few squirts of sour juice in his mouth. Aversion was effective.

 

And yes, even then I faintly sensed how stupid this was.

But I had nothing else to lose.

I had tried everything.

 

I had knelt by the bed and prayed in sobs. Shouted for saints and rebuked the dark. I read scripture emphatically, with decision and eyes wide open. I wrote in journals, over and over, that I most certainly am not gay. Not gay. Not gay…

 

And yet, my orientation continued to settle in as I continued to grow up. It grew stronger. Despite all my writhing and raging nothing seemed to do anything. It felt inexorable.

 

The rubber band looked like something that could fling me from the darkness. I didn’t want to be gay and I didn’t want to come out, I just wanted the narrow, thin-aired closet to disintegrate all around me, like it was never there at all.

 

Every day I would walk through the school hallway and, inevitably, my eyes would betray me. I knew the “flesh is weak” so I snapped it harder against my veins. The sting and splotchy skin was, I believed, creating some sort of muscle memory in me. Something to make it all stop.

 

The pain throbbed through my arm, but I knew that this was the way. And truth be told, I kind of preferred this way. There was this internal zest whenever I cracked the whip on my sexuality. For such a long time, I hated it so much. Being gay meant being a sinner of the worst kind of sinners. It wasn’t the same as the other sins, which came through choices, this was more like an incarnation. I could not be clean, I could not be Christian unless I became straight. My sexuality stood between me and heaven’s small gate. It had to be slapped out of the way. One. Snap. At a time.

 

In sixth period I sat next to an Asian gothic girl who would always wear a baggy black hoodie and thick black eyeliner. We were in the middle of lecture and scrambling with our scribbles. She hastily raised her arm to pull back a stray lock, and her loose black sleeve slipped down to her elbow.

 

And that’s when I saw them. Big blue and purple zig-zags written down her wrist- still tender like they were born yesterday, rising and plump. I don’t know if she knew I saw, but she quickly covered them up like a child in winter.

 

I felt so bad for her, but I knew that the rubber band was a different thing. The exercise I was conducting was to correct a flawed part of myself. It was to make me normal. It was to purify my perverted soul. It was to save me from hell. What she was doing was savage and heartbreaking.

 

Only later did I learn about self-mutilation. Teenagers ripped the blade across the body for a variety of reasons, but all of them linked back to one: they didn’t like who they were. For a long time, they had tried everything.

 

They had probably tried to fit in, but the cliques kept them out. Perhaps they tried to change, but they couldn’t bring themselves to betray themselves.

Maybe they tried to do drugs and climb the social stepladder, but ended up addicted and alone. Maybe they tried to sleep with as many people as possible, thinking maybe, with just one, it would become first love.

They tried and got tired of fighting for themselves and, soon enough, started hating themselves. They became repulsed by the blood rushing through their veins; the sound of their own beating heart. Yet, they refused to give up and die. Maybe death was just too generous. They hated themselves so much.

 

And I looked down at my splotchy red wrist and looked up at the road I was walking down. Zig zags of dripping blood and ingested poison. Endless agony.

 

I started to wonder if this was the road of the suffering servant. If this is what it meant to walk with Jesus. And then I started thinking about God creating every hair on my head, my arms and my wrists, and every last detail down to each freckle. I remember someone say, “God doesn’t make junk.”

 

And the sympathy I extended to the girl with the Zig Zags felt like everything I ever wanted people to have for me. I wanted them to see me falling apart, disintegrating into dust. I wanted them to hold my wrist high and say that I am most certainly loved. I wanted someone to say Stop. I wanted someone to tell me that my sexuality need not be a burden or a blemish, but beautiful part of who I was.

 

On the bus trip home I took off the rubber band and stretched it between my fingers. So light and seemingly harmless. Venom in a veil. What I had first imagined was my way out, became another heavy chain, another damaging disappointment, another quick fix that would fail and let me fall. In that moment, on that bus ride home I knew there had to be a better way, even if I didn’t what it was.

 

So, I pulled it back and shot it out the window. Watched it hit the wind hard and fly off somewhere else. Never would I get that close again.

