Fifth reason to attend “e3”: “Perfect Love Expels Fear”

FeaturedFifth reason to attend “e3”: “Perfect Love Expels Fear”

I remember how scared I was the first time I told someone I was gay.

That was almost twenty years ago. If you’d told me then that someday I’d be the director of a non-profit that helped start conversations in churches and families about same-sex attraction, I would’ve shuttered with disbelief and fear.

I pray all the time to not ever forget what that fear felt like.

Because every day I encounter people who are terrified to confront their own fears around the topic of sexuality, especially if it involves same-sex attraction.

no-fear-in-love

For so many people, this conversation is hard. Some might read this thinking, wow, I can’t believe there are people who have a problem with someone being gay, or talking about any issue pertaining to sexual minorities. But for those of us who grew up in homes that taught a sexual ethic that not only didn’t embrace same-sex relationships, but believed that expression of sexuality between two people of the same gender is morally wrong, it’s still scary.

That’s why this conference that’s happening in our little part of the world is a really big deal.

People are coming together – many from very traditional backgrounds – wanting to understand more. To learn a more Christ-like response. To learn how to love LGBTQ daughters and sons. To remind ourselves that we don’t all have the same opinions. To affirm the truth that, regardless of those opinions, Jesus invites us all to the table.

Twenty years ago my fear of someone finding out about my sexuality would’ve kept me from coming to this. Honestly, if someone had invited me to a conference like “e3,” I would’ve found all kinds of reasons to not go. I would’ve been terrified of seeing people I knew, and what would they think, seeing me at a conference about same-sex attraction?

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Some of the people already registered to attend are afraid, but they’re coming anyway.

So we’ll be serving lots of cookies during breaks! We’ll be sharing meals together, because it’s next to impossible to stay afraid once you get to know someone over supper.

We’re going out of our way to make this event as relaxed and informal and welcoming as we can be. We’ll listen thoughtfully to each other’s experiences and ideas. We’ll express our own opinions graciously, gently (if we feel the need to tell you what we think at all!).  And we’ll worship God and pray together, around the same table.

I wish there had been an “e3” conference a long time ago and that a bunch of people from my church had asked me to go with them.

It would’ve saved me a lot of years of living in fear.

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A Schedule Designed to Answer All Your Questions About Faith & Sexuality…(Reasons #7 & #6 to come to the “e3” Conference!)

Well, maybe not….
The truth is, you’ll probably leave the “e3” conference with even more questions!
That’s what happens when we begin studying something new – when we really start learning about something we haven’t talked about before. The process of understanding may be even more confusing with a little information than with none at all! The schedule for the “e3” conference is really pretty amazing, because the classes and events offered, the topics addressed, and the opportunities for friendships to develop over three days will reach far beyond this conference in deepening our understanding. More importantly, hearing these conversations will model grace-filled dialogue, even when we don’t agree.  We’ll go home better equipped, empowered with greater confidence and less fear to start conversations about faith and sexuality in our own churches and families. 
Look through the breakout sessions and start designing your own personal schedule for “e3.” And we’ll see you in October!

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Reserve a room at Holiday Inn Express Dallas Park Central North and ask for the “e3” Conference rate – only $89 per night/dbl occupancy!
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Register for “e3!”

 

 

 

 

Resources for Parents Who Feel Isolated & Alone – Reason #8 to Come to the CenterPeace “e3” Conference

FeaturedResources for Parents Who Feel Isolated & Alone – Reason #8 to Come to the CenterPeace “e3” Conference

The “e3” Conference is for parents who love a child who experiences same-sex attraction, to provide resources for equipping, encouraging, and empowering them to love their children unconditionally. Most importantly, these parents will have opportunities to make a whole lot of friends who understand.

And they’ll go home feeling less alone.

One of the sessions we’re most excited about is a live podcast of “Stay Calm – Don’t Panic!” – a podcast designed to help youth workers in schools and churches.  Hosts of the podcast will interview a family with three children, one of whom is a teen who identifies as gay, and opened up about his feelings of same-sex attraction to his parents at quite a young age. This family’s perspective and experience in loving God, their children, their faith community will bless us.

Here’s what the father of this family shared on his blog about why it’s important for all of us to be at “e3” –

I am excited about this conference for many reasons. As a Christian and student of the Bible, I truly am seeking to increase my knowledge in areas of interpretation and application. I have questions that I thought I always knew the answer to, and maybe I did. But I mostly just accepted what was said to me without genuine, honest searching.

As a recovering alcoholic, I have experienced many preconceived ideas about addiction and recovery—many of them negative. Through conversations and spending time with people, I have been able to teach people that the experience of an alcoholic in recovery is not what they thought. This same lesson has applied to me as I have had the opportunity to talk to Christians who are attracted to members the same sex or who do not identify with their gender the same way I do. I have learned that many of my preconceived ideas were wrong—and often negative. I have learned to love and have conversations; with the purpose of that dialogue being to learn and become shaped more in the image of Christ.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs a parent, I have wrestled with what it means to have a child acknowledge his own same sex attraction. I have learned the blessing of having people with whom to hold conversations. I have had a lot of questions. I was blessed to have people and resources close by. I know that many parents either do not have or are not aware of the resources available to them.

The e3 Conference can be a great step in the journey for parents, siblings, children, or friends who love someone who experiences same sex attraction or has questions about their gender identity.

If you have questions about the intersection of faith and sexuality, this is the conference you need to attend. Come and find conversation partners. Come and ask questions. Come and learn about resources.

Come and be surrounded by the love and peace of Jesus.

Do you know a family who needs to be encouraged, surrounded by other families with similar experiences? Please tell them about “e3.”

Even better, get in the car and come with them.

Register for “e3.”                      Make a reservation at the conference hotel.

 

A Short Course on Faith & Sexuality

FeaturedA Short Course on Faith & Sexuality

Ever wish you could take a short course on Faith & Sexuality?

Well, now’s your chance.

But it’s better than that.

Because this course won’t be taught by just one teacher. Instead it will offer perspectives from a multitude of voices – over 30 Bible scholars, ministers, elders, and families from across the country who will share their stories.

Remember in school when you had one or two particular teachers who seemed to make everything clearer? Maybe the way they presented the material or expressed ideas made sense to you in a way that no one else was able to achieve. That’s why it’s good to have different teachers who explain concepts in their own unique way.

Because we all learn differently.

Another reason the “e3” Conference is something you don’t want to miss.

Lots of voices will share their experience, their expertise, their background and training in scripture, in theology, in parenting, in life, so that we can learn from each other. We’ll gather information, but we’ll also learn how to share that information more effectively by listening to others engage in thoughtful conversation. Through Grace-filled dialogue we’ll learn how to love deeply, even when we disagree.

The “e3” Conference will be a gathering committed to unity within the Lord’s church.

Where we value scripture and its application to our spiritual lives.

Where we believe Jesus is The Way.

Where we know worship draws us closer to God. And to each other.

This conference won’t answer all your questions about same-sex attraction. In fact, it will probably create more questions – but that’s a good thing. You see, any time we’re learning something new – something that we really haven’t spent much time exploring before – there’s a steep learning curve that takes awhile to process. That’s why we chose imagery that depicts a journey to advertise this conference. A trek that’s often uphill as we seek to understand. It may be difficult to even think about some of these conversations, but it’s so necessary.

Whether you’re just beginning the journey, or you’ve been on the path for awhile, the “e3” Conference is guaranteed to be thought-provoking. Maybe even life-changing.

A short course that will take you far beyond the weekend.

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Why You Don’t Want To Miss the “e3” Conference: Reason #10

FeaturedWhy You Don’t Want To Miss the “e3” Conference: Reason #10

We’re only ten weeks away from CenterPeace’s “e3” Conference! If you’re still wondering whether or not you should come, here’s the first of the top ten reasons you need to come to “e3″….

…for the 14 year old boy who sat across the table from me at the frozen yogurt shop and told me he was gay and Christian, and then asked if that meant he was going to have to spend the rest of his life by himself.

If there’s no other reason in the world to come to this conference and get plugged into this conversation, that question is it. The simple fact that we have kids who are growing up – who have been growing up forever – in our pews without a safe place to talk about their feelings, about how it feels to be gay and Christian, and how that means something entirely different than it did even ten years ago. Most importantly this young man needs a place to constantly reassure him that he is deeply loved by God – that nothing about him changes that – and that he will always have a place at the table.

teen boy praying This young man needs a church family that will love him like they love all the other students in the youth group, unconditionally.

This young man needs a youth minister who knows how to walk alongside him, just hang out with him, support, include, embrace him into the Body of Christ.

He needs a church family with leaders who will love and encourage his mom and dad. Who will know what to say to them.

He needs a church family who’s not afraid to talk about hard things.

A church family that will talk about what it means to live by a Christian sexual ethic.

A church family that will talk about same-sex attraction.

A church family that knows that being a Christ follower involves more than our sexuality.

A church family that will help his mom and dad continue to raise him to be a disciple first.

He needs a community of faith where he knows he belongs.

Where he can develop the gifts God has given him and utilize them in Kingdom work.

At the conference we’ll talk about how to be that church family. We’ll talk about how to be the community – the family – he needs us to be for him.

For the rest of his life on this earth.

So he won’t ever have to live by himself.

 

 

A Picture’s Worth…

FeaturedA Picture’s Worth…
Here’s another inspiring post from Tyler Sparks, CenterPeace intern for the fall.  Tyler is a graduate student in ministry from Abilene Christian University.

“How do you picture God?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question over the last few years…one of the benefits of attending a religiously affiliated university.  One of the first times I was asked this question I was attending “Tapestry,” a spiritual formation retreat offered by CenterPeace.  A lot of the retreat, in fact, focused on our pictures of God and our relationship with God, in some cases affirming and in other cases correcting those pictures.

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son (detailed)
Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” (detailed)

Whenever I am asked about my picture of God, two things factor very heavily into my response. One of them comes as a result of the Tapestry retreat I attended three years ago.  After the initial retreat, all of us worked through a year-long curriculum that included the reading of several books, among them Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son.  On the cover of the book is Rembrandt’s painting of the same name, which inspired Nouwen to write the book.  Something about the painting captured my attention and has stuck with me for the past three years. 

If you look closely at the hands of the father, you’ll notice that one of them is more weather-worn and calloused (more stereotypically “masculine”) while the other is softer (more stereotypically “feminine”).  Something as seemingly innocuous as the way Rembrandt rendered the hands of the father communicates some central truths about the God I have come to know throughout my life.  It reminds me that God functions as a divine parent…as both mother and father. While God does have an aggressive side (see the Old Testament), we have a tendency to forget about the loving, nurturing side of God.

 Besides that, the painting as a whole (as well as the story which inspired the painting) reminds me of something even greater.  No matter how far away from home I wander, no matter how badly I screw up, God will be there waiting with open arms to welcome me home.  I know that even while I’m “still a long way off,” I have a parent who will come running to meet me as I’m walking down the path.

There’s also a song I discovered about four years ago that immediately pops into my head 10th Ave Northwhen the “picture of God” question is asked.  Music, more so than anything else in the world, changes my mood and expresses things that I struggle to put into words.  “By Your Side” by Tenth Avenue North perfectly captures my picture of God in four minutes, though the song itself is sung from the perspective of Jesus. Personally, I have a hard time separating the Father and Son.  What I see in one, I see in the other.

This song, better than almost any other song, communicates important truths about the God I know…the God that both amazes and completely confuses me.  It reminds me that this almighty, all-knowing, all-powerful being stooped down to our level in the most vulnerable form imaginable, the very same form we all take when we enter the world, and endured an excruciating death simply because God loved us and wanted to be in a relationship with us.  Whenever I stumble and fall, I’ll have someone there to catch me.  This God…this infinite being that I will never completely understand…loves me in spite of and because of my flaws.  The God I know, the one described in this song, is the God that will move mountains, traverse the wilderness, and overturn the entire world just to find one of His children to let them know they are loved.

The bridge of the song really drives this point home for me –

“‘Cause I, I love you

I want you to know

That I, I love you

I’ll never let you go.”

More than anything, my God is the very source and embodiment of love.  No matter what happens in life, I know that the God I serve is there to hold me and hug me and tell me that everything will be okay because He is enough.  It reminds me that I am not alone. This God wants a relationship with us…with me.  No matter where I run, how badly I mess up, or if I completely turn my back, God will still be holding onto me.  More than anything, the song reminds me that, even when I have trouble loving myself, I am loved.

Though I’ve known of God my entire life, I didn’t really come to know God until recently. Since then, I found a God who is intimately involved in our lives, or at least wants to be intimately involved.  The omniscient, omnipotent, ever-present, almighty Lord of Hosts knows us inside and out.  God is the one who knows every single hair on our heads…all 7 billion of us.  God loves and cares for each one of us, even when we don’t acknowledge or accept it.

The point: God loves us unconditionally…no strings attached.  There is absolutely nothing we can do to change that. Imagine how our perception of and relationship with God would change if we kept that in mind.

Imagine how our relationships with each other might change.

Food for thought. 

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

–Romans 8:37-39 (NRSV)

 

 

Welcoming…

FeaturedWelcoming…

This semester we’re privileged to have Tyler Sparks, a graduate ministry student from Abilene Christian University, serving as our CenterPeace intern.  Tyler moved to Dallas in August and has been working in our office at Highland Oaks, helping with CenterPeace events, such as the newly formed parent group, researching resources for campus ministry for LGBT students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and now, writing for the CenterPeace blog.  Tyler has a heart for God and for helping people who are hurting, so he’s a most welcome addition.

While Tyler is with us, he’ll be a regular contributor to the CenterPeace blog.  Here’s his first post….please “welcome” Tyler with your comments below.

