Posts tagged ‘Jesus’

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 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.

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 

My Latest HRO Comments

 

The City of Jacksonville is (still) debating a more inclusive human rights ordinance that would provide the same legal protections to the LGBT community already provided to many other groups, including religious groups. Here are my comments from the City Council’s public hearing on Jan. 24, 2017. The text below is the same as the video above. My apologies in advance for the grainy video, but it’s the best I could do for now and I felt it was an important message to share.

Members of the City Council, friends and neighbors, good evening. I’m Kyle Sieg. I first want to thank you for this opportunity to speak tonight. Frankly, I don’t know what more any of us can really say on this issue that might actually change hearts and minds. So I’m going to spend a few moments talking about what I do know.

As Maya Angelou said, “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” It may be difficult to see that right now, but it’s true.

Here’s something else I know: Everyone in this room, yes everyone in this room, is a beloved child of God, created in God’s image. It doesn’t matter who or how you are, or what you believe.

And everyone in this room deserves love and equality. In fact, Christians are called to love one another, as difficult as that is and as messy and imperfect as we all are.

Here’s what else I know: Jesus lived in the margins and championed social justice. Christians are called to follow in his footsteps and reach out — in love — to the marginalized.

Let’s assume we’re all just trying to do the right thing. How do we figure out what that is?

In the Bible, Jesus says a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. And so our beliefs should be shaped by their outcomes.

Only bad fruit can come from continuing to allow discrimination in our city, especially when multiple groups — including religious groups — already have these same protections.

But if we did pass these protections, maybe LGBT people would be safer in their own community. Maybe more businesses would move to Jacksonville. And — something that should be important to Christians — maybe more people would receive a Christ-like message of love and inclusion. That sounds like good fruit to me.

I want to share with you two quotes from local faith leaders who’ve helped me profoundly, both from St. John’s Cathedral just down the street.

Dean Kate Moorehead offers this advice:

“Look at each other. Do you see each other? Each of us is a human being. Each one of us is so much more than just one issue — more than our political persuasion or ethnicity or race or gender or sexual orientation. Look at each other. Stop seeing a cause or perspective. See the person!”

Reverend David Erickson tells us that…”We must not live according to fear. We must not remain in darkness…

We are called to be light-bearers — love-spreading difference-makers…

This is our commission. This is our sending forth….And it’s not simply what we’re to do. It is who we are. It is, like Jesus, our true identity — the very pulse of our heart.”

This is why I’m speaking out in favor of an expansion of love and inclusion and equality in our city, which is what an expanded HRO would be.

Thank you.

If you’re wondering what you can do to support fairness and equality in Jacksonville, I wholeheartedly recommend emailing, writing and calling your local City Council representatives. I also suggest following the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality for updates on the measure and how you can help in other ways.

Additionally, I encourage you to speak out, publicly, on this issue within your own friend groups. A lot of people in Jacksonville don’t seem to know this is even going on. They also don’t seem to know that LGBT people face discrimination in their own community. So, please, educate yourself if you need to, and then help us educate others. This is more than an issue and it’s not just about the economy. This is about real people facing real discrimination in their own community. We need your help.

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.

Don’t Become Tony

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I understand that, to many people (including me), Tony Perkins has not acted very Christlike toward the LGBT community. I think he’s an ignorant fear-monger who spends way too much time on one particular issue while avoiding other issues that Jesus would’ve found important. I think he uses the banner of Christianity for hateful, bigoted purposes. So I understand that it may be very, very easy to laugh at this guy who has frankly been a jerk to the LGBT community. I see the irony in a guy who has claimed that God causes natural disasters because of gays having his home destroyed by a natural disaster. I get it.

But let’s just stop for a second. Think about losing your home in a flood. Think about the people around you — likely even friends or family — suffering. Think about thousands in your state not being sure where they will sleep tonight, when their next meal will be or how they will rebuild, if at all.

Here’s the point: Tony Perkins is a real human being. The way he behaves toward us does not have to be the way we behave toward him.

The LGBT community has spent a lot of time and energy fighting to be recognized as real people. LGBT Christians have spent a lot of time and energy explaining that we are also children of God. We have all spent time trying to explain that we simply want to be treated equally in our communities and country. We have fought for more open minds and more compassion. Has all of this time been spent just so we can turn around and treat people the same way we have demanded not to be treated ourselves?

