From One Degree of Glory to the Next

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World Magazine published a piece that seemed to promote Reparative Therapy and when Rachel Held Evans began tweeting about it, in reaction to it, in her anger over it (and over the follow up posts from Owen Strachan and others) she received a billion responses that said she was wrong. That a gay sexual orientation is evil. That it ought to be Corrected. She tweeted: Christians, teaching that Same-Sex Orientation is “inherently evil” no doubt contributes to high rate of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

 

And this led to some disgusting responses that I won’t reprint. Honestly, I could barely read the screen, shaking as it was in my hand.

~

Here’s what happens when you tell a young gay person that their sexual orientation is inherently evil: They Die.

 

When I was young and heard that boys who like boys are destined for damnation, I died inside. I died because I couldn’t simply like girls. It didn’t work like that, no matter how badly I wanted it to. I died because in my mind, I was a living, breathing sin. This in comparison to the rest of the Christian world that sinned and was then, by the grace of God, forgiven and able to change their ways. I understood that since I never stopped feeling how I was feeling, forgiveness was impossible for me. I was sin incarnate. I was living breathing sin. That’s what I heard and so that’s what I knew.

 

Over the years this theology led me on to the conclusion that I was one of those not chosen by God for salvation. I read up on Calvinism, predestination, all that, and it suddenly made so much sense to me. God didn’t love me. He didn’t choose me. He didn’t want me from the start so he made or allowed me to be gay. It matched the Truth in my head: I am sin incarnate. God didn’t love me. Should I expect anyone else to?

 

That question led me to a slow dive into depression. Into drinking so hard I couldn’t function for days. If I was already a living breathing sin, what did it matter if I drank myself stupid and played around with drugs? What did it matter? It didn’t matter because I didn’t matter. I was sin incarnate, after all. I was already headed for hell. God could care less about what I did, because for him, I was just white noise babbling. I was just something he made to crush.

 

These feelings wrapped around like wet blankets over a deep desire in my heart: to be known and loved. It’s a desire that never died. It followed me from childhood to my teenage years to college. To be known and loved was the single desire of my heart. To be known, by family and friends, and to be loved anyway. To be loved by God, just as I am.

 

It was an unbearable desire. Something I wanted so badly, but I couldn’t get. So, one night, I almost actually died. I almost willfully died. Because to live with that kind of impossible desire was too much to take. Because I could never be known, and so I would never be loved.

 

And that’s what happens when you tell a young gay Christian that they are “inherently evil.” In a million little ways, They Die.

~ ~ ~

Often when I think about my trajectory from the closet to where I am today, I think in degrees of glory. The Apostle Paul used this phrase in his letter to the Corinthians:

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 3:18

 

I remember sitting on my mom’s bed, reading this passage to her on the night this guy was to come over, a man who said he could help me become straight. I read it because for me, that’s how I envisioned this whole thing working out. One degree of glory to the next. Degrees, I believed, marked the road between being me being gay and me being straight.

 

I had the road all wrong. It was a bad road.

But I had the right verse.

 

I moved from degrees of self-loathing to degrees of self-tolerance into degrees of better understanding, to serious study, to deep soul searching, to finally, at long last, self-love, feeling at home in my own skin. I moved with God. From fear to careful curiosity. From unbelief to belief. Then, to wide-eyed wonder at the fact that he- what?- accepts me without a thought. Loves me insanely. He pulls me in close, feeling the same way I do when I hold baby Wyatt. Speechlessly in love. Lost in the moment. Rooted to the spot.

 

I can only see it now, but sometime after I started scrubbing away at the muddy mirror before me, did I begin to see who I truly am: Loved. Known. I clutched at that truth and the skies cleared. I felt the warmth of God fall upon me, all around me, like it was the very first time.

 

To those who are young, who are already being beaten to a pulp by God’s people: You are not evil. Your sexual identity, formed completely beyond your control, is not evil. You are not damned for. You are privileged because of it.

 

In a Christian culture that is so insistent on (unbiblical) assimilation, you are a signpost to a better reality. One that shows the bigness of our God. You are- to borrow Brennan Manning’s phrase- “a banana peel to the orthodox foot,” because- to borrow Sarah Bessey’s phrase- in the kingdom of God “there is more room! There is more room! There is more room for all of us!” It’s a faith worth losing yourself in, Christianity. The body might be resisting to the change that is coming, but change is, in fact, happening. And God needs you here to be a part of it. To be the Banana Peel. To wedge your way into that table. To bring about this wave of healing washing through his church.

 

You are always moving from one degree of glory to the next, but not from one sexual orientation to another. You are moving out of the dark corner of this religion and in closer to those huddling beneath the lights, those so marked by the gospel that they don’t know any other way to be than to love others, to lift others, to praise God for drawing all of us into His light, giving us shoulders to hang onto when the world takes our legs.