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“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”                        

Maya Angelou

There’s something to be said about finding a place to call home, somewhere you can belong….somewhere you feel safe to be yourself.  (According to a sixteen year old in some rockin’ red slippers, there’s no place like it.)  It’s that safety you find there, the ability to be completely vulnerable and to share your deepest sorrow, your greatest joy, and everything in-between that makes a place feel like home.

You don’t always realize how much you need something…how much you’re missing it, craving it even, until you’ve finally found it.

For the longest time, I never had that place. Yes, I had a family and a church home.  In fact, because of the congregation where I grew up I had more mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles in my family than I knew what to do with.  I would have even said I felt at home with the other theatre and orchestra kids in high school.  But, I never had a place where I felt completely safe…safe enough to be vulnerable.  I never felt close enough to anyone to really open up and talk about deep-rooted fears and insecurities.  I never had a safe place where I could explore and figure out what to do with these growing feelings that I didn’t understand.

I didn’t find that safe place until my junior year of college. In the couple years prior, I did some things and made mistakes that I’m not proud of.  I was trying to find myself and figure out what to do about being attracted to the same sex.  I felt alone and confused and didn’t know where to turn.  I was absolutely terrified that someone would find out about this and my life would completely fall apart.  But at just the right time, God put a safe place into my life that I desperately needed.

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My “spot” on Sally’s red couch (in black & white) at her home in Abilene.

A classmate I had just recently become acquainted with told me about someone named Sally and her ministry CenterPeace.  I walked into Sally’s living room for the first time in February 2011 not really knowing much about her or what to expect.  I sat down on the first red couch I had seen, played around with the cutest and most persistent dachshund ever, and began to pour my heart out.  For the first time in my life, I was able to say aloud to someone that I was attracted to men and didn’t really know how to handle it.    After lots of tears and conversation that afternoon, she invited me to be part of the student group that she hosted in her home.

So, for the next three years I showed up almost every Thursday night, drank strawberry lemonade and ate some cookies, and began to live life with an amazing group of people who became my first truly safe place.  I knew that I had found people and a place where I could openly talk about my issues and be myself, no matter what that looked like.  I found safety and a home where I could simply show up and not have to worry about saying, or doing, or being anything.

Week after week I listened to their stories, listened to Sally, and witnessed truth being spoken into the lives of everyone in the room…into my own life.  In so doing, I found myself wanting to open up, making myself vulnerable, and discovering deep, meaningful connections that I was lacking.  I found people who had walked the same path and could help me navigate, people who would be that calm in the midst of my storm. More than that, they reminded me that I have a voice, that I’m not alone, and that there are people in this world who will stand beside me no matter what.  It was because of this safe place that I was able to start opening up to friends, my family, and even my elders and some people at my home congregation.  It was because of this group and others I met on campus that I became comfortable enough to start sharing my own story.  Finding that first safe place and subsequent safe places made writing this blog post possible.

It’s important to find those safe places and people in our lives where we can be vulnerable without fear of rejection or complete condemnation.

Even if we don’t realize it, we all have that longing for safety…community…deep connection with others.  We have that powerful hunger to find a place where we can be vulnerable about our struggles.  That need is at the very core of what it means to be human.  Only by drawing ourselves out of the shadows and bringing things into the light by sharing with others can we begin to be comfortable with ourselves and learn how to deal with our junk in a healthy way.

However, it doesn’t stop there.  Once we have found those safe places in our own lives, it’s just as important to become that safe place for others.  But being a safe place can be just as scary as trying to find a safe place.  You see, in being a safe place for someone else you have to be willing to be just as vulnerable as the person or people you want to help. 

Is it easy?  

No.  

Is it worth it?  

Most definitely.  

Because, it is in that mutual vulnerability that we can both find and become safety.

Tyler and Sally at Abilene Christian University's Summit last month.
Tyler and Sally at Abilene Christian University’s Summit last month.

 

Providing Safe Places for Parents

FeaturedProviding Safe Places for Parents

One by one they started opening up to each other. Their stories had similarities. Yet each one was different. As the parents who had gathered in this living room began to share their feelings, I realized I could only imagine what this journey had been like for them. But when they started talking about their son or daughter who is gay, I understood. Listening to fathers’ hearts, expressing their love for their daughters and sons, and mothers sharing their desire to stay in relationship with their children no matter what, I remembered the power of my own parents’ neverending love.

The power of God’s unconditional love being experienced through parents’ love.

That’s made all the difference in my life.

Last week I met with people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the launching of a support group for parents of gay daughters and sons. These are Christian families. Most have grown up in churches that could be described as conservative in their theology to varying degrees. For the vast majority of these moms and dads, it has been a difficult journey, a painful path of realizing that the children they’ve raised are different from them in their sexual orientation. Part of the pain comes from the fact that the difference in sexual orientation conflicts with their Christian faith.

But much of the pain for these parents comes from the isolation they feel in not having any safe place to share their feelings.

“It was two years after learning that our son was gay before we felt comfortable in telling the people who were closest to us – our small group at church,” one mother said. 

After listening to parents’ stories, one of the first things I ask them is, “Do you have anyone at church – any friends whom you’re close to – that you feel like you could talk to about this?”

Most often the answer is “no, we haven’t shared this with anyone.” 

Unfortunately, the stigma that remains in Christian communities for anyone who experiences same-sex attraction – and for their families –is so great, we dare not share this part of ourselves with anyone in church. As a result, we have families sitting all around us who are carrying what they feel as a tremendous burden – especially upon first learning their child is gay – without any support from their brothers and sisters in Christ. The very place we’re commanded to “bear one another’s burdens.”

So until we get past the shame of talking about same-sex attraction in our churches, we must create venues in which parents can share their feelings and connect with others who can relate to their experience. That’s why groups like this are so important.

Maybe we don’t need to have all the answers to provide a safe place for parents to open up. Maybe we just throw some cookies and lemonade together and invite people over to share their stories. Maybe they’ll hear a story that resonates with theirs and encourages them. Maybe they’ll exchange phone numbers.

Maybe they’ll feel a little lighter when they leave.

A little less alone.

 

 

 

Never Underestimate the Power of One Old White Guy. Nor a Young One.

FeaturedNever Underestimate the Power of One Old White Guy.  Nor a Young One.

Jackie Robinson – a name that we instantly recognize as a national icon, symbolizing the beginning of an end to racial discrimination in professional baseball.

 But he didn’t make it to the major league because of his athletic ability, or his character and determination to make a difference alone.

Jackie Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger because an old white guy had the courage to stand up and say ‘we’re not gonna do this anymore.’

Branch Rickey is a name we’ve been less familiar with, until Harrison Ford portrayed him in the movie 42, an inspirational film about Robinson’s introduction to major league baseball.   But it was Branch Rickey who made history by breaking the code. The code that refused to allow African-Americans to play major league baseball.

Rickey’s decision to partner with Jackie Robinson in 1945 wasn’t without risk. He put his own name and reputation on the line when he made that decision. And the risk, the conflict, the turmoil that ensued wasn’t resolved in the course of an hour and a half, as the movie would have us believe. Rickey and his family lived with that conflict every day, for a long time after.

But aren’t we thankful for the courage of one old white guy who was willing to take a risk because he believed it was the right thing to do?

About a year and a half ago I got an email from a preacher at a church in Dallas that said,

“I can’t get you or [CenterPeace] off my mind. Call me.”

So I did.

After we talked on the phone, the preacher and the executive minister of this church drove over to Abilene, where I was living at the time, to talk to me about moving CenterPeace to Dallas.

“We believe in what this ministry is doing and we want to support you in that. We’ve got an empty office space in our building – it’s not very big, but we’d like you to be in it. We can’t put you on staff and pay you, but we can be supportive by letting you use our office equipment to make copies, whatever you need, and use our building for events.”

I had no desire whatsoever to move anywhere. Abilene was my home. I loved living there.

So I asked them every hard question I could think of to make them back down.

But these guys didn’t bat an eye when I told them my heart’s desire to help churches and families become safe places for conversations about faith and sexuality. To create a spiritual environment in which men and women who have felt abandoned by family, ostracized from church, and cut off from God, could come home. To be a place where people seeking to reconnect with God could do so, wherever we are in our journey.

Where people still steeped in shame could lay that down and know we are welcome and loved.

In a church.

When I said, “you realize what everyone else will say about you, don’t you?” neither one of them flinched.

Leaders from my home church in Abilene came and talked with these guys, too. And my home church committed to continue their financial support if CenterPeace moved to Dallas.

When they left that day, I knew I was supposed to go to Dallas and office out of the Highland Oaks Church of Christ. I knew I was supposed to move to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and watch the Lord open doors out of this community and beyond. The last eight months have been a whirlwind of transition, getting settled, learning my way around, but I couldn’t feel more energized about this work.

I didn’t want to go, but I’m oh, so glad that I did.

Aren’t we thankful for the courage of one old white guy who was willing to take a risk because he believed it was the right thing to do?

 Or in this case, a fairly young one?

For more information about the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas, TX, visit our website by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Danger and the Glory”

jonathan-storment

 

A guest post from Jonathan Storment, preaching minister for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX…..

 

 

 

“A person once asked me…if I approved of homosexuality, I replied with another question, ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.” -Pope Francis

“91% of American Young Adults think of the Church as Anti-Homosexual” -David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in “UnChristian”

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This past Sunday at Highland Church, Sally Gary and I talked about the one thing that churches either don’t ever talk about or talk about way too much.

We talked about human sexuality, and what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus in today’s world. Sally has written about her experience with same-sex attraction in an incredible memoir “Loves God, Likes Girls” and her ministry has helped Churches and Christian Universities all over the country think through how to talk about sexuality in a more productive way…and what being a disciple means today.

And if you are a Christian, that is the question, not which side of LGBT issues do you fall on, but what does being a disciple of Jesus require of me?

Selling Sex

In their non-religious book, “Premarital Sex in America: How Young Adults Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying” the authors (research psychologists) have interviewed tens of thousands of young adults to find out what they think about when they think of sex. And they found that there are really two core themes that people in the West are inundated with:

1. Sex isn’t really that big of a deal

2. Sex is the only thing that matters

We’re constantly told that you can’t be fully human if you don’t express your sexuality in whatever venue that you feel appropriate…and that anyone who tries to constrain you is really just holding you back. But here’s a question? Who’s telling this story and why?

Yesterday Sally made the point that sex is the capitalist market’s best method for selling just about everything. We make fun of the commercials with the girls in bikinis selling some totally unrelated product…and then we go and buy that product. Maybe that’s the most damning thing about our current world – the reason that these incredibly degrading advertisements keep coming…is because they are working.

Our church partners with a ministry that helps rescue girls from sexual slavery in other parts of the world, because we know that we shouldn’t sell sex. It is too sacred. But the ugly truth is that we are exposed to selling sex everyday, because Madison Avenue knows what we don’t talk about.

Sex still sells.

Do you remember what Jesus says to the woman at the well in John 4? Does it surprise you how quickly Jesus gets into her sex life? Not just to fix her, but because Jesus is going to go directly to the parts of our lives where our hearts are.

It’s important to remember that Jesus isn’t trying to take anything away from us. He’s trying to give us the best possible way to be human. And to the woman who is struggling to find “the one,” Jesus’ solution isn’t to try and fix her marriage(s) – it is to give her Himself.

The Idolatry of the Family

Listen, I affirm the classic Christian view of sexuality, however, I don’t think that most Christians have any idea how much that view actually challenges all of lives/marriages/relationships.

And that brings me to why, I think, the American Church has had such a problem talking to the LGBT community.

Rockwell picture

Think about the way Churches talk. Think about how many sermon series, and blogs, and all the Christian books you’ve heard about how to have a “Christian Marriage” or how to have a better “sex life in marriage.”  We’ve even got Christian bookstores called “Family Christian.”

In fact, if you are a celibate, single Christian, or if your experience is as a sexual minority trying to follow Jesus, it is incredibly difficult to belong fully to a church.  And from time to time you might even wonder, “If Jesus was a single man, who was known for being friends with prostitutes and friends with both men and women alike….is it really Jesus we are worshipping?”

We’ve reacted to the kind of Victorian prudish Christians we saw before us and we’ve arrived at a place of idolatry.

We’ve reached for Jesus and sometimes we’ve actually grabbed something more like Norman Rockwell’s vision of the American family.

I think one of the reasons that the American Church and the LGBT community have had such problems having productive conversations is because often what the Church has been guilty of saying is “You can’t worship the same idols we worship.”

What we really should be saying is that while sex is a good thing, and family is a gift from God, it is also a dangerous thing. Like all good things, it can be made into an idol very easily.

Part of the reason the church has responded so poorly to the gay community is because we (along with many others) have placed the weight of worship on sex. And sex, even the best sex, can’t bear that weight.  Most churches I know, have very little problem welcoming people who wrestle with greed or a bad temper, but if you’re divorced or a sexual minority it’s hard for us to know what to do with you.

It’s why two weeks ago, Jeff Childers and I, after preaching about God’s gift of singleness and celibacy, found ourselves surrounded by single Brothers and Sisters saying, “We’ve never heard that sermon before.”

Because idolatry has lots of symptoms.

Now I happen to have a pretty good life, and a family, and a wife, all of whom I love very much. But, on my better days, I don’t love them as much as I love Jesus.  

And if that sounds harsh, then we really need to reconsider what it means to be Christian.

The Christian response to any and all kinds of sexuality is discipleship. If you believe in historic Christian theology, then you believe that your body is not your own. You didn’t make it, you don’t sustain it, and ultimately you aren’t going to raise it.

Your body belongs to God.

And so does His Body…the Church.

And I think Jesus wants His Body to look a lot more like Him.

