Posts tagged ‘Church’

One Year Later

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Photos from various Pulse tributes in Orlando, including Pulse itself

A year ago today, I woke up, groggy. It was a Sunday morning and some friends and I had gone out for my birthday, ending the festivities at a local gay club. I leaned over and grabbed my phone to check things. That’s when I saw it. There had been a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. Pulse. I immediately thought of friends in Orlando and reached out to make sure they were OK. I had only been to Pulse a couple of times while I lived in Orlando, but it was a lot of fun and I knew it was pretty popular. No one I knew was there that night. But as we would learn, so many others would forever be changed.

By many accounts, people in Central Florida came together since then in wonderful ways. The nation came together in some ways, too, though in other ways, certain divisions were only made clearer.

Other mass shootings were horrific to me, but none had hit this close to home. It could’ve been me or many of my friends. We were all OK, and yet I still felt so intimately devastated, so I can’t imagine what those who lost loved ones, those who were injured, or those who were there but managed to make it out physically unharmed have gone through. 

After Pulse, countless people realized they didn’t know much about our communities and they pledged to learn more. They offered “thoughts and prayers” and maybe helped in person or donated to the victims and their families. These are are wonderful things. But for lasting, tangible, positive change, there must be more.

Many of these people were conservative Christians. As I heard one Orlando-area pastor of an Evangelical megachurch put it, he didn’t really think much about the LGBTQ community before Pulse. He certainly wasn’t the only one. As a gay Christian who grew up in a conservative Evangelical environment, I’ve seen firsthand the actions and rhetoric that push LGBTQ people away and often lead them to become depressed and even to suicide.

So while I’m thankful for “thoughts and prayers,” even from those with whom I disagree, there’s a larger problem and I don’t think it’s being addressed nearly enough in the places that actually need to address it among the people who need to address it.

Transformation tends to begin from within. So for those folks who were offering “thoughts and prayers” and perhaps even pledged to learn more about us, I want you to ask yourself some questions:

What were my exact Pulse-related prayers like? From what perspective were they being offered? 

Were your prayers genuinely just about God providing comfort and peace to grieving people, all children of God created in God’s image? Or were they more about “sinners” turning away from their sin and toward God? Were you genuinely grieving along with us? Or were you just praying to change us?

What have you done since the Pulse tragedy to better understand the LGBTQ and Latinx communities? 

Many people pledged to get to know communities they did not know or understand. Did you? If so, have you followed through? I’m not saying you have to magically transform your theological understanding as it relates to the LGBTQ community (as much as I’d love that). I’m just saying you should get to know people who are not like you. Put faces to the “issues” you see in the world. Start there.

What have you done since the Pulse tragedy to help the LGBTQ and Latinx communities? 

Have you worked within your church to be more welcoming to these communities, particularly the LGBTQ community? Have you volunteered? Have you had conversations with people within these communities? Have you had conversations with your friends and family who don’t understand these communities and refuse to even try? Have you spoken up when someone uses a slur? Have you contemplated how you can better serve the marginalized?

Does your church and its members contribute to a narrative that demonizes LGBTQ people? 

Has your churched discussed this possibility? Has your congregation given thought to becoming more welcoming and affirming? Are LGBTQ people, even those who disagree with you, included in these conversations? Are you willing to do the hard work and operate within the questions and the tension instead of defaulting to what’s comfortable for you? Do you understand that it’s not the job of LGBTQ people to educate you, so when one of us is willing to walk with you on this journey, you should feel thankful and blessed?

Pulse was tragic. For many, it was life-changing. For some, it was life-ending. But we have a choice. We can choose to examine why events like Pulse happen and how we may, even indirectly, be contributing to a narrative that allows things like this to happen.

Moreover, the LGBTQ community, like other marginalized communities, faces a constant barrage of discrimination. And I know for a fact that many of the same people who said they were thinking of me and praying for me and people like me after Pulse were the same people that helped put Donald Trump in office. I struggle with that.

Actions speak louder than words.

So if you truly want to remember and pray for the people who were injured or died at Pulse, and their family and friends, great. Pray away. And then get to work. Honor them with action. Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous. Step out of your comfort zone. Re-examine your beliefs and your preconceived notions. Do the hard work. Because that’s what we need.