 

Those in the darkness behind you will continue to mimic the voice of Authority, twist it to fit their own prejudices and discomforts, lie after lie will be shot at your back.  Be slow to get angry. Clench your fists around a balm of grace. Remember the road you walked. Don’t forget who you used to be. Remember, we are all walking, we are dragging ourselves, from one degree of glory to the next, into the warmth of God’s love. Hearts take time to change.

 

Just remember you are loved. You are good. You are held.

You are always beneath the light of God’s love, even when the darkness tries to block it out. Even when the World says its not for you. It is always there. There is nothing that can take it away. So step into it.

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Advent is for Ferguson

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During the Dirty War, the children of Argentina went missing.

In homes, parents awoke to find empty beds; in market squares, they felt small hands slip swiftly out of theirs, out of sight, gone.

 

The military had been snatching children of political dissidents. They dropped them into the disappearing holes of adoption agencies or tortured and killed them, leaving them in the nearest ditch, all in an effort to intimidate those that opposed the powers that be. All in an effort to silence.

 

But the grieving mothers of these boys and girls would not be silenced.

 

They took to the streets, marching straight to heart of the state: the Presidential Palace. As they moved, swift like a storm, they sang a song that reflected both their broken hearts and their righteous rage, their demands for justice, for fairness, for a world where their children were still in it. They sang Mary’s song. The Magnificat.

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 

    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.

50 

And his mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

51 

He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

    and exalted those of humble estate;

53 

he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 

He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

55 

as he spoke to our fathers,

    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Luke 1:46-55 (ESV)

 

Mary’s words, drawn from the depths of her defiant soul towards the hard road before her, have long been an ominous threat to those in power.

 

In India, the song was banned from being sung, even in church, because the Brits saw it as an act of aggression. The same happened in impoverished Guatemala the government of which feared the idea of a lower class with hope. Mary was seen a symbol of insurrection. A threat.

~

I, along with everyone else with a TV or internet connection, have watched as the national camera has moved from the injustice done to Michael Brown and his family to the violent anger of it’s inhabitants. It has become the story that has dominated the headlines, giving ammunition to all of our conservative facebook friends who have posted things about the “savagery” and “recklessness” of these “militants.”

 

I too grieve for the owners and employees who watched their livelihoods literally burn to the ground. I grieve for the Public Library, all those books, now in a heap of ash. Looting should make us grieve. Pain is pain.

 

But I am careful to watch how the anger moves from loss of life to loss of property and how the general public gives greater weight to the latter.

 

I am careful to remember the way the camera zooms in on the burning buildings and away from the candle lit vigils and the crowd chanting for reform and those doing the difficult work of drafting petitions, defiantly seeking out avenues of change in a system that is dead set against them.

 

The God Mary sings to is one who wishes to bring down the powers that accept the deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, the imprisonment of Marissa Alexander, so they might bolster the system that will do it again and again. It’s the God you will find in the Ferguson masses, chanting along in their weariness and their frustration. Shouting something that shouldn’t have to be said: Black Lives Matter. Standing through tear gas and intimidation, refusing to go down. Holding out hope for a country where they don’t have to defend their right to exist.

 

Advent is for Ferguson, for the Magnificat, for the mother’s of Michael and Trayvon and countless others, for the oppressed longing for Kingdom come. It’s for all of us to stand in solidarity, to be silent no more.

The Blood of Christ Shed for You

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This past year, church hasn’t been easy for me. It’s been a lot of seeking, not a lot of finding, and never being able to put my finger on what, precisely, I was looking for. You could call me “picky”, a real “Cafeteria Christian”, but that is only half the truth. I still go because I want to find God there. Yet 99.9% of the time, I just find myself vexed- hot and bothered by all the little things.

 

I wish I could better articulate what it is that throws me off in church. Most of it is mixed up in my past experiences. Some of it is their failure to meet my sky high expectations. But in the moment, right or wrong, I feel justified in my cynicism and that righteous feeling becomes the steel grid through which every song and rhetorical flourish is harshly filtered through.

 

I can tell you what makes me feel okay in Church. Trust.

 

Thank God my brother is a pastor.

 

Even though it’s a little ways away, I drive out to his church most Sunday nights and listen to him preach. I still come with my cynical stick, my instinctive edginess towards praise and worship, but I can really hear his words when he says them, because I know his heart. I trust him more than anyone else with a sermon.

 

I’ve gotten to know some of his coworkers, too, who are all incredibly gifted and kind. I’ve watched them move with tact, making sure all the newcomers feel welcomed and safe without feeling pressured to participate.

 

Apparently, though, I am no longer a newcomer.

 

I was just quietly sneaking my way, five minutes late, into the sanctuary when she called my name.

 

“Hey Ben- Hey Ben- could you serve communion tonight?”

 

I actually laughed, to which she responded,

 

Well, could you?”

 

Shoulders tensed up to my ears, I responded slowly:

 

Yeah, sure…

 

I have never served communion and to be honest, I thought to do so required some kind of certificate or training or in the least, a reputation for putting in hours in ministry. It’s supposed to be a privilege, right? Privileges like these are earned. I have not earned this. I deserve detention for all those early departures. For the zero cents I’ve put into the plate.