I don’t think so. I think we’re better than that. At least, we should try to be.

Maybe we’ll never change Tony Perkins’ views on gay people. But I can guarantee nothing productive comes from being stereotypically catty about him losing his home in a flood. Perhaps if we show compassion, something he seems to lack when talking about our community, we stand a better shot of getting through to him and people like him. But even if we don’t, I’m confident that showing compassion and concern, even for a perceived “enemy,” is better than becoming just like him.

“For The Love of Christ”

For the second consecutive year, I participated in the Coming Out Monologues Jacksonville, a community-created, community-inspired and community-led theatrical production dedicated to transformation through storytelling.

Last year, we had the pleasure of opening the show on the same night national marriage equality became a reality. It was one of the best nights of my life.

This year, we opened our show in the shadow of the tragedy in Orlando. It was quite a different feeling, but opening night ended up being one of the best nights of my life yet again. The audience’s love, acceptance and understanding was entirely unexpected by me when it came to my monologue in particular. It was humbling. And awesome.

My latest monologue focused on Christianity and its relationship with the LGBTQ community. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Matthew Vines’ book “God and the Gay Christian” as a wonderful resource in both the writing process and in my personal life. For those of you interested, I’d also recommend Rachel Held Evans’ “Searching for Sunday.” She’s great to follow on social media, too, as are John Pavlovitz and Benjamin L. Corey.

One of the performances was recorded, but I’m not sure when the final video will be available, so I made my own! Additionally, I was asked to provide the text of my monologue, so I hope you find it valuable.

I…am…tired. I’m tired of defending myself and having to go on the offensive. I’m tired of defending my faith to people supposedly of my faith. I’m tired of willful ignorance. I’m tired of fear-mongering…especially from people whose God told them three things repeatedly – don’t fear, love God and love your neighbor.

I’m tired of the First Baptists of the world claiming authority over the Bible and over what’s right and wrong. I’m tired of hearing things like, “Well I’m just preaching the word of God” and “I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear…I’m going to tell you what the Bible says.” Ok, no. You’re going to tell me what you think the Bible says. You’re going to choose to take a few verses completely out of context while ignoring the fact that you add context to so many others.

And I’m probably even more tired of churches that mask the same old, uninformed conservative evangelical rhetoric with flashy graphics, fancy rock concerts, a marketing department and tatted-up pastors with drug-addicted pasts. Places like this pretend you’re welcome…right up until you even suggest that same-sex relationships are OK with God. Then it’s time to find another church. At least First Baptist doesn’t try to hide that I’m not welcome.

The fact is gay Christians exist. And there are MILLIONS of Christians out there – straight, gay, whatever – who do not believe that same-sex relationships are inherently sinful. So here’s what we think the Bible really says – or doesn’t say – about “homosexuality.” I want to set the record straight. Wait…uh…anyway…

First of all, the Bible never discusses sexual orientation or committed, same-sex relationships and neither does Jesus. But there are six verses people refer to when claiming the Bible is against homosexuality. The first is in Genesis. The claim is that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because the people did gay things. But as Ezekiel explains, the story is really about not showing hospitality. It’s about the people being arrogant, overfed and unconcerned. It’s about people not helping the poor and needy. Also, the only form of same-sex behavior mentioned in the Sodom and Gomorrah story is gang rape, a far cry from a committed, same-sex relationship.

The two verses in Leviticus that people love to reference about the issue are part of what’s known as the “old law,” which the New Testament says no longer applies, thanks to Jesus. Leviticus also says that eating pork or shellfish is worthy of death. Combining fabrics is wrong, too. Don’t me wrong – as a gay man, I realize you have to be really careful about which fabrics you mix, but we don’t think it’s worthy of death. Well, most of us.

In the New Testament, Romans 1:26 – 27 basically says people refused to know God and got sexually confused and “abused and defiled each other…all lust, no love.” This, too, has nothing to do with people in loving, committed same-sex relationships.