 

RR

For the Closeted Ones

uscg_photo_2_signaling_for_help

 

I’m writing this for the closet LGBTQs, but in a way, I’m writing this for myself. When I was where you are, alone in agony, I wish someone would’ve written to me. Just a word from a world where there were others. A red flare far out in the dark.

 

And maybe your story is a lot like mine. Maybe you need these words more than I need to write them…

 

Maybe you heard it first at age nine from the front row pew. Your pastor said it in ten seconds and it felt like hell and hate hurling down upon you. Maybe you heard it in the car with James Dobson declaring to the nation, to your family, that perverts like you don’t get to have God. Maybe you heard it in everything that went unsaid.

 

Maybe you opened the Book and saw six or so verses with their crushing words, leaving your soul cracked wide open. Maybe you read them with a lump in your throat and tears down your face and trembling hands. Maybe a part of you died.

 

And the message was received, loud and clear. You cannot be known, because you cannot be loved. You will not be welcomed. You will not be saved. You will lose everyone you care about. You will be thrown away.

 

So you ran backwards. You receded down deep, laid thick bricks all around you to keep everyone out. You believed it all was true and you believed that hiding was protection.

 

For me, for a long time, I believed them too. I believed God could care less. I believed that the only way I would be loved and get my pardon from Hell was to be straight. I believed that sometime, long before memory, maybe as a toddler, I chose to be gay, because that’s what the Church folk said. This is merely a matter of choice.

 

I believed it fully in my decaying heart, until late one night, at my lowest point, He told me something different.

 

It was 1 am and I was below the stars wrapped up in the backyard hammock. I was hyperventilating- violently. Cries were choked out and breath was cut short and I was all past hope.

 

I asked Him how His people, His followers, His body, could be so cruel and tough and severe. Why are you like that? I spat. Why do they say You’re on their side? Why am I even here? Why can’t I be your child? Why won’t you take me?

 

I threw wild swings in the dark, imagining His face was right in front of me. I knew He was there, I believed it, but I was completely convinced that He didn’t care a bit about me.

 

He hated me and I was all past hope.

 

But in the middle of the madness, in the swinging and the cursing, a sudden seam was stitched. A bridge built between my before and my after. A moment that changed everything forever.

 

It came quietly, like the first drops of rain, gentle and cool. It was five words and they were the sweetest ones ever spoken to me.

 

“I am not like them.”

 

I was struck and lulled and captivated all at once. I lost my breath and my arms fell limp to the grass below. I placed my hand over my heart. I squeezed my eyes shut. I listened to it echo through my soul. Reverberating. Over and over, again and again, until it matched the rhythm of my returning heartbeat. I am not like them. I am not like them. I am not like them.

 

The great I Am heard me. Saw me. Spoke to me. Came to me.

The great I Am is not like them.

 

The cries and moans didn’t cease, but they came from a different place. A source of pure joy and adoration and peace and I hang onto this memory with all that I have because it is all that I need. I am His love, I am His joy, He likes me and He loves me and He saved me.

 

He reached out and wrapped His big arms around me and it was like He had waited forever for this.


 

He Loves me… and He loves you too whether you believe or not.

It’s true.


 

I know how that word sounds. Love. Every time someone said it to you, it never felt real because they didn’t know that part of you. If they did, they would have never said it.

 

Listen, if you’re going to hear anything from me, hear this.

 

That’s the monster in the closet talking. The enemy will tell you anything and everything to keep you there. To keep you ashamed. To keep you afraid. Away.

 

But God loves you. He loves you. He loves you. Say it. Out loud. He loves you. He loves me.

 

When God formed you, he named you Masterpiece. Did you know that? Not just another work of art, but the very best thing he ever did. When He came to dwell, he made his bed in the margins. In the closet.

The very ones despised by the religious order were the ones He identified with most. Those were His brothers and sisters. Those were His friends. Those were the ones that got Him. He is with the beaten beside the road. He is with the hurting. He is with the accused. He is with the LGBT soul drowning behind the closet door.

He has carved your name in His palms. He has counted the number of hairs on your head. He thought of you first. He loved you first. He made you on purpose. He gave you a heart and a soul and a mind and breathed life into all that you are.

