Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Of Little Faith

“You of little faith.” 

This phrase is so common for us today, one doesn’t need to have been raised in a church to have heard it. Others might know it as, “O ye of little faith,” especially if you were raised in a King James Version-based congregation like I was.

In our society, we use this phrase so often, it likely rarely makes sense when we use it. Maybe you’re perpetually running late and someone doesn’t believe you when you tell them you’ll be on time.

“O ye of little faith.” 

Maybe you tell your coworkers you’re going to finish a project wth a seemingly impossible deadline on time and they don’t believe you.

“O ye of little faith.” 

Maybe you tell your kids you’ll play with them outside, right after you finish washing the dishes, but the kids aren’t buying it.

“O ye of little faith.” 

But think about why Jesus tells Peter that he has little faith. Think about how crazy it all is. This story — probably one of the most told stories in the Bible — really picks up when Jesus is walking on the water out to the boat. The disciples think it’s a ghost! And then — as if that’s not weird enough — Peter decides to put Jesus to the test and Jesus takes him up on the offer.

“Come,” Jesus says. So then Peter hops out of the boat and starts walking on the water, too. But what happens? The moment something changes, Peter realizes what’s happening, gets scared and starts to sink.

I have to admit that, today, in a way, I find myself having little faith, too, perhaps in that sinking moment.

Berke M. M. Bates — a state trooper in Virginia — would have turned 41 today. Bates was up in a helicopter yesterday with another state trooper — Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen — monitoring events between protesters and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. The helicopter crashed and Trooper Bates and Trooper Cullen died. We still don’t know why the crash even happened.

On the ground at those protests yesterday — between white supremacists and counter-protesters — 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when 20-year-old James Alex Fields Junior drove his car into a crowd of people who were protesting white supremacy. Nineteen others were hurt in the crash, including five people who were still in critical condition this morning.

Reports say one man gave Heather CPR while another held an oxygen mask to her face until they could get her out of there. But she didn’t make it.

In another incident yesterday, multiple white men started beating 20-year-old Deandre Harris, a black man, with poles in a parking garage. He has eight staples in his head, a broken wrist and a chipped tooth. Throughout the day, others recounted similar attacks on social media.

So today is a day of little faith for me.

Little faith in my fellow Americans.

Little faith in the justice system.

Little faith in many of those in the Church.

Little faith that our government will do anything meaningful to help stop emboldening hate-filled, fear-filled people.

Today, I see yet again how violent the waters are, and I have little faith.

In humanity.

But since when does our faith rest with humanity? Sure, we may seek to have faith in each other, in our government, in our world — but our faith does not rest there. Our faith does not begin there. Our faith begins with the man who called Peter out onto the water. Our faith begins with a man who can perform miracles and can enable us to perform them, too. Our faith begins and rests with Jesus.

And I admit, even knowing that, days like today can be hard. Days like today, you may not want to be called out onto the water. You might just want to sit at home and think. And be angry. And heartbroken. At very least, it’s tempting. And maybe today’s not the day, but maybe tomorrow is.

And, when you feel the time is right, there are things we can learn from Jesus and Peter in today’s gospel.

First, we must realize that faith isn’t just about belief. It’s about doing. People like to say they are, “stepping out in faith.” But really, stepping out is faith. Even when we aren’t sure if our actions will help anything, we can still act faithfully — we can still faith. And really — isn’t it even more faithful when we aren’t completely certain of exactly how our actions will help, but we do them anyway, knowing they’re guided by the Holy Spirit?

This is where I should mention a reality that may be a bit difficult for some to hear: Many of those white supremacists yesterday call themselves Christians, too. They think that what they’re doing, what they’re advocating for, is a Christian ideal. They may even think that they are being led, by faith, to do God’s work in the world. To us, that may sound crazy, but to them, it might feel real.

So how, then, do we know when we are acting in faith? How do we know when our actions really are guided by God? A good place to start is to ask yourself this question: Is what I’m being called to do something that will create or cultivate love and inclusion in the world and among God’s people? 

It is critically important, especially now, that we, like Peter, don’t just say we have faith, but that we back that faith up with action. Because if there’s another thing this story teaches us, it’s that with Jesus and through Jesus and in Jesus’ name, we can work miracles. But the minute we begin to overthink and shrink bad inside of ourselves — the moment, perhaps, that we become too rational — that’s the moment we begin to sink. Miracles, after all, are inherently mysterious.

Like Peter, we will fail. But, with God’s help, we can get back up. And like Peter, we don’t have to rush out to try and conquer the world or solve problems on our own. Faith begins with a single step out into the unknown. A step out of our comfort zones. That’s where freedom is. That’s where miracles are. That’s where love is. Because that’s where Jesus is.

