Thursday, September 03, 2009

My First 10k

Sitting on the couch in front of the latest episode of Dexter or 30 Rock. That's what I'd rather be doing than training for my first ever 10k. But that does little to accomplish my personal mission: to live out acts of hope and reconciliation between the church & gay communities. So instead I'm running. I've been running for almost a month now through beautiful Balboa Park. Down Pershing Ave. Through the Florida Canyon switchbacks. Across the Prado.

This is not easy for me - over the past couple of years, well, let's just say I've put on a few pounds. So not only am I attempting to regain the stunning physique of my youth, but I'm hoping to make a difference while doing so. Early this year I determined it was time for me to walk the walk I'd been talking. This meant really getting to know the gay community here in San Diego. I can't expect to be a voice for reconciliation if I don't truly understand where the broader communities in this culture war are coming from.

So this is another small step (or about 6 miles worth of steps, to be precise) for me in my effort to connect with people across the spectrum, show my dedication to the cause of reconciliation, and ultimately represent the unconditional love of God for all his children. That's why I'm running in the annual San Diego AIDS Walk/Run. If you dig it, please feel free to donate.

Love from sunny San Diego.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Keep-Your-Cool Boot Camp

Keep-Your-Cool Boot Camp, I'm calling it.

Two weeks ago I talked about how I'm seriously considering a new venture, one that will inevitably have me playing a bit of defense as I navigate the feedback, fears, and faultfinding that will come my way should I plunge head-long into... whatever this thing might become.

The action steps have been pretty simple so far: start drawing up a document outlining my personal mission, vision, and goals, begin meeting intentionally and strategically with people who may share an interest in my passion, and get to know the gay community in San Diego better than I do via volunteering at the LGBT Center, Pride, AIDS Walk, Dining Out for Life, etc...

All of which is just great. But my friend pointed out to me perhaps the one thing I should be most interested in at the moment, the thing that could be my biggest immediate hurdle, is my tendency to REACT.

Let's name it & claim it: "longsuffering" is not my bag of fruit. At least as it pertains to the general mass of humanity. When people don't navigate well (and that concept translates to many aspects of life: conversation, choices, driving...), my first reaction is to SAY SOMETHING. React. Spew forth my own wisdom - at least, as I perceive it.

I'm not naturally gifted with Jesus' ability to look out on a crowd of people and feel compassion. In all honestly, I'm probably more likely to say something along the lines of "Look at those crazy fools." Not so with an individual - you give me one person who is hurt, confused, broken, needy, ignorant, rebellious, angry... whatever, and I'll be fierce in my resolve to see him through. I can relate to the one. But to the many? Well... it's a challenge.

My friend knows this about me. Which is why he suggested I spend some serious time on my knees over the next few months asking God to prepare me to stand in the middle of a culture war where slings & arrows are being thrown from both sides. To temper my reactionary nature. To give me access to a deep well of patience & grace.

The opportunities to learn this lesson are LIMITLESS, I've found. The old adage seems to be true - if you ask God for patience, a big box of it isn't likely to fall into your lap. Rather, you'll be given moments that challenge, try, test you and give you an opportunity to learn to exhibit patience. One moment it's being stuck behind an inept driver. The next it's answering the phone to a rude comment about the quality of my company's website. Then it's being confronted with the reality of people who just aren't on the same page as you. That urge to yell "GET WITH THE PROGRAM!" is what I'm learning to surrender.

So I'm in Keep-Your-Cool Boot Camp. That's action step numero uno. The great thing is, I've experienced firsthand many times this year how keeping your cool can really change the direction of a conversation. It's a skill I truly want to develop. So, if you see me out of line, you're invited to remind me. I just ask for a little patience & grace and I try to learn a little... patience & grace.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The "Second" Second Guess

This year is turning out to have watershed written all over it. From the big stuff like my new job to the smallest conversations, I've found more personal purpose, passion, and direction than I ever have. It's been a ride.

And here is where it could be leading me. For some time now, I've considered starting a non-profit or foundation that would allow me to fully engage in my passion to see the mainline evangelical church embrace a new way of engaging the LGBT community.

Yeah - a little scary. But I'm bolstered by many things: my own faith community here in San Diego & their support, burgeoning relationships with other people interested in the same thing, learning from the trailblazer in this area, Andy Marin, and - perhaps most importantly - by what I believe to be my little mission in this world from God. From long before I ever even told someone for the first time about my own orientation, I sensed God was writing my story to be a source of help and hope to other people who have struggled with faith and sexuality. Today I find myself in a place to be able to competently have those conversations: rooted in a great community of Christ-followers, focused & purposed with a mission I'm passionate about, and learning more and more to place all of my hope and trust in one who holds my future anyway.