 

The series Matt (my brother) was preaching on was on grace, that indefinable element to Christianity that sets it apart somehow. God came down. Matt said. He came to dwell amongst us. And He is for us.

 

He went on to talk about Luke 7, the story of Jesus going to the home of Simon the Pharisee for dinner and not being welcomed as they would anyone else. They put the chill on, ignoring him when he walked in, not greeting him or taking his cloak or washing his feet, to in effect let him know the length of their arms keeping him at a safe distance. To let him know they didn’t buy into Jesus craze.

 

Then the (likely) prostitute shows up, who (likely) met Jesus before. She rounds the room, uninvited but unconcerned about it, and falls to his feet, washing them with her tears, drying them with her hair, pouring them in the perfume she (likely) saved for her tricks.

 

In what became a defining mark of Jesus’ ministry, he defends the woman from Simon the accuser. Simon calls her sinner, Jesus calls her saved. He looks at her with (likely) the most proud and grateful eyes. Go in peace, he says.

 

My cue.

 

I waited for the signal of the start of communion. The moment the co-pastor held up the broken bread, I saw five others rise out of their pews, make their way around to the corner table where plates and goblets awaited us.

 

I walked, uneasily, down to the front, carrying the cup trembling with grape juice, and stood at the spot next to my partner, who, I gathered, was quite comfortable- possibly excited.

 

Then the people of God came down.

 

I knew the words to say without instruction.

 

The blood of Christ shed for you.

 

And I knew to look into their eyes, even though eye contact takes courage for me.

 

The blood of Christ shed for you.

 

And it’s here where the moment stops and sharpens into an impression.

 

Me. A gay sarcastic skeptic suspicious of the institution, worried sick that God is actually more menacing than he lets on. Me. Standing front and center.  Holding the cup. Lifting it up and out. Me.

 

Me, often speechless in prayer. Often unable to provide a simple answer to those who are seeking and wondering about the faith I say I belong to- now speaking a simple statement of incomprehensible significance. Words I felt I could almost follow out of myself and into the lives of the community, of the church. Words I suddenly said with more seriousness than I have been able to convey authentically since I don’t know when. Me.

 

The blood of Christ shed for you.

 

And you.

And you.

And you.

And you.

And you too.

 

And it’s not like I went back to the pew and found my cynical stick turned into a plowshare, I was still imperfect me. But, and here’s the thing, I found my faith embodied in a way I didn’t know it could be. These broken hands holding the gift of life. This sarcastic mouth speaking the holy words to a hundred thirsty people. And it does something to you, this Sacrament, moves you to the point of held back tears. To unsteady hands. A feeling you can’t quite pin down.

 

It’s the grocery bought bread and juice, just plain grains and sugar, offered up like diamonds. It’s the imperfect people shuffling down the aisle with their pride and their fear, their capacity to do harm and to give life, their uncertain feet leading them to me, the most unlikely of them all. It’s the magic, moving into and through this very moment and somehow, changing everything.

 

It’s as if your unsuitable soul is stunned into silence, for just a second, shoulders still heavy with their chips when the voice of compassion breaks through:

 

This is my blood shed for you.

Yes, I mean you.

Always, always, always, for you.

A Few Posts Recently

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Over the past few weeks I have posted at few sites that are not this blog, and I’ve forgotten to link there. SO since today I have a post over at Deeper Story on what it means to be seen, what it meant for me, what the implications are for my conception of God, I thought I’d also list the post I wrote about my car, and the post about my parents’ dog Lexi. Because of course.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

El Roi

Then the sudden presence. The air changes all around her. Feet materialize. A body. A voice. And before she can even see his face, she feels His eyes stilled on her soul. On her. Hagar. An invisible slave girl from Egypt. A girl in the final moments of her life. A nobody.

 

In a voice weak with compassion, He promises her protection and whispers better days to come–He has heard all her tears.

 

Hagar raises her eyes to the face of God and cries with disbelief:

 

“You are the God who sees… me!”

 

It’s the first time in history a person called God by a new name. A name spoken from the very depths of her heart, summoned out by the truest moment of her life.

 

(de)tales: blueberry

 My buddies and I started calling her “The Blueberry” for her deep blue exterior, and over time, I grew to love her. I didn’t expect to suddenly love a car as much as I did, but something in me understood what this car represented in my life. What it meant to have the absolute, no bounds means for movement.

Because, at my core, I am a wanderer.

 

(God) Must Love Dogs

 My parents’ Labrador, Lexi, has been moving through her Final Act for some time. She’s old, thirteen-years exactly. And her once honey kissed face has paled to a bone white. When she stands, it takes effort, her legs wobble under her weight, but she still wags her tail and tries to jump to please you, to let you know that she’s so happy you’ve stopped by. And so I try to soothe her back down to rest. I try to let her know it’s my job to make her happy now.