Because reading through the Gospels, it seems like Jesus’ first response to everyone was always one of love and kindness.

So here’s what we challenged people to do at Highland…We believe that the Church and LGBT community overlap in certain places, and one of them is the Anti-Bullying initiative. If you are a Jesus person then you are committed, not to a position or sound byte, but to a posture of being for people.

Following Jesus means you are called to not laugh at those jokes, to not allow someone to be shamed and ridiculed, we are called to stand up for people on the margins in loving and kind ways.

And just like Jesus, we are called to honor the image of God in everyone.

 
 

Morning in Thailand

FeaturedMorning in Thailand

This morning I woke up in a resort just outside of Chaing Mai, Thailand. The last couple of days have been a blur as we traveled from Texas to San Francisco to Hong Kong to Bangkok to here.  Oddly, I am awake and alert at seven in the morning after a good night’s sleep.  Oh, how wonderfully our bodies were made to adapt, to flow in and out of time and space, as if they were made for a different world altogether.

Horizon, Chaing Mai

Horizon, Chaing MaiOn the balcony outside my room I step onto terra cotta tile, protected by teakwood railings, surrounded by lush green of every shade and texture. Palms from Jurassic Park with fruits and flowers I don’t recognize.  Beaded streams of red berries I’ve never seen before.  Birds of every shape and size whose chirps are familiar but different. The balmy cool stillness reminds me of those moments right before a tornado, yet here there is no such threat.  It is a tranquil place. 

And yet the air conditioner beside me hums.

 

I take another sip of my cup of Nescafe and I am reminded that I’m still in a primitive place.

Just across the balcony in front of me an immense rice field stretches nearly to the horizon, surrounded by more palms and vines and jungle that remind me of the pictures from Vietnam on the evening news in the 1960s.

Back then who would’ve guessed it would be so easy for someone like me to travel halfway around the world and get to experience this?   

And yet here I am.

At the Asian Mission Forum, a gathering of missionaries and leaders from churches all over Asia to share my story of what it’s been like growing up in church and also experiencing same-sex attraction.

It’ a common story for many who have been called to work in missions – to “go into all the world” and share the good news of Jesus with people who don’t yet know him.  What a burden it has been – and still is – for so many who have never been able to fully share their own stories, completely, with other brothers and sisters in Christ.

For fear of exclusion.

For fear of being sent home.

For fear of losing support from congregations back home.

What a heavy burden to carry all by yourself, so far away from home, so isolated.

We’re learning a better way to carry each other’s burdens.  Just opening that conversation here in the stillness, among the lush palms.  Among the graciousness of this culture.

Maybe some of that will spill over.

Maybe I’ll discover some other coffee besides Nescafe while I’m here. 

Planting Seeds of Peace

FeaturedPlanting Seeds of Peace

Seems like we hear too much in the news about how some group of people professing to be Christian has said something hateful about people who are gay.

Most recently the folks at Westboro Baptist Church threatened to protest the funeral of one of the school children killed in the tornado in Moore, OK. And why?  Because they say the storm was God’s wrath against a city where an Oklahoma Thunder NBA player publicly supported another NBA player who recently announced that he was gay. Word got out and the group of bikers who have become well known for blocking Westboro’s disruptive tactics stood outside the church building before and during the funeral to protect the family’s privacy.  Westboro didn’t show.

Lots of friends of mine are Baptists and I don’t know a one of them who would agree with Westboro.

These actions are always the work of a miniscule group of people – extremists who live on the fringe of normality – as evidenced most recently by the cultish leader’s granddaughter’s public renunciation of the group, exposing some of their misguided teachings.

Teachings that are far from anything I know about the true spirit of Christianity.

But Tweets like this one in response, while understandable, also go against the true message of Christianity….    

 

#OKC & #Moore: #Westboro Baptist will be in Moore on Friday. Refuse any service to them. http://notinmoore.rez.li/  #okwx pic.twitter.com/lp1hl1qNGd

 

Because the Jesus I know didn’t exclude anyone.  He invites us all to the table.  No matter what.

When this is the picture of Christianity many are left with, with no countervailing reality, it will take overt demonstrations of love to counteract such messages of hate.

It’s funny, though, that you won’t hear anything on the news about another group of Christians gathering this weekend.  Lots of brands of Christianity coming together for the singular purpose of better understanding same-sex attraction and learning a more Christ-like response.  Sponsored by CenterPeace, more than 200 people will gather for a two day conference called Peacemakers, with the intent of learning to be just that.

Peacemakers in the ongoing journey of sincerely striving to reconcile Christian faith and homosexuality.

And thanks to the Northside Church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas, for hosting this event, we’ll leave on Sunday better equipped to bring peace – to create safe places to talk about same-sex attraction in our churches and in our families.

 What will happen as a result?  Just imagine….

  • Imagine parents better equipped to respond to the questions of a young adolescent son or daughter who’s struggling with the confusion that naturally occurs with the development of our sexuality, only to be compounded by feelings of same-sex attraction.
  • Imagine families responding to a son or daughter who identifies as gay or lesbian in ways that convey love, that maintain relationship, and keep the conversation ongoing.
  • Imagine church leaders empowered to respond to the needs of families and individuals in their congregations who are impacted by same-sex attraction.
  • Imagine safe places for questions to be asked, for doubts to be expressed, without fear of condemnation, without fear of being ostracized from the Body of Christ.

That’s what we’ll be talking about this weekend at the Peacemakers Conference.

We won’t make the news, and so sadly, many will go on believing that all Christians respond like the ones from Westboro.  But that’s not true.

Because there are lots of Christians who care deeply about learning a better way. 

 If you’d like to join us, there’s still time.  We’ll always make room.

For more information, visit the CenterPeace website or Facebook page, or register for Peacemakers online here.

Peacemaker Front SA 2013

“Walking Away” Guest Post from Brent Bailey

Featured“Walking Away” Guest Post from Brent Bailey

Hope you’ll join us tomorrow for a book signing at Mardel’s in Abilene!  Sally will be reading stories from her new memoir, Loves God, Likes Girls, responding to questions from the audience, and signing copies afterward.  Her parents will be in attendance, so come on out to support this family’s redemption story!

Brent BaileyThe following post is from our friend, Brent Bailey, a Master of Divinity student at Abilene Christian University.  Brent’s post originally appeared on The Marin Foundation’s blog. The Marin Foundation is an organization committed to seeking peaceful dialogue between the LBGT community and churches.  This summer Brent will return to Chicago to intern with this organization and you can follow him at his own blog, Odd Man Out.

“We’re quickly reaching a point of critical mass in our culture in which stories related to sexual minorities are nearly ubiquitous in the media. As more states and nations legalize same-sex marriage, more public figures (even NBA players!) come out, and more prominent pastors make helpful and less-than-helpful statements about homosexuality, we’re gradually acquiring a common language that enables us to communicate and connect with one another about these significant questions. Unfortunately, as the volume of the conversation grows, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to demonstrate the love of Christ in the midst of the public dialogue.

One of the dichotomies I’ve picked up in seminary is two different ways you can read the Bible. The first is to interrogate the Bible. This involves using any of a number of lenses and styles of criticism in order to analyze what Paul actually meant, or whether the gospel of Luke borrowed parts of the gospel of Mark, or how many different ways you can translate “logos,” or what Jesus thinks about women, or whether David and Jonathan were more than friends. (You can pay big dollars at Bible college to learn to do this.) The second is to invite the Bible to interrogate you. This involves an act of faith in God’s ability to speak through an ancient book into your present circumstances. It feels intensely risky and personal and is wholly unpredictable, and it’s often gut-wrenching or breathtaking.

I recently let John 8:2-11 interrogate me. That’s the story of the woman caught in adultery, of course, and it’s a story that’s as scorned among scholars as it is lauded among laypeople. As a gay Christian who’s lodged himself into ongoing talks about homosexuality, it wasn’t hard for me to predict where I’d locate myself in the narrative: Maybe I’d identify with the woman herself, wounded as collateral damage in a culture war that often feels more concerned with arguing about laws than it is about empathizing with humans. Or maybe I’d place myself in Jesus’ shoes, growing frustrated with people who want to narrow down big narratives about faith and identity into simple Yes/No questions, and I’d brazenly refuse to play that game. Unfortunately for me during this particular reading, I wasn’t interrogating the Bible. I was letting it interrogate me, and I was thus rather surprised to find myself standing in line with the Pharisees holding stones.

Because, you see, as I’ve invested more time and energy into actively engaging our culture’s discussion around homosexuality, I’ve found myself more prone to gather stones of criticism and disapproval for those with whom I disagree. I’m finding it easier to exploit other people as case studies, or evidence, or arguments rather than to honor them as children of God, because it sure helps my position if I can support it with case studies, or evidence, or arguments. In my moments of burnout, I’m more likely to resort to asking the Yes/No questions that make it simple for me to classify whether someone’s for or against me.

woman caught in adultery 2

Maybe what’s most shocking about the John 8 story is how little anyone actually says. After Jesus levels the crowd with his shrewd suggestion—that the guiltless ones should be the first to punish the most visibly guilty one—the other Pharisees and I have nothing to say, because even we can see how far we’ve missed the mark. Gradually, they start to walk away, and in one of the story’s most dazzling details, it’s the older folks who leave first. (We might not feel surprised they’re quickest to acknowledge their own faults.) Eventually, I’m the only chump left standing in the row with a rock in my hand, and I’d rather like to slam my Bible shut so I don’t have to feel so anxious waiting all alone in the dusty silence.

Here’s what I’m supposed to do now: I’m supposed to turn and walk away. Jesus isn’t waiting for a biblical argument, a poignant confession, or even a tearful apology from me. I merely need to walk away and wordlessly acknowledge my own wickedness alongside the other Pharisees. But here’s why I don’t: I’ve learned that it’s awful strategy to admit my fault if I’m hoping for any kind of victory in our culture war. Those who demonstrate humility or even awareness of their own flaws lose face and come across as wishy-washy and impotent. Those willing to concede the deficiencies of their position might as well raise a white flag. In the John 8 story, walking away means letting Jesus get the last word in an argument that didn’t go nearly as well as I had planned it to go.

People, the good news is that we can do this differently. It involves listening and gentleness and compassion, and it never, ever results in a woman standing exposed in the courts with her accusers thirsting for blood. We don’t win or lose, because Jesus already broke the game and initiated a kingdom in which the blessed ones are the poor in spirit, the meek, and the peacemakers. We taste the tender goodness inherent in God’s moral imperatives, and that means we neither dismiss them nor hurl them at others as a means of diverting attention away from ourselves.

It begins, I think, when we acknowledge our guilt in the midst of crises that have long ago escalated past grace and mercy, when we lay down our stones and walk away. It continues when we move from acknowledging our general guilt to naming more specific areas of imperfection, verbalizing those flashes of self-awareness to the people in our lives. (An aside for other bloggers: This is a good time in the process for us to ask ourselves the tough questions. Am I too concerned with page views and Likes? Do I aim to write something viral or something true and helpful? Do I present a version of myself that’s radically different from who I actually am?) It reaches its apex when we become the kind of people who invite such vulnerability and candor from others, even from our opponents, because it doesn’t even occur to them that they’d need to pretend around us.

rocksOne need not look far to find stones ripe for the throwing. One need not look much farther to find potential targets for those stones. What’s increasingly rare in our culture—and what the simple, piercing suggestion of Jesus calls us to—is walking away when we find ourselves poised to strike.

Much love.”

Yes, Brent – much love indeed.

Jonathan Storment Reviews “Loves God, Likes Girls”

FeaturedJonathan Storment Reviews “Loves God, Likes Girls”
Jonathan Storment, preaching minister at Highland
Jonathan Storment, preaching minister at Highland

 

Here’s a guest post and book review from Jonathan Storment, pulpit minister of the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas.  Check out Jonathan’s blog, Stormented

 

 

“Vulnerability is the first thing I look for in others and the last thing I want others to see in me.” -Brene Brown

978 0 89112 359 0
I hadn’t planned on staying up until the middle of the night to finish Sally Gary’s new book “Loves God, Likes Girls” I had planned on reading just enough to encourage her and tell her how much I appreciated her. But that was before I started reading.

It’s been estimated that 85% of American young adults see Church and Christians an Homophobic and against Homosexual people. But that is not anywhere near the Christian story.

I’m not even talking about how such a disproportional amount of church conversation is on homosexuality (in comparison to the very small amount of times it is mentioned in Scripture). I’m talking about the fact that Christians are not seen as being opposed to homosexuality, or any kind of sexual immorality…we are largely seen as opposed to gay people.

And to be honest that’s kind of our own fault.

But the Christian story, if it trying to say anything, is saying that gay people…or any kind of person, is not the enemy. The enemy is the spiritual principalities and powers and sin in all the forms that it takes. And when we don’t get that we can really, really hurt people.

That’s why I stayed up all night reading Sally’s book.

The Best Stories Have But’s

It’s incredibly hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Because most of the time it’s so hard to get out of our own. But Sally’s disarming way of telling her own story makes you realize how much all of our stories have in common.

They say the best stories don’t use and as much as the word but, I think that’s right. The Godfather was evil but he did it for family. Steve Jobs changed the world but he was often a jerk. The best and the worst of us, are filled with the best and the worst. And Sally’s story is filled with but’s.

Her dad would go into fits of emotionally abusive rage but he also learned sign language to communicate to the deaf kid at church. Her mother was incredibly nurturing but often overprotective. Sally dated and liked some boys but….

Sally is incredibly honest and truthful about how great and hard life with her parents and church have been for her. She’s honest about her shortcomings and painfully honest about what life was like for a girl growing up sexually confused in a time when those kind of things weren’t spoken about.