The world needs compassion. The world needs hope. And those who are marginalized need us to stand up in faith and call out hate and discrimination and fear when we see it. They need us to act. Not just when it’s convenient for us, but especially when it’s not. After all, isn’t that at least part of what love is? Isn’t part of how we show love by showing it when it’s needed the most, which isn’t always when it’s the most convenient?

I don’t know about you, but some of the most powerful, love-filled moments in my life have been totally unexpected and totally inconvenient for the person doing the loving, whether it’s me loving someone else or someone else loving me. As usual, that’s where the Holy Spirit tends to lead us. Into the darkness. Into the hopelessness. Into the valleys. Because that’s where faith and hope and love and the message of a savior who offers all of that — and more — is needed the most.

So let us always go forth in love and peace, ready to do the work God would have us to do, even and especially if feels tough or inconvenient for us. Especially if it means stepping out in faith into uncertain waters. Because that’s where miracles happen.

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Just Be You.

I was watching House of Cards, casually scrolling through my Facebook feed, minding my own gay business, when I see this:

Vicky Beeching tweet

Great. There goes freaking Vicky Beeching, making my mind work. After my initial internal, “Aaaaaaamen, girl, YES! Mmmhmm! #preach 🙌 🙌🙌” moment, my mind immediately went to the last few days, specifically the story of my fiancé and the airport.

He returned from a work trip yesterday and I had the distinct honor and privilege of picking him up from the airport. It was a lovely, studly birthday present!

As I waited for him inside the airport, I thought about what I would do when I saw him.

Would I hug him? Kiss him? Hold his hand? Just smile and start walking along with him? What reaction would any of these things get from people around us? Would someone call us “faggots”? Would someone say it was disgusting? Would people start giggling? Shaking their heads? Would someone get physical?

And if any of this negative stuff happened, what would my reaction be? Would I say what first came to my mind? Would I respond with kindness? Would I act at all?

In the days and minutes leading up to him returning home, I spent far too much time (meaning any amount of time) focused on this hypothetical stuff and not on how exciting it was going to be to see him. Now I know this was silly, but it’s reality. It happens.

I was talking with a new (but already wonderful) friend of mine the day before the fiancé’s return home and we were laughing about how much we worry about things that may not even come to pass. We talked about how part of it is societal and part of it is personality, but we both agreed to what I already knew by that point, and really knew the whole time: I should, and will, greet the love of my life in whatever way I want and let the potentially bigoted chips fall where they may.

So, what happened?

I saw him walking toward me. I smiled and waited. When he got close, I took the photo I knew I had to take of my “birthday present,” and I couldn’t help but hug him and kiss him and put my arm around him.

And you know what?

The world didn’t end. The sky didn’t fall. No one said a single damn thing, at least to us.

So fast-forward to me seeing Vicky Beeching’s tweet this morning. I think it’s essentially the main lesson from yesterday’s airport adventure and it’s what I knew all along. I think, deep down, most of us understand her point, although it’s sometimes difficult to put into action.

And for anyone thinking, “Well, it’s your own fault for caring about what others think of you,” chances are you’ve either never been part of a hated, marginalized group and/or you’re just lying to yourself in thinking that you’ve never cared what anyone else thinks of you. Whether we should or not, most people, at one point or another, care about what others think. And the people who shout, “I don’t care what others think!” from the rooftops are usually folks who really care about what others think.

Beyond that, though, for many of us, it’s not actually so much about what others think of us as it’s about navigating our lives peacefully and happily. My primary concern wasn’t feeling bad or shamed by someone’s words. My primary concern was that some jerk would try to start a fight. My primary concern wasn’t our feelings — it was our safety.

So if you’ve never really had to do your best not to worry about potential hatred for simply existing and living and loving, be thankful. Because even for those of us who are able to just let those worries roll right off our backs, they’re still worries that we have that others simply don’t. To know this is true, one only needs to look around in public and see how straight white couples tend to interact with each other, then look at how LGBT couples tend to interact with each other, especially in a setting that may not definitely be a welcoming space. I fully understand I’m generalizing, but I’ve seen it enough to know there’s truth to it. And certainly everyone has worries, but not everyone has this worry this often.

I’m thankful for this reminder to focus on our peace of mind and to not let anyone else’s crap get us down. Because it’s just that: crap. And it’s their issue to deal with, not yours.

Happy Pride, by the way! Let’s go be proud of who we are and who we love! Always.

Welp, I’m 30.

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20-year-old Kyle takes a birthday photo!

Today, I turn 30. I’m not sure it’s hit me yet. Maybe it won’t. I mean it’s just a number, right?