 

You are the best thing He has done. He has so much pride in you that it borders on embarrassing affection. He is fond of you. He fawns over you. He loves and He likes you.

 

And I believe, more than anything, he wants you to know that..

 

God is not straight and God is not gay,

He is above all the labels, He is only Love.

 

The head over heels, can’t shut up about it kind of love. He feels this for me. He feels this for you. He’s waiting, desperate and still, for you to grasp that, and then maybe, to grasp Him.

 

RR

Grace to Breathe

Boy Rising from Swimming Pool

The sun is hot which only exasperates things. I just finished whipping through the afternoon playing basketball in the pool and I’m resting with family friends. It’s spring break and, for whatever reason, this small oasis has drawn much of our Minnesota network to this teeny corner of Orlando. For the most part, it’s great. After coming here for so many years it is starting to feel like a vacation home, a luxury I know, but at least its familiar and we’re all comfortable and I should, but I don’t, feel like apologizing for that.

Most of my parents’ friends know all about me except for a few and its not that we haven’t told them because of who they are or what they necessarily believe, the timing just hasn’t been right. In any case, I am sitting by the pool talking to my Mom’s friend, my former tutor, about the new Pope. She goes on about how much she likes him and I agree with her, and she goes further about her concern for the environment and global warming and I agree with her even more. And there’s this common ground that is felt whenever like-minded people meet.

 

“But ya know. If he goes too far… Like. If he says its okay to get abortions or if he says okay to be lesbian or gay. I’m done.”

 

I’m unsure as to whether she was done with Christianity altogether, because she’s definitely not Catholic, or if this was her way of saying she was done liking Pope Francis. In any case, her words didn’t wound, they sneered. And I felt my eyes narrow and I began to clear my throat and throw on my pre-emptive strike smile, because yes, I was Pissed Off.

I don’t wish to be anyone’s deal breaker, for anything. Especially for Christ. Especially because of who I am.

 

Sometimes, I wish all conservative Christians would have one gay kid in the family. I think we’d all understand and love each other better.

 

Before my claws protract and tongue puts a point on, another of my mom’s dear friends, a participant in the conversation, fully informed about my secret, interrupted and did exactly what, in my cool headed state, I would ask her to do.

 

“So, like, what does it mean to be a Jesuit Priest? I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of that before.  It sounds interesting!”

 

Her question disarmed me and the conversation led to some lovely dialogue about oaths of poverty, even if I did grit my teeth for minutes after.

 

What I needed in that moment was an unbelievable amount of grace. Unbelievable amount. I understand the argument, “well what if she was talking about black folks or Jews?” but I have to reckon with the world I find myself in and I’ve made it a commitment to not shut any one out. My former tutor, had she known about me, would probably rethink things a bit and would definitely not come out the gate with that confession.

breathe

More importantly, I think as sexual minorities, we get justifiably defensive at thoughtless words tossed to and fro in the day to day convos. We get hit and we wince and all we want is war. We get frustrated at the folks with families and standing who have no idea how much they take their acceptance for granted. And when they talk down about people like you, yes, it feels like getting stung by so many bees.

But in those moments, we need people to distract us! The best thing our friends can do in conversations like these is provide a diversion before we say something we truly regret. For example, I let it slip that I can’t call myself an evangelical because, “they are so hard hearted.” I can’t tell how much offense she took to this, but in any case, I said it.


And, of course, we need advocates out there fighting for us on the daily. But we also need advocates that will hold us back from a fight when we need to. We need friends to look us in the eyes and ask if this is the hill we are willing to die on.


Because, normally, I will leave the conversation after its run its course, and I’ll remember that my tutor is a lover of Jesus and the planet and the poor. I’ll remember that she likely knows no gay people. I will remember that she is my sister in Christ. I will remember that she has no idea that I am gay. I will remember that the memory of her words, once she finds out about me, and perhaps, in twenty years when she changes her views, will be enough of a punishment for her.

 

And she’ll need me to forgive her. Which I’m ready to do now. Which would be harder to do if I fought and pushed her away.

 

Sometimes, biting your tongue is the best way to do grace.

Sometimes, its best, for friends to hold us back from ourselves.

 

Grateful,

 

RR 

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

1905DB

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