Three Things I’d Tell Ben Three Years Ago, After He Came Out

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 ~

Tomorrow, October 3rd, will mark three years since I came out. And tonight I’m feeling wistful.

///

People will surprise you.

 

If you give them the chance, they will. I know that sounds like crap. I know that every time you think about this, you see your heart laid out on the cutting board of another person’s reaction and response. And yes there is good reason for caution. This is a dangerous game to play with the wrong kind of people. But there’s something you need to know. Something you need to get through your thick head: You have the right kind of people.

 

Contrary to what you might think, there are many good people out there. Empathetic and thoughtful and loving people. Even in the Church.

 

One night, not too long from now, you’ll be sitting in the basement of a church building in Chicago, surrounded by a dozen other lgbtq Christians. You made the six hour drive because in the great expanse of wildly liberal Minnesota, there was not one space in existence for people like you, lonely Christian people struggling with so many faith questions. And though you’ll arrive excited and nervous, you’ll hardly say a word in the hour and a half conversation.

 

Then, the courage will come rolling up your throat and the worry that has been twitching all night long in your stomach will speak.

 

“I’m afraid to tell my guy friends.”

 

Well of course you are. Why wouldn’t you be? Straight Christian Men can be utterly barbaric in their rejection of those who are different. Especially gay guys. Statistically speaking, I think, 99.9% of homophobic jokes are born in locker rooms or late nights at the bar or sometimes, randomly, in everyday conversation. You’ve heard it all your life. You’re mostly numb to it. Some of your closest friends partake in the jokes, too. You’ve heard them. You’ve seen the deep discomfort shade over their eyes when it is brought up. So you understand that coming out might mean saying goodbye. And you’re afraid of that.

 

Across the room, a guy slowly lifts a hand in the air and speaks directly to you.

 

“I get it. I had the same worry. I was not worried at all about telling my girl friends, but my buddies, my pals, I was horrified. Then, one day in our dorm, I finally told them- I just said it! And their reaction was to bear hug me to the ground. And then they told me they loved me no matter what. Nothing had changed. I was so excited that I told my girl friends… and they were not so understanding. Go figure!”

 

It’ll be a long year until you tell just one of your guy friends.

 

It’ll be at the spot at the lake, at night, in winter, and you won’t know what it was, exactly, that had taken over your will, but suddenly, you’ll pull out your phone, make an abrupt call to your buddy in the car behind you, following you back to your house to hang out. You’ll tell him to pull over at the lake. There’s something you have to say.

 

He comes into your car and for a moment, you’ll nervously breathe and laugh. Then you’ll stumble over some words about this thing you have to tell him and how it’s kind of a huge deal and you’ve been worried sick over this for forever, but you just feel you have to tell him. You have to tell him right now. You’ll take a long sip of air, and then you’ll say it. You’ll say the thing.

 

And then you’ll feel fragile as glass. You’ll watch and wait for the swing of the hammer as he nods and blinks and says okayokayokay.

 

Things will settle. Less than a minute later, he’ll look you straight in the eye and tell you he loves you. That he is so thankful that you placed your trust him. That he is so damn happy you’re friends.

 

And you’ll still feel like glass, but in a good way. You are fully known and fully loved. You are seen at your core. And this is what you’ve always wanted from a friend.

 

This is just the start of it. There  will be many more moments filled to the brim with surprises. A night of beers and laughing and sincere reflection with one. A tear shedding moment in a busy uptown coffee shop with another. And all of them will be so good, over and over again good. And you’ll remember something a gay friend texted you during this season of telling.

 

“Cherish these moments. You’ll want to hold them later on.”

 

And you will.

 

//

 

People will disappoint you

 

It’ll be the Sunday of Mothers’ day, and though you won’t be expecting it, about five minutes into a sermon you’ll be hoofing it out of there, struggling for breath. For weeks, you won’t be able to shake that feeling of being spotlighted. The announcement about opposition to marriage equality and the measured pause after he delivered the punch line, allowing the people all around you to spring to their feet in the most fiery applause. You won’t be able to forget that quiet moment for your family in the pew. The seconds you reflexively turned to your mom and mouthed: I have to go. Then she and your sister decide to go with you.

 

You won’t be able to hold all this in, so you’ll vent it out in a big angry post. A few days later, you’ll find out that your mom has been making a serious effort to schedule a meeting with her pastor, but he continually refuses. His secretary continues to tell her that he does not meet with congregants (what?). So she just emails him your post. Within a day, he replies to clarify that he was only Speaking the Truth in Love, which he would also do to a married man who cannot stop lusting after other women or an overeater who can’t stop eating or an overspender or a porn addict, an alcoholic. If you cannot practice self-control, he wrote, you will be damaged.

 

This is up there, but not alone, with some of the biggest betrayals you’ll deal with from your faith. It will leave you dejected. It will make you bitter. It will make you ashamed.

 

But you’ll resurrect.

