Orlando

On Tuesday evening I sat with a young gay man who shared with me that he had been on vacation in Orlando and had been at the Pulse night club just weeks before the shooting.
Like me, in his private moments, his eyes filled with tears as he thought about the people killed.
Also, without hesitation he began to whisper some of this thoughts as we sat at Bigby because intuitively he has been conditioned to be careful how loud he speaks about his reality.
Would some passer-by jeer?  Would they comment if they heard us having a conversation about being gay?  Is there a chance that they would preach against him, shame him or even be volatile?
He started a new job a month ago.  Will people hold it against me if they learn that i’m gay is a thought that goes through his mind.   This week, in a staff meeting the topic of the shooting came up and someone looked to him expecting a response.  He mentioned that he was there a few weeks back.  He chose to be vulnerable and expose himself instead of making up a story.  He didn’t want to do this so early on in the job but he chose to be honest.
The next day there was a card on his desk from his boss expressing her empathy and support for him in this time.  She understood and validated him in his sadness.
All of the hatred, marginalization, fear, shaming, propaganda and reduction of problems to one sure factor has my head spinning this week.   All of this negativity led me to post a reminder.
I posted Philippians 4:8 on my wall without the scripture reference.  I needed to remind myself that it is important to think about positive things.  I think that reminder was well received and that is reflected by likes and smiles and comments.
My very next post was about some Jewish Rabbis who went to a gay bar and loved on a group of people who were hurting because of the shooting in Orlando. It brought tears to my eyes to read the action of these men to incarnate themselves into the lives of people who are hurting and to stand beside them and tell them that they are loved unconditionally.  These Rabbis came out of there zone of comfort to show something tangible.
Guess how many people responded to my next post?
Facebook will not change the world.  You and I will do that when we love in tangible ways.

Brave

With her notebook in hand she jumped into the passenger seat of my car.  I asked where she was headed?   She told me that the Speak EZ Lounge had an open mic night and she was doing some last minute Uber ride notes on her speech. The night’s topic was about how people of the opposite sex had impacted life.  She told me of her exit from an abusive relationship and the many things she had discovered about herself.  She was full of enthusiasm about the change in her life in just a short year and a half.

I told her that I had been doing some writing myself the last year or so.   I shared the basic details about coming out and we bantered a bit back and forth about it.  I wished her good luck and dropped her off.  It was late and I wanted to do a few more Uber rides before I called it quits for the night.  I was also intrigued and thought it would be fun to stop in and listen quietly in the back.

My next request came through and I was off to pick up my next customer.  Then another and another until the nagging “why not, it might be fun” voice rose to the surface.  I found parking, walked in and sat at the bar and ordered a drink.  I looked around but I didn’t see her.  When I asked the bartender if the lady who told the story about her abusive husband went up yet I learned I had missed her.

Suddenly, she appeared behind me exclaiming she couldn’t believe I came back. I apologized that I missed her speech.  No worries she said and then coaxed me to get up there and tell my story.  My immediate reaction was no thanks.  Then after a few more sips of my beer I decided that I may as well give it a shot.  I walked up to the MC and asked if it was too late for another entry.  He said that I would be last.  I waited for my name to be called and I was up.

Afterwards, I felt great. I walked back to my seat and then my Uber rider screamed as third place was award to me.  I had no idea that it was a contest.  On my way out several people introduced themselves to me and thanked me for sharing.

Sometimes you just need a little nudge.

 

Here’s the link to watch the video:

https://drive.google.com/a/webkujenga.com/file/d/0B3IOKxDypKLUSEJpUXRXVHI3U1U/view?usp=sharing

 

 

 

Unwanted

What happens to the guy who was a Pastor for 18 years and then tells everyone he’s gay?  Do you know?  I suppose you can always check on Facebook to see if he posts anything.  Maybe something controversial?  Maybe something insightful?  Maybe something nostalgic?    He’s been pretty quiet lately.  I wonder what he’s doing?

How are his kids?  What is happening with his ex wife?  How is she doing?  How is he doing?  Does he have a job?   Does he still go to church?  Does he still believe in God?   Does he have friends?  Does he regret coming out? Does he have community?

Will he start another church someday?  How many friends from his past have stayed in touch?  How many have made him feel unwanted?

 

Last week I got a call from the manager at a Cellular phone store.  He had seen my resume online and asked if I would come in and talk to him.  We met in the back room and he described to me the position that was available.  He shared the compensation plan, and what the training and schedule would look like week to week.   After a year of looking for jobs it felt good to perceive that this guy really wants to hire me.

He began to describe the company’s values. Everything they do was for Christ.  He shared that the owner was the board president at a very large not for profit here in West Michigan. He told me of his involvement in his church and that several other people on staff were attending Bible College. This was a great place to work he explained.  We have integrity here and want to provide great customer service. He advised me to go home to my wife and kids and pray about the decision.  I said ok, we shook hands and I left.  Somehow I just can’t see myself thriving there.  I’m going to pass on that job offer.  However, it did make me think and cause me to desire to share a few thoughts.

