29 February 2012

Equally Skilled

Ecclesiastes 11
Invest in Many Ventures
1 Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
2 Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
3 If clouds are full of water,
they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
4 Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
5 As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.
6 Sow your seed in the morning,
and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well.
Remember Your Creator While Young
7 Light is sweet,
and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
8 However many years anyone may live,
let them enjoy them all.
But let them remember the days of darkness,
for there will be many.
Everything to come is meaningless.
9 You who are young, be happy while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you into judgment.
10 So then, banish anxiety from your heart
and cast off the troubles of your body,
for youth and vigor are meaningless.
I don’t remember when I first read this passage, however, even as a “J”, I fell in love with it.  I tend to plan out my steps, even when I have no idea where I am headed.  I can be honest in saying most of the time I have no idea what path I am taking, but so help me God, I am taking that path.  But it doesn’t need to be like that.  Much like Jeremiah 29:11 or Psalm 139, God’s plan is so much bigger and better than anything I could ever fathom or conceive.  That’s why I especially love Ecclesiastes 11:5 so much.  We cannot understand why God does what He does.  He had a purpose for creating mankind and for continuing to love and pursue us even when we sinned and fell short of all the glory He intended for us.  He has a purpose in creating each and every person on this Earth, the path they walk, the way they know His presence whether through His Word or just His Spirit.  There is reason behind us all.
It is with these words and this truth on my heart that I will walk into Ralph’s office tomorrow.  I set up a meeting with him so that he can hear directly from me that I, a follower of Christ Jesus, am also gay.  I don’t know where this will lead.  I have hopes and I have fears.  I sat in service Sunday morning and wondered if this would be the last service I would attend at West Side without feeling like an outcast.  I’ve taken part in this church my entire life.  My parents were married there, my grandparents were married there, I was welcomed for 22 years there.  Will this change that?  I think I’d be in denial if I didn’t say yes. 
Perhaps I’ll be banned from volunteering.  Perhaps nothing will happen.  Perhaps they’ll call a Secret Session Meeting in my (dis)honor.  I really don’t know how this will play out.  My dad and I were talking about coming out to the church the other day and he said something I had thought about, but hadn’t put much energy into.  He said, it might not even be the staff that takes issue with me being a part of ministry, it may be the parents of the youth I serve who truly find a problem.  Perhaps I’ll be dishonorably discharged without a hearing or chance.
One thing I do know.  I will not be the victim.  I have done nothing wrong.  People will tell me that so long as I am not “active” or “practicing” or “engaging in a lifestyle of sin” that I am fine to continue on and serve God and the Church.  Seriously, you want to use descriptions like that to describe a human life?  You make me sound like a voodoo robot.  People may disagree with the “homosexual lifestyle”, I get that.  However, to them I ask, do you know that the one thing you are trying to deny me is love?  There is no other “sin” in the Bible that requires someone to forsake love.  None.  How can we single out one specific “sin” and ask it to trespass against the one commandment Jesus gave us?  Now this gets into another blog entirely or rather another conversation entirely. 
I guess what I wanted to say is, I know where I stand.  I stand on the path of God.  I have no clue at all where that is, but it will lead me to places I cannot imagine.  I have seen too many of my Christian friends come out only to lose their faith.  I think as the representative of God’s word on Earth, the Christian Church holds much guilt in that.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  No matter what one believes, God’s love should surpass any misgivings about another person’s differences.  I don’t know another out gay person that still has faith.  That troubles me and scares me even.  I don’t want that to happen to me.  I have to remember that West Side is not God.  It is a place seeking and honoring God and it is a wonderful place at that.  If they reject me, it is not God rejecting me.  How could He?  I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  He has plans for me.  He has plans for you.  “You cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”  Thank Jesus.  If I understood half of the things He did, I think my head would explode.  That’s just how awesome it would be.
I am scared to enter that office tomorrow, to give any reason (illegitimate as it may seem) to be disqualified from the full benefits of Church leadership.  But I do so in the hope that someday things will change.  The Church has for far too long made enemies of the people it should be reaching out to, embracing, protecting.  In the name of Jesus, the Church has persecuted Muslims, science, women, black people, women again, Jews, more Muslims and gay people.  I don’t see why more people aren’t upset about this.  The Church is not infallible.  God is.  The Church is not God. 
It’s late and I didn’t mean to go on a tirade against the Church.  In truth, it has done so much good for the world, but the darker parts of its history should not be forgotten.  Obviously, it’s something I’ve personally looked into and feel deeply rooted in.  For what is faith if not an introspection of God’s work in our lives in order to better understand His work and our purpose within the world.
“Joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
May tomorrow contain all of these,