Part 5: Confirmation

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

Today, I’m going through Confirmation. If you’re like I was just a few months ago, you’re asking yourself specifically what that is. Yay, Google! You can find the Episcopal Church’s explanation here, but let me attempt to explain it:

Confirmation is when a person makes a (new or renewed) public commitment to Christ and the Church via a special service that includes the laying on of hands by a bishop, whose blessing is passed on from a line of succession dating back to Christ. For my Evangelical friends out there, you know when you finally walk up to the front of the church, tell them you want to be a Christian, pray “the prayer” to “accept Jesus as your savior,” and then they present you in front of the church? It’s kind of like that, only they make sure you’re mature enough and ready to make that decision.

For lifelong Episcopalians, Confirmation generally happens during the teenage years. Baptism happens before that, usually when you’re a baby. There are misconceptions about all of this, especially from Evangelicals, but I get it now.

For Episcopalians, Baptism is something God does, not something we say or do. During Baptism, parents and godparents say they’ll make sure the child is brought up in the faith. Here’s how one book put it:

“Just as a baby has no choice about being physically born or adopted into a family, but hopefully will grow into an awareness of what it means to be part of that family, even so in Baptism the child is ‘sealed by the Holy Spirit … and marked as Christ’s own for ever … amidst the many changes and chances of this life that come our way, we can take comfort in the fact that we are beloved by God, not just for a moment but forever, and that the bonds that connect us to our Creator and Redeemer do not dissolve. Baptism is the visible sign of that wondrous grace!”

So, then, Confirmation is when you choose to make a mature public recommitment to the faith. For me, while I made that commitment at a young age and have already renewed it in some ways, this really seals the deal.

But it does not mean I will magically be perfect. It does not mean I will always agree with everything the Episcopal Church does, that the diocese does, that my local church does, or that people in it do. It does not mean I’ll suddenly be cured of doubts or will magically have it all figured out. I am, after all, still a mere mortal. Womp.

Before all of my conservative Evangelical friends reading this send out a search party for my soul, let me say a few things:

I did not and do not take this journey lightly. I reached this point through plenty of discernment that included prayer, reflection and conversation.

Having a different take on things than you doesn’t mean I suddenly care nothing about scripture or about Jesus. I chose to do the hard work. I dug in. I researched. And while I’m sure not having to think too deeply about one’s faith might be comfortable, I’m now at a point at which, like my journey as an LGBTQ person, I’m thankful I’ve had a longer road to travel to get to where I am today with my faith.

I’ve grown, y’all! But I also can’t imagine I’ll ever be like, “OK yep — got it — I know everything now with absolute certainty! That was fun.” It’s a lifelong sort of thing.

And you know what? I don’t think I would’ve gotten to where I am today had it not been for my sexuality. While I was already headed out of the Southern Baptist door before I knew for sure that I was gay, my sexuality forced me to leave even beyond what I was initially thinking. It forced me to actually read and study, especially when I began to ask the big faith questions again. Also, let’s not forget the totally smart, hot boyfriend/fiancé of mine who got my faith engine going again.

So no, I am not simply “ignoring scripture” or “giving into society.” I have just come to different conclusions. I’ve changed, and in many cases expanded, my views. I’ve embraced the idea of a loving, compassionate, peaceful God who wants me to share that with others, not some fearmongering God who wants me to say yes to him just so I’ll scratch by in life and not physically burn forever in hell. I get that it may not be in line with what you think, but it’s definitely in line with what I think and with my experience.

And before my non-Christian or non-religious friends prepare for me to try to convert them, let me say a few things:

I’m not going to try to convert you. I’m just going to try to live my life by the values I hold dear as best as I can – I imagine a lot like you.

Secondly, there are millions of Christians out there, many of them in the Episcopal Church, who are likely much different than what you think of when you hear the term “Christian.” They believe in facts and science and reason and in helping people. They believe in love and peace and sharing it with others. They’re cool with doubt. They try not to fear or fearmonger. They don’t take every bit of the Bible literally. They don’t see it as a “rule book” that’s used to beat others up. And, just like you, they do not have all the answers and they recognize that.

There is a wide range of opinions on a wide range of things, all under the umbrella of “Christian.” I didn’t really realize that growing up, maybe even until a few years ago. The fundamentalists or extremists we all see on TV aren’t all that’s out there.