But this book isn’t just about homosexuality and church, as the Father of two little girls I was convicted over and over again. She let me see how important being a daddy was for any little girl, and how important it was to be an intentional communicator to your kids.

She’s also honest about all her phobias and the quirky way she saw the world and learned how to cope with it (she’s actually afraid of the water) but as I read her book the same thought kept coming back to me…

For someone who talks about being afraid so much, she sure is brave.

Because Sally, for the past 15 years, has been willing to do what almost nobody else in the world will do. She’s being willing to be vulnerable to the entire world for the sake of the people who are out there like her.

 

Church and Gay People

That’s why she wrote the book, and it’s why she runs the ministry CenterPeace. Because she wants churches to know that there are people in our churches who are struggling with sexual orientation. They are our friends and our family and they’ve worked so hard to keep it secret because we’ve told them how we feel about their struggle…we just didn’t know we were talking about them.

Sally has been invited to speak to churches from all over the spectrum of Churches of Christ (and beyond). She’s spoken at our most conservative and our more progressive schools and churches because we’re waking up to the realization that this matters. And Sally’s gentle but brutally honest story helps you hear her wisdom:

Sexuality is complex and we haven’t fully explored all the possible variable that enter into this equation. Biology sets a foundation, but the impact of what we experience throughout life continues to shape and re-shape us. The dynamic interplay between chemistry, neurology and our perception of life experiences over the course of a lifetime remains to be investigated. Mix in individual temperaments, largely a biological construct, and you quickly realize there are no cut and dried explanations as to how sexuality takes shape in us. All we really know, is that we have much to learn. And at the very least, our lack of understanding should move us to greater compassion.

And that’s why everyone needs to read this book. Because Sally doesn’t try to make anyone feel guilty, she just lets you see through her eyes for a few hours. And what you see will change the way you love the people around you.

I’m proud to say that Sally is a member and leader at the Church that I work at, but I’m even more proud to say that she’s a part of our Restoration Vision. Centerpeace is one of the 3 non-profits that our campaign last year went to support…and after reading her book I’m incredibly grateful that we can play a very small role in what she’s doing in the world.

Sally’s dream is to help churches learn how to be a safe place for people to be honest. And she did that by going first.

So thanks Sally. You love God, and you’ve taught us how much he loves everyone.”

Scarlet Letters: Removing the Curse of Shame

FeaturedScarlet Letters:  Removing the Curse of Shame

washed-and-waiting-by-wesley-hillTwo CenterPeace events and another thousand miles on my car later, and I’m finally back to finishing our review of Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting!  I hope you’ve enjoyed learning from Wesley’s experience and perspective as much as I have. Whatever your views regarding faith and homosexuality, this book enlightens us to the truth that we must approach the subject – and more importantly, anyone who experiences same-sex attraction – with greater compassion.

In the last section of Washed and Waiting, Hill takes on the most important issue of the book.

Shame. 

Perhaps the most important because it is shame that weighs us down.  Cripples us. Prevents us from experiencing the joy God meant for us in this life, even in the presence of great struggle.

shame

Shame is not the “godly sorrow that leads us to repentence.”  Shame is different from guilt that convicts our hearts.  Shame is that gnawing, unable to lift your head self-loathing that leads some to live in fear and hiding.  Some to live in total rebellion and believe it’s freedom.  And shame leads others to an early grave, because the burden was too great to bear alone.

I’ve felt that shame.  It’s the feeling that makes you consider running your car off the side of the road rather than having to tell someone that you’re experiencing feelings you don’t understand.  Feelings that you didn’t ask for.

I remember all too well the looming dread that came over me when I first imagined telling anyone that I was attracted to women.  How my heart would race and my whole body would tremble with fear at the thought of someone finding out.  I wanted to carry that secret to my grave.  When I first began to discover those feelings in myself, I didn’t even know what to say.  I didn’t know how to describe or talk about what I was feeling because I’d never heard anyone say anything kind in regard to homosexuality.  All I knew was that it was a sin.  The vilest sin anyone could commit.  Or at least that’s what I believed, because the only things I’d heard growing up were hateful condemnation or making fun at someone else’s expense.  I can still see the looks on people’s faces if the subject was ever brought up, shaking their heads in complete disgust.

shameful faceWhen all you’ve ever heard about something is how horrible it is, and then you come to realize that ‘horrible thing’ could be said about you, it’s humiliating.

Shameful. 

That’s the kind of shame that Hill’s talking about.  The kind of shame that anyone I’ve ever talked to who experiences same-sex attraction has felt.  Whether we view same-sex attraction as a struggle, as Hill does, or we’ve embraced a gay identity, at some point in all of our lives, we know shame.  And when left unaddressed, it can drive us to extremes – some to despair and suicide, others to fight against anything that remotely resembles what they believe to be the source of that pain, Christianity.

Sadly, as Hill addresses in this last section of the book, that’s not at all what God intended his sons and daughters to experience as followers of Jesus.  As Hill explains, a different perspective on how God sees us is needed to lift this unnecessary burden of shame felt by so many who experience same-sex attraction.

That’s what it took to lift the burden of shame I carried.

I also remember the day I realized that God’s love for me had never changed – no matter what circumstance I was in – no matter what my mindset or my behavior – that he had loved me the same all the time.  In the midst of darkest moments of anger and rage, selfishness and pride, and in the midst of sexual sin, he loved me the same as he did when I was in the midst of worship, singing praises to him, visibly moved by the stories of his life, or in a moment of kindness to a stranger.  He loved me no differently.  No more.  No less. 

His love is constant, unchanging, no matter how I act. 

Not like my love for people. Love that changes depending on whether the person behaves as I want them to.

When I finally got that about God’s love for me – when I realized that he sees me differently than I see myself – that he sees me only through the filter of the Cross – but more than that, God sees me simply as the daughter whom he created and delights in me just as I am – well, that’s when things began to change.  That’s when He truly became ‘the lifter of my head.’ 

That’s the truth that Washed and Waiting leaves us with. 

Henri Nouwen, 1932-1996
Henri Nouwen,      1932-1996

 

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889
Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889

Through the lives of Henri Nouwen, a 20th century Catholic priest, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th century British poet, Hill illustrates the struggle to live a celibate life as a gay Christian.  The overwhelming feeling of shame attached to homosexuality in the time periods in which they lived made their journeys even more difficult.  And yet still today, in many cultures, for many of us who have grown up in church, the sense of shame surrounding homosexuality remains paramount.

Hill understands that shame, but encourages us to go beyond old ways of thinking.

“More and more, I have the sense that what many of us need is a new conception of our perseverance in faith.  We need to reimagine ourselves and our struggles.  The temptation for me is to look at my bent and broken sexuality and conclude that, with it, I will never be able to please God, to walk in a manner worthy of his calling, to hear his praise.  But what if I had a conception of God-glorifying faith, holiness, and righteousness that included within it a profound element of struggle and stumbling?  What if I were to view my homosexual orientation, temptations, and occasional failures not as damning disqualifications for living a Christian life but rather as a part and parcel of what it means to live by faith in a world that is fallen and scarred by sin and death?”

Washed and Waiting, p. 144-145.

 I talk to so many men and women who have lived their whole lives in shame because they experience same-sex attraction.  Because some people have believed that it was impossible for a good Christian to ever have those feelings.  And so we’ve talked about homosexuality as though it was the worst possible thing that could ever happen.

Continuing to talk about homosexuality in ways that perpetuate feelings of shame isn’t helpful.

Because the truth is that homosexuality ‘happens’ in good Christian homes, to people who sincerely love the Lord, who truly desire to live lives that are pleasing to God.

shame womanWe need brothers and sisters surrounding us, reminding us that our struggles have the potential to draw us into deeper relationship with God and greater understanding of ourselves. 

And as Wesley’s closing words encourage us, 

            “. . .  to trust in the mystery of God’s providence and his gift of redemption through Christ.  With patience and openness to the good that may come even from evil, we can learn to ‘hear’ the voice of our sexuality, to listen to its call.  We can learn ‘to appreciate the value of our story and the stories of others, because God is the ‘potter’ or ‘storyteller.’”

Washed and Waiting, p. 150

 

 

 

All the Lonely People

FeaturedAll the Lonely People

washed-and-waiting-by-wesley-hillWesley Hill’s depiction of loneliness in the second part of Washed and Waiting is, to me, the most powerful part of the book. And his call to the church to find better ways to respond to our loneliness excites me.

Wesley identifies as a gay Christian, but believes his faith calls him to a life of celibacy. Understanding that same-sex attraction encompasses so much more than a sexual act, he explains that within every human being is a God-breathed desire for connection – emotional, spiritual, physical.  With someone who shares a mutual desire for us. With someone who ‘gets’ us and wants to be with us in the same way that we want to be with them.

When that need goes unfulfilled, the loneliness can seem unbearable, as Wesley describes:

            “The love of God is better than any human love.  Yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t change the fact that I feel – in the deepest parts of who I am – that I am wired for human love. I want to be married.  And the longing isn’t mainly for sex . . . it is mainly for day-to-day, small kind of intimacy where you wake up next to a person you’ve pledged your life to, and then you brush your teeth together, you read a book in the same room without necessarily talking to each other, you share each other’s small joys and heartaches.  Do you know what I mean? One of my married friends told me she delights to wake up in the night and feel her husband’s foot just a few inches from hers in their bed.  It is the loss of that small kind of intimacy in my life that feels devastating.  And, of course, this ‘small intimacy’ is precious because it represents the ‘bigger intimacy’ of the covenantal union of two lives.  It is hard for me to think of living without this.  Yes, I have dear friends – several who are so precious to me I truly do believe I would give my life for them.  One of my closest is another single guy about my age.  But I know that things will change.  He will move away or get married, and the kind of relationship we have will change.  We will still be friends, hopefully, but it will not be like a marriage”

(pp. 105-6).

            This is what the compassion of Christ calls us to respond to – the aching loneliness.  The wound of loneliness that Henri Nouwen likens to the Grand Canyon, “a deep incision on the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding” (p. 92).  Wesley presents Nouwen’s story as a parallel.  Nouwen experienced a lifelong struggle with loneliness, as one who also believed he was called to a life of celibacy.  Yet Nouwen’s life differed from Hill’s, though, because his homosexual attractions were never publicly known during his lifetime.

Perhaps Hill’s story has even more potency because he’s made himself known.  Potency for him, personally, in that he doesn’t have to hide anything that he views as a struggle in his life.  And even though there’s risk in sharing so openly, there’s also much more potential for good – to feel less alone, to feel supported by a community of fellow believers who know all your stuff and love you all the more.

And the more we share our stories, the more we as the church wake up to the fact that these stories are right in our midst and we can no longer stand by and not respond to the unmet needs for connection and intimacy within our spiritual community.

That’s what I think is most enlightening in this section of the book – the concept “that the New Testament views the church – rather than marriage – as the primary place where human love is best expressed and experienced” (p.111). 

What do you think of that?  Of church being the place where we fill our deepest sense of belonging? Of community being the primary place where our needs for emotional connection and intimacy are met?

What would that look like?

Maybe it looks like Shane Claiborne’s Simple Way faith community, which he describes as a web of relationships among believers who love God, love people and are trying to follow Jesus.

Or like Larry James’ Central Dallas Ministries, buying apartment complexes in urban areas where people can get back on their feet.

Or maybe we form intentional communities where people who are otherwise all by themselves live together for accountability and share meals and the responsibility of family. To just have someone greet you at the door when you come home.

So you don’t feel quite so alone.

“The remedy for loneliness – if there is such a thing this side of God’s future – is to learn,” Wesley says, “over and over again, to do this:  to feel God’s keeping presence embodied in the human members of the community of faith the church” (p. 113).

I’m not quite sure yet what the remedy is for providing community for those of us who experience same-sex attraction.  But I’m looking for people who will dream with me about how we can relieve the aching pain of loneliness.

What would such a faith community look like for you?

“A Story-Shaped Life”

Featured“A Story-Shaped Life”

Thoughts from Part One of Wesley Hill’s Washed & Waiting:  Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality

Like all of us who have wrestled with how to resolve questions about homosexuality and Christian faith, Wesley Hill’s story is one of struggle and confusion growing up feeling different in regard to his sexuality.  Above all, though, Hill’s message is a call for compassionate understanding and a need for community within the church for men and women who experience same-sex attraction.

So much of Wesley’s story resonates with me – realizing there was something different very early on, growing up in a Christian home, not feeling safe to share what he was feeling with anyone – even those closest to him.  

Believing he had to resolve those unanswered questions about his developing sexuality all by himself. 

Hill’s journey led him to believe that as a gay Christian, scripture calls him to a life of celibacy.  Whether you agree with Hill’s ultimate perspective or not, I hope you won’t let that diminish the value of this book, for Hill’s message has great worth to us all.  It’s my prayer that in looking at different views we will do so with respect for each other’s experience and beliefs, no matter how different they may be from our own.  For our beliefs often arise out of places that only someone who has walked the same exact path could fully appreciate.

Hill’s decision to live a celibate life revolves around four core beliefs.  First, our lives are grounded in the context of a larger story, namely “…what God has done in Jesus Christ – and the whole perspective on life and the world that flows from that story, as expressed definitively in Scripture” (61).  Second, all Christians face challenges of one kind or another and feel frustration as we experience God’s transformative work in us.  Third, we don’t live unto ourselves, but rather, our bodies belong to God and to the larger Christian community.  Finally Hill sees his abstinence as participation in Christ’s suffering, yet he doesn’t elevate his unfulfilled sexual desire over the struggles of others. 

Whether you agree with Hill’s decision or not, the greater message that rings true for all of us here is the truth that we were created to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  A bigger story that began when God breathed this universe into existence and extends far beyond us.  A bigger story that also involves the present.

