Part 4: Faith In Action

NOTE: This is part four of a five-part series about my faith journey over the last few years. You can find the first three parts here, here and here.

Did you know that sitting in public with a priest who’s wearing his collar can be fairly hilarious? Well, it can be.

It’s when I’m doing just that, talking about one thing or another, when he ever-so-gently suggests what I already know: The boyfriend and I need to actually come to church. Not too long after, we do.

Going to a new place with new people, especially a church, can be intimidating, even for me, the perfect example of an extrovert. (I’m really like half-introvert, half-extrovert, but don’t tell anyone.) Plus, the services are admittedly intimidating, even with those awesome bulletins I’ve mentioned.

This was totally different than what I was used to, but we went … and kind of dug it. We set a goal of going twice each month, but we’ve only missed maybe one or two services in the few months since. (Moment of realness: it helps that it’s not college football season.)

I should also mention that these two priests I’ve been talking about have been awesome advocates for the local LGBTQ community. They were vocal supporters of adding us to our city’s non-discrimination ordinance. Now, in the church setting, both have been just as wonderful. In fact, after one of the first services we attended, right after we got engaged, one of the priests casually introduced us to someone and mentioned it. I mean he was more comfortable with it in that place than I was! It may seem like a little thing, but it wasn’t. It spoke volumes.

Around the time we started attending, the church started holding “Cathedral 101” courses for people who were new. We began attending that, too, which only added to the welcoming feeling. This class and the services really brought to life a lot of what I had read. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to completely describe everything I like, but here are a few things, in no particular order:

I love the focus on Communion and how it’s done. 

Some people seem to think taking Communion weekly dilutes its meaningfulness, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. I look forward to it, even crave it. I can’t imagine not being able to take it weekly.

I also love its prominence within the service. It’s the main point. As much as I enjoy sermons, I love that there’s a focus on this shared, unified worship experience, especially through Communion.

I love how we take Communion, too. At first, perfectionist Kyle was scared of doing it wrong, but it’s really not that dramatic or difficult. The walk to the altar, kneeling, the words they say as they present the bread and wine – I love it all. It’s like, in that brief moment, you’re the only person there. I also love that I never know who will be next to me at the altar. It can be someone completely different from me.

I love the liturgy and liturgical calendar. 

Perhaps one of the furthest things from the Southern Baptist land I grew up in is this idea of common liturgy and a liturgical calendar. In my former world, Easter was one day. I’d never heard of things like “Advent” or “Lent.” And the preacher just preached on whatever the Lord had put on his heart [rolls eyes] for that Sunday. Unless it was a holiday. Then, obviously, you preached about the holiday, especially if it was a patriotic one.

First of all, I love that, if I want, I can know exactly what the scriptures for any given day/Sunday will be. I also love the idea that, around the world, this huge group of people is hearing the same scriptures and lessons. I also love the sound and feeling I get when we’re all reciting something together. It just feels powerful.

Some people seem to think that liturgy and the liturgical calendar diminish creativity and freedom. For me, it’s the opposite. Christmas is made better by Advent. Easter — all weeks of it — is made better after Lent. There’s a time for everything and the liturgical calendar really brings that out. Also, regardless of what the scriptures for the week are, I’ve listened to multiple sermons from the same day and they’re different. Different priests preach different sermons at different times in their lives, even if the scriptures are all the same. Moreover, each person listening may take away something different from the same sermon.

I love the use of the body in worship.

There’s a lot going on in an Episcopal worship service. It engages mind, body and spirit.

As for the “body” part, I love that each gesture has a specific purpose. It’s not just a “raise your hand to prove to us you’re worshipping Jesus” sort of thing. There’s generally a reason and history behind it.

We sit. We stand. We kneel. We hold hands. We cross ourselves. We bow. We genuflect (feel free to Google that one like I did). Does everyone do it at all times? No. Some people learned it all growing up in the Church, but there’s enough diversity in the congregation, at least where I attend, that people do different things as they’re willing and able, and that’s OK. But I love that it keeps you engaged in a different way.

I love the diversity of the congregation. 

This may be more specific to the cathedral I’m attending, but I love how diverse it is. I love how everyone is welcomed equally. People seem to actually help each other. This means different opinions based on different life experiences can be brought into the same conversation. I’m pretty new at this, but I feel like that can really come in handy.