Finally, this does not mean I’ve suddenly become St. Kyle. I will fail you. I will fail myself. In other words, I will be human. One of the biggest reasons I don’t really talk about faith stuff in too much detail, especially right now, is because I think people are out there just waiting on someone to say they’re a Christian and fail. Frankly, that’s no way to live — on my part or on the part of those people. We’re all going to suck at life sometimes. That’s just the way it is.

I will never be perfect. I will never know it all. I will never be certain about all things, faith-related or otherwise. But as I previously said, the opposite of faith isn’t doubt — it’s certainty. And in the same way that I cannot speak for the entirety of the LGBTQ community, I also can’t speak for the entirety of the Christian faith or for the Episcopal Church. I’m an individual. My journey is my journey and yours is yours.

But I will always strive to be better and to learn more. I will strive to help others and love others and show peace to others. I will try to remember that everyone is created in the image of God, has inherent worth, and deserves dignity and respect. I’m not better than anyone else and they’re not better than me. When I fail, I will do my best to learn from it and do better next time. And I know I will, with God’s help.

I know that my naturally inquisitive (and cynical) nature played a primary role in helping me get here, but so did my sexuality. So did my fiancé. So did various people who were open with their faith journeys. So did the priests at my local cathedral. And so did my doubt. As Rachel Held Evans said in another one of her books“In the end, it was doubt that saved my faith.” Funny how that works out.

So while a lot of things are still unknown and will always be, and while nothing is perfect, I’m pretty excited about all of this. I’m excited to feel more comfortable in referring to my church and my priests. I’m excited to make new friends. I’m excited to learn and grow. And I’m excited to do it all with the man who got me thinking about all of this again, who has for some reason agreed to marry me. It’s all pretty great.

Hopefully, you’ve benefited from what I’ve had to say in some way. I’m always here for my friends who have questions or just want to chat. And with that, it’s only right that I end with this: May the peace of the Lord be always with you!

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.

Part 2: Worlds Collide

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

I mentioned fear yesterday.

Turns out, I tend to feel like I need to have everything figured out before discussing my faith, but I don’t and I never will. I need to feel confident, but I sometimes doubt. I need to be perfect and discuss it perfectly, but I’m not and I won’t. In other words, in typical Kyle fashion, I hold myself to an impossible standard.

So here we are: The boyfriend who had me thinking about my faith again called himself a Christian, but wasn’t what I knew a Christian to be. He believed in education and science and logic and reason. And he believed in Jesus and God. I know what you’re thinking – what a freakin’ weirdo, right?!

He didn’t demand I believe certain things or anything like that. He just wanted to help me figure things out. He wanted me to explore the world in a new and different way. He wanted me to know there was a Christian perspective that didn’t exclude things like equality, logic, reason, doubt, or difference of opinion. He told me about writers and thinkers whose work he appreciated, but I explored others beyond them, too.

We also started regularly attending a church service at one of those warehouse-style places with rock bands for worship music and trendy pastors who try really hard to ooze “authenticity.” Let’s just say it didn’t work out. Turns out, they were basically the same thing from my past, just repackaged to look and feel better.

But we also went to another church on Christmas Eve each year. The boyfriend told me about a priest that his best friend had told him about. A female, Episcopalian priest. Yep. Two good ol’ Southern Baptist-raised boys found a lady priest they liked! Then, one of them realized he was gay, got into a relationship, and then told his confused boyfriend about the cool lady priest, too. You know, your average coming-of-age conservative Evangelical story…

As a control freak and a recovering Southern Baptist, walking into an Episcopal cathedral wasn’t the most comfortable thing, no matter how hard anyone tried. But I know there’s a God because it turns out they give you a bulletin that tells you what to say and what to do for the entire service! #blessed

It was more formal than what I was used to, but I was drawn to it. At first, it was primarily the sermons. They were short, but powerful. So I started listening online, specifically to any sermon from this priest. For months, nothing more happened, mostly because I was just beginning to ask what the Bible really said about LGBTQ folks, if anything. Before, I hadn’t cared. Now, I did.

I discovered LGBTQ Christians like Matthew Vines, who wrote a great book debunking the “bible-based” arguments Evangelicals like to make when condemning LGBTQ people, or at least not affirming them. Not only did it open my eyes to what the Bible doesn’t say about this “issue,” it confirmed for me that I really could – and should – challenge what I’d been taught about what a “Christian” was, who Jesus was, and what the Bible is.