 

//

 

You Will Disappoint and Surprise Yourself

 

It sounds strange, but when you leave the faith, God’s going to shuffle along behind you. Not that you’ll notice Him. You’ll be too busy averting your eyes from all things religious, plugging up your ears in every conversation about the faith.

 

Distance and time, you decide you need both. So you scrub as much of this faith off as you can.

 

And there will be a dark season. An irritable season. A time when you will hold a little notepad and pen, scribbling down every single thing you abhor about Capital C Church. They are a parody, you’ll think, and they don’t even know it! The music is manipulative. The people are naïve. Most who pursue the Church’s version of Christianity are actually naturally stupid people with their hatred towards logic and questions and their allegiance to the policies of discrimination against people who do not meet their white upper class upturned nose criteria.

 

You’ll know yourself as victim. And you’ll become a cynic in the nosebleeds. A fury shouting into the void. You’ll say you LOVE Jesus but you couldn’t care less about his people and you won’t even register the irony of your words.

 

Then things get weird. You’ll miss God. Achingly so. You’ll miss the feeling of a community, however imperfect, surrounding you in song. Once or twice, you’ll have “mystical” moments that to this day, you are skeptical of, but in your heart, you still choose to believe they did indeed happen.

 

One will involve a prayer walk in the spring. You’ve been wanting to paint dragonflies after hearing a gorgeous poem about them, but they haven’t shown up anywhere. Like God, you think. You walk eyes closed and through the acre of tall grass behind your college house, praying for Him to show up. You open your eyes, and there they are. A cloud of blue and magenta and red, all wiry arms and translucent wings revolving around you like you’re the sun. The truth will steal your breath: He is everywhere.

 

And you’ll come and leave church, continuing, even still, in your nomadic ways. That is an ongoing story for you. But it’s also different now. There will be a newfound peace in your walk. An understanding of the God of grace for your imperfect self, for all the imperfect people who treated you beautifully, who treated you horribly, and one day, you’ll unexpectedly trip over the truth that you are Accepted. It’ll take time, but you’ll soon accept this truth. You’ll clutch it like a fistful of diamonds. You’ll know it as your essential identity. The one thing that is strong enough to bear the weight of both your light and dark. The one thing that will never change. You are accepted.

 

Just keep walking, Ben. Keep searching. Never lose a holy curiosity.

This faith is an endless exploration into the fold of the heart of God. And you belong here, too.

 ~

here’s to many more years to come

Insomniac Christians

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If I had to select the most severe from my large collection of irrational fears, it would have to be sleeplessness. It would have to be my nightmare that my body will one day simply refuse sleep and the cycle will continue until, one day, I’ll wind up spending my days clutching myself, rocking back and forth in some remote hospital somewhere as a nurse hooks me up to an IV and pats me sweetly on the head.

 

Did I mention I struggle with anxiety?

 

Now, for the most part, I sleep really well. I can have an espresso at eleven at night and still be snoozing before twelve. Somehow, I’ve learned to become an effective, easy sleeper. But this wasn’t always the case.

 

When I was in the closet, aching with anxiety and depression, I would go a day or two without sleeping at all. I would try to get prescription sleeping pills, be they from friends or my parents’ friends, and I remembered, in my stupefied state wondering whether God was punishing me for something. I prayed to him nightly to calm the anxiety and in the absence of any response, my anxiety spiked.

 

The other night, in the first time in forever, I did not sleep at all. I laid awake for hours on end, fully aware of the state of my mind, measuring its’ level of sleepiness and then suddenly feeling nervous when I felt like I was about to fall, like it was a small window opportunity I had to mentally maneuver my way into. Then I thought about the conundrum of sleep: it so easy to attain yet impossible if you try to make it happen.

 

Around Three AM, knowing full well that I would have to be up in a few hours, I turned to that always trusting friend of the internet and started googling ways to battle insomnia. And there was this article, with this line:

 

“It is a precious good … but it is a good like none other, because to obtain it one must seemingly give up the imperative to have it.”

 

It read like poetry to my own life and yes, I was loopy and exhausted and desperate, but for some reason, the first thing to pop in my head was: Oh. Like being a Christian?

 

There’s something to this metaphor that I want to run with.

 

Because if God is sleep, then the Church has plenty of insomniacs.

 

For a long time I thought surrender meant simply surrendering to a code of conduct, to behavioral expectations and thought policing. As a kid I had a habit of, whenever I swore just in my head, immediately whispering out pleas for forgiveness. I grew up in youth group that laid down the principles of self-control, of staying pure, of finding favor of God by evangelizing, or being charitable, or not listening to secular music. We did skits on how to say No to friends who wanted to see a morally questionable movie. We structured religions within religions, narrowed the roads even further, and declared this way the only way to live in the love and joy of God.

 

Since joining the blogosphere almost two years ago, what I’ve witnessed through online testimony is that many had similar journeys, and many have walked away wounded and disillusioned. Something awful happened in their life and the clichés of a responding church left them grasping in the dark for a God, watching their hands move through him like smoke, like a mirage. Something didn’t add up and the more they searched their minds and used critical thinking, the more they felt their house slip off the sand into the sea.