I find myself trying to think about all the life lessons I’ve learned over the last decade. What I have yet to learn. Where my 20s started. Where they ended. How much has happened. How much has remained the same. How much will change over the next decade.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m in some sort of hyperdrive, where people decades older than me are recounting some life lesson they just learned and I’m thinking, “Um. Yeah. Of course that’s the case.” Typical know-it-all millennial, right? But other times, I’ve felt like I’m stopped or even in reverse, watching people my age pass by me. In some way, they’ve moved on and I haven’t.

But then I remember those lovely words of wisdom everyone loves to impart but not actually listen to themselves: We shouldn’t judge ourselves based on what others are doing. We shouldn’t care what they think, either.

As I think about things I’ve “lost” over the last decade, by far, my mother is the first thing that comes to mind. My immediate next thought is that 20-year-old Kyle would’ve been like, “It’s not like she was ever around in any meaningful way anyway.” Maybe not, 20-year-old Kyle. But the option was there. The chance that things might change was there, even if there was little hope they ever would. Now, it’s not possible. She’s gone.

As I think about what I’ve gained, the first thing that comes to mind is a fiancé. Like, what?! I mean 20-year-old Kyle may have expected to be at least engaged by 30, maybe, but I don’t know. I also find it fascinating that the first loss that comes to mind intersects with the first big “gain” that comes to mind. I would’ve loved for my mom to be able to meet him. I have to wonder if that would’ve been the same case if she were living. Would I have really cared?

I then of course think about how all of it — what I’ve lost and what I’ve gained — translates into growth, or at least change. And I think I’ve changed so much. I’m not even sure I can list the ways. It might be easiest to just say I’ve matured. Priorities have shifted. Thoughts and actions, words and deeds, have shifted. I’ve started paying attention more. Listening more. Being silent more. (Stop shaking your head in disbelief. I have!) Loving more, or trying to.

When I started this decade, I was still in college at the University of Florida. Since then, I’ve changed cities, changed careers, gained friends and lost friends. I spent most of the first year of my 20s single and ended my 20s engaged. Hell, I couldn’t have even gotten legally married back then had I wanted to! All anyone needs to do is just take a quick, contemplative look back to see the ebb and flow of life.

Society has changed so much, too. I mentioned marriage equality above, but it’s so much more than that. Technology has changed. Politics has changed. People have changed. Society has changed. And, honestly, it’s all kind of flown by, especially over the last few years. And yet there’s still so much more to do in the world. I suspect there always will be.

I’m a big fan of trying to be forward-thinking, so here’s what I hope for the next 10 years:

I hope to love more. 

I don’t just mean romantic love. I mean love in general. And love, for me, isn’t just something you feel. It’s something you do. I hope to do more for others. I hope to get to know them. I hope to better understand them. I hope to listen more. I hope to be a better servant leader.

I hope to listen more. 

Everyone knows I’m a talker. I always will be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t listen more. Like, actually listen. I find I enjoy listening and getting to know people. But also, I hope to listen to nature more. I hope to sit in silence more and just listen to what’s going on around me. There’s such serenity and peace in just listening in silence sometimes. Plus, it can help you think.

I hope to learn more.

I’m naturally a lifelong learner and I swear by it, so I definitely plan to keep that up. There’s just so much to learn that my challenge is often narrowing things down enough to focus on one thing at a time. Which reminds me — I should probably try to be more patient, too!

I hope to say “YES!” and get out of my comfort zone more. 

I’m a safe zone kind of guy. Sometimes, I’ll do enough to appear as if I’m going out of my comfort zone, but actually doing so is more rare than I think people think. I certainly talk more about it than I do it. I’d like to change that. I’d like to say “yes” more often to things that might prove to be fun or worthwhile in some way, even when they sound scary. Especially then, perhaps.

I hope to care for me more. 

I’ve worked pretty hard on this over the last few years, but I can certainly do more to improve self-care — mind, body and spirit. Again, I go back to just relaxing and sitting in silence to quiet the mind. Hopefully, I can meditate more and finally go to a damn yoga class. As for my body, well, that’s an easy solution — just start exercising and being more active. Sounds so simple. Ha! For my spirit, I think I’m doing pretty great at that lately, if I’m honest, but I hope to focus more on this in the future. I’m looking forward to it.

I hope to act more. 

Self-care is definitely important, but so is action. I want to sit on the sidelines less and do more. Whether it’s helping people in need, advocating for the rights of other people — I want to be there. I want to do more.

It’s been a great decade and I’m really looking forward to the next one. Even for all the shitty stuff I can think of that happened in my 20s, I can think of ways I learned from those experiences. While it’s admittedly a little weird to be 30, I don’t see it as “old” or anything like that. It does feel like a chapter has closed and a new one has opened, which is probably kind of silly because it’s just a number, right?