My entire ministry I worked very hard to advocate for those who felt they didn’t belong.  I created space in my life and in the communities I cultivated to say to others that they are welcome with no strings attached.  I’m not sure I’ve felt that reciprocated these past 2 years and I feel very sad about that.  I know i’m not alone in feeling unwanted.  I know many people that want to be a part of a church but feel like I did to the manager at the Cellular store.  That if you knew more about me you wouldn’t want me.

This is so sad.  I know better.  I know what the scripture teaches about God’s thoughts towards his creation and his people.  Yet, I haven’t darkened the door of a church in almost a year.  I feel unwanted.  I hope that will change.

 

It comes up

Do I tell people I’m gay?

Is it none of their business?

If my Uber riders enter conversation with me they usually wonder what I used to do, why I’m not doing that anymore and it leads to me just stating the facts.  I could be vague.  However, for whatever reason, most of the time I choose to state it this way.  I was a Pastor, I told my wife and church that I’m gay and now i’m divorced and trying to figure out what’s next.

This last week, I picked up two men and a lady.  They were co-workers.  They had been drinking and advised me they needed take several stops.  We dropped off the guy in the back at his house and immediately, the woman summoned the guy in the front to come and sit with her in the back seat.  He stated that he would at the next stop.

We had a good chat as he asked about how Uber works and about different regulation issues he had heard about.  The next stop was their office.  The two of them got out to run up to her office quickly.  As he left the front seat I happened to notice his wedding band.  Ten minutes later the two of them got in the back seat to the next stop.  He sat in the passenger rear and she chose to sit in the middle seat in the back.

The next 20 minutes were very quiet back there.  A lot of whispers and as I glanced at my rear view mirror I wondered what was happening.  He had said he needed to be brought home after we dropped her off.  Was that going to happen?

She exited and he stayed in the back.  We headed to his place. We chatted about our kids, his job as a lawyer and then he asked and I told.  His first question was about my faith.  He wondered how I’m doing?  I gave him an honest answer that my understanding of who Jesus is, what he did, what he means to humanity is all still very important to me.   I mentioned that the most difficult part has been that I’ve not felt part of the church.  That i’m still sorting out some feelings because of how people in the church treat homosexuals.

He asked me how I reconcile what the Bible says about homosexuality.  I stated that it’s a long conversation but for starters biblical authors are referencing things going on that I’m also very much against.  I believe that when these acts were referenced they were despicable because they were brought on by force, coercion or by pagan ritual.   I think anyone who wants to dig seriously into this topic can find evidence for this.  I don’t think Paul was referencing two consenting adults pursuing a same sex relationship with one another.  There is more to interpretation than reading things at face value.  How about when Paul says that women should not speak in church?

We were almost to his place.  It was a pleasant conversation. Upon arrival as he was taking off his seat belt he asked if he could ask me an honest question.  He said, “from your perspective, what do you think you observed between me and my colleague this eve”?   I said that it appeared that she was working you pretty hard to come inside with her to have sex.  He said you’re right but we’re good people and I just wanted to make sure she got home safely.  He said he was a believer too and that he didn’t know how he felt about what we talked about but he would certainly keep me in his thoughts and prayers.  He handed me a $10 tip and was out there door.

 

We all do it

“Words kill, words give life; they are either poison or fruit-you choose”.

Proverbs 18:21 (The Message)

“Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue”

James 1:19 (The Message)

I wasn’t aware that after crossing the border into Canada that I would be surprised by one seemingly small difference in the landscape.   I had assumed Canada to be similar to the U.S.A. as Canada is just a few hundred miles away. It took me quite a while to realize it,  but the difference was that there were no messages along the highway.  Literally no billboards.

We drove from Michigan into Canada and the change was instantaneous.  It sound inconsequential but I had a small level of anxiety about it.  I wondered, how am I to know where the nearest gas station is?  Where will we eat if we’re hungry?  No one, or no messages were persuading me!  What will I look at now?  How will I learn about the cities that I am approaching if I don’t have these messages to look at on the highway?

The messages we hear and see on a daily basis have a tremendous impact on our lives.  We are used to them.  Often they go unchallenged and unchanged.  In the Bible, in the book of James, words (messages) are likened to a rudder on a ship having the power to turn the entire vessel.  Isn’t it true that our actions also speak too?  Some would say “actions speak louder than words”.  If my words have so much power then it must be true that my actions do as well.  James also makes a connection to action by saying our faith is dead if it is not accompanied by action. He says “what good is it” if we see someone in need and do nothing.  I like how James says things because he seems like a common sense kind of guy.