 

And suddenly, they don’t feel so close to God. They wonder if they ever even were.

 

And maybe this is the reason Millenials are leaving the church. Every path we’ve tried to take to get to God has been nothing more than a momentary thrill and then a steep unexpected fall. The prayer doesn’t feel the same when we feel anxious or sad. The books feel foreign when we need the answer now. The isolation sets in and we end up just collapsing in it, waiting and waiting and waiting for some formula of our youth to be complete and for us to feel held again. When we don’t, we think we’ve lost Him. We think we have to win him back. We think we’ll spend all our days hustling after him, trying to get him to look our way, to give us the precious good of his Love. And maybe it’s because somewhere along the line, we understood that love of God is a fragile kind, a fickle easily frustrated kind.

 

This is the lie of religion. This is what keeps us up, groggy and grumpy, this is what extinguishes the light of our lives. We can’t let go of the control on our belovedness. We are trained toward hustle, toward earning, toward everything being success or failure on our own terms. And, surprise! We continually fall short, because the yardstick is a phantom. The struggle is a hamster wheel.

 

Experiencing that love is the challenge. It is a contradiction. It is like that scene in the Sorcerer’s Stone where Hermione tells Harry and Ron to relax and stop struggling against the vines wrapping around their bodies (a magical plant aptly named Devil’s Snare). The struggle perpetuates the struggle. Perfectionism perpetuates inadequacy. And the love of God is felt by those who know that it cannot be bottled up. It cannot be conquered. It cannot be won. It just is.

 

So, I give up on the imperative that I can reach God by my own means. I give up on all the ways I should on myself and accept that I am already accepted. There is no ladder to get me there. There is no step-by-step that will land me in God’s good graces. I am in it. I am here. I am lying in the hallowed ground of the love of God. And everyday, I will choose to see it. I will accept that I am here. I will breathe slower in gratitude.

We Have To Make This Stop

You do not have to watch the video.

 

Others I’ve spoken to have watched it and have wept. Others have had to shut down for a few hours. And others hit X when they simply could not stomach anymore of it. So no, you don’t have to watch it.

 

If you’re considering watching the video, think hard about how much you can take.

 

When I watched it I had a hard time breathing for a few minutes. My faith in the inherent goodness of people was swallowed up in the darkness because- My God- there is such darkness out there. Such terror and coldness and heartbreak out there.

 

Oh, and by “out there”, I mean in Fundamentalist world.

 

In the video, a nineteen-year-old kid has been called into (presumably) his mother’s living room for what he understands to be an intervention. He says he recorded the whole thing on his phone so he would have a record, should anything bad happen.

 

Present are his grandmother, stepmother and father. The kid is told that he must leave the house because of his chosen path; they can’t be seen by the community as tolerating that kind of life. He has to go. The kid turns to his stepmother for mercy, which leads to her becoming furious and then, she charges him, punches him. As he scrambles to his feet, his father, who has been silent all this time, is heard calling him a “queer!” and then the most heartbreaking thing.

 

It all settles into a quiet for a second, and then his dad says:

 

“You’re a disgrace. You are.”

If you watch the video, do not read the comments. I have not read them, but I’ve heard, as usual, they are abhorrent.

 

Justin Lee writes over at his blog:

 

“This video of a 19-year-old being kicked out of the house (and physically assaulted) for being gay is extremely disturbing to watch/listen to, but it is the kind of story I have heard many, many, many times over the years.

This is why I do what I do and the reason I’ve worked so hard at The Gay Christian Network for so many years, giving up free time and a social life, donating everything I can back to the organization I work for. THIS HAS TO STOP, and we have to be the ones to make it stop.”

 

We have to be the ones to make it stop.

40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ.

We have to make it stop.

 

First, if you are kid who has lost your bed because you were brave and honest and followed Jesus in a leap of faith, please read through the above letters, the “Love Letters.” Sit with them. Let my friends speak truth to you.

 

Second, if you are a person who has abandoned your child or is in a struggle with your child or a parent at all (no parent knows their kid is LGBTQ until they tell them) then please read this piece I wrote.

 

Furthermore, I have been asked, often, by fellow Jesus followers who love their LGBTQ friends and family and want to make a difference in the greater scheme of things where, exactly, they can turn to make that difference. Below are some doors. Some immediate actions you can take right now. Right this second.

 

Donate to the Gay Christian Network.

GCN does so much and I’m so indebted to them. They’re a nonprofit that relies heavily on donations. The work they do spans many areas in the LGBTQ community (though the title is less inclusive, it reflects more the beginnings of the organization, which was started by a gay Christian.)

 

Donate to the Marin Foundation

Not everyone at the progressive end of the room agrees with them. I have some disagreements as well. But apart from being bridge-builders bringing together LGBTQ Christians and Conservative Evangelical Christians, they do a hell of a lot of really good work with parents of LGBTQ kids. They made a huge impact in my family. I would also encourage you to buy founder Andrew Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation. Such a great book to start from.