I think I’d be missing an opportunity, though, if I didn’t take this moment to think about the past and how it can help me be better in the future. I’m thankful that I have such wonderful loved ones to help me along the way and I look forward to helping them, too. So here’s to my 30s and beyond!

Part 1: Deep Dinner Chat

So I’m sitting in a restaurant with my boyfriend. I don’t know how it comes up, but it does. 

“I don’t know what I’d consider myself…I don’t really know what I believe,” I say.

Silence. 

I felt bad, but it was true. And he’s an awesome boyfriend, now fiancé, so there were no ultimatums given or anything. We were both just kind of surprised by the conversation, unsure of exactly where to go from there. I think I explained that, though it had crossed my mind at times over the last few years, there hadn’t really been a need for me to think about my faith at length.

I didn’t know where it would take me, but I knew it was time to think about what I believed, particularly regarding faith.

So for the last few years, I’ve been on this journey, but it’s not one I’ve talked much about publicly. Naturally, my increasingly introspective nature leads me to think about why that is. I don’t think I have the complete answer, but I think I can summarize it: Fear.

I can confidently and comprehensively discuss LGBTQ issues with pretty much anybody now. For more than a decade, these issues have dominated my life. And while many conservative Evangelical Christians love to talk about how my sexuality is only one small part of the complete “me,” they’re also the ones who force many of us to focus on it because we’re constantly defending our love and our livelihoods. Fighting to be equal. Fighting just to live in peace. So while I certainly don’t claim to know everything when it comes to the LGBTQ community, or even myself within it, I can definitely discuss it. 

When I was a child and into my teenage years, before I knew for sure I was gay, there was something else I could discuss at length, something else that dominated my thinking and world: my faith. And I loved it. It helped me understand the world. It gave me guidance. Friends. A family of sorts. It gave me hope and love and fun. It gave me a chance to perform, write, and speak to groups. I realized I could be influential in others’ lives. It gave me a sense of mission.

But I also had questions and doubts. Big ones. Even before my sexuality became an issue, I learned that doubts and questions were not welcome at church. Disagreement was not welcome.

I’ve always been one to value education, logic and reason. More and more, I felt these were also not welcome, so I, in turn, was not welcome. As I got older, I started to notice other things, like misogyny and racism. Things just didn’t feel right. It didn’t seem like the Christ I had read about, whose love, compassion, grace and peace I thought I had at least occasionally felt. I realized I needed to leave. As you can imagine, once I realized I was gay, I knew that was it. 

All I knew about “other” non-Evangelical Christians back then was that they were few in number, were all wrong, and were giving into “the world” to make people more comfortable. That’s what I had been taught. Fortunately, I was going off to college and didn’t have to deal with any of it, so I didn’t.

While away at college, I was able to really come into my own. The big, bad, liberal university I spent my entire childhood hearing about turned out to be an awesome, caring community that allowed me to meet other people, learn new things, and gather valuable new perspectives on the world and the people living in it. It solidified what I already instinctively knew: Higher education and interaction with people who were different from me were good things, not bad things. My biggest regret about college is that I rushed through it. 

My drifting away wasn’t entirely my childhood church’s fault. It was inevitable. So-called “Christians” have repeatedly been the most hypocritical, hate-filled, fear-filled people I’ve encountered. And some of the nicest, most caring people I’ve met have been people of other faiths or of no faith. Plenty of “Christians” pushed me farther away. I have to say, though, that I never doubted my childhood church’s love for me. There are certainly reasons to be thankful to them, though I have to wonder what would’ve happened had I known I was gay back then and been open about it.

So there I was, at that table with that adorable man. For years, I hadn’t had to think about my faith, so I didn’t. But it was time. What did I believe? And if I did really still ultimately think I was a Christian, there really wasn’t any welcoming place for me, an openly gay man, right? Turns out, there was, but it would take time to figure that out.

Equality Won!

Last night, the Jacksonville City Council voted 12-6 to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its existing human rights ordinance. And while there is certainly more work to do, it was, and still is, a moment to celebrate. It’s a moment that offers hope. It was historic. I’m proud to have been there.

Before, during, and after the meeting at City Hall, supporters gathered in Hemming Park to be together, show support, and celebrate. Love and happiness and equality were the themes. I felt them all. The positive, love-filled, fearless energy was amazing. Meanwhile, opponents, many (if not most of them) self-proclaimed Christians, repeatedly marched around City Hall. I can tell you where I most felt God’s love last night — and it was most certainly not with those angry, fear-filled marchers.