So here's where things are currently. Since this blog is essentially my "stomping grounds" when it comes to my own emergence from spiritual/sexual shame and confusion (I originally titled the blog "The Second Guess" to indicate I was re-considering Christianity itself), and since it's been a place for me to give voice to the journey I've been on, I think it's appropriate (poetic, ironic even) for me to possibly name this new venture "The Second Guess" as well. This time around, the term would obviously refer to something different; namely, re-thinking (second guessing) the way the church and the LGBT community have approached one another over the past couple of decades. My best friend and pastor often talks about a "third way" - an option that isn't necessarily a balance between two opposing views, but another route altogether that might look more like the way Jesus would have taken in the first place. I believe there is a third way in the current culture war between Christians and the gay community, and I hope to be a part of navigating it with others.

So there it is. This is really the first time I've "gone public" with this notion, and the reason for doing so is that I'd like to actually get some feedback, suggestions, or thoughts on approaching the whole concept. I have just a few concepts/phrases that I've been chewing on for a bit that I thought I'd throw out there and see what anyone reading this might have to say.


  • Building bridges between the church and the LGBT community (already the tagline for the Marin Foundation, but still an important concept for me)
  • Acts of hope and reconciliation amid a crippling culture war
  • Rethinking the church's approach to LGBTs
  • Second guess your suppositions
  • Opening the way of Jesus to his children in the LGBT community
  • Opening the church's doors to the gay community
  • Navigating toward a place for LGBTs in the kingdom of God
For me, the "acts of hope and reconciliation" phrase best captures what I want to be about - a tangible expression of understanding between two communities at war with each other. But what do you think? Is there something you would add, or a question you would expect to see answered in the first moments of hearing about a group or foundation like this? Tell me what you think - but also tell me why.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

6 Months of Reprieve

For six solid months I was gifted with a reprieve from some of my deepest-seated inner struggles. I don't know why - it just happened. A reprieve from a struggle I've had since I can remember. (If you know me well, it's not what you're probably thinking.)

I'm talking about a certain reaction, reflex, relational paralysis that happens in my closest friendships. An learned response that tells me: "You are not loved. You are less important than other people. No one would stick with you if they knew what was really going on inside."

For most of my life, that has been my framework and foundation for how I see myself in this world. And when good people have attempted to meet me in my need, I have reacted badly time and again: self-sabotage, making accusations, inventing reasons why they couldn't possibly be serious about loving me.

I've been battling this, working through it, sifting out the lies and learning to unite my heart with reason for a few years now. Until last November, it was ongoing.

Then - abruptly, suddenly - it all ceased. I was free. Everything became as clear as day. For the first time, I found myself relating to other people in an almost completely healthy way, able to give and receive love without any sort of self-doubt or self-torture that used to accompany my attempts at friendship. It was absolute bliss: there are not words to describe how shocked I was to find that life could be lived outside of that prison of despair, perpetual fear, and paralysis that I had always known.

It was a gift - that's all there is to say. I didn't do anything to make it happen. It was a gift - a beautiful, miraculous, sensational gift.

But it ended. Last month, on an odd sort of night following an odd sort of day, the floodgates opened in full force and I fell prey to the darkest of fears and self-doubt. In an instant, I found myself right back in the thick of everything I had been so glad to leave behind. It was almost devastating.

But not quite. Because of those six months - because of that gift - I was able to look my fears in the face and with a resolution that surprised me, say: "NO. I do not have to live this way."

I prayed that night like I hadn't prayed in years - fervent, desperate, but with resolve to overcome my fears. I wasn't going to quit until I'd sent the demons back to hell. (That's a metaphor... or maybe not.)

I said:

"God, you have gifted me with 6 months of reprieve from the pain, longing, and disappointment that has shadowed my whole life. You picked me up out of the muck and mire and held me close, shielding me from the darkness that tries to overwhelm me. There wasn't a hint of it to be seen, felt, or heard.

And in doing so, you've given me a glimpse of what life can be like. You've let me taste freedom. You've given me reason to believe in something better. I had no proof that I could live unencumbered by the chains of mistrust and self-loathing - until these 6 months. Now I know what it's like; I've sampled it; I've lived it... for a moment.

But nothing worth having ever comes easily. And I believe that you showed me this way, this freedom, to give me something worth fighting for. Like you did for Moses, you took me up to the mountaintop and showed me the Promised Land. You let me know it that it is real - that there is more to hope for than these desert wanderings.

And because of that, I can't help but be filled with hope. I won't despair and I won't retreat. I will fight for freedom because it's the sweetest thing I've ever known. And because I believe you are a God who values the journey over the destination, I will answer your call to follow the the Way that is messy, unknown - yes, frightening - because I believe it will be worth it. You have made me believe it will be worth it.

There is one more thing, God. During these six months of reprieve, the interaction I've had with people has been revelatory. I've made the discovery that my story can make a difference for someone else. That because I have known the darkness and the oppressive weight of fear and doubt, I can speak to other people in darkness from my place of hope, from the promise of freedom. In a divine twist that only you could imagine, my personal history of pain can be a catalyst for a future of hope for many. I want to serve you in that way. I want to serve others in that way."

That was my prayer that night.

It still is.