 

Donate to the Reformation Project

The Reformation Project was founded by one of the most promising voices currently in Christianity. Matthew Vines published on youtube a sermon he gave to his church in Wichita, Kansas about why same-sex relationships are not immoral, but should be celebrated. The video (which can be watched here) went viral. Matthew followed this up by not only penning his own book (which can be bought here), but also by starting the Reformation Project. This group of young activists meet together to study the Bible, LGBTQ issues, and return to their churches equipped and empowered to enact needed changes in their communities to make them more welcoming, loving and inclusive.

 

There are also a number of other organizations to donate to:

 

Avenues for Homeless Youth (a local shelter here in Minneapolis)

 

The Ali Forney Center has a list for LGBTQ Shelters in every city

 

Parents should be following Susan Cottrell’s blog and Linda Robertson’s and for parents of trans kids should be watching this video by Debi Jackson

 

Other resources such as books and blog posts can be found under the “Resources” tab.

 

We need to make this stop. It is the test of our time. And it is happening every damn day.

 

“We are responsible for the world in which we find ourselves, if only because we are the only sentient force which can change it.” – James Baldwin

On #Ferguson

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Often I wonder how much more news I am receiving because of my involvement online: I’m on twitter, regularly reading and sharing blogs, interacting with people in comments and tweets. Most of my friends don’t do this. Last night, I figured that out.

 

On my iPad, I scrolled through twitter, up and down over images that left me confused, panicked, and breathless. I couldn’t stop thinking: Isn’t this America?

Well, maybe it is.

Maybe I am just seeing this America for the first time, or maybe I’ve just forgotten about her dark, racist, violent streak. Cognitive Dissonance can be a powerful thing, blocking out things I do not want to see. But no matter: here she is. And I can’t stop seeing her.

 

APFerguson

 

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This is America, and here, apparently, the line between police and paramilitary, between self defense and aggravated assault, is so blurred that peaceful suburban protests by black people are to be leveled over by the hand of the state. All the big tactics are to be employed: the rapid fire of rubber bullets and tear gas landing in the lawns of family homes, the shutting down of public schools, the arrests of journalists (WHAT?), all while tanks steamroll down boulevards of a suburb. YEP.

 

 POLICE HAVE ARMY TANKS. NEWS TO ME.

 

I was seeing this all play out on citizen shot videos, but you know, I was looking up at the TV, switching from news channel to 24 hour news channel and it was as if nothing was happening at all. If a town turns into a violent invasion, will the news cover it? Depends on the town. Depends on the people. Depends on what the media heads deem worthy of news.

 

I went to a friends’ house and the first thing I said as I walked in the door was, have you guys been following the stuff in Ferguson?

 

They were watching a movie, both shrugged. What?

 

Ferguson! I said exasperated and then began blurting all the things I had been reading, watching, listening to- all the chaos occurring in America!

 

Oh, yah.

 

One friend said, to which I sighed in relief: Finally.

 

Didn’t someone burned down a gas station?

 

That was all he knew. In the small cloud of media coverage over the last few days, the looting that occurred was what thundered through loudest, gained the most coverage and overshadowed everything else. Including murder by police.

 

Mike Brown? Who? They had no idea. What happened? No idea.

 

They had no idea that the context of the situation began with an innocent 18-year-old kid being gunned down by a police officer. He was unarmed. He held his hands up and said Don’t shoot! His body was left on the hot pavement in the middle of the day for hours on end (4 hours to be exact). And I have yet to hear an official explanation for why. It feels… there are no words.

 

What they knew was that black people in a town in Missouri burned down a gas station. What they knew was that’s how it started. They had no idea why there was looting in the first place. Because, MEDIA.

 

This is where White Privilege comes in and I will be the first to say, I don’t understand all the dynamics of it. But I’m pretty sure it has something to do with blindness and deafness, with how a culture frames the picture for us (white people) to fit the narrative we’ve been told (blacks are innately criminal). It has to do with so much rage over a gas station burning down, but then suspicion and/or plain ignorance over an innocent black man murdered. It has to do with the images. If you haven’t checked out the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown (you probably haven’t heard about it) you should. It’s pictures of black people posting two images side by side, asking which one the media would use if police (or white people in general, a la George Zimmerman) killed them.

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Below is Michael Brown (which picture do you think the Media used?)

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I am learning to listen better and see more. I wish it hadn’t taken a whole town to be under siege before my very eyes to notice, but I am noticing now, the wide extent of my privilege and today I am sitting in it. I am feeling it. And I am trying to figure out how to be better.

 

Here’s one way you can start: INFORM YOURSELF.

 

We need to sit down, hat in hand, and listen to these voices. The truth they tell is uncomfortable, it is convicting, and you have choice here.

Will you embrace the discomfort of realizing your complicity?

Or will you wind the knob down into silence?

Your choice.