Reminding us that we weren’t meant to live isolated lives. 

That we live best in community. 

That everything we do or say or think or feel has an impact on those around us. 

That each one of us has a “cross to bear.” 

That there’s respect for each other’s “crosses” whether we understand them or not.  Whether you see it as a “cross” or not.  Even when you think the person’s “cross” is worse than yours.  Even if you think it’s just a result of their ignorance.  Or a result of rebellion.

And that we have a responsibility to help each other bear that burden, no matter what.

The ability to be honest and vulnerable within community is powerful.  Hill reminds us of the importance of safe places to share our hearts, to have “Christian friends – including friends [our] age, peers – who would be there for [us], who would help [us] figure out how to live with a tension and confusion that [sometimes] seem[s] overwhelming” (47).

No matter what our struggles are, even – and sometimes especially – in the church, we long “to feel the freedom of openness and the consolations of community” (45).

It’s made all the difference in the world to have that kind of community among believers in my life.

So what does community look like for you?

How can we provide a better sense of community for each other, especially in churches?

 

Next week we’ll explore the second part of Washed and Waiting, looking at the life of Henri Nouwen and the pain of loneliness.  Would love to hear your thoughts!

Featured

Visiting Graceland

washed-and-waiting-by-wesley-hillHave you finished reading Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting?  Haven’t started yet?  Uh, don’t even have the book?!  Well, there’s still time – our first post reviewing the book will be up next Monday.  And if you don’t have time to read, Until then, check out Scot McKnight’s blog post about the book

Last week I had the privilege of spending time with several different groups in Memphis, Tennessee.  

Church leaders wanting to know how their churches can become safe places for men and women who experience same-sex attraction.  For families impacted by the revelation that a son or daughter is gay.  For individuals who self-identify as gay or lesbian and are looking for deeper relationship with God.

Teachers and administrators at a private school, wanting to learn better ways to respond to the needs of students who experience same-sex attraction.  And to affirm the worth of femininity and masculintiy in children, without requiring conformity to gender stereotypes.

I especially enjoyed having dinner with college students at the University of Memphis Christian Student Center.  We had the rest of the evening for discussion, allowing questions that we haven’t talked about in a lot of Christian contexts in the past. Listen to the whole conversation at SOMA.

That’s refreshing.

It does my heart good to see my brothers and sisters in Christ wanting to learn.  So open to responding with the love of Jesus.  Realizing that many times our responses haven’t been loving – even when they were prompted with the best of intentions. 

Thank you, Memphis family.

No wonder Elvis called his home there ‘Graceland.’

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“That’s So Gay”

Featured“That’s So Gay”

Finding someone who’s safe to open up with usually begins long before you actually need to talk. 

I’ve made decisions about who to share the most intimate details of my life with based on how people have responded to me in the past.  But I also decide who’s safe based on how I see them respond to others.

Sometimes I know they’re safe because of the things they say. 

Sometimes I know they’re safe because of the things they don’t say.

Maybe it’s the way they communicate with me nonverbally – a facial expression that’s warm and inviting, that matches the tone of the conversation, that leads me to believe they’re truly invested in what I’m saying.

Sometimes I know whether or not they’re safe by the way they respond to others.  Maybe it’s a comment I hear them make in a class, in a small group setting, or standing around talking casually with a group of friends. 

Sometimes I know if they’re a safe place for me based on what they find humorous.  What they find funny in a television show or movie.  Or a joke told among friends.

Sometimes I know they’re safe because they don’t laugh.  Especially if everyone else does.

But if I want to know if someone’s really a safe place for me to open up and make myself vulnerable, I listen for what they’ll tolerate from other people.

Because it’s not enough to just not say hurtful things yourselves. 

I don’t know you’re really safe until I see that you’re willing to stand up and tell other people – your other friends – that what they’re saying is hurtful.

That it limits the possibility that I’ll ever feel safe with you.  

That it closes the door for future conversation.

I wonder how many doors I’ve closed by simply being silent when I should’ve said something.

Or not said something.

The Power of Story

FeaturedThe Power of Story

For the past several months, posts on the CenterPeace blog have been sparse.  There’s a reason for that….

BookPromoCard BackBesides the fact that sometimes I just don’t do the things I have good intentions about doing, I’ve been working on a book.  It’s been an exciting process – a scary process! – but one that I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to explore.  I’m anxious to be able to share the completion of the project with you over the next several months as we go to press in March.

And next summer it will be ready to read!

Until then, let’s look at some work that’s already out there….

washed-and-waiting-by-wesley-hillMore and more people are sharing their stories in the form of memoir these days.  Two really good reads I’ve enjoyed recently are Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting, and Justin Lee’s Torn.  While these books aren’t necessarily memoir, the authors share quite a bit of their own personal journeys in the midst of presenting their perspectives on homosexuality in general.  In doing so, they put a face on homosexuality.  So we can see that this isn’t about an issue, but real people. torn

Real people we know and love. 

In our neighborhoods. 

In our schools. 

In our families. 

In our churches.

Our stories are powerful.

Because when I know your story, and I realize that your story is unique, yes, but also similar to mine, well, I look at you differently.  Suddenly I begin to care about what you think, what you feel, what you need.

That’s the power of story.

I think that’s why Jesus used stories – stories about the simplest things.  Things that people in his world could relate to.  Things like mustard seeds and fig trees, farmers planting fields and shepherds tending sheep.  Things that you and I still relate to, like waiting patiently for sons to come home.

The book I’m working on is a collection of stories about the simplest things, too.  Simple moments from my life that, all combined, had a huge impact on who I am today.

It’s not a book about how to fix yourself if you’re attracted to your own gender.  I don’t know anything about that.

It’s not a book that will tell you what to think or “do” about homosexuality.

It’s simply a collection of stories about my experience as a woman who grew up loving God, and unexpectedly found herself physically and emotionally attracted to women. 

At the end I’ll tell you some of what I think, for what it’s worth.  My perspective might be very different from what you assume it will be.  My perspective might also be very different from yours. 

But that shouldn’t end the discussion.

I’m praying it will start some really sweet conversations.

Coming in June 2013 from Leafwood Press!
Coming in June 2013 from Leafwood Press!

 

(In the meantime, we’ll be reviewing the books I mentioned earlier in this post, so if you’d like to read with us, click on the icons above to order a copy off of Amazon, or  purchase a copy from your favorite bookseller.   To give everyone time to get the books and begin reading, we’ll wait a few weeks to start with Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting:  Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.  Looking forward to exploring these books together!)

The Sound of Belonging

FeaturedThe Sound of Belonging

Last week I heard one of the sweetest sounds I’ve heard in a long time.

During their daily chapel assembly at a small Christian university in Tennessee, I shared my story with the student body, faculty and administrators on that campus.  In many ways, it’s a university similar to the one I attended back in the early eighties.  Every day the whole campus stops what they’re doing and they gather in an auditorium for a thirty minute time of worship.  For as much as we complained about having to attend that service when I was in school, we also came to cherish it as a time of being together.  

Of reconnecting with one another. With God.  

Of reminding us of who we were as a people and what we were really about. 

I shared my experience of being attracted to my own gender with this group of students.  I shared what it was like growing up in confusion, not knowing what to do with all those feelings, and not having anywhere that I felt was safe to share those feelings. 

I explained how miserable that was. 

I told them how hurtful it was to hear things people often said about someone being gay. 

I told them that it was the shame those comments created that kept me from telling anyone for so long.  Shame and my own pride. 

I wondered what it would have been like to share that secret with someone when I was their age.  Would my life have been different?  Maybe so. 

A slide with my contact information was on the screen behind me, in case someone wanted to talk to me.

“When I was sitting where you are,” I said to them, “I would’ve wanted so badly to talk to this woman – I would’ve wanted to make contact with this ministry – but I wouldn’t have dared to let anyone see me take out a pen and piece of paper to write down the number.  Because I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to think that I was going through the same thing.  So I would’ve prayed to memorize the number until I could write it down in private.” 

Then I asked the students in the assembly to do something. 

“What if there’s just one person in this audience who wants to write it down, but he, too, doesn’t want anyone to see him do that?  What if we all took out something to write down the contact info with, so that no one has to feel like she’s alone?” 

At first it was silent, but then slowly I began to hear the rustling of backpacks being unzipped and paper coming out and pens clipping and people looking at the screen as they plugged the number into their phones.

Everyone was writing the information down.  Even the faculty. 

The sound touched me so deeply I had to stop for a moment.  Because, you see, they were doing that for me, too.  

For the girl in me who would’ve given anything to hear someone talk about same-sex attraction when she was in college and had no idea where to turn.  

For the girl in me who would’ve been so relieved to find friends who not only didn’t turn away, but who would take out a pen and write the number down for her. 

The students in that auditorium were doing that for all of us who have grown up in environments where we didn’t feel safe to say anything about feeling attracted to our own gender. 

What a blessing to have classmates who say, at the very least, I’ll take out a pen and write this number down, so you don’t have to feel embarrassed. 

So you don’t have to feel all alone. 

The sweetest sound of kinship, of connection, of belonging I’ve heard in a long time.

(See more pictures and information about our campus visit at CenterPeace.)

Withered Hands….and Souls

FeaturedWithered Hands….and Souls

Ever have one of those moments where you read something you’ve read hundreds of times before, and all of a sudden you see something different?

That’s how I felt this morning reading a story about Jesus from the gospel of Mark.

I’ve heard that story lots of times – first with flannel graph characters or figurines in a sandbox in Sunday school.

Now I haven’t spent time doing an exegesis on the passage.  I haven’t consulted commentaries on those verses of scripture.  And I’m certainly no biblical scholar.

But something came to me as I was reading this out of a new translation called The Voice:

 On the Sabbath, Jesus had come into a synagogue where He saw a man with a withered hand.  The Pharisees held their breath: would Jesus cure this man on the Sabbath, right there in front of everyone?  If so, they could charge Him with breaking the Sabbath law.  Jesus knew their hearts.  He called to the man with the withered hand.
Jesus:  Come to Me.
Then He turned to the Pharisees with a question.
Jesus:  Do our laws tell us to do good or evil on the Sabbath? To save life, or to snuff it out?
They remained silent.
Jesus was furious as He looked out over the crowd, and He was grieved by their hard hearts.
(How can anyone care so much about the words of the law
and so little about the spirit of it?) 
Jesus: (to the man with the withered hand):  So be it.  Stretch out your hand.
The man stretched forth his hand; and as he did, it was completely healed.  The Pharisees went directly from the synagogue to consult with the supporters of Herod, the Romans’ puppet ruler, about how they could get rid of this dangerous dreamer.”
 Mark 3:1 – 6, The Voice

 

The passage centers around the Pharisees’ intent to trap Jesus, but this morning I heard an even deeper message for me.  Right before this story, Jesus explains that the divine purpose of the Sabbath was for our good – to meet the needs of human beings, not the other way around.  But the Pharisees were caught up in following a rule without understanding its deeper purpose.  Following their perspective meant the man’s hand would’ve remained unusable.   The man’s condition wasn’t life-threatening, but had it been, that would’ve been okay to heal on the Sabbath. 

The fact that it wasn’t, and Jesus healed the man’s hand anyway, is an even greater display of compassion.  

Notice that Jesus isn’t saying that observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy isn’t important.  He observed it himself and taught his followers to do the same.  But here, meeting the need of a man who is hurting is the greater good. 

The way of Christ was radical then and it still is today. 

Jesus comes along and shows us the importance of caring for a person, a person who was in deep need.  He shows us that sometimes you forego the way you’ve always done things, to care for an individual. 

Jesus shows us that sometimes you break the Sabbath to heal withered hands. 

Jesus shows us that making a real difference in someone’s life requires personal involvement.  

Sometimes it requires touch.  

It always requires inclusion.  

Warmth.  

Relationship. 

Grace.  

Connection. 

Withered souls are all around us.  Souls withered by the rejection of family, of church, of well-intentioned friends who simply don’t understand.  Souls so withered that they’ve lost any belief in God.  Especially a God who loves each of us without end. 

Until belief is restored – until relationship is mended – until the needs for community and connection are met, we as followers of Christ will have no voice with men and women who identify as gay. 

First, care for the hearts that are withered, sometimes because of us. 

Often I’ve been so concerned about following rules that I was always taught, that I’ve allowed the deep needs of people right in front of me to go unmet.  I’ve thought people had to have all their stuff together (as though I have all my stuff together?!) before I could have anything to do with them. 

Before we could have any relationship at all. 

I was so wrong about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Presence vs. YouTube

FeaturedThe Power of Presence vs. YouTube

I don’t know Pastor Charles Worley from the Providence Road Baptist Church in North Carolina.

And I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to even know who he is, except that a sermon he preached recently against same-sex marriage was posted on YouTube.  Pastor Worley said some violently hateful things – things that aren’t worth repeating. 

The remarks were so hateful that this past Sunday 1,000 people showed up to peacefully protest outside his church. 

Last week lots of people sent the sermon link to me personally.  Even more posted it on Facebook.  On Twitter.  Over and over and over. 

Part of me knows that this must happen in order for followers of Christ to be made aware of what’s being said so hatefully in the name of Christianity.  We need to know in order to understand why there’s such a backlash against Christianity sometimes, particularly in regard to homosexuality. 

We need to know so we can correct it. 

Another part of me cringes when I see things like this being promoted because of the negative picture it paints of all Christians.  Of all things done in the name of Christ. 

But I’ve always agreed with Thomas Jefferson on this one – the way we contend with speech we don’t agree with is not by stifling it.  It’s by speaking out more. 