I’m still feeling a lot of things right now, mostly good. But I’m also aware that last night won’t magically change the hearts and minds of people who say they love the LGBT community and wouldn’t discriminate against us, but also don’t support our legal equality. For now, though, I want to tell you a story that I hope you’ll find as inspiring as I did.

Last night, in the Council chamber, I was sitting with friends, including a transgender woman (a smart, bold, beautiful transgender woman, I might add — but I digress). As we all sat there, a man with multiple stickers from the so-called “opposition” began to walk toward us. To be honest, I got kind of nervous. This man walked right up to the transgender woman — who, if I recall, had made known in previous public comment that she was a runner — and asked how her running was going and if she was accomplishing what she wanted to accomplish. He sounded genuinely kind and curious. And, from my perspective at least, they had an actual conversation on a human-to-human level. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was inspired. I saw love and light in that moment, completely initiated by someone with multiple anti-HRO stickers on. Someone who I had labeled because of it.

You may be saying to yourself right now, “Well that’s great and all, but that was clearly a stunt. He was clearly trying to prove some political point.” If I’m honest, the thought definitely crossed my mind. But I asked myself — and now I ask you — isn’t what he did exactly what we need to do if we’re ever going to make progress? Regardless of his motives, he made a real effort to connect with someone he disagrees with and get to know that person. And this awesome, inspiring trans woman had the courage and grace to listen and talk and share a part of her life with him. Interactions like this are exactly how we make progress. They’re exactly how we change hearts and minds. They’re exactly how we move forward.

When I walked out of City Hall right after the vote, I walked into a gigantic wave of love. Music playing, people cheering, people dancing, people hugging and kissing and holding. People loving. I am so thankful for them. I’m thankful for the core group of people at the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality who worked so, so hard to make this a reality. I’m thankful to all of the volunteers and supporters. I’m thankful to all the businesses and their leaders, of companies large and small, who publicly supported my equality. I’m thankful for everyone who publicly supported and who wrote and called and met with the members of our City Council to explain why this needed to (finally) get done. I’m thankful to the hundreds of faith leaders who did publicly support our equality, particularly St. John’s Cathedral’s Rev. David Erickson and his wife, also a priest, for being so publicly supportive, even bringing the whole family out to the vote last night (side note: OMG his kids are so adorable). I’m also thankful to him and Dean Kate Moorehead for keeping me going and grounded, whether they knew it or not, throughout this whole thing and in life in general. I’m thankful for their leadership on this and other issues in the community. I’m thankful to my boyfriend for not only putting up with me, but for being right there with me — using his voice, too. I’m thankful that we can help each other find our voices and use them. I’m just thankful. And proud.

But while we won this one, the broader fight for equality continues. And we never know what lies ahead. As I think about this, I’m reminded of something Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, recently said in a forum about radicalization and extremism:

“What I know about Jesus of Nazareth is that he treated every human being that he ever met as a child of God. He showed them the respect, the honor, the dignity that befits a child of God. He did that with Pontius Pilate, who ordered his execution. He did that with lepers whom nobody else would touch. He did that with the poor and the rich. [He] treated everyone equally as a child of God. Jesus of Nazareth is my model for life and I believe that everyone is a child of God equally, by virtue of our creation.”

“As I navigate, like everyone else, a kind of complex cultural terrain and political terrain that we’re in, I’ll stand there. Because it means that we must work to create a society and a global community where every man, woman and child [is] equal and respected and honored and loved. Everyone. Including the people I disagree with. And that sometimes is a difficult walk to walk. But, my brother, I’ll walk it because I believe it’s the right walk.”

As I walk that walk, I know that I might get angry. I have before. Maybe you will, too. And anger can be good. But as Rev. Erickson said in last week’s sermon, anger can become soul-crushing when we begin to live in it — to cultivate it:

“If we’re honest, because it’s so pervasive in our society, we probably find ourselves sometimes … embodying anger, contempt and insults. Maybe not out loud, but probably in our hearts. And the issue is that you and I as followers of Jesus, we need to be the radical practitioners of Jesus’ blessing, hope and grace. We are the ones who know we are blessed. We are the ones who understand ourselves as salt and light. So we must be the ones who are willing to do the hard work — to when it comes down to it, in that moment of crisis and judgment, we will choose light and life versus darkness and insult and anger. Because if we’re not going to do it, then who is?”

So as we move forward, together, on issues still to be solved and issues yet to come, let us do our best to understand each other, see our shared humanity, and lead in love.

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Image created by Karen Kurycki 

The Art of Conversation

I think a lot about communication. It comes naturally to me. But communication is important to all of us. Our lives revolve around how we communicate, with ourselves and others. Most recently, however, I’ve been focused on what I’ll call compassionate communication: how to effectively communicate in a way that shows compassion for all involved.