I also found one of Rachel Held Evans’ books, Searching for Sunday, and found myself nodding along the entire time. I really loved how she described her faith journey and the sacraments. When she began to talk about how she found herself enjoying an Episcopal church, I really identified with it. For example, in one Washington Post article, she wrote:

“I believe that the sacraments are most powerful when they are extended not simply to the religious and the privileged, but to the poor, the marginalized, the lonely and the left out. This is the inclusivity so many millennials long for in their churches, and it’s the inclusivity that eventually drew me to the Episcopal Church, whose big red doors are open to all — conservatives, liberals, rich, poor, gay, straight and even perpetual doubters like me.”

As time passed, I developed a desire to share with other people that the Bible really doesn’t condemn homosexuality or people in loving, committed, same-sex relationships. I participated in The Coming Out Monologues for a second year, in hopes of changing conservative Christian minds, but also to show LGBTQ folks that millions of Christians affirm and welcome them. I wanted people to hear this message, which I never heard growing up.

A few weeks later, I was representing COM at a local Pride event when a man with his adorable family walked up and introduced himself. He had attended (and loved) the show and wanted to get more involved with the LGBTQ community. I kept thinking, “He looks familiar and his name sounds familiar, too…” It hit me. He was also a priest at the cathedral where we attended Christmas Eve services!

This priest and I had casual chats at occasional coffee meet-ups, where I could toss out whatever issue or question I had. It was probably the first time I had so quickly felt at ease with a minister of any sort, much less seeking out one’s company and input.

I began more intentionally researching the Episcopal Church and really identified with it. So what did I like? And where am I at now in my journey? Stay tuned.

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.

Christians: You Are Pushing Me Away

In recent months, I’ve become more thoughtful and inquisitive regarding my faith, or lack of it. I’m still on that path. It’s a challenging one. It’s an internal struggle. Mostly. That said, many “Christians” sure aren’t helping me on this path.

I’ve been listening to Christian music more often. It’s typically positive and uplifting versus a lot of the crap on the radio. Between the music, these stations sometimes have 30-second or minute-long sound bites from pastors offering advice and whatnot. It’s usually also pretty positive. But a few days ago, as I’m driving to work, one of the pastors starts talking about how we can’t redefine marriage and it’s between a man and a woman and blah blah blah. And I’m reminded that, even if I agree with this pastor or this radio station or other Christians on 99.9% of everything else, I clearly disagree on this point.

I occasionally attend a young adults ministry at a popular local church. At first, I was skeptical. It’s like going to a concert — flashy, polished, loud, etc. And I see all of these people just doing what they’re being told to do — raising their hands, for example — and it seems like it’s lacking meaning and the very authenticity that they’re all so quick to toss out as a buzzword. But, over time, after looking inward, listening to the words of the songs and sermons from the various pastors, I grew to like it. Sure, I still think that many in the audience are there for the show. And as a media person, I understand how much the whole “performance” can influence attention spans, adrenaline, make people feel all “warm and fuzzy,” etc. But it’s not my job to judge these people. It is my job to focus on me. What matters is that get something out of it.

A few months ago, a church panel had a conversation of sorts on topics young people may have questions about, but which aren’t typical sermon topics — things like abortion, abstinence and of course homosexuality/gay marriage. I was actually interested to see if they had anything different to say than what I’ve heard my entire life. They didn’t. In fact, the lead pastor brought up a psychologist or psychiatrist from a conservative Christian university to talk about it. The pastor talked about how even people with “same-sex attraction” in his life had problems with their fathers in the past or didn’t have fatherly figures. (I love my dad, by the way. He’s amazing.) The pastor even quoted a recent reputable study that talked about gay suicide, but indicated that the suicides were happening because gays were clearly struggling with conflicting emotions inside because they really knew it was wrong and against God’s will. This is not at all what the study said. Needless to say, I lost a lot of respect for this pastor. Again, I was reminded that — even if I agree with 99.9% of everything else this pastor has to say and believes about Jesus and Christianity — I clearly disagree on this part. He would consider me misinformed. I would consider him misinformed.

As I mentioned, I’m still working out some stuff regarding faith. But for the sake of this post, let’s say I agree with a majority of what this church preaches or what that radio station plays. Let’s say I agree on all the basics of Christianity. But I disagree on homosexuality. Why, then, does it matter? If I agree on most other things — the key things like salvation, who Jesus was/is, how we should treat others, etc. — why can’t I just agree to disagree on what the Bible says about homosexuality and leave that between me and God?