Friday, May 08, 2009

I Am Not Alone

Some time ago, my roommate pointed me to a blog that I've read faithfully ever since. Andrew Marin is a self-described "white, straight, conservative evangelical" who lives with his wife in the middle of Boystown, a predominately (that's an understatement) gay part of Chicago. It's simple, really - he's taken incarnational ministry to the gay community. The type of "move-into-the-neighborhood" approach that is so popular right now among Jesus-following urban dwellers, inner-city ministers, and even those in international, third world work is Andy's approach to bridging the rift, gap, divide between the mainstream church and mainstream gay culture.

I can't tell you how excited and moved I was to learn of a guy on the conservative & straight side of things who had made it his life's mission to eradicate ignorance in both the church and the gay community about the "other side," and is so humble, open, and willing to go where the road leads him. When I had the chance to hear him speak at the National Pastor's Convention here in San Diego a couple months ago, I was in tears by the end of his presentation. I'm convinced he's the real deal - love is his priority, and he sees people before he sees an issue or agenda. Which is why I'm REALLY excited that he is coming back to San Diego next week, and I"m going to have the opportunity to take some friends from Citywalk, my church, to meet with him personally and get deeper into the dialogue about what needs to change in the church for reconciliation to happen in a big way in this area.

It's one thing for me to be committed to the idea that gay people would one day be a vital and integral part of the American church. It's another thing entirely for a well-respected, conservative, straight dude to write a book about it, build a foundation around it, travel the country and speak the truth about it. It's given me a lot of hope for my own future, and one more reason to keep working for and believing in the possibility of peace in the current culture war.

I'll have a lot more to say about Andy & The Marin Foundation in coming weeks, I'm sure. First, I'm gonna finish reading the book and enjoy the time I get to spend with him next week!


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ok, some lighter fare for a blog that's been a bit heavy-handed lately. I know I'm SUPER late in getting this out, especially since the final word has already been said with the close of the Academy Awards Sunday night, but I still wanted to get my own top ten list up before I start working on 2009!

Before reading this, it's probably helpful to know that my main criteria for rating a film is this: "Did it exceed my expectations?" A moviegoer's expectations are (or should be) very different depending on what film he is going to see. Hence, I found the summer bomb "Speed Racer" to be a fantastically entertaining time because I had almost no expectations, while the bar was set so high when I finally saw "Slumdog Millionaire" that I left a little confused as to what all the hullabaloo was about. (Neither of those made my own list.)

So, without further ado - my favorite films of 2008.

10. Marley and Me
I am an avid dog lover, and also a fan of cathartic crying. This film supplied both in healthy doses. Half feel-good movie of the year, half emotional breakdown - it's an assault on the emotions (and my emotions like to be assaulted).

9. Kung Fu Panda
A certain other digitally animated film received most of the love this awards season, but darn it if I didn't laugh harder at this than anything else all year. "Skadoosh" was my catchphrase for weeks after seeing Po take on the art of kung fu.

8. Then She Found Me
This was a little-seen passion project by one of my favorite actresses, Helen Hunt, who poured her heart and soul into this small story of a woman who experiences a midlife crisis of sorts when her adopted mother dies and her biological one shows up. Hunt does a phenomenal job as writer, director, and actor in a story that you think is about identity, family relationships, and romantic love - which it is, until the final chapter when Hunt's protagonist reveals that the true nature of her crisis is... well, you'll just have to watch it for yourself, won't you? A cast consisting of Matthew Broderick, Colin Firth, and Bette Midler should help convince you to pick it up.

7. Frost/Nixon
Apparently much of the minutiae of this plot is fabricated, but the setting for the story is well-documented history, and part of history about which I knew very little. So fascinating is this story that I spent most of the night after watching it voraciously reading any historical account I could find of the David Frost interviews with Richard Nixon. Pitch-perfect acting and a cohesive film from the deft director Ron Howard make this a must-watch.

6. Australia
By golly, when I go to the cinema to see a Baz Luhrmann film, I'm not going to see historical accuracy, or subtle nuance, or even a seamless storyline - and all of the movie critics who complained that Australia was lacking in these categories can just go on a walkabout to Faraway Downs. Lurhmann films unabashedly embrace the spectacle of cinema: sweeping vistas, swelling music, costuming, passion, and a larger-than-life story. And it's ok to go to the movies and hope to be taken away to another time and place to experience adventure, romance, danger, and laughter. Australia excelled at all of these things and for that, it most certainly makes my top ten list.

5. The Dark Knight
No best of 2008 list would be complete without this film on it. As has been said countless times, Nolan & Co. have elevated the superhero genre into a potent and relevant parable for our time. Fine acting by all and a knockout performance by Mr. Ledger as Joker won the world, myself included, over.