I have lots of opinions. We all do. We all have our own life experiences which shape these opinions. And, as if that’s not messy enough, we’re all imperfect. So how do we effectively communicate with each other — not at each other or around each other or past each other, but with each other?

We have to be quiet and listen.

We can’t communicate effectively or compassionately if we don’t make an effort to understand each other, which happens by listening. This is why social media communication sometimes fails so miserably. We are complicated people discussing complicated issues that tend to be far more nuanced than we sometimes like to admit. Many times, we need to be able to actually hear each other. Even better, we need to see each other. We need to remember that the person on the other side of the conversation is a human just like us. In many cases, the people we are communicating with are our friends and family. If we have any chance of communicating effectively, especially via social media, we must be willing to be quiet and listen to each other.

We have to start from a place of mutual respect.

Can I just admit this is extraordinarily difficult to do sometimes? And if you’re honest with yourself, I bet you’d agree. I live in a world in which my very equality is regularly questioned in my own community. In fact, I don’t even have the same rights as others in my community and there are still people, most of them who say they’re Christians just like me, actively trying to deny me this equality. It is incredibly difficult to think of these people as anything other than mean, fearful, ignorant people. It’s messy. And even when I do remember that these people are also beloved Children of God (regardless of their faith or lack of it), and that we should strive to love everyone, it’s not something I can permanently sustain. It’s something I must regularly work to do. But if I’m asking them to respect me, I must be willing to offer them the same respect, which leads me to my next point.

We must be willing to treat others as we would like to be treated.

I know — what a cliche. But this one is true. First of all, it’s the right thing to do. It helps stop us from being hypocritical. And let’s be honest: we all love to call someone out for hypocrisy, don’t we? And we’re all hypocrites at times, aren’t we? But beyond it being the right thing to do, you’re never going to get your point across to someone who disagrees with you or doesn’t understand you if you don’t even treat them the way you expect them to treat you.

We must be prepared to show grace.

As a gay man, especially one who now (again) identifies as a Christian — a word that understandably tends to carry a boatload of assumptions, I would get absolutely nowhere with many people if I just shut down a conversation every time someone asked me something that was inappropriate or offensive.

I am not saying that one should endure a continued barrage of angry, fear-filled hate speech and continue to be around the person spewing it. I’m also not saying the marginalized bear the full burden of explaining ourselves to others. What I am saying is that when we’re engaging in thoughtful conversations with folks, we should try our best to extend grace to one another.

I’ve been asked so many uncomfortable, insensitive questions about my sexual orientation. If you’re in a minority group or a group that’s very often misunderstood, chances are you know what I’m talking about. 

Perhaps you’ve even asked someone these sorts of questions. If I’m honest, in my effort to learn more about others and learn how I can advocate on their behalf, I think I have. And anytime anyone has ever patiently pointed it out to me, I’ve been so thankful to them for doing so, so that I can learn from the experience. One’s motives behind the questions make a difference, at least to me. If you’re asking to truly better understand me and people like me, I’m much more likely to patiently answer your questions. Regardless, we need to have more grace in our conversations.

We have to hold each other accountable.

Once we establish that we are willing to listen, respect one another, treat each other as we’d like to be treated, and prepare ourselves to extend grace to one another — once we do all that, we are better equipped to effectively hold each other accountable.

I can’t say this enough: humans are not perfect. Often, we slip up. When we do, we need help from friends who will hold us accountable. But more than that, we also need to call out things like racism, bigotry, and homophobia when we see them. We can do this while still listening, showing respect, following the Golden Rule, and showing grace. It’s a challenge — trust me, I struggle with it regularly — but it’s optimal.

So why don’t we do all of this? Why is it so difficult? Well, that’s a loaded question with many reasons. But let me explain why I think it’s sometimes difficult for me.

I want to avoid unnecessary stress and controversy.

I can handle stress. Successfully handling stressful situations has always been part of my job, regardless of the industry. I have even frequently enjoyed these moments. But a key to effectively handling stress, for me at least, is minimizing unnecessary stress as much as possible. Sometimes, stress is good and needed. But sometimes, it’s definitely not. It’s all about balance.

So when I’m faced with a decision about whether or not to engage in communication with someone on some issue, I factor in how much stress it may cause and if it’s worth it. That’s a reasonable thing to do, but more often I’m realizing that it’s important to have important conversations, regardless of the stress it may cause.

I want to avoid tension and being in uncomfortable situations.

This is especially true for me in person. But tension can be good. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued for the benefits and importance of tension in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”

“I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

Did you catch that? Tension isn’t only important, it’s necessary for growth. Dang.