Jesus tells a story about a traveler who is left on the side of the road beaten and half dead.  Two men, a Priest and Levite pass by the man and do nothing.  These two men represented the religious culture of the day ( think of them as people who if Jesus was telling the story today would be the folks who go to church).  The third man was a Samaritan man.  He represented a class of people whom the Jews went out of their way to avoid.  When Jesus tells this story, the Samaritan is the one who demonstrates compassion towards the traveler.  He brings him to safety and pays for him to be taken care of.

Jesus tells this parable to a man who asked how he would receive eternal life. This man was wondering what the bottom line was.  What is it really that you are teaching here Jesus?   Jesus’ answer is this  to love God and love your neighbor.  He turns to the man and asks which person in the story loved his neighbor.  The man’s answer was “the one who showed mercy”.  The man who showed godly kindness was the one who was marginalized by the religious culture.

Jesus tells us that we are to show basic human kindness indiscriminately and no one is unqualified to participate and be included in this activity. This love demonstration.  Unfortunately, in ways we may or may not even realize we segregate whom we will just tolerate and who we will love.  We make judgment calls not based on personal knowledge but on biased stereotypes.   We jump to conclusions and create separations when Jesus himself is calling us to love one another!

The messages we send by our actions and the things we say are important!   I wonder if we can use this as a guide for how we show basic human kindness to one another.  Is this what it looks like to really love those whom we encounter wherever we may go?

1 Corinthians 13  

Evaluate your love and ask yourself?

Am I demonstrating patience?

What about kindness?  Am I nice?  Only to their face?

Do I demonstrate good-will towards this person?

Is my relationship conditional upon something?  What about my love?  Can I be counted faithful by this person?

Do I fly off the handle and lose my cool or am I gentle?

Do I show self control?

Look at what the Message version says!

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

 

Who is it that God has put into your life that when it comes right down to it you don’t know how to love?  Think about why that might be and start sending the right message!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pharisee and the Monster

It was in 7th grade that I learned to be a Pharisee.  The 8th grade boys began to question my relationship with a particular girl.  They wondered if I ever did inappropriate things with her. The thought had never even crossed my mind.  Thinking on my feet, I proclaimed that it was wrong to do such things and that I respected woman and would save that 2nd base stuff for marriage.  I learned that I could use religion and the Bible to pile on guilt to get them off my back.  I could also gain the respect of all the girls and youth leaders in the telling of this story.  I was such a good Christian young man. An example and leader.

I was different from the other boys growing up.  I knew it and hated it!  I wanted so badly to fit in with the guys.  I know now that what I was seeking was a connection.  Then I just saw it as a need to have a best friend.  I wanted a buddy.  Someone whom everyone knew was my best friend.

Brene Brown defines connection this way :

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

I was on the hunt for this.  I wanted this kind of connection, with another guy.  As much as I wanted it I never felt truly accepted or able to find my in.  I saw them relating with one another and I could never figure out what made their connection so tight.   Was there something wrong with me?  I’m too needy? Sensitive?  I wanted to be invited and included. I’m sure at times I was, but I never felt as though it was enough.

Early on I found myself in a quandary.  If I hung out with the girls too much I would be called a faggot .  I didn’t want to be rejected by they guys and seen as something that definitely felt derogatory. (even though I didn’t know what that was).  I would try to join the team and would always get picked last and teased for my lack of athleticism.   I became a constant observer of how other people perceived me.  I had to keep my secret.  I had to be someone I wasn’t to fit in.

There were certain urges and desires I noticed that other guys had towards girls.  Their attraction to them seemed to be innate and at times out of control.  I would say all the same things they would but not feel the same way.  I learned to lie and fake it.  My arousal would not be in thinking about girls but about guys.  Was there something wrong with me? Was I was broken?  Am I a monster?

It was very easy to decide who I would be.  I didn’t drink, smoke and was committed to no sex before marriage.  I didn’t swear and listened only to Christian music. I went on mission trips, got involved in my youth group, played guitar and eventually led worship for my high school chapel. My identity revolved around doing the right thing according to the Bible. The alternative would be to expose the monster I believed myself to be.  No one can know about the real me.

I felt myself unworthy and broken.  It seemed to me that when my friends started dating that a significant portion of their seeking a connection with a girl was based on their level of innate attraction to them.  I saw the guys around me do ridiculous things for girls and assumed that much of that was fueled by this built in natural sense of wonder and amazement they had about a beautiful girl they were chasing.  I wished I felt that way about girls.  No amount of trying or praying for my attractions to change made any difference.  I had to learn how to live with my secret. I didn’t want to be gay.  So I faked being straight.

As I recount my years growing up in church, christian schools and my 18 years of ministry as a Pastor I have a lot of questions. Sometimes I wonder if everything was a lie.  Was it all just a cover up?  Did I cling to religion to avoid being a monster? What was my true motivation?  Was it to honor God or to not let anyone know the truth about me? Am I that diabolical? Did I really love Jesus or just hide behind him?  If this is true I really am a monster.