 

America is not for Black People by Greg Howard

 

This Is Why We’re Mad About The Shooting of Michael Brown by Kara Brown

 

Do Black Lives Matter In Our Community? by Nekima Levi Pounds

 

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: the images that define Ferguson’s Protests by Lauren Williams

 

The Night Social Media Exploded Over Ferguson by Chris Taylor

 

To find more links: Visit Further Up & Further In

 

If you’re in the Twin Cities, their will be a vigil tonight around 5:30 PM, which you can find details for here

When Words Fail [Deeper Story]

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Was a little bit busy yesterday, so I forgot to post here that I wrote something over at Deeper Story. It’s about art and the healing process and how, in the midst of an unspeakable time in my life, I found God in creativity.

 

The start:

 

Across her lap was my notebook, college ruled and crinkled from use. I had been writing songs in it, per her suggestion that I channel my inner angst up and out of myself and into something creative.

I sat slack on the couch, eyes sagging low from last night’s insomnia and waited for her to finish. She turned the pages slowly as if they were aged documents. A couple times she scratched her cheek. Looked up with a smile. Looked back down.

“You are, you say, “a thousand puzzle pieces with no one to put you back together”?” She asked, repeating a chorus line. I nodded. I explained, “Yes, yes, I am because I’m all broken up inside and no one knows how to fix me. I can’t figure out how to fix me. If you look at another poem, I note that God could fix me, but he doesn’t.” She flipped a couple pages ahead. “Ah.” She said. “He is watching you fall with, you say, ‘pitiless eyes’?”

After a couple weeks of me writing and her reading, we concluded that while writing was a tremendous tool for sorting out our stuff, gaining perspective and clearing a path toward healing, it wasn’t what I needed. It was actually awful for me.

Read the rest over at Deeper Story

The Book I Needed to Read

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This past spring, I stopped seeing human beings on Twitter.

 

I saw avatars and opinions and in my head, I collected the few things I knew about the few “profiles” I disliked the most and then concluded I knew them, in total. I could explain their lives to them. I certainly could tell them about their deepest, darkest faults and I could even practice some arm chair psychology, making hypotheses about childhoods plagued by playground incidents which led them to become cold and dead inside as adults. Oh, I knew them.

 

Now, since in my subconscious they were no longer humans, but some kind of sub-human, I responded to them in kind. I called them names. I questioned their intelligence. I said I was calling out justice, but justice was more of a nice coattail to my tirade of rage and pride. And when it finally hit me, all the damage I had done- to people, I took some time away from blogging. And tried my very damndest to stay off twitter.

 

So it’s fitting that during this season I began reading Speak by Nish Weiseth. She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of A Deeper Story, an online collaborative that I was so honored to become a part of this year. She has been active in the blogging world for years, partnering with World Vision to go investigate and then tell stories of lives impacted by the organizations’ aid work, she is the mother to two beautiful children and she lives in Salt Lake City.

 

She has also written a book that needs to be read by everyone.

 

Speak is for everyone.

 

It is a gift and triumph. It came into my life and stopped my full descent into internet cynicism. Into mechanical relationship. It stopped and reminded me that I am flesh and blood and beloved, and so is everyone else, including The Gospel Coalition. In many ways, it helped me reorient in the landscape that is the Internet.

 

Nish leads you by the hand through countless stories that shatter stale notions of black and white. Stories about gun control and poverty and feeling burned by the church. She cracks open the events and asks you to simply notice, feel, understand that there is a depth here, nuance and complexity, and since the problems we face are so steep, we need to learn to start right and well. We need to learn to Speak.

 

I was also blown away by the storytelling nature of Jesus. I mean, obviously, he was a storyteller, but I so quickly forget that and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I often make him to be my own puppet of my pet opinions, maybe it’s because I don’t read the Bible enough… Whatever the case, this book illuminated for me the fact that Jesus’ preaching through storytelling stands in direct contrast to the way we like to fashion him into an either-or. That he was a God who spoke in nuance, giving his people ample space to sit and digest the biggest questions before them.

 

I am pragmatic by nature, so I was pleased with the insights she offers into how you go about finding your gifts and passions. It is very practical, very straightforward and it immediately set off some thoughts in my head about what my story truly is about, on a deeper level, and it also made me wonder about all these stories all around me. People learning about themselves and about the world, containing so much needed truth within them, and yet, I am so easy to sketch out their caricature before they even say anything.

 

It is a book that is maybe timely for all of us. We face so much that has not been met, progress that feels very one step forward two steps back. And we also are slowly drifting away from each other. Into our own echo chambers. Into the quiet of our study where the license to judge is unaccountable and wild. It is a book that reins us back in. Reminds us of the human heart.

 

I am grateful for what this book did for me. After reading it, I was pushed to become more human here in this space, to bridge the technological chasm as best as I can, revealing my story in the hope that others might speak theirs. And I am confident, following the wisdom of Nish’s words, that I will be better.

 

If you are interested in purchasing this book, buy it here. I assure you, you will not regret it.