We find similar themes in Christianity, with tension and complexity in the Bible itself and in issues people struggle with. As Christopher L. Webber puts it:

“Uniformity of opinion and vision might be more comfortable to some, but unity is made up of diversity. It is precisely in this clash of opinions and the debating of different visions that the mission of the church is clarified. A church without controversy would be a dead church.”

Dang.

In order to have effective conversations, we must be willing to embrace tension and get out of our comfort zones. Honestly, you and I probably both know some of our most meaningful learning experiences have been in trying, tense, and uncomfortable times, yet we sometimes still fear them. But the more we do it, the easier and more comfortable it becomes.

I fear imperfection.

Yep. The guy who talks about how imperfect we all are is the same guy who has this nagging need to try to be perfect, even though he realizes this is unrealistic. Welcome to my mind.

The reason this sometimes holds me back from conversations is that I worry what I’ll say will hurt more than help. I worry that I won’t have the right words or will have the wrong tone. Also, the idea of people thinking I speak on behalf of an entire group, regardless of the group, adds enormous pressure. And while maybe I tend to thrive under pressure, my mind doesn’t seem to care. But hey — realizing this is the first step to moving past it, right?

I like to be liked.

There. I said it. If you know me, you’re probably all like, “Um, duh. That’s obvious.” But here’s the thing: when I think about why I like to be liked, my mind almost immediately goes back to the things I listed above — I want to avoid unnecessary stress and controversy and I want to avoid tense, uncomfortable situations.

But I also want to be approachable, especially for friends and family. I want to be a resource — someone who they know will listen to them. While I’m certainly unafraid to take positions and have opinions, I do often try to find common ground. And that’s not a bad thing as long as I’m not denying myself, denying others, and avoiding what’s right in an unrealistic effort to make all people feel comfortable. And I know I do that, especially in person.

For example, if I’m around family or even in public with my boyfriend, I’m less likely to show him any form of overt affection. I’ll tell myself that I’m not a huge fan of PDA and wouldn’t be if I were straight either. But is that true? How do I know that’s true when I’ve been conditioned for literally my entire life to think that being gay and showing any form of romantic affection to someone of the same sex is wrong? Two things drive this thought process: fear and wanting to make others comfortable.

This is also something I’m working on — not just the PDA thing — all of it. While certain times may call for neutrality, in many cases it’s better in the long run to stand firm in who and how you are, letting the chips fall where they may. But I think you must also keep the Golden Rule in mind, as well as the idea that we should strive to show love and kindness to one another. 

So what’s the answer here? How do we communicate effectively while staying true to who we are and not condoning dangerous, damaging rhetoric? How do we have conversations with people who are not playing by the same “rules,” so-to-speak? Why should we have to play by those rules if they aren’t? Should we even try?

As usual, I think the answer is somewhere in the middle — in a gray area. And I think it depends on the situation. Like most things in life, it’s complex. And if I had one perfect answer, I think I’d be a much more popular person, probably with a few extra bucks in my bank account, too.

Most of life’s big questions don’t have definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. It’s messier than that. But there can be beauty in  difficult answers. To reference Christopher L. Webber again, a “middle way” can “achieve a comprehensiveness or breadth of approach that could draw wisdom from every side and include the insights of others.”

While Webber is talking about Christianity, particularly Episcopalianism here, I think it holds true in general, as well. For so many issues, the best answer lies somewhere in the middle — in a gray area. Why? Well, people are diverse and complex. Many issues are, too.

Certainly, there are issues that are either just right or wrong, and we must not be silent when we hear things like hate speech. That’s when holding each other accountable comes in. But how do we know what’s right and wrong?

Jesus tells us we can judge a tree by the fruit it bears — a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. If one’s actions and rhetoric are bearing bad fruit — leading to negative outcomes — it is not good. If one’s actions and rhetoric are bearing good fruit — leading to positive outcomes — it is good. Using this method, we can better understand when it’s time to speak up. And when we do so, we must be prepared to be bold while also being mindful of the things that make a conversation most productive.

If we want to affect any change, if we want to learn and grow, if we want others to learn and grow, and if we want to fully live life, we must be willing to engage in difficult, messy, conversations. And we must be willing to do so with compassion, understanding, respect and grace. It’s easier said than done, but it’s worth a shot.

Why Should I Stay?

A friend of mine recently came across a series of questions that one of her friends had asked on social media. She thought I might be interested in weighing in. I was, and thought the interaction could be beneficial for others. I think many people probably have these questions, or a variation of them:

“In light of Kim Burrell’s recent homophobic statements, I have a few questions. Specifically for gay men who identify as Christian and still attend church… WHY?? For the life of me I can’t imagine why anyone would go to church, just to be condemned. Maybe it’s tradition, maybe it’s guilt, but either way you’re allowing a community (often paying for it) to degrade you as a human…

Why worship a ‘god’ who believes that you are an abomination?”