4. Milk
This film honors a man who had a vision beyond himself. The current-day fight for marriage equality is both amplified and dwarfed by the reality of an America where gays and lesbians were threatened with the loss of their jobs simply if their orientation were made public. Harvey Milk, portrayed with honor, personality, and electric life by Sean Penn, stood up in his day and declared to the GLBT community, "You must come out!" knowing that until Americans had a face and name to associate with "the gays," it would always be easy to write off a group of people that were feared and hated. Until people knew of their friends and family members who were gay, there was no reason for the nation to care about this group of people whose rights were being suffocated left and right. A very moving story.

3. The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Yes, I'm a devout X-Phile. Yes, this is a biased pick. Yes, this movie rocked my socks. In terms of sheer satisfaction, nothing trumped this film for me this year. It played like a long episode of the show my family spent so many hours watching as I grew up, and I couldn't have asked for a better send-off for the characters I love so much.

2. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Some might call this light fare, and on many levels, they would be right. But this period piece about being true to your heart's heart at the expense of everything flashy and fake in the world hits all the right notes. An inordinately talented cast (the unstoppable Amy Adams, Pushing Daisies' Lee Pace, a sublime Frances McDormand, and even Shirley Henderson - 'Moaning Myrtle' from the Harry Potter films) delivers the story at a clip pace - literally the events of one day - with only the slightest of pauses for the audience to ruminate on how we, too, deny our own passions for things that placate rather than satisfy.

1. Doubt
I hinted a few weeks ago that this film would end up on my top ten list; indeed, it claims the spot as my favorite film of 2008. I'm simply fascinated by this fable (based in an all-too-real universe) of one nun's suspicions that her parish priest is molesting a young boy at her school. Of course the cast is amazing (all four principal actors were nominated for Academy Awards), and the stage play upon which it is based has already become a modern-day classic since it debuted off-Broadway in 2004. But I'm mostly drawn to the layers of social deconstruction that unfold as the story develops: gender roles in and out of the church, the nature of institutional religion, traditional and progressive worldviews, and, naturally, the very thin line between conviction and doubt. The cast is so adept at handling playwright John Patrick Shanley's material that I don't for a minute feel I'm watching Meryl Streep play a nun, but instead am immersed in four very distinct perspectives on how society operates, or should operate. There's no doubt this movie is my favorite of the year.

And there you have it! Hopefully I'll post 2009's list before next year's Oscar ceremony!


Monday, February 23, 2009

Here's Hoping

Last night I reconnected with yet another friend from college days who had read this blog and had some encouraging words for me. She shared her sadness at the way the church has treated me (and many like me) over the years. It was very kind. It made me realize though, that my blog recently has only focused on one aspect of my journey in and through the church - the largely negative aspect. And so today is about sharing my reason for hope in the church, my own story of reconciliation, and why I don't believe it's a waste of energy believing that two communities currently engaged in a culture war can find common ground.

Part of the reason why I've started blogging again, and why I've been so personal and honest with what I say, is because lately (and by lately, I mean over the past 2 months) I've reached an unusual place in my journey (and by unusual, I mean a place I don't think I've ever really experienced before). That place could be vaguely classified as a place of direction, or directed-ness. In describing it to my roommate, I used the phrase, "Not a destination, but a direction." Much of my life has been puzzling, with varied and seemingly unrelated passions and hobbies, varied and seemingly unrelated personal struggles and demons, and varied and seemingly unrelated places and communities in which I've found myself. I haven't ever really made much sense of any of it. I recall telling my best friend once that I felt like Esau. "Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated," said God. Jacob and Esau were twins, born into the same family, the same culture, the same everything. Jacob was chosen - given a destiny, hope, a future. Esau was not - he lost his name in the family and becomes nothing more than a blip on the radar. And it seemed largely out of his control. Esau has been a reference point for me over the years as I've wrestled with my own longing for purpose. When I concluded that I was merely fated to oblivion, he became my commisserator. I even wrote a song called "Esau," paralleling his story with my own.

But the God of purpose has been at work. Not just lately, not just in the past two months. But, it would seem, for the duration of my life. That feeling - no, more than a feeling - that underlying sense of reality is something I've heard many speak of over the years. Often, I received their words with a measure of resentment that I, too, did not sense God's underlying purpose for my life. But here I am, drinking for perhaps the first time long draughts of hope, purpose, and excitement over the direction toward which I feel pulled, led... called.

Here is why I feel these things. About four years ago, I was invited to help build a faith community from scratch. It's why I'm in San Diego - I followed my friends here in order to help them in their own vision for an urban church that developed around a common desire for a return to the way of Jesus in community with other people. Not a church that attracted devotees with flashy marketing, incredible music and production, iconic leadership and teaching... All those things are fine, but my friends had a desire for something more organic, rooted in relationship. Something that took the "come as you are" culture and morphed it into "I will come to you as you are." A community built intentionally through the power of reaching into another person's life and challenging her to engage in a deeper relationship with her challenger, and ultimately with God.