14 February 2012

Grudge Has Still Got Your Heart

The worst part about being a responsible grown up Christian, if you have a problem with someone, you have to go to that person directly and face it.  Even if you heard about said problem from someone else, you can't continue spreading the issue before resolving it with the original fire starter.  And if the secondary person wishes you to not tell the source that they told you about it, then you have to wait for the source to gather their grievances and approach you then.
  What a messed up and sickening web we humans weave.

03 February 2012

Reverent Love Burn Us Up

This week has been overestimates and underestimates.  Very few moments have been right on par with what I expected.  Mostly, my heart has pumped more adrenaline than I thought possible without going into cardiac arrest.

So Sunday night.  A typical one.  Went to WS at 5 for worship practice, then walked upstairs to the aptly named Upper Room to wait for youth to show up for Fuel.  They always trickle in over the first 20 minutes so most of that time is spent socializing and checking in with students on what they have going on in the coming week.  A lot of jokes, laughing, and social games.  I got a text in the middle of this icebreaker period.  It was unexpected to say the very least.

Michelle wanted to get together and ask me "about something very personal" and she was "a little scared too", but would be ok with anything I said.  Despite being one of my longest and most trusted friendships, Michelle and I had had fewer interactions and conversations over the past year or so.  If there was something personal she was scared to ask me about, there was only one thing I could think of that it could be.  All I could think was that there was no way she could be more scared than me.  I also remembered I still had two hours of hanging out with Christian high school students and this was no place to have a panic attack.

I made it through seeing the youth off for the night and after grabbing my guitar went out the back sanctuary doors into the darkness to find my car.  Finding myself outside without the threat of worrying the students and other leaders that something was wrong by collapsing to the fetal position in the middle of Stu's talk, I began to feel the gravity of the situation that lay before me.  I wish I were kidding when I said this was my worst fear brought to life.  It sounds foolish, but I was terrified of Jake and Michelle finding out I was gay.  I imagined losing some of my deepest friendships, my second family, my job even.  Man-alive am I a pessimist or what!

When I drive, I normally have a concrete block attached to my gas pedal.  This night, I drove 15 mph the entire  40 mph stretch of Aaron Drive.  I felt physically ill upon arriving at Applebee's for the designated meeting.  Bless her heart, Michelle greeted me with a smile.

After a couple minutes of light banter and me refusing to order anything that I knew I wouldn't be able to eat or drink anyway, we got on to the reason we were there.  She told me that people at work had been talking about me.  She didn't say who exactly, but rumors had been weaving through the Cuda lately and people were questioning her and Jake about me and she wanted to come and talk to me about them rather than continue the whispers and gossip.  She told me that she and Jake had become increasingly worried about me as they could tell I was completely miserable at work and torturing myself over something but there was no obvious cause so they knew it was something big.  She assured me that their love for me was unconditional and all they wanted for me was to be happy.  She asked me if I had thought about or was questioning my sexuality.  I don't know that there is ever really a "right" time or place for that question to come up in any situation, but in that Applebee's at 9:00 PM on a Sunday evening in the middle of a three-day weekend from work, it was the scariest and most honest question I had been asked in a long time.  And it was completely "right".