All kinds of feelings rise to the surface when I hear things such as Pastor Worley said.  Anger.  Frustration.  Rage.  Hatred.  Sadness.  Embarrassment.  Humiliation.  

Just when I think perhaps we’ve gotten past saying things that are so demeaning and hurtful, there they come again. 

Just when I think we’ve come to understand the damage that has been done in the name of Christ by remarks like these, there they come again. 

Here’s the thing – I know lots of folks who are in ministry.  I consider quite a few pulpit ministers my friends – friends I love dearly.  Friends who have helped shape my life and my picture of God – a loving God who cares deeply for me.  

I’ve listened to lots of sermons from lots of preachers.  In churches all over the country.  

But I’ve never heard anything even remotely similar to this come out of their mouths. 

Why is it that this video is what we hear to represent Christianity? 

When there are plenty of voices who would never dream of saying something like this. 

Why aren’t clips from those sermons posted?  

Messages of Love and “radical inclusion.” 

When this is what’s publicized, and there’s no alternative, why wouldn’t people believe this is the view of all Christians? 

Is it any wonder that a younger generation chose “antihomosexual” as its number one descriptor of Christians?[i]            

To restore a more accurate picture of Jesus, we’ll have to hear something from pulpits that’s radically different.  And we’ll have to hear it over and over to counteract that level of hostility.

Or better yet,

what if each one of us who professed to be a follower of Jesus Christ

 became so consistently, intimately

involved in the lives of

people we work with,

people who live in our neighborhoods,

people in our families,

people who share communion with us on Sundays whom we still don’t know,

that our lives of compassion and service –

of being the very essence of Jesus

became the prevailing view of Christianity.[ii]

 

Not just one day a week, but seven.

That, my friends, might be even more powerful than YouTube.


[i]  From Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity…and why it matters.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 2007, 92 – 93.  Unchristian presented the results of a survey conducted by the Barna Group which questioned ‘outsiders’ (those who consider themselves atheists or unchurched; not born-again Christians) ages 16 – 29 about their perceptions of Christianity.

     “Out of twenty attributes that we assessed, both positive and negative, as they related to             Christianity, the perception of being antihomosexual was at the top of the list.  More than  nine out of ten . . . outsiders (91 percent) said ‘antihomosexual’ accurately decribes             present-day Christianity.  And two-thirds of outsiders have very strong opinions about             Christians in this regard, easily generating the largest group of vocal critics.  When you             introduce yourself as a Christian to a friend, neighbor, or business associate who is an             outsider, you might as well have it tattooed on your arm:  antihomosexual, gay-hater,             homophobic.  I doubt you think of yourself in these terms, but that’s what outsiders think             of you.”


[ii] Mike Foster, founder of XXX Church, expresses this same way of life in an essay entitled “Planting Trees,” reprinted in Unchristian, 111-113:  

            “Our actions, responses, and relationships must consistently be filled with compassion, honor, and love. We must stop identifying people as “sexual beings”and instead identify them as “human beings.” The change comes by sitting with our gay friends and family members at their dinner tables and in their living rooms. We go to their events and serve. We seek to do life together and find understanding. It is time for us to humbly serve and honor those we have been so effective at hurting in the past.

                 “But we must keep this one thing in mind: it is critically important that we do            this not because we feel compelled to “set the record straight” on Christianity, but because it is the way of Christianity.”

Starting Conversations. And Stopping Them.

FeaturedStarting Conversations.  And Stopping Them.

I’ve ‘listened’ to a lot of the conversations on Facebook, the blogs, the editorials written in response to the North Carolina election last week.  And President Obama’s endorsement of marriage rights for same-sex couples. 

I have friends on both ends of the spectrum. 

Both sides say hurtful things, sincerely believing they’re standing up for what’s right, not realizing how hurtful it is. 

As a woman who experiences same-sex attraction and wrestles with reconciling faith in God and what he wants for my life in the midst of struggling with those feelings, I can tell you that this is not a black and white issue.  As someone who talks with men and women and their families from all over the world who are wrestling with the same questions, I can assure you there are no easy answers. 

Perhaps we need to focus on what we really want to accomplish by those conversations. 

To convey the love of Christ. 

To create opportunities for deeper dialogue, deeper insight, deeper understanding. 

Which does that more – stating our beliefs about an issue or really getting involved in the lives of men and women who are that issue?  Telling you what I think or listening to the journey you’ve been on to bring you to this place in your life? 

When I wrestle with these questions, what’s been most helpful to me is to have a place where I’m safe to say what I’m thinking without judgment, without reaction that causes me to shut down – to stop expressing my own feelings because I see that it’s upsetting to the other person.  In order for me to really be able to sort through my own feelings, I need someone who will simply listen and love me right where I am, no matter what.  

That has helped me more than anything. 

My fear is that these comments – in the absence of deep, ongoing, meaningful relationships – are divisive and serve no other purpose but to shut down opportunities for further conversation.  And for building those life-altering relationships. 

Relationships that remind me of who I am. 

What if, instead of spending all this time and energy fighting against something, we invested in discovering as much as we can about what’s underneath?  What if we spent all our vast resources trying to learn as much as we can from the men and women who experience same-sex attraction – of listening to the struggle, the pain, the confusion, the torment within those of us who have wrestled with these feelings for a lifetime? 

My heart goes out to my brothers and sisters whose stories remain unheard.  Some of these men and women have embraced a gay identity, some have not.  Many are still sitting in the pews of churches believing homosexuality is contrary to God’s will for their lives, but finding themselves in an utterly miserable place of being deeply attracted to someone of the same sex, and at the same time, deeply committed to God.  

Isolated. 

Alone. 

Terrified of someone finding out. 

Precious souls who are faithful Christ-followers, truly desirous of living the lives of holiness they believe God has called them to, and yet, because of the shame fueled by comments like those made over the last week, they are unable to even claim same-sex attraction as a struggle.  Within their families.  Among their closest friends.  With their ministers.  

Because they’ve heard the things we’ve said in love. 

Women and men in their 60s and 70s who are still afraid to speak up.  

College students at our Christian universities.  

We’re in your pews.  In your classes.  In your social clubs.  Majoring in ministry.

Because we love the Lord.  And we love our church families. 

But we’re terrified to tell you.

Because we’ve read the comments you write on Facebook. 

We listen to the things you say from the pulpit.  In the van on mission trips.  At the supper table.

And we’re paying close attention to how you react to the gay characters on television. 

It’s time to learn how to talk about homosexuality.  It’s time to explore what’s underneath, instead of only paying attention to what’s most obvious.  Well-intentioned, precious hearts want to make this right by making it okay – while other well-intentioned, equally precious hearts want to demonize it as the sin above sins.  The latter is most obvious in its harm, but what if the former is lacking as well? 

What if this really is a far more complex question than we’ve ever imagined – or been willing to adequately investigate? 

What if, instead of fighting a political battle that just causes more hurt feelings and isolation, we focused all of our attention and energy to discovering the real underlying issues?  What if, instead of taking a defensive posture against an ideology with which we disagreed, we sought sincerely to better understand where people are coming from? 

What if we didn’t just talk about the need to do something, but really started doing it? 

Meanwhile, kids are still growing up confused about who they really are. 

And we create graphics about marriage being between a man and a woman.

Hearing Voices

FeaturedHearing Voices

March 26, 2003.  A day I won’t ever forget.  The day my deepest darkest secrets came to light in a very public way.  The day I shared that my family wasn’t perfect.  And that I experience same-sex attraction. 

In January of that year I had been asked to speak in chapel at Abilene Christian University, chapel being a daily time of praise and worship for students and faculty in  Moody Coliseum.  Attendance is required for students, so the place was packed with around 5,000 people.  

I knew that it was time.  Time to share my own experience and open a conversation that was long overdue.  

But I was scared to death.  Scared of how people would react – after all, I was still fairly new to the ACU faculty.  How would my colleagues respond, but more importantly, how would my students respond to me?  Would they drop my class?  Would people treat me differently?  

My fears ranged from rational to totally irrational, sometimes imagining the most negative responses.  Physical violence.  Verbal violence. 

Or worse, being left alone.    

Friends supported me.  They left their jobs that morning and came to be with me.  A friend came from out of state to sit on the rostrum with me and lead the opening prayer.  My dearest friend and his wife drove three hours to sit on the front row beside my parents. 

And at 11 a.m. nine years ago today, I stood on a stage in front of all those people and shared that I experience same-sex attraction.  That while I consider my sexuality a part of who I am, it’s not all that I am. That I view same-sex attraction as a struggle, something that God didn’t intend for my life. 

Since I said that, I’ve talked to a lot of people who experience same-sex attraction – some who identify as gay or lesbian and have reconciled Christianity and homosexuality, some who view it as one of the struggles in their lives, and some who have lost their faith in a loving God.  Sadly, most of the people I’ve encountered have felt isolated and alone in wrestling with these questions – without anywhere safe to be open and honest about what they were experiencing.  

I’m so very thankful for the opportunity to share my story, but I know that it doesn’t resonate with everyone.  Some don’t agree with my perspective.  But whatever your perspective, it’s important to feel like you’ve been heard. 

To be given a voice.

Read the zine here.

About a month ago some current and former students from Abilene Christian University published an online magazine called “Voiceless,” presenting four different perspectives on the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality.  The zine gave a voice to some who felt they hadn’t had a safe place. 

Other stories are out there waiting to be given a voice.

So it’s important that we listen to each other, whether our views are similar, or polar opposites.  It’s that whole idea of ‘seeking first to understand, rather than to be understood.’

And by the way, nobody dropped my class.

 

Stories That Didn’t Get Told

FeaturedStories That Didn’t Get Told

One of my favorite storytellers was a friend of my parents named Jake. 

From the outside Jake was a scrawny little guy, not very tall, but wiry with a wrinkled face from smoking a lot of cigarettes in his youth and a ready smile that spread from ear to ear.

When he was in high school he’d worked part-time at a gas station and his best story came from that experience.  One afternoon he was waiting on a customer, back in the days when gas stations still provided full service.  He checked their oil.  Washed their windshield.  And as he slipped the nozzle into the gas tank to fill it up, he got a glimpse of a machine gun laying on the backseat.  He looked at the driver.  He looked at the woman in the passenger seat and as she turned to face him, he realized he was waiting on Bonnie and Clyde, notorious criminals of the early 1930s. 

Jake entertained me with those stories when he came to sit with my mother and me at the hospital during my dad’s surgery.  We had barely settled into my dad’s room early that morning when I heard footsteps outside the door.  I looked up to see Jake coming down the hall to find us.  

He didn’t want my mother and me to sit there all alone.

 Jake knew what it was like to be alone when someone you love is sick. 

He and his wife had cared for their son, Mark, in the last few months before his death.  Mark got sick in the early 1990s, but they never talked about his illness.  

Especially with anyone at their church. 

When Mark came home so that his mom and dad could care for him in those final days, Jake and his wife asked for the prayers of their church.  But they never felt safe to share all that they were going through with their son. 

Save for a few, they always held back.

Because in 1994, you didn’t dare mention that someone you loved was dying of AIDS. 

But that was then. 

Awhile back I spoke to a group of people from different churches and a man came up to talk to me afterward.  He smiled as he began telling me about a relative who had identified as gay, a cousin whom he liked and admired for so many good qualities.  Like many other people I talk to, he told me about how his family had reacted upon learning that the cousin had contracted the HIV virus.  The smile faded and his voice softened as he told me about the time he and his children had played in the swimming pool with his cousin.  

When no one else in the family would enter the water with him. 

The man paused and his smile reappeared as he told me how thankful he was that he had done that. 

That didn’t happen back in 1994. 

It happened last summer. 

Sadly, many of us are still living in fear – fearing most what we don’t understand.

But our fear has kept us from getting in the pool with people – from getting involved in the lives of people who are isolated and feel all alone. 

I’ve found some churches who are trying really hard to be like that swimming pool – where people feel safe to get in the water – no matter what they bring with them.  

Churches where Jake would’ve felt safe to share what his family was going through.  

Churches where Mark would’ve felt loved.  

 

Churches that become family when our own won’t get in the pool with us. 

 

Churches filled with storytellers like Jake, who know there are times we weren’t meant to be alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick to Listen

FeaturedQuick to Listen

I’m a talker. 

They say I said my first words at nine months, saying “Hi!” to strangers in the grocery store. 

I gave my first speech at the age of nine and many might say that I haven’t shut up since. 

I’ve spent a lot of my time talking rather than listening. 

And yet the people I love most have been the people who listen to me. 

Those are the people I find myself wanting to go back to, to share whatever’s on my heart.  And the great irony of that is that the more they genuinely listen to me, the more I care about them – about what they think, about what’s important to them, about what they think of me. 

I’m trying to change. 

To become a better listener. 

Maybe that’s what’s needed in conversations about Christianity and homosexuality. 

When people tell me about experiences they’ve had with loved ones admitting that they’re gay, or expressing an attraction to their own sex, they usually want to tell me  what they said to the person in response. 

Every now and then I’ll hear a thoughtful response, like “what’s that experience been like for you?” or “when did you first realize there was something different about you?” and “was that difficult?” 

Or maybe their response was like my friend from high school who sat across the table from me, with tears streaming down her face, who said, “oh Sally, I wish that I had known – how hard that must have been for you, feeling all alone.” 

She sat there and listened.  For a couple of hours.  And then we left the restaurant and she took me to her house for the rest of the day.  We played with her little girl and her dog.  We went to the store and bought groceries.  We laughed as we cooked in her kitchen together, and when her husband came home we all ate dinner together. 

Then we got up and went to church.  Because, you see, it was a Wednesday night and that’s what we’d always done growing up.  

And nothing had changed between us.  