Over the years the Pharisee in me has lost a lot of his influence.  I learned and observed along the way that kindness and compassion were necessary for people to feel accepted and that they belong. This is what I longed to feel and if I couldn’t feel it I would help others feel that.  Nevertheless, all the good things I had stored up and people I have helped seemed pale in comparison to the confusion and hurt I have caused.

Here are some of the things I heard others say.

“How can you call yourself a Christian and be gay?”

“You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“The Bible says”

“We’re praying for your salvation and deliverance”

“God has hardened your heart and turned you over to your sin”

“you are going to be held accountable for your actions”

I have to preach a sermon to myself these days.  The message of Jesus is clear that I am loved and accepted unconditionally.    EPHESIANS 2:8-9 “For it is by grace (undeserved kindness) that you have been saved (the wrong in my life does not have the power to condemn me) ,through faith (I do believe that the cross demonstrates God’s offering of forgiveness) and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works (what? all the good I have done doesn’t make me better?), so that no one can boast (Pharisee!)”.

ROMANS 8:1 “There is no condemnation (no more shame) for those who are in Christ Jesus”

Who is the Pharisee?

What is the Monster?

 

Let’s just say…hot tub

“Our Church leaders will be holding a meeting soon to discuss what to do about this.”

“We will be coming out with a public statement on our stand.”

“They have an agenda you know.”

My ears perked up as I sat in the YMCA hot tub overhearing two men discuss the “issue of homosexuality” in the Church.  Prior to coming out I had been a part of these conversations with my church leadership too.  We had heard that some churches in the area had decided to put out a public statement that homosexuality is in fact a sin.  They wanted it to be clear to all who attended their ministries their theological position.

I leaned in and asked these guys to pardon me because I couldn’t help but overhear.  I wondered if I could ask them a few questions about the conversation they were having.  They were very polite as I inquired about whether they knew anyone who was gay.  The larger of the two men said “yes, they are nice people and very welcome in our church”.  I inquired whether they felt that a LGBT person would feel comfortable coming to their church after making such a point to make sure that everyone knows that it is a sin?

Essentially the conversation led them to saying that “the Bible says that it’s wrong”.  In return I stated that the Bible says many things and declares a lot of behaviors and actions as sin. They had no idea that I had been a pastor for 18 years and that months prior I had just come out to my wife, family, friends and church.

“You are correct that the Bible has many things to say about sin” I said.  “For instance, it has very specific things to say about gluttony and being overweight”.  I felt like we were having a fun and respectful banter so I went there. “Sir, you  are obviously not taking the best care of your body and one could claim that you are abusing the temple of the Holy Spirit”.  The Bible does say that it is gluttony to overeat.  I grabbed my belly and referenced my behavior of overeating as well.  I asked how they would feel if when they went to my church they read our public statement about obesity.  I asked how they would feel if the pastor made constant references to to obesity being sin. How many times would someone have to quote scriptures about gluttony and hand out weigh down workshop brochures before ascertaining that you aren’t good enough to belong?

Let’s just say that homosexuality is a sin.  I wonder why some people feel that their first response is to quote scripture.   Is this the appropriate response?  Declare the line in the sand? I just want you to know that I see wrong in your life when I compare it to what I read in the Bible.   How can I politely say that I can see see “sin” in your life too. Is it completely appropriate for me to point it out to you?  Especially when you haven’t spoken to me in years. Do you just want to speak your mind or do you want to also listen and engage in conversation?

There is a new tension as I live in between two worlds.  This past year I have attended a church where I know their “theological position” on LGBT issues.  It also happens to be one of the sister campuses to the church that I helped start.  While there I seem to be constantly assessing whether people are talking about me.  I wonder if this is where I am to belong.  Is it possible as I engage further someone may raise contention with me being openly gay.  Will that be good for me?  Will that be good for the church? Do they want me?

I’ve also visited several churches that are “open and affirming” to gay people.  There are gay couples in the congregation and LGBT folks in leadership of the church.  In this particular denomination there are even pastors who are openly gay.  I wonder about belonging in this context as well.  I’ve always felt a sense of participating in resolving injustice.  To be a part of a church that had these conversations 20 years ago about homosexuality makes this issue seem a moot point. Nevertheless, would this be a healthier option for me where i’m not worried about whether i’ll be accepted for my orientation?

The conversation about what the Bible says and what it means to be a gay Christian is a hot topic these days.  I know I have some decisions to make as far as how I would like to position myself in that discussion.  Will I be someone who engages people in the conversation or will I watch as others do it?  All I know for sure right now is that I have decided that I will tell my story.  I was a pastor.   Being a pastor will always be a part of me.  I long to point people to Jesus, and, I am gay.