FYI - it's working. Slowly, but surely, Citywalk is finding its footing here in San Diego. And this is the community I call home. A place where "come as you are" simply isn't enough. We are challenged to be intentional about our interactions with people, not simply inviting them to come to our church, but finding them where they are, staying with them where they are, coming back frequently to where they are. And trusting that this, which is commonly called "incarnational ministry" in church circles, the way Jesus chose to live his life, will be the means of reconciliation back to the God of purpose and love for people who have been disconnected from those things.

My faith community (we call ourselves Citywalkers) loves me. There is no arrogance in this statement, it is mere truth. The people for whom I am privileged to lead music on a weekly basis, really, truly, unconditionally love me. In particular, the friend who invited me to join him on this journey to San Diego, has so devotedly lived the incarnational way of Jesus toward me that it has radically changed my perspective. I used to be Esau. Sequestered, separated, and unwanted by God. But when my friend chose to live the incarnational, unconditional love of Jesus toward me for 5 years running - despite my best efforts to sabotage, disprove, reject, deflect, or otherwise destroy that love - I couldn't help but be changed. That's just the way of love. It changes your understanding of yourself. It changes your understanding of other people. It changes your understanding of God.

I promise you, I have not made it easy for people to love me. I looked for holes in their love. I jumped at any opportunity to twist a word, action, or even facial gesture into a sign of their rejection. Rejection was familiar. God had rejected me. The church had rejected me. People I once loved very deeply had rejected me. Life as Esau made sense. Until I learned I couldn't change the love these friends had for me. Until I learned that this love was reflective of the love Jesus showed to people in his own life. Until I could no longer believe I was unwanted because incarnational, unconditional love convinced me otherwise. And I learned this from the church. Not the church of my youth - but the church, nonetheless. A group of people following the way of Jesus in community.

(For the record, Citywalk is not what some might call a liberal and affirming church. It's not a place where being gay is celebrated at every gathering. There are many differing opinions between Citywalkers in regards to moral issues such as gay sex. Some are more traditional. Others are less restrictive. But what matters most in this family is that incarnational, unconditional love that characterizes all interactions, all conversations - and believe me, there is a healthy and multi-faceted conversation within our community surrounding this issue. The point is that Citywalk does not affirm homosexuality as a rule, but neither do we, as a church, condemn anyone who is gay or is having gay sex. Not only is that person welcome, but we will go to that person, we will be in that person's life, we will return without condition time and again to where that person is and choose to love that person until she is changed - and by changed I do not mean 'turned straight' - by that incarnational, unconditional love.)

Here within a mainline Christian, American, evangelical church community, I have found my place. I've experienced healing from the wounds my previous involvment in the Christian community inflicted. I stand confident in unconditional love from people who have my back. I stand confident in the unconditional love of God for me. So when I talk about the pain I've felt, the hurt I've experienced, the desperation and despair, the solitude and separation, the anger, defiance, and defensive attitude I adopted as a result of what I confronted in the church - I am talking about the former things. The old has gone, the new has come. I am happy. I have joy. I have purpose, direction, and am surrounded by people who love me. And I'm finally free to talk about my experience, share my story, and pray that I am able to connect with other people who are experiencing what I've gone through. To pray that my story can give hope to someone who has none. To find the Esaus of the world and show them incarnational, unconditional love.

Truly, I have no use for pity. And there is no need to apologize for the grievances of the church - at least to me. I've been through that fire. If you're moved at all by my story, I hope you will choose to love unconditionally that person you come into contact with who feels unwanted and separated from God. That gay son or daughter of God who feels so overwhelmingly condemned by the church that it may take five years or more of unconditional, incarnational love to break through the lies that bind his or her life. It will break through. We can't help but be changed.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up - do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.
-God through the prophet Isaiah, chapter 43, verses 18 & 19

Incarnational. Unconditional.


I just walked past a nightclub on my way to the coffee shop where I'm currently sipping my iced soy chai tea latte. On the window of this club was a flashy flyer with a nearly-naked man on it. The advertisement said, "Come before midnight, strip down, and your first drink is on us."

If you ask me, that's one expensive drink. Or a seriously underpriced sexual experience. I'm in no place to cast judgment. But it makes me think, and I think it's very indicative of the cheapened sense of sexuality in my neighborhood. Sex is no longer measured in spiritual value, but monetary. And you have to admit, that's not the way things should be.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Snowiest, Tahoe-iest Trip Ever

President's Day weekend I ventured up to Reno/Tahoe with my roommate and another friend to see old stomping ground and my pals up north. My travel mates had not yet been to Tahoe, so the goal was to educate them experientially while enjoying a relaxing three day weekend in America's Adventure Place. But after spending 38 hours in the car, and most of that in life-threatening snowstorms, avoiding collisions with other motorists, siderails, and mountain lions, I've decided it was, logistically, the worst trip I've ever taken. Relationally, can't complain - we had a great time with each other. And my friend Becky made some of the best meals I've had in recent months. So it was still worth it. But after broken chains, bumper-to-bumper traffic that turned a 2 hour voyage from Sac to Reno into 7 hours, various closed roads, unplowed highways with 2 inches of snow sitting on them, the densest fog I've ever had to crawl through at snailish speeds, and only being able to see about 8 inches of one of the world's most beautiful lakes - well, let's just say I won't be doing road trips through the Sierras in February anymore.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What Fuels My Fire

There are those days when the fog in your head seems to lift enough for you to see a clear vision of your future, what you want to be about in this world - perhaps enough to even articulate it. A proverb says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." This happened to me today. I was confronted by the Facebook friend mentioned in my last post, who generously read my blog and had a thoughtful response for me. Her response was like iron sharpening iron - it enabled me to think critically about my passions and why I believe what I believe. I'm posting my reply to her below because I feel I've captured in it the passion behind the things I believe and what I choose to build my life around.