There are also verses in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, which use two really fancy Greek words. Many people translate these words to make sweeping negative generalizations about gay people. But there’s debate over these translations. In fact, others think a closer translation in modern times would be something like “dirty old men.” God knows there are plenty of those in the world today. I mean we all have that uncle, right?

Oh…and the apostle Paul — who wrote 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy – also calls men having long hair “unnatural.” And he says women shouldn’t speak in church. I’m pretty sure most churches let women talk these days. While I’m not a fan of women in the bedroom, I certainly don’t mind them talking. Usually. In Biblical times, same-sex behavior was mainly between men and boys – a master/servant sort of thing. Also, I just want to point out that the word “homosexuality” didn’t even appear in the Bible until 1946.

Really, the Bible says more about accepting others and about so-called “religious” people than it does about sexual orientation or committed, same-sex relationships. In fact, Jesus never condemned homosexuality, but he did challenge divorce, wealth, spiritual pride and exclusion. 

Besides, no one believes 100% of the Bible literally. No one. Here’s an example: In the book of Matthew, Jesus says his followers need to sell their possessions, give to the poor and follow him. But I don’t see First Baptist’s pastor giving up his 600-thousand-dollar home in Deerwood. I don’t see Celebration’s pastor giving up his 900-thousand-dollar home in Queen’s Harbour. And I don’t see Eleven22’s pastor giving up his 300-thousand-dollar home in Highland Glen.

Now surely, these men and their congregations do great things for the community. But Jesus says to sell all possessions and give to the poor. It’s pretty clear. So if they believe that the few verses on homosexuality should be taken 100% literally, surely they believe this literally. Or don’t they because it directly affects them?

1 Timothy tells women not to wear gold or pearls or expensive clothes and to be “modest” and “discreet,” yet plenty of women wear gold or pearls or costly clothes, especially to church on Sundays.

Then, there’s the elephant in the room…or should I say “sanctuary” – divorce. In multiple scriptures, we’re told it’s wrong. Yet, plenty of Christians get divorced. And you don’t hear these people fighting to outlaw divorce or Christian business owners refusing to serve divorced people like they are with our community.

In the New Testament, Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is. You know what he says? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” That’s number one. Do you know what number two is? “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Romans 14:1 says, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but don’t quarrel over opinions.” There is grace in the non-essentials of the Christian faith. Whether or not being gay is right or wrong is most certainly not essential to being a Christian. But loving God and loving others is.

At best, no one really knows for sure what Jesus thinks about gay stuff because he didn’t say anything about it. But we have a way to tell what’s right and wrong, even if the Bible isn’t clear. It all comes down to fruit. Ironic, right? Jesus says a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. As gay Christian author Matthew Vines puts it, Christians can use this to test beliefs based on the outcome. So let’s think about this…

Humans are created for love and companionship. But these anti-gay Christians just want us to turn that off. And they speak out against who we are so loudly that they make it even more difficult for our community to receive Christ’s message, which is for all people. They say hateful things and perpetuate fear. Their actions and rhetoric lead people to depression and – in some cases – suicide. They’re too concerned about protecting themselves from some invisible gay boogeyman to realize or care that they are doing harm. This seems like bad fruit to me.

But what if these Christians realized that we don’t know for sure what Jesus thinks about the issue and it’s not essential to being a Christian anyway? What if they focused on what we do know – that Jesus wants us to love each other and share his message? Maybe more people in our community would listen to their message – one that should be of love and inclusion. Maybe fewer people in our community would try to kill themselves. That seems like good fruit to me.

What “good fruit” comes out of forcing a gay person to a life of loneliness? While we’re at it, what “bad fruit” does my same-sex relationship bear? Pastors love to say that gay people feel so burdened because we know we’re sinning. I promise you – my boyfriend and I feel loved by God and do not feel guilt or judgment from him for loving each other and being with each other.

But even if it is a sin – I ask Christians this: What is the ultimate goal of the church? To be right? Or to show people the same love that Jesus showed us? To speak out harshly against the gay community – or to speak out about poverty, economic inequality and a general lack of valuing ALL people as Children of God?

So I’m tired…but I am not giving up. I may not convince everyone that same-sex relationships are OK or even that we deserve the same rights, but I can sure keep trying. The struggle is real…but the struggle is worth it.

Don’t fear. Love God. Love your neighbors.

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