Many of my friends who identify as gay, as well as my friends who view same-sex attraction as a struggle, express the same disappointment in how people respond to them.  Rather than listening empathetically – rather than feeling with my friends in that moment of sharing a deep part of themselves that’s often terrifying – sometimes we feel the need to turn the conversation to our own personal beliefs about the morality of homosexuality.

To let them know exactly what we think. 

As if the person who experiences same-sex attraction would instantly, upon hearing this new information, realize the error of his or her ways and “not do that anymore.” 

As if this was new information. 

A big part of me understands where they’re coming from.  Because I, too, was raised to stand up for what I believed.  To not let an opportunity pass.  Especially if I believed the person was involved in something contrary to what God wanted for them.

But here’s the deal.  I may not be at a place to receive that.  And if you really believe that you need to share something with me that’s that important, it’s essential that you consider where I am emotionally to be able to process that information.  Because you see, at the point in time that I come to tell you this, I’ve obviously given it a lot of thought.  I’ve probably wrestled with it for a long time by now on my own – all by myself – because I’m not sure what you’re going to think.  I’m not sure of how you’re going to receive me, so it’s scary for me to even come to you in the first place.  So when I do come and tell you this, all of those thoughts and emotions are going on inside me, even if I say that I’ve come to terms with this being who I am, or if I say to myself that I don’t care how you respond.  Because on some level, I still do care.  Otherwise I wouldn’t want to have this conversation with you. 

So what do I need from you in that moment?

Reassurance…

. . . that you aren’t going away.

. . . that you still love me.

. . . that our relationship isn’t suddenly going to be strained and awkward.

What I’m learning now is that as much as I like to talk, and say what really makes me feel better about the situation, what I have to say will never be as powerful as the gift of listening.

Of simply letting those difficult conversations grow out of relationship. Over time.

Of holding my tongue and waiting to say what I think.  Until I’m askedIf I’m asked. 

And even then, is it always essential to say what I think? 

I think sometimes we feel pressured at both ends of the spectrum on this issue to pick sides – to draw lines in the sand.  To put our opinion out there, to say what we believe to be truth, without giving thought to the person standing in front of us.  Or goading someone into expressing his or her thoughts, when really all we want is an excuse to cut the person off.  

And then we can claim that they rejected us. 

The Pharisees asked Jesus to do the same thing with the woman caught in adultery. Surely there was no denying this woman’s guilt, for she had clearly violated the Law.

And yet Jesus drew no line in the sand that day.

Instead, he drew a circle that includes all of us. 

That’s why he invited Zaccheus down out of the tree that day. 

It’s why my friend Julie took me home with her that Wednesday.

And oh, what conversations we ended up having around her table. 

 

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters:

You must all be quick to listen,

 slow to speak,

and slow to get angry.”

 James 1:19, NLT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Fence of Matthew Shepard”

Featured“The Fence of Matthew Shepard”

The following post is reprinted with Richard Beck’s permission from his blog, Experimental Theology.  If you haven’t visited his blog, you’ve missed something.  Richard writes about things that matter.  And just as he always challenges me to think about something in a different way, he always points me back to following the Way of Jesus.

This piece is no different.  Thanks, Richard.

The Fence of Matthew Shepard

Posted on 1.17.2012

“It’s gay awareness week.”

 

That’s what the killers said to Matthew Shepard before brutally beating and torturing him.  

Eighteen hours after the prolonged beating a cyclist found Matthew, alive but unconscious, hanging on a fence (pictured right).

The cyclist initially mistook Matthew for a scarecrow. 

Matthew was taken to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. [H]e was in a coma. The autopsy later revealed that Matthew had been struck in the head 18 times with a pistol causing severe brain-stem damage. Matthew never regained consciousness. He died at 12:53 a.m. on October 12, 1998. He was twenty-two years old.

 The Westboro Baptist Church attended Matthew’s funeral.

 They held up signs.

            “No Tears for Queers”

            “Fag Matt in Hell”

Many of us recall the news coverage of Matthew Shepard’s death. The outcry was enormous, eventually leading to advocacy groups requesting that attacks made on the basis of sexual orientation be added to the federal definition of a hate crime. After numerous setbacks and a great deal of political posturing the legislation was finally passed in 2009 by the US Senate and House. President Obama signed the bill into law on October 28, 2009, eleven years after Matthew’s death.

People wonder from time to time why I write about the relationship between the gay community and the Christian church. It’s not a comfortable topic where I live and work. But the answer is pretty simple.

I’m haunted by the scarecrow hanging on the fence.

 In James Cone’s recent book The Cross and the Lynching Tree he makes the argument that the cross and the lynching tree need to form a dialectic. If the two are separated the cross becomes innocuous and meaningless. As Cone writes:

Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, this symbol of salvation has been detached from any reference to the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings…The cross has been transformed into harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their neck.

Cone argues that during the Civil Rights struggle the Christian symbol of salvation should have been, though it was not, connected with the lynching tree–an actual and ongoing location of human oppression and cruelty. For when the two become separated–when the cross hung around our neck or in our church fails to bring to mind current and ongoing locations of cruelty in our world–then the Christian faith has lost its way.

The cross, to be a truly Christian symbol, must bring to mind the lynching trees of the world.

Christ hangs from the cross as Blacks hung from trees. As Matthew Shepard hung from a fence.

Cursed scarecrows all.

As it says in the Good Book: “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” (Deut. 21.23)

Until we see Jesus standing with the cursed we will never understand the central symbol of our faith nor what it means to be a Christian.

Saul falls on his face on the road to Damascus. He looks into the blinding light and asks, “Who are you Lord?” And the reply comes: “I am the one you are persecuting.”

Jesus hangs on the crosses of the world, from the trees and from the fences. It is as Elie Wiesel describes in his memoir Night. After watching a young boy hanged by the Nazis in the concentration camp:

Behind me, I heard a man asking:

            “Where is God now?”

            And I heard a voice within me answer him:

            “Where is He? He is–He is hanging here on this gallows…”

Though some might object to me drawing an equivalence between the history of African-Americans in the United States and that of the gay community, I don’t want to put sorrows in the balance. Some may want to point out that gay persons are not being lynched and hung from the trees as Blacks were in the Jim Crow south. And because of this we might conclude that the fence of Matthew Shepard is an isolated incident, a crime committed by two hateful and deranged individuals. That the death of Matthew Shepard has nothing to do with me, has nothing to do with you, has nothing to do with the church.

And yet. And yet. I am haunted by the fence of Matthew Shepard.

As I reflect on my Christian walk I often ponder this question: If I had lived in Nazi Germany would I have stood up for the Jews?

Most Christians didn’t. And as I psychologist I’m familiar with studies like the Sanford Prison study and the Milgram Obedience study. I’m aware that normal, god-fearing people can do horrible things when pressure is put upon them.

 So what makes me so special? Statistically speaking, odds are I would have made a good Nazi.

I also think a lot about the Civil Rights Movement in the US. I ask myself: If I had lived in the South would I have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.? As Cone asks, would the cross in my church have made me think of the lynching trees in my nation? Would I have seen the connection?

Again, most Christians didn’t.

And I keep wondering. Am I any different? What makes me think I’d be a courageous agent of light in those circumstances? Odds are I’d be just like everyone else.

And then I think about the fence of Matthew Shepard.

Let me tell you what keeps me up at night. My deepest fear in life is that I’m going to end up on the wrong side of God’s history. Like so many Christians before me. My fear is that a moment will come when I am asked to stand up for those hanging on the trees, literally and symbolically, and I’ll respond with “That has nothing to do with me. That has nothing to do with the church.”

Where are the cursed scarecrows of this world? And does the sight of the cross bring them to mind?

I’ve read a lot of books and written a lot of words about Christian theology. But really, it’s all pretty simple.

Jesus hangs from crosses, from trees and fences.

And to see that, like Saul on the Road to Damascus, is the day of your conversion.

The day you become a Christian.


What Will You Tell Them?

FeaturedWhat Will You Tell Them?

It was 1971 and I was ten years old the first time I ever heard a derogatory term used for someone who was homosexual.  I didn’t even know what the word ‘homosexual’ meant. 

A group of us girls were talking at indoor recess one day in the fifth grade and Mary Walker Norfleet, the girl who moved from North Carolina the summer before, was telling this long tale about a fight she’d had with her younger sister that morning.  She had been so angry that she had called her sister a name.

“You homo!” Mary Walker let out, in her finest southern accent.  An accent that only a girl who actually went by the name ‘Mary Walker’ could                                          deliver. 

It was funny and everyone laughed. 

I wondered at the time if they laughed because they knew what she meant, or if they were just laughing at the way she was telling the story, like I was. 

Because I had no idea what ‘homo’ meant.

So I went home and asked my mother.

She told me that ‘homo’ was a shortened term for a homosexual.  She also proceeded to tell me that she’d heard about people like that in an abnormal psychology class she’d had back in the early 1940s at the University of North Texas. 

That she’d never heard of anything like that before that class. 

That those people were sick.

She had no idea what kind of message she was sending.  A message that she had no intention of sending to her ten year old daughter who would grow up to be one of ‘those people.’ 

That statement made it impossible for me to tell her years later when I was discovering feelings of attraction toward other girls.  The expression of disgust on her face made it very clear that she disapproved.  In my mother’s effort to teach me what she believed to be right – that homosexuality was against God’s will – she also planted the belief that anyone who experienced those feelings was to be shunned at all cost.  That those feelings were shameful. 

I’ve never been someone’s mother.  I’ve never felt the responsibility of teaching a child right from wrong, but it must be an incredibly difficult job – such a delicate balance – of guiding a life.  The enormous responsibility of teaching what we believe to be the right way to live, while at the same time creating an atmosphere in which a child feels safe to share anything. 

An atmosphere of empowering grace and love. 

In other words, how does a parent say, I don’t believe this is right for you, but if you find yourself there, I’m not about to abandon you.

Because the truth is, when my mother discovered that her own daughter experienced feelings of attraction toward other women, she never turned away from me.  She never changed the way she related to me.  She never loved me any less.

But what if she’d never made that statement?  What if she’d known something more accurate, more loving to say?  What if I’d grown up believing that those feelings were something I could tell her?

Instead of keeping them hidden, living in shame all those years.

And having to process a lot of misinformation by myself at such a young age.

Now I’m no authority in child psychology.  I don’t claim to know anything about raising a child, or about having developmentally appropriate conversations with children, but what if, instead, my mother had explained it this way: 

  •             What if the expression on her face had never changed? 
  •             What if she hadn’t acted nervous in talking to me about anything of a sexual nature? 
  •             What if, instead, she’d talked about how hurtful it is to be called names, like she often did with other derogatory terms I reported hearing at school? 
  •             What if she had explained to me that in the same way that most people have boyfriends or girlfriends who are the opposite sex, that someone who is homosexual is attracted to a person of the same sex? 

She could even have gone on to explain to me that she believed that was not how God wanted us to live, but that He also would never want us to make fun of someone, even if we disagree with certain aspects of a person’s life.

Because God loves us no matter what. 

Oh, the conversations that could have come from that – the questions that could have been addressed.  But she didn’t know.  Often we still don’t know how to create a safe place within families to have difficult conversations.  It’s critical, though, that we begin to learn – so that there’s nothing we can’t talk about. 

Because it’s growing up in silence that’s causing our children the most harm.

The Things We Learn at Eight

FeaturedThe Things We Learn at Eight

The first time I ever heard anybody say anything about homosexuality I was probably seven or eight years old. 

It was the most beautiful wedding I’d ever seen.  Granted, at that age I hadn’t been to too many weddings yet, but it left an indelible picture in my head.  Maybe it was because I was so young and impressionable, but maybe it just really was that beautiful.

Oversized white candles with garland glowing in every stained glass window of the church we attended.  White satin bows with greenery attached to every pew.  The only lighting in the whole place, during the whole ceremony, was from candlelight and it was spectacular.

But maybe I also remember that wedding because of what happened afterward.

Within just a few months, the groom left the bride for a reason nobody wanted to talk about.

It was still rare for anyone to divorce in those days – the late 1960s – but even more rare for the marriage to split because one of the couple was homosexual.

I don’t know that I actually remember any of the grown-ups I overheard talking about it actually use the term, ‘homosexual,’ but somehow I knew.

I pieced together that ‘the boy liked boys’ and so he didn’t want to be married anymore.

I watched the faces of the people who talked about him – about what he had done to the bride.  Nobody ever mentioned trying to talk to him.  Reaching out to him.  To find out what was going on with him.  I didn’t hear anything positive or hopeful or helpful in connection with him.

Maybe someone did respond like that, but the conversations I overheard didn’t mention that.

Like lots of children, I was listening and observing when nobody realized I was.

And I was learning, even then, how we respond to people.

I learned that if you find yourself in a spot like that guy, you’d better not tell a soul.

Because you don’t want people talking about you like I heard people talking about him.

I learned that ‘a boy who liked boys like he was supposed to like a girl,’ well, that was about the worst thing you could do.

Nobody ever said that to me, per se. But that’s the clear message I got.

And being a child, I never brought it up on my own.  Because I saw the looks,  the discomfort in their bodies, I heard the strain in adult voices whenever the subject was broached.

But what if I’d heard something different when I was eight years old?

What if the conversations I’d overheard involved reaching out to this brother – realizing the state of pain and confusion he must have been in for a lifetime – and realizing how difficult it was for him to try to walk this out on his own.

I can’t help but wonder if things would’ve been different if that’s what I’d heard.

So how do we create an environment in which children grow up hearing a more Christ-like response to homosexuality?

Here’s a start –

   1.  Change the way we talk about someone who experiences same-sex     attraction.

             In casual conversation with other adults, where children may very well be listening.