I love “the peace.” 

At the end of the first big portion of the service, the priest says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” and we all say, “And also with you.” Then, we all greet the people around us, usually saying something like, “peace be with you” or just “peace.”

As a worrier and control freak, I kind of dreaded this at first, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. I love the emphasis on peace and love. I find it to be, well, what Jesus would do and asked us to do.

I love the focus on social justice.

Episcopalians recognize social justice as a significant theme of the Bible, particularly in the Gospels. They take this seriously, and, while not perfect, have often been on the forefront of society’s biggest and most controversial “issues.” They recognize that there are people behind “issues,” too. At very least, the diversity of opinion within the Church enables people to stand up for what they believe in.

I love that people aren’t forced to believe the same things.

Diverse opinions tend to be welcomed, even lauded. Unity does not mean uniformity of opinion, and through debate we can learn from each other. As I’ve previously quoted, “A church without controversy would be a dead church.” For me, that’s pretty progressive thinking, within or outside of the Church.

I love that you can have doubt and ask questions.

You don’t know everything? Join the club. Sometimes, you’re not sure about every little nook and cranny of what you believe? Welcome to the real world! The fact that the Episcopal Church is not only cool with doubt and questions, but welcomes questions is awesome.

There are things to be learned from wrestling with questions, especially as a group. And there are some mysteries of life that we’ll just never figure out. But we can at least discuss them and see what we may discover.

I love that logic and reason aren’t just welcomed – they’re essential. 

When you talk to Episcopalians or read about the denomination, you might hear about the “three-legged stool,” which is scripture, tradition and reason. While scripture plays a primary role in the Episcopal Church, Episcopalians believe that tradition and reason also have a place in our lives and in the Church.

I love that they allow science and new information to help them reach new conclusions on issues. 

As one of the books I read puts it, “Unlike some other Christian traditions, we have no problem with the modern account of the universe informed by science. We start from the assumption that all truth is part of the truth of God. Therefore any discovery in any field needs to be taken seriously.”

I love the Book of Common Prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer is really cool. I’ve only just scratched the service, but I really enjoy the “prayers and thanksgivings” section. Like the liturgy, I love that people around the world have been saying the same prayers for a long time. Of course we can (and I would argue we should) still create our own prayers, but having this resource is both unifying and just plain handy.

And no, the Book of Common Prayer does not replace the Bible, as I’ve heard some people claim. In fact, one statistic I read suggested about 70% of the BCP is taken directly from the Bible.

I love that they understand the Bible isn’t just a literal “rule book.” 

I don’t care what you’ve heard: Episcopalians really love the Bible. I’m pretty sure I hear more scripture now, in an Episcopal worship setting, than in my past conservative Evangelical worship setting. They take the Bible seriously, but also understand that the scriptures were written and received within a certain context. They understand that everyone brings their own experiences to reading the Bible. We all look through a lens of some kind.

The Episcopal Church also believes – and this was a sort-of epiphany for me – that Jesus is the primary Word of God. The Bible points to the primary Word of God, so it, too, is the Word of God, but the primary Word is Jesus.

I’m no doubt going to think of something I should’ve mentioned, but this hopefully gives you a good feel for what I dig about the Episcopal Church so far.

Basically, I’m sold.

Throughout this entire process, the Episcopal Church has felt like a very natural fit, so much so that I’ve decided to be confirmed! Tomorrow.

More on that, well, tomorrow.



Part 3: Lessons Learned

NOTE: This is part three of a five-part series about my faith journey over the last few years. You can find the first two parts here and here.

As I began to learn more about the Episcopal Church, I noticed that if I ever casually mentioned it to anyone who wasn’t Episcopalian, I’d hear all about how it was “Catholic lite.” But the more I read, the more I found the Episcopal tradition to be quite different from Catholicism. It seemed that most people just saw the collars, heard some words, and saw the worship style and assumed it was the same. They took a look at the cover of the book without bothering to read it. I, however, saw meaningful differences. But I digress.

I want to share some of the impactful things I learned through a couple of books, beginning with Welcome to the Episcopal Church by Christopher L. Webber. On the Bible:

“The Bible is not a set of instructions that can give us simple answers to all questions or a text with which to prove points. In the first place, the guidance the Bible gives was provided for a society very different from ours and still in the early stages of growing in knowledge of God’s love.