I'll admit, what I initially wanted to say was very different. In fact, I simply wanted to write off my friend's thoughts as the type of conservative, traditional thinking that isn't all that helpful in opening a dialogue and a compassionate conversation. But the realization as I started to write back was that if I really and sincerely want to be a bridge-builder, engaging these conversations is imperative. I can't just ignore them. I feel very directed right now - some label it a "calling." I don't know if I would call today a watershed or landmark moment, but I certainly feel I found a voice to the impulses and beliefs I hold inside. Here it is, for better or worse...

You need to know why I prioritize things the way I do. You need to know why it's more important to me that the church chooses to be passive instead of fight, to love instead of picket, to be a voice of compassion instead of being a voice insistent on its own rights. Why I believe with all my heart that the church should stop fighting the war against abortion, gay marriage, and whatever "anti-Christian" activity it is you're referring to.

I am gay. I am the one who grew up in the conservative world, condemned from the pulpit and by my own family without anyone ever knowing what they were doing to me. I am the one who grew up with a secret so horrible I couldn't tell anyone, who grew up with an understanding that God could not possibly love me because of what I was. My only chance, only hope at being received into this family of believers into which I was born was to keep hidden this terrible secret. To smother it, to kill it if I could. To change into something that God, and everyone around me, would accept. Do you know why there is such a high suicide rate among gay people? It is because so many of us have been instilled with an idea that we are something unacceptable, unlovable, and unwanted. For the better portion of my life, every ounce of my energy was poured into creating the person I believed I had to be in order to find love and acceptance from God, from you, from everyone else. It is a devastating way to live.

Everyone struggles with issues of self-worth, with the desire to be loved. We all make decisions as we grow up based on the need to be affirmed, desired, valued, wanted. But the problem goes deeper for the homosexual. For a gay person born into a conservative, religious home, they grow up with the understanding that they personify the most abhorrent, perverse sin in the list of things God hates. An unknowing parent may do everything to show their child he is loved, but when that parent adds his or her voice to the wave of noise that is the church's antagonism toward the "sin of homosexuality," he or she confirms their own child's greatest fear: that God hates him. That he is separate, other, different. Disconnected from his family, friends, and from God. So, inevitably, that child will try to change, will pray for change, will hide his "sin," will do everything possible to cover it up. And that child will fail. There will be no change in that child's orientation. No matter what that child, that teen, that young adult does, he will feel like a failure every day of his life because he does not, cannot meet the standards of holiness that have been set for him.

And you will say, "But that's why Jesus died, to cover our sins and make us holy and presentable to God."

Try telling that to a gay person who can only see a church that spends the majority of it's time, energy, and money pouring into a war against the gay agenda - whatever that is. There is no such thing as real grace, real compassion, real, authentic love for the gays in the face the church puts forth in our world. Those picket signs, the "No on Prop 8" campaign, the insistence that orientation change is possible and that God's wish for all gay people is that they become straight - all these things drown out any love that might be trying to break through.

God did not leave us a mission to fight moral battles. Jesus did not fight moral battles. If anything, he challenged the accepted notions of morality in his day. He ate with tax collectors and "sinners." He exhibited grace and love to prostitutes. He (gasp!) healed on the Sabbath!

Until the church can prioritize people before an issue, faces before morality, we will continue to miss the mark. Until we acknowledge that God does not need or ask us to wage war on "sin," we will continue to alienate the very people he so much loves and so much longs to include in his kingdom. The church is working against the heart of God; we are counter-productive.

None of this has anything to do with what one believes about Obama and his policies. None of this has anything to do with aligning oneself with one political party or another. Yes, I was at times critical of Bush's policies. But only because he claimed to be a follower of Christ, and some things he chose to do did not align with the way of Jesus and the heart of God. Because I believe in the way of Jesus, in his mission to reconcile all people to God, it is my own mission to make that way evident to everyone. To give people every opportunity to "come as they are," to not block the gates with picket signs and a version of morality that is better than other people's morality. Right and wrong are not the crux upon which the entire church stands - they are NOT. Morality is not what makes a follower of Christ - it is NOT.