            In intentional conversation with your children.  Parents can share their beliefs about the morality of homosexuality without turning it into this shameful topic which leaves the impression that this is the “worst thing that could possibly happen.”

             The language we use is powerful. And our nonverbal communication – facial expressions, body language, tone of voice – often conveys more than our words.  But our silence is deafening.  Avoiding conversation sends as powerful a message as the slurs and jokes most of us have come to recognize as hurtful.  Our silence forces kids to internally process all the misinformation they receive about same-sex attraction from the sources that will talk about it, very early, before they have the capacity to truly understand what’s happening.  It’s no wonder, then, that many of us end up with the mistaken beliefs we have about our sexuality.  Something that God never intended for us.

  2.  Be willing to listen to other people’s experience, ideas      and beliefs.  Even if they differ from yours.  Especially if they differ from yours.

            Let your kids see you do that.  Let them see an open mind that’s not threatened by listening to opposing viewpoints.  Yes, do so in developmentally appropriate increments, but it goes a long way (particularly with teens) to let them see your willingness to give others a voice, a chance to be heard.

             When I was growing up I had friends who were never allowed to visit their friends’ churches – for fear that they would be swayed from their own beliefs.  I’m thankful that my parents didn’t believe that and always permitted me to attend church with my friends who went to other churches.  It caused me to think more critically – to really weigh the reasons why I believed what I believed – and it solidified those beliefs more deeply.

 That’s enough for now – what would you add to the list?

Finding A Safe Place

FeaturedFinding A Safe Place

Fifteen years ago this month I was halfway through law school.  I had just started clerking at a firm part-time and was busy competing for Tech’s mock trial and moot court teams.  And, oh yeah, there were reading assignments.   

Volumes of reading to do. 

The last thing I had time for was to get on a plane and fly to Dallas once a week.  But when you hurt badly enough, you’ll do a lot of things you think you don’t have time for. 

And don’t have money for. 

For years I had been struggling with something I didn’t even quite know how to name.  It was something we didn’t talk about when I was growing up, so when I started having feelings of attraction to women when I was in college, I had no idea what to do with that.

And what I feared that might mean about me, I didn’t dare utter. 

Especially at a Christian university.  

In the middle of the Bible belt. 

So I didn’t say anything about what was going on inside me. 

That was too risky. 

All my life I’d heard things said about “those people.”  

That they were going to hell.

That they were “sick.”

What if it was true that I was one of “those people?”

Pride and fear kept all that confusion, pain and anxiety bottled up inside of me. 

For the next 15 years I wrestled in silence with my own self-worth.  With disordered relationships within my family.  With the frustration of close friendships that were far more than friendships in my mind.  With the pain of not ever having those God-breathed desires for intimacy and connection with another person met in a healthy way. 

Until that moment in my second year of law school when I hurt badly enough.  When I just couldn’t continue to perform, to keep it all together on the outside, while such confusion was going on inside me. 

The price of a plane ticket, cab fare, and the six hours it took out of my week was a small price to pay for the safe place I found to talk.

Even on days when I showed up at his office so airsick from the turbulence on the flight that I couldn’t even talk. 

It was worth every penny to have somebody who loved me right where I was – in a state of utter confusion and pain, not knowing what to do, not knowing how I got there, or where I would end up. 

“Fixing me” was not the goal.  Listening, loving, and giving the little girl inside me a voice – a little girl who didn’t feel valued – well, that was all that mattered.

 And that has made all the difference in my life.

 

 

 

‘Just the Way You Are’

Featured‘Just the Way You Are’

My favorite Christmas present didn’t have to be unwrapped.  It wasn’t left under the tree and I’m pretty sure the giver didn’t even realize what a gift it was. 

But it’s a gift I won’t ever forget. 

After we opened presents Christmas morning, and ate a late lunch, we started watching old home videos of past Christmases.  Videos with loved ones who’ve passed.  Videos that were really sweet to see. 

My cousin got up in the middle of watching and went to the kitchen to make some coffee for all of us and I followed him, to thank him for showing those videos.  I reached up and hugged him and as he always does, he said ‘I love you.’  

And then he added something that I’d never heard before. 

Not from him. 

Not from anybody, ever. 

He said, ‘just the way you are.’

In that moment I knew that he knew. 

I knew that he knew what I’d wanted to tell him – to tell all my family – for so long, but had been too afraid to tell.  That I was attracted to women.

 Knowing how we’d all been raised, knowing the jokes that had been made, the names called in times past, I feared their reaction to me.  I knew how my friends’ families had responded to them years ago – and the things some families still say in 2012.  I couldn’t bear the thought of not being wanted – of not being treated the same – by these people who are a part of me. 

 

But here stood the little boy I’ve loved all my life – inside the body of this man who’s like a brother to me – now telling me that he loved me just as I am.

 The way God loves me. 

No matter what I think or feel or say or do. 

Very few people have ever loved me like that. 

But that kind of unconditional love changes everything.

I talk to a lot of people who experience same-sex attraction, some who have embraced a gay identity, some who believe that acting on those feelings would be against God’s will for their lives.  The one thing we all have in common is a lot of pain and confusion in coming to terms with those feelings – and fearing the people we love would walk away.

I wonder what would happen if everybody had a place to experience that kind of unconditional love? 

Family needs to be that kind of place. 

Church needs to be that kind of place. 

But unfortunately we haven’t talked enough about this to understand the real need. 

To have a place to belong and feel safe to express thoughts and feelings without being judged.  Without being alienated.

 The purpose of this blog is to create such a place for conversation. For asking all the questions we’ve wanted to ask about homosexuality but haven’t felt free to, for whatever reason.  For those of us who seek to live as followers of Christ.  And for those who don’t. 

Sometimes we’ll agree and sometimes we won’t.  Sometimes you’ll read thinking, ‘I can’t believe she thinks that!’  I’ll try to keep the posts brief so that it doesn’t take all day to read, but because of that, you may leave with more questions than answers, feeling confused as to where I may stand on an issue.  But the thing is, it really doesn’t matter what I think.  All that matters is that we create a safe place for conversation together.    

Being respectful of where people are in their own journey.  

Listening, not judging. 

 And always loving.  Unconditionally.

 Just the way we are.

‘Chili’ Greeting? Hardly!

‘Chili’ Greeting? Hardly!

Before we even got close to the room, I could smell the chili. The aroma filled the church building and it smelled divine.

We’d been setting up my laptop for a presentation I would make in a couple of hours. We’d done a sound and video check to make sure everything was up and running. And now we were off to join the elders and ministry staff for a quick supper and brief time for questions before the Wednesday evening church service began.

I’d only arrived a few hours before, but already I felt so welcome. Picked up at the airport, taken to the home where I was to stay, settling in the room prepared for my arrival. Warm greetings, first from my hosts, followed by the same from ministers I’d only met briefly on another occasion.

Already this was feeling like a good place for a CenterPeace Peacemakers Seminar.

My escort opened the door to the room where the dinner was being served. The room was filled with men laughing, talking, some already eating bowls of chili and cornbread. Some were milling around filling their tea glasses, visiting with one another. It only took a moment for me to detect that these guys clearly enjoyed each other’s company.

Only a moment, though, because the minute I entered the room, they quickly stopped what they were doing. They put their spoons down. They sat their drinks down on the table. They looked up at me with smiles and stretched out hands to shake. They began to surround me, waiting one by one to introduce themselves to me. I would’ve been fine going from table to table to introduce myself – to greet them and thank them for inviting me. But here they were going out of their way to make me feel welcome.

I can’t tell you what it did for my spirit to have all those men stand up and greet me so warmly when I entered the room that night.

After the first elder smiled and shook my hand, introducing himself to me, the rest of the introductions seemed a blur, running in slow motion in my head. I didn’t want it to end! And it didn’t – until each one had personally greeted me.

“I was a stranger and you took me in.”

For the overwhelming majority of gatherings I attend for CenterPeace, this type of reception is typical. I tell this story because I want my friends within the LGBT community to know that the churches so many of us grew up in are wanting to have this conversation. Not all of them yet, but many more than there were ten, certainly 20 years ago.

And I want you to know as my brothers and sisters in Christ what a privilege it is to witness firsthand the desire, the willingness, the courage to explore a topic that is fraught with a host of emotions. Fear being at the top of the list.

But I get to watch and walk alongside leaders who are courageous enough to acknowledge their fears and come together to talk about how to get past those fears.

To let God’s perfect love cast out all our fears.

Church leaders are talking. Really talking. To God and to each other about how to respond. Because they know this is about more than a topic. So much more than an issue.

It’s about people.

Ours daughters and sons.

Our granddaughters and grandsons.

Our nephews and neighbors, parents and aunts, people we trust to cut our hair and teach our children.

People we love dearly who have felt shut out and cut off from family, from church, from God for too long.

The elders’ questions weren’t easy that night, and we didn’t come up with all the answers.

But thank God we started the conversation.

One conversation doesn’t begin to chip the surface, though.

We’re gonna need more chili.

 

*****

Have you opened the conversation about faith and sexuality at your church?

 If so, what was that like for you and your church family?

 If not, why not? What can CenterPeace do to help you get started?

Listening With the Heart

Loves God Likes Girls COVERToday we celebrate the life of the man I wrote about in my spiritual memoir, Loves God, Likes Girls. I’ll forever be grateful for the ways God used David Lewis in my life.   Wondering how to respond with the love of Jesus to someone who tells you she’s gay?   Read on…. 

“I called and made an appointment with the counselor I’d gone to during the last year of teaching high school about my relationship with my father. The counselor who had absolutely no idea what I’d been keeping from him.

I had chosen the counselor carefully. He had worked on some research and writing projects with my favorite professor from college. I knew he had the credentials in psychology, he was a Christian, and my favorite professor trusted him. I thought maybe I could trust him, too. But I didn’t know how he would react. He might react with the same facial expressions I had seen on preachers’ faces from the pulpit, looks of disgust, as though they couldn’t stand the thought of being near someone “like that.” He might not want to deal with me and refer me to someone else.

I had to take the chance. I had to tell someone.

On a bitter cold, snowy day, with ice on the roads and a small voice telling me to run the car off the side of the road and no one would be the wiser, I drove three hours to his office in north Dallas. My heart pounded as I approached the door, praying I wouldn’t see anyone I knew as I walked into the waiting room.

As I pushed open the door and entered the waiting room, the first person I saw was a guy I had gone to college with and hadn’t seen in fifteen years. He looked up from the magazine he was reading and smiled. Then looked away, probably as embarrassed at being seen there as I was. Then I turned to the receptionist and couldn’t believe it. There sat the former youth minister’s wife from my home church twenty-five years before, the woman who had stood with me as I dried off after my baptism saying over and over, “Oh, sweet girl. Oh, sweet girl.” Just as she greeted me, her husband, now one of the psychologists in the office, walked in. I was scared half to death. These people had known and loved me since I was a little girl. Would they still love me if they knew?

My paranoia also told me I had a label that instantly exposed me to everyone in the room. As though, like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter “A,” I wore an “H” for homosexual emblazoned on my chest. If anyone found out that I was seeking a counselor to talk about an attraction to my own gender, oh my. What would they think?

I remember a lot of things about that day—the day I first told someone I liked girls. I remember the office we were in and where I was sitting. I remember what I was wearing. But I don’t remember what he said to me in response to my declaration. In fact, I don’t think he said much of anything. Mostly he just listened. The expression on his face never changed. His countenance never grew cold or resistant. He remained warm and inviting, as though nothing I said shocked him. As though he felt no revulsion toward me at all.

Scary as it was, I felt a great sense of freedom in finally telling someone. Nothing instantly changed inside me. I still had no idea what to do with all those feelings. But at least now it wasn’t my own secret.

We talked for a couple of hours that morning, and not only did he not walk away, he invited me to come back for a couple more hours that afternoon. Although I was relieved to be welcomed back, I couldn’t help but wonder if that meant that I was really screwed up!

It did.

And I am.

But no more than all the rest of us.

That happened over sixteen years ago and since that time I’ve had the opportunity to share that secret of mine with thousands of people all over the world. I wouldn’t have had the courage to do that if I hadn’t found a safe place to pour my heart out that very first time. What would’ve happened if he had not responded so warmly? What if the gentle smile and the kindness of his eyes had been replaced by a wrinkled brow and no smile? Or worse yet, what if he hadn’t looked at me at all?

David Lewis & Sally Gary in David's office at Lake Highlands Church, 1999.
David Lewis & Sally Gary in David’s office at Lake Highlands Church, 1999.

I don’t think he knew all the answers at that moment. But what he did know is that having all the answers as to how to “fix” me wasn’t what I needed. He knew it was more important to listen. If nothing else, to be willing to absorb some of the agonizing pain of carrying an unbearable secret for most of my life. Most importantly, he knew Jesus. He knew how to look at me through the eyes of Christ, to listen with the Good Shepherd’s heart of compassion, and to extend the same hospitality to me that he himself had received. Never once did he tell me what he thought about homosexuality. Never once did he quote Scripture to me in that first meeting. In the weeks and months and years ahead, we never ever looked at the passages in Genesis or Leviticus or Romans or 1 Corinthians or 1 Timothy. Because I knew they were there. And he was wise enough to meet me where I hurt, just as Jesus did for all those he encountered.

When I left the office that day I didn’t have any answers. He didn’t give me any assignments. I wasn’t given any books to read. In a way it would’ve been nice to have those things, because that was the way part of me has been wired—to think my way out of difficulties, to find a rational, academic solution to the problem, to critically analyze and outline the answer to the question. But that wasn’t what I needed right then—if ever.

What I needed was to tell someone who would listen. With his heart.”

Loves God, Likes Girls, 207-210