In the second place, any set of words is open to various interpretations…God, being ultimately responsible for both the text of the Bible and the nature of human beings, presumably understood that in creating both and made allowances. The authority of the Bible is not that of a dictator or rule book…If God had wanted us to have a rule book, surely a better one could have been provided than this. The Bible is something quite different; we go to it not to find specific words to answer our questions but to find the Word who created us and knows our need before we ask.”

On worship and theology:

“Worship for example, is inclusive, not exclusive, while theology, by its nature, excludes. Theology is concerned with defining issues and boundaries, with saying we believe this and not that. Worship, on the other hand, like great music and art, can be appreciated on many levels and in many ways. Art, music, and worship are difficult to define in words and it would be difficult to say that someone whose appreciation is different from ours is wrong. Worship, then, has the ability to unite, to draw us in and draw us together…

Theology relies on language in its attempt to understand religious experience, and those who worship God know how difficult it is to put that experience into words. God is always beyond our definitions.”

On the importance of reason, in addition to scripture and tradition:

“No matter how much some Christians may question reliance on human reason, they cannot avoid using their minds to do so. Neither Scripture nor tradition provides clear and certain answers to all questions; at some point, there is no way to decide among possible interpretations except through the use of the human mind.”

On “sin:”

“The attempt to identify sin with some outward enemy can also lead to such phenomena as racism, homophobia…and a negative approach to the world in general…sin lies in the misuse of good things rather than in the things themselves. The purpose of the spiritual life is to seek God’s glory rather than simply avoid sin. Nature has an inherent goodness that can be perfected by grace.”

On differences of opinions within the Church:

“Unity is not the same thing as uniformity, nor can it be imposed from above…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.” 

I also read Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers by Ian S. Markham & C.K. Robertson. Here are some of my favorite parts, the first being about doubt and certainty:

“It is often said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. When we think about God, we do so from the vantage point of humans. We are small entities in a vast universe; we are trying to work out what the source and creator of the universe is like. We should approach this project with some humility. Our vantage point does not permit certainty. We are called to think, struggle, and discern the truth about God and God’s relations with the world…we are all on a journey of faith. This journey will have many twists and turns. Sometimes our sense and experience of God will be strong; at other times, God will seem to be further away.”

On the inherent worth of others:

“We are made in the ‘image of God’ — often referred to in the Latin as ‘Imago Dei.’ Every person is special. It means that we are all required to treat people with dignity. They are extraordinary creations of infinite worth.” 

On the importance of social justice:

“If you had to identify the single most important biblical theme, then I think any fair observer would say ‘social justice.’ It is the primary theme of the Gospel (Jesus never mentions homosexuality, but talks repeatedly about the dangers of riches and the importance of the poor); it is the major theme of the prophets in the Old Testament (just look at Isaiah, Amos, and Micah); and it is a central characteristic of the early church (see Acts 4:33-35)…this commitment is firmly embedded in Scripture. The Church is called to be an agent of change in society.”

On scripture:

“It is not enough to read a verse of Scripture on its own, divorced from its setting in the larger passage. Sadly, there have been many times in the history of Christianity when people have wrenched a verse from its context and used it to justify otherwise deplorable acts such as slavery, racism, even crusades and inquisitions. Even in less extreme situations, it is far too easy either to take a verse that supports our own biases or to react against a too-easy fundamentalist approach by dismissing all of Scripture as irrelevant. No, we choose to do the harder work. This means considering the passage surrounding a particular verse.

…While affirming the way that Christians before us have comprehended the Word of God in relation to their time and place, we must also ask what God might be saying to us now in our own context…God can do a new thing if we are willing to let go of our own presuppositions and dare to approach both Scripture and our own situation with fresh eyes.

…Everyone looks at the Scriptures through a lens of some kind.”

On diversity within the church, including diversity of opinion:

“The work of discerning ‘what is of God’ is hard. We need the range of perspectives. We appreciate the wisdom of those who push the question: What is the biblical basis of this or that innovation? We appreciate the insight of those who push the question: How can we further the work of justice in today’s society? Naturally, this can look messy at times. If you look at the church in Corinth and read behind Paul’s letters to that congregation, then you will see messy is the norm. And messy can be good. We would rather all stay together in conversation than keep aspiring for a purity where other voices are excluded.”