I told her what I was planning on telling her in the days or weeks to follow but could have just as easily pushed off for another month or year even had she not intervened.  I told her I knew I was gay and she didn't laugh at me, she didn't recoil, she didn't even go mute.  Though I could barely form sentences during our two-hour session, Michelle spoke to me in love and appreciation for being honest with her.  I had no idea such a reaction was possible.  She stressed I would very likely have a rough road ahead of me, but that all she and Jake wanted for me was to be happy and "freedom for my heart, soul and mind".

In no way were these the same people who had sat around their table one night years ago and joked with those present about the fags and dyke they employed at their coffee shop.  These were the Christian man and woman I looked up to and tried to model myself after.  These were the people I became friends with through missions trips and small groups.  These were the people I loved more than almost anyone else in the world.  And finally, finally, I was back to being me.  I am not exempt in this.  There were times I turned on them too.  I cursed their names and thought them terrible people.  For the most part, that was my own fear poisoning my heart.

This week has been hard.  I have gotten used to pushing my feelings aside.  I don't lie about or fake my emotions or ideas, but I know how to hide and avoid them.  This week, I have come out of hiding.  Over the past couple years I had built walls so high around myself even I had no idea where they ended and the open skies began.  I don't believe there has ever been a time I've felt more vulnerable.  However, I would not and will not go back.

Over the course of the next two days, I had personally told everyone at work.  They were completely positive and accepting and just glad I didn't feel like I had to hide around them anymore (have I ever mentioned how much I love my coworkers, cause I totally do).  Those feelings of misery and torture that Michelle had observed me having at work--gone.  I don't even know how to describe how freeing it was.  I kid you not, a brick the size of Texas was removed from my shoulders.  And more importantly the stone over my heart started to crack.  I hadn't realized how much anger had been inside of me and how sufficiently it was eating me alive.

When Wednesday rolled around and my madre made it back from her 10-day trip to Mali, God had already set up a prayer network around me for telling my parents.  I was also given amazing perspective on my issue when Mom told us about the looming drought in Africa and how farmers are eating their crop seeds just to survive.  Just like in school where you don't want to follow the thought out and wrenching presentation just given on the Holocaust with your 5-slide power-point on the Iron Curtain, I didn't want to follow starving children in Africa with "hey guys, I'm gay".  But there was no way I could go another day without telling them.

I plucked up the courage.  They looked me in the eyes and told me they would always love me.  My dad said, "you'd better thank your Uncle Randall (my dad's gay brother) because if I hadn't known him I would have a lot harder time with this."  I told him I thank God everyday for my Uncle.  After giving me a hug, my mom followed with, "well I guess I had better stop looking for a boyfriend for you then".  And then without missing a beat, "don't think this doesn't mean I don't want grandkids!"

Ladies and Gent, my parents.

Now don't you go thinking I forgot the brudder.  I told him six months ago.  He loves me and is a "modern" man and we haven't spoken about it since.

There's still people I need to tell firsthand.  But knowing that most of my closest friends and family know and don't think any less of me is incredible.  I am dead serious when I say I do feel free.  I had completely underestimated the hold hiding this had had over me.  I also disregarded how this was affecting my relationship with God.  This entire time I have felt Him, and tried to figure out where He was trying to lead me in all of this.  But at some point I got so focused on me and my confusion and pain that I stopped following the plan he was laying out for me.  Even though it has only been a few days since I've come out, His hand has been in it all.  I feel like I make Him proud again.

I know there are people who would say I am wrong, that there is no way God would create me this way let alone want me to live an openly gay life.  I understand that, I do.  Some of the people I told this week are struggling with that very same thought.  I used to struggle with that very same thought.  But after years of wrestling, I am at peace in the knowledge that God loves me.  I ask, why would anyone worship a God of love if doing so means denying them the possibility of experiencing love?  His love is broader than any of our minds can imagine.  It's possible the Bachmanns and Phelps of the world are right and I and everyone like me are going to Hell, but what loving God would decide that.  The God of my heart wants me to be happy and rejoice in Him in every aspect that He created me to be.  My heart is saturated in thanksgiving and grace and I am so very blessed to be alive in this time and in this place.

The same person I always was and always will be,