I totally understand where this question is coming from. Frankly, and sadly, it’s a reasonable one to ask. After reading through some of the additional commentary, I decided to offer my perspective (note: some minor edits for clarity have been made):

To answer the initial question asked above, my journey back to Christianity (although I am far from regular weekly church attendance at this point), at least as it relates to my sexuality, could probably be very generally summed up in three steps:

1) I discovered that Jesus never actually said anything about homosexuality, or people in committed same-sex relationships, and that the six “clobber” verses often used to justify condemnation of homosexuality were stripped of historical context and typically taken in a way in which other texts are conveniently not. Basically, I discovered that God — and Jesus — loved me just as I was when it came to being gay. Certainly, not all Christians think this is the case and not all gay Christians feel this way, but I do, through and through.

2) I discovered that the “Christianity” that tended to make the headlines was really just one subset of a broader group of people who call themselves followers of Christ. I learned that there are millions of Christians who don’t believe that simply being LGBT is a sin, and who do truly behave with love and compassion. The negatives of any group or story pretty much always dominate any media headlines over any positives that are happening. This, combined with the fact that often times the loudest voices are the ones who get heard, makes for a dominant narrative of the American Christian as basically a conservative, evangelical Christian who really believes in more of an “Americhristianity” — to borrow a term from someone else — than anything else. The reality, however, is much different — there are many, many other Christians out there who do not behave in this way.

3) I discovered that it was going to take some major research, study, prayer, grace, and forgiveness — to name a few. But, more importantly, I realized that that’s just how life works. Sure, this particular situation may take some folks even more grace and more forgiveness and more prayer, etc. Understandably so. But we’re all screwed up in our own ways, and if I’m asking for a group of people to try and be more compassionate to me, I should strive to be more compassionate toward them. That does not, however, mean putting up with physical and mental abuse or downright hatred. But it does mean trying to meet others at a place where I wish they would meet me — as a listener, ready to show compassion, grace, and trying to understand their perspective.

As for this part — “I can’t imagine why anyone would go to church, just to be condemned” — I’m in 100% agreement. But the Christian faith is filled with many, many churches and congregations who do not condemn gay people for simply being gay. Yes, I wish that number would rise, and I do think it will go up, but there are welcoming churches out there, nonetheless. I have made a commitment to only go where I do feel truly welcomed. And yet, I’ve also become more comfortable with the idea that each individual congregant doesn’t have to fully agree with everything I believe, including that Jesus is OK with my being in a relationship with another man. Now, will I tolerate extended bigotry, hatred, fear, contempt, etc.? No, of course not. But I’m willing to engage in conversation with a person who seems to really want to learn, and seems to be approaching the whole situation with an honest, open heart.

I fully agree that one shouldn’t worship a “god” who believes that they are an abomination simply for being gay. But I don’t worship that God, and neither do millions of other Christians. We worship a God of love. We worship a God of grace and forgiveness and of peace. We worship Jesus, who spoke far more about love and peace and of not fearing than he spoke about judging others’ sins and rejecting them for those perceived sins. What I believe in is life-giving and fearless.

The other thing I just want to say is that I’ve had to learn to let go. Does that mean I’m going to put myself in repeated harmful situations? No. Does that mean I’m going to forget the things that have been said by some, etc.? No. It means that I try — and have to keep trying — to remember that we are all human and are all trying our best. I try to remember that, if I’m asking for compassion, understanding, and a willingness to at least have a conversation about faith and the LGBT community, I should be willing to provide that same compassion, understanding, and willingness to have a conversation to those I disagree with.

While I’m sure there are also plenty of LGBT Christians who continue to place themselves in such toxic environments, the LGBT Christians I know tend to be in affirming churches — not churches that “avoid” or “ignore” the six “clobber” verses, but churches that believe the Bible says something different about “homosexuality” or about the LGBT community. Or that what it has to say about these things isn’t enough to defeat the ultimate commandments to love our God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

There are two more things I’d like to add to this for the purposes of this post:

  • The thought process as outlined above took years to develop.
  • As at peace as I may sound about it all, the realities are much tougher, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it’s super easy to “love your enemies,” etc. Honestly, for a lot of these types of folks, I don’t really even see them as enemies. But whatever they are — it can be tough to show them the time of day, much less even kindness.

So no — I don’t have it all figured out and I’m never going to always get it right, which is tough for me to admit and realize. But life is a long series of smaller decisions, and I can do my best to make as many good ones as I can.

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