On the Bible and the “Word of God:”

“For the Episcopal Church, Jesus is the primary Word of God. As we shall see later, the Bible is the Word of God because it points to the primary Word, which is Jesus. It is from the Incarnation that we learn what God is like. It is the primary disclosure of the nature of God to humanity.”

That is a lot to digest, I know. And it’s only the beginning. Next, I’ll talk more about what I’ve learned, specifically by actually [gasp] regularly attending services.

My Coming Out Monologue

As many of you know, I participated in this year’s Coming Out Monologues, benefitting JASMYN and PFLAG Jacksonville. I can’t really describe how amazing the experience was. I can’t wait to be a part of next year’s show in some way — either on stage or off. For those of you who don’t know, people write their “coming out” stories around a certain theme and either perform them or have someone else perform them. This year, we all performed our own stories. This can be liberating…and scary as hell. This year’s theme was ‘labels.’ I’m thankful for the hundreds of people who attended, but I realize not everyone could. I wish I could share every monologue with you because they are all insightful and worthwhile. But I can only tell you my story. With that in mind, here is my monologue:

Delivering my monologue at "Coming Out Monologues" over the weekend

Delivering my monologue at “Coming Out Monologues” over the weekend

I love to tell stories. I can’t tell you how many family members have told me I never shut up as a kid…or as an adult. But I love to tell stories. And I love to write. Over the years, I’ve been called a lot of things. Good and bad. It’s all about how you take what’s said to you. Wasn’t it a famous lesbian who said that no one could make you feel inferior without your consent? I don’t know. But it’s true! Being called something – being labeled something can be a good thing. It’s the stereotypes that go along with them that can be problematic.

An example: I’m gay. I own it. I’ve earned it. To those who would say, “Are you sure?!” I would say…yes…I’ve double-checked. And triple-checked. And…well, you get the point. Anyway. There is a whole community out there of people like me and people who support me.

The trouble comes when people try to tell you how you’re supposed to act because you’re gay. One of the first people I ever came out to was one of my best friends. She’s amazing. We’re still best friends. Closer than ever. I knew she was totally OK with “gay,” but it still took me two attempts to actually tell her. She basically knew and I still couldn’t say it out loud. Finally – over Chinese food and beer – I said the words. “Great! Now we can go shopping together,” she said! As you can probably tell by looking at me right now, shopping isn’t exactly my forte.

I knew coming out to another best friend at the time would be tougher. Like me, she grew up in a strongly conservative Christian environment. When I told her, she thought I was kidding. Side note: I have yet to hear anyone say that as a joke. So anyway, I say it again. Her hands go to her mouth and she starts to cry. A lot. It took her a week to formulate this response: “Love the sinner…hate the sin.” I eventually had to end the friendship entirely after she compared my “lifestyle choices” to getting a tattoo. I just can’t call somebody a “friend” if they believe I shouldn’t be allowed to marry someone I love. Or if they feel my love is somehow inferior. Or if they think I shouldn’t have equal legal protection.

A lot of people like to use “sinner” as an excuse to discriminate, which is funny because most of those people were taught that everyone is a sinner. Everyone needs forgiveness. But being gay — sorry — “homosexuality” – is different. Gays aren’t people who have sinned, we are sinners who happen to also be people. It’s funny – popular Christian evangelist Billy Graham himself once said:

“What really matters is how God sees me. He isn’t concerned with labels; he is concerned about the state of man’s soul.”

Guess not everybody got that memo.

Coming out to people really shows you their true colors. And yours. My best friend’s dad joked that I didn’t hide it very well. My Grandma, on the other hand, told me she would’ve preferred I said I was going to jail. I really wanted to say, “But Grandma…do you know what happens in jail?”