LOVE. Love is what makes someone a follower of Christ. "They will know you are Christians by your love." Love trumps everything - it trumps our "rights." It trumps whatever sin we may think separates someone from God. It blows away the need to white-knuckle the truth. It is sacrificial - it does not retaliate. Jesus straight-up told us that in this world we will have trouble - but, he says, "I give you my peace. Not peace as the world gives..." Christians will have trouble, and we're not told to fight back. Christians don't need to fight for morality because of the peace we have been given. We are free to simply love. Simply love. No fighting, no condemnation, no judgment - God can take care of himself. He doesn't need us to defend what is right and wrong in moral terms. He needs us to love. God needs a body - that was why Jesus came. God needed a body to physically reach out and touch the people he loves. And that mission has been left to us. We have bodies, we have hands. We must use those hands to reach out, to hold, to comfort - NEVER to close to the door on someone. NEVER to hold a picket sign. NEVER to write messages that will make God's beloved children believe that they are unloved, unwanted, and unacceptable.

Because that is what we do when we fight against gay marriage. That is what we do when we picket abortion clinics. We may believe we are defending physical life - but we are smothering spiritual life. In those moments, we are not going into all the world and spreading the Good News - we are spreading hate.

And you can be sure that I will continue to distinguish myself from a church that spreads hate.

So there you have it. What makes me tick, fuels my fire, gives me gas in my Ford so I keep truckin' for the Lord. (Actually, I drive a Dodge.)


Monday, February 09, 2009

The Separation of Church and School

This morning plunged me headlong into thoughts about justice, persecution, pacifism, loving one's enemy, and the like.

A friend's Facebook today: "I'm taking a stand for my faith - Obama has gone too far and must be stopped!" She proceeded to link me to this excerpt from the economic stimulus package that apparently limits the ways in which schools receiving stimulus funds can use them. Educational institutions cannot use federal monies for the

modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities — (i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission

This article calls Obama an "enemy of Christian liberty" because of this clause in the bill. An enemy.

Even if one perceives Obama to be his enemy (I don't), what was it that Jesus asked his followers to do about their enemies? I seem to recall the word "love." Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. (And by the way, elsewhere Jesus encourages us to pray in humility and compassion, not out of self-righteousness and with a desire to see others fail so we are lifted up.) Turn the other cheek. A non-violent, non-confrontational approach to dealing with persecution. And then, of course, there's Romans 13:1-7.

My Facebook friend is worried that her church will be forced out of it's meeting space, a public school cafeteria that it rents on the weekend. My faith community also meets in a school's cafeteria on the weekends. I think it's a bit rash to conclude that schools that rent out their cafeteria on Sunday mornings wouldn't be able to use stimulus money to renovate that cafeteria (or auditorium, or classroom, etc.) The clause is intended to prevent federal funds from going to the renovation and construction of places of worship. Which is, I believe, as it should be. Our government shouldn't be building sanctuaries, cathedrals, temples, and the like - even if they're built as part of a school of divinity, etc.

Nevertheless, even if this clause does mean that schools across the country have to evict their religious weekend tenants in order to receive stimulus money (again, a pretty far-out notion since the churches are paying the school to rent the space to begin with), the type of vehement response that seems to come so naturally to conservatives is so far off-base and out of line with the way of Jesus that, once again, I feel the church misses the mark and ceases to represent God's love, compassion, humility, and long-suffering to a world that is simply not moved by picket lines and angry signs. If we can't meet in schools, meet somewhere else. Meet in our homes if we must. That's more akin to the early church than anything else anyway. Life will go on, the church will go on, we will continue to worship together.

Can you imagine what it would look like if the church in America responded universally with "Ok, we get it. We see why federal money shouldn't be used to construct or maintain places of worship, and we will gladly and voluntarily find other places to worship so that our nation's schools can accept funding that will assist them in providing better campuses in which to educate our children." Can you imagine the positive PR associated with that kind of response? And doesn't that feel like Jesus more than picket lines and angry epithets?


Friday, February 06, 2009

An evening full of 'Doubt'

Last night I went with my friends Steve & Ali to go see the San Diego Repertory Theatre's production of Doubt, a play that debuted off-Broadway in 2004 and is, as I'm sure you know, now a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis - all four of whom are nominated for Academy Awards this year.

I had seen the film a few weeks ago, and was floored. (I'll be publishing my own Top Ten Movies of 2008 list before Oscar night - check back to see where Doubt ends up.) The stage provided a distinctly more intimate setting, however, to ruminate on the issues presented in the play. The story revolves around a Catholic school & church in 1964 where a hard-nosed and fiercely traditionalist nun begins to suspect the parish's new progressive priest, Father Flynn, of molesting the school's first and only black student. That's already a pretty heavy-handed, packed production. But there are so many more layers to the story, and I find myself thinking mostly about one issue in particular - that of gender roles in an institution like the church, and the varied restrictions & freedoms that men and women have placed on them when they commit to a life of service for God.