Many times, I think I can. And so I ignore this obvious difference and continue to try to learn from the church or from other Christians about other Christian things. But then it comes up. And the problem is that this one thing we don’t agree on is something so engrained within me and mainstream Christians seem to think they need to scream their opposition to marriage equality or to “the gay lifestyle” so loudly.

I grew up in the church. My ideas on things have changed dramatically from then to now. I’ve learned that there are far more opinions out there regarding Christian doctrine than just the one narrow-minded group of people I grew up around. That said, one key thing has never changed from my understanding of this faith: You love your God. You love your neighbor. And your primary goal is to bring others into your faith and share Jesus’ love with them.

Given this, why are people spending so much of their time on such a divisive issue? I’m not saying all churches should come out in favor of homosexuality or gay marriage. I’m not saying pastors should preach based on the whims of the world. I know a lot of people will read this and think that’s what I mean. It’s not. But far too often, we all pretend like we have all of this stuff figured out. We pick and choose which parts of the Bible we believe literally and which parts of the Bible we say needs interpretation based on the context in which it was written. We do this with tons of scripture. Even the people who say generic things like, “I believe in the Bible exactly as it is written” and don’t believe that it is a living, breathing document open to interpretation actually do interpret and read into things based on their understanding, education and perspective. Nobody follows it as literally as they claim.

Jesus didn’t hang out with the religious people. He hung out with commoners. Prostitutes, even. And he didn’t spend his whole time fighting against these people. He didn’t spend his time coming up with worldly ways to stop these people from living their lives. He spoke of love. He taught people about who he was and who his father was. He talked about loving God. Loving your neighbor as yourself. He spoke of redemption, not division. Healing, not demeaning. Shouldn’t the priority for Christ’s church be telling people of his love for them, not singling out one group of people and telling them how sinful they’re being? They say their priority is bringing people to Christ, but in many cases, their actions suggest otherwise.

As a teenager, I spent a lot of time thinking about my sexuality for obvious reasons. I prayed about it. And I have peace about it. I am comfortable with who I am and who I love. I don’t have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I’m doing something wrong in God’s eyes by being in a loving, committed relationship with a man. In fact, I’m beginning to feel more spiritually whole than I have in a long time. More comfortable praying. More comfortable asking questions. More comfortable having doubts and working through them. More comfortable talking about it. More comfortable seeking answers in multiple places. And I feel less condemnation for asking questions. For having doubts. For seeking answers in multiple places. Where did I feel all of that condemnation in the first place? The church.

If Christianity is true and one day I stand before God, maybe I’ll learn I’m wrong about being gay. Maybe he will say, “Actually, Kyle, despite that peace you felt in your heart, simply being gay is a sin.” Do I know with 100% certainty that it isn’t? No. I’ve researched it. I’ve read scriptures and point-counterpoints on them, etc. But I do know that it is NOWHERE as important or relevant to salvation or being a Christian as mainstream Christians make it out to be. And that’s the point! Some Christians think dancing is a sin. Or playing card games. Other Christians would laugh at those notions. Some Christians put a heavier priority on baptism. Others take communion more often and consider it more important. But they’re all Christians. They’re all united under Christ. They consider themselves children of Christ.

Far too often, we’re scared to admit that we just don’t know. Maybe we think we do, but we really don’t. All I can do is continue my personal spiritual journey and keep constantly reminding myself that Christianity isn’t about the church. It’s about Christ. But it would sure make it a lot easier to seek him and clear up doubts I have if churches and so-called Christians weren’t screaming at all angles about how bad being gay is or how bad gay marriage is. In other words, it would help if the people who are so quick to loudly call themselves Christians would actually take a long, hard look at how Christ acted and actually act like him.

No one is perfect, but we should strive to be more understanding of others and to be better, Christian or not. At the end of the day, regardless of what you think is a sin and what isn’t, Christians are taught that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. So we should strive to love more and condemn less. I’m reminded of what has become one of my favorite scriptures:

“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.” – I Corinthians 13:1-3

Love God with all your heart and soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. People seem so focused on what God has to say about ‘gay’ that they’ve forgotten the greatest commandments of them all. And Jesus makes these points pretty darn clear.

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