My mom was always one of my fiercest supporters. As a kid, if I ever had trouble with other kids, she’d tell me she’d kick their ass. Her words. That didn’t change when I came out. She unexpectedly died a couple years ago. I can’t remember the last time my mom set foot in a church, but my grandmother – not the one who said the jail thing – decided to have a memorial service. I spoke at it and I was honest, emotional and unfiltered. After I finished, the pastor, who had never even met my mom, launched into this sermon about how “America has gone down the drain, especially with things like gay marriage.” I thought about just sitting there, like a proper lady might. But then I thought about what Mom would do and knew she wouldn’t tolerate it. And I thought, “She’s my mom. Fuck this.” So I walked out. As I walked down the center aisle, with eyes turning toward me from every direction, the pastor shouted something about how “the Lord can hit moving targets.” I really thought about swerving right about then.

I can’t remember a time when I was angrier. I threw my iPad down and I don’t throw Apple products down on the ground. Ever. I like to think I made my mom proud by walking out of that place. Fortunately, I know many more wonderful Christ followers who were just as appalled as I was at how that so-called “pastor” behaved. He misrepresented his faith in some of the most egregious ways.

A few months ago, I was at the wedding of my boyfriend’s best friend. He’s a great guy. Clearly, my boyfriend really knows how to pick ’em. Anyway, the groom and his now wife are also both from conservative Christian backgrounds. While they knew my boyfriend and I were more than just friends, few others likely did. I was watching the rehearsal when the wife of another groomsman walked over and sat down near the rest of us, saying something about how it was lonely where she was sitting. I said, “Welcome.” As she sat behind me, she said something like, “Yeah, I figured I’d come and sit with the other significant…” and then she trailed off before she said, “significant others.” I definitely thought of finishing her sentence for her. The next day, one of the groomsmen asked my boyfriend if I was his brother. I’m not.

Some people freak out when they don’t have a definition or answer for something. And they try to mentally sort it out by playing a game of 20 questions. They want to put a name with something so they can wrap their minds around it, even if what they’re thinking is inaccurate. I want people to know me as, “Kyle, the awesome guy who happens to be gay” and not, “Kyle, the gay guy who happens to be awesome.” Regardless, I hope to teach others that “gay” is OK. And we’re not all the same just like not every Christian is the same.

It’s not as much about the label as it is how you let it define you — confine you — relegate you to something lesser than what you deserve. Labels — even bad ones — can motivate you to be better. To change. To break the mold. To be bold. They can be transformative. They can make you a part of something. Someone asked me a while back why gay people always seem to want to hang out with each other. She asked if it was a sex thing. I told her – for many of us, at least – it’s about community. Shared experiences. Labels help us connect – to better understand our world and ourselves. But placing too much of an emphasis on them can be devastating. Everything in moderation.

My favorite label these days is probably “significant other.” Boyfriend. I look at him and I can’t help but think about how lucky I am. And how lucky he is. In all seriousness, I had kind of started to think that my standards were just too high. I was looking for a needle in a haystack…someone who didn’t let only one thing define him. Someone who wasn’t afraid to be himself, but someone who also wasn’t afraid to change. Someone with a smile that could make me melt. Someone who was hot.

I had given up on all that. Turns out, he was in front of me like the whole time. He just didn’t know he wanted me at first. Or that he wanted boys, for that matter. Safe to say, he knows now. And while I may not understand why, he doesn’t just want any man. He wants ME. Obviously, I have better taste than he does. A few months ago, my Grandma – the one who made the jail comment in 2008 – finally met my boyfriend at a family wedding. As she was getting in the car to leave, she pulled me in and said, “I like your friend.” To which I replied, “Good! So do I!”

And that’s what all of this really boils down to: Love. Community. Transcending that which confines us. Learning from each other. All I want in my life is love and equality. And someone to walk through life with me, every step of the way, through the good and the bad. Willing to learn from me and from others. Willing to love me and love others with me.

It’s interesting and perhaps ironic that – when it comes to how important love is — I’m reminded of First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses one through three:

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith to say to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give all I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”

And “lover” is a label I’m willing to accept.

The "Coming Out Monologues" cast and crew at the end of the show

The “Coming Out Monologues” cast and crew at the end of a performance

All money made from Coming Out Monologues ticket sales benefits JASMYN and PFLAG Jax. If you’d like to support the Coming Out Monologues mission, there is a GoFundMe page set up, as well. Or you can of course donate directly to JASMYN and PFLAG. We are already kicking around some amazing ideas for next year and beyond and I’m excited to be a part of such a wonderful movement in Jacksonville.