I don't want to give too much away about the story. It's definitely worth seeing if you haven't yet. But I'm left (as I think we're meant to be) with my own doubts - doubts about devotion to the church as an institution, about the price of vigilance against evil, about our ability to discern evil in the first place, about how the knowledge of evil takes away our innocence and whether innocence itself is a good thing or not. This play is probably the most thought-provoking material I've seen performed in a couple of years. The questions it raises are good ones to ask. I hope you and more people will see it so that the discussion can be elevated.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Up to speed

For my first journey back to blogging, I thought I'd just post a quick life update. My life. (It only seems appropriate, as this is my blog. However, if you'd like me to post an update of your life, I'll be happy to do so.)

The "big news" is that I'm in a new job. New job path. Career, I guess? I had been working for a retail development firm here in San Diego for 2 1/2 years. It was a good job - I enjoyed the company I kept, but alas, shopping is not exactly my favorite activity. Especially in shopping malls (or lifestyle centers, as most developers now prefer we call them). So, much as I enjoyed my coworkers, it was difficult to receive any sense of fulfillment from the work itself.

Last fall, I was actually feeling quite stuck. Believe it or not, I had somehow convinced myself that I had pretty much experienced all that San Diego had to offer me. I wanted to leave because I was unhappy at work and felt overwhelmed in the rest of life. My music was suffering (or rather, it was DOA) as I had no time to devote to it. The one thing I remained attached to in San Diego was my work with Citywalk, the faith community I helped to start. I love Citywalk - it's the most genuine communal expression of faith I've been a part of, and I have dear, dear friends in that community. I wasn't ready to leave that behind. So, I felt stuck because I was bored with my city, bored with my job, but couldn't leave. And who wanted to go job hunting in an economy like this?

Well, all it took to change that perspective was a layoff. As a company providing niche tenant coordination services to large mall developers, my former employer was one of the first to be hard-hit by the current economic crisis because our services were considered a luxury to many of our clients. I lost my job at the end of October. Certainly, there were feelings of disappointment and fears of not being able to pay the bills, but I actually reacted mostly in excitement. I promised myself that I wouldn't simply jump in bed with the first job that came along, but would instead take the time to evaluate where I was headed in life, and where I wanted to go. Options on the table included going back to school, pouring heart & soul into my music, or looking at the non-profit sector.

So, would you believe I was only unemployed for 72 hours? I still managed to fulfill my promise not to take the first job offer (it was a gracious offer from a friend who had a temp position to fill), but thanks to the gods of circumstance (otherwise known as Jehovah Jireh, I seem to recall from an old children's chorus?), I had a friend who was leaving his position at a non-profit here called LEAD San Diego. I couldn't have stepped into a role better suited for me. LEAD, not surprisingly, is a civic & community leadership development agency. We develop programs meant to inspire & educate people about the needs & challenges facing San Diego's future in order to produce a group of leaders who are ready to get their hands dirty, improving the quality of life in our little corner of the states.

Last fall I thought I had experienced all that San Diego has to offer. That was a big ole bucket of naivete & ignorance. I'm learning new things everyday through LEAD's programs and seminars (which I get to help execute!) that make me so thankful to live here, and help me focus my own energies toward the issues that I care about and can make a difference in. I suddenly feel about San Diego the same way I felt when I first moved here - just that it's a chasm of opportunity, and I want to dive in. (Metaphor cheesy meter: 8 out of 10)

So the whole boring job/boring city perspective went down the drain, and I'm totally wrapped up in getting to know more & more about America's Finest City as I earn my living helping to ensure we have educated, enthusiastic leaders to keep it moving. And, I get to stick around to be a part of Citywalk's future and enjoy these great friendships I have. Essentially, getting laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me; otherwise I might have hung around in an unfulfilling job, disliking my circumstances for who knows how long. And I really do believe there was some serious divine path-making going on there: to be laid off, have the human connections I did, receive support & help from friends who did everything from pray to offer jobs to help with my resume, and only be unemployed for 72 hours at the start of one of our nations most disastrous economic downturn in my lifetime - well, I'm just hard-pressed to explain it all away. Renewed purpose, love from friends & family, and food on the table - what more could I ask for?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Fancy Meeting You Here

Woah, um, hi there! Geez, is that you? You look, um... you look really great! Gosh, how have you been? What's been going on? You're right, its been way too long, I know, I'm sorry. I've just been so busy lately... I'm sorry I haven't called. You still have the same number? Yeah, we should totally get together soon...

Ah, blogging again. It's akin to that awkward conversation you have with a person you bump into that you should have stayed in touch with but haven't. But, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I mean, we live in the same cyber world and all... Anyway - I do have a lot to say now, so here's a list of some upcoming stories I'll be posting (mostly for my own benefit so I don't forget anything):

  • Life & job update
  • Surprising things I've discovered about San Diego
  • The Marin Foundation, and other gay stuff
  • Church - global & local, and other Jesus stuff
  • My friends' adoptions
  • American Sign Language
  • My take on the 2009 Oscar race
  • and much, much more!
So if anyone out there still knows this blog exists (and cares), rest assured there is spirited discussion ahead! 'Til next time, in the immortal words of Strongbad: Rock, rock on.