Monthly Archives: June 2011

Open Story for Gay Youth

I wrote the following (true) story several years ago, when I was still deciding if “coming out” would completely ruin my life.  At the time, I was a professional minister.  Several times every week I stood on a stage in front of hundreds of people and told my stories… and talked about Jesus… and tried to help people understand that they are accepted by God.

But while I was sure that God accepted me just as I was, I wasn’t sure the congregations I served would follow His lead if I told them my full story… especially the parts about me liking boys.

It was, obviously, a stressful time.

When I re-read this story a few days ago, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of gay teenagers who spend every Sunday morning hiding quietly in churches across America.

You know they’re sitting in a pew right next to you, right?

In a study of 5,819 religious teenagers from 635 churches, a team of researchers found that 7% of religious youth claimed to be homosexual, 5% claimed to be bisexual, and 2% weren’t sure or their sexual orientation (Clapp, Helbert & Zizak, “Faith Matters: Teenagers, Religion, and Sexuality,” 2003).

That means that, contrary to what some church folks seem to think, gay kids aren’t just out there.  They’re in here, too.  Apparently, roughly 14% of youth in our churches aren’t as “straight” as we may think they are.

These kids are camouflaging themselves so well that they can’t see the people just like them who are hiding right next to them.  They’re hiding, afraid of what will happen when they’re “found out.”

Obviously, it’s a stressful time.

As somebody on the other side of the “coming out” divide, I offer this as my open letter/story to gay youth.   If you’re a religious (or formerly religious) gay youth (or former youth), I hope you know there are lots of us out there who will happily buy your stick (and I promise that will sound a lot less perverted after you read the story…).  

Stick for Sale

Today my nephew tried to sell a stick at a yard sale. While I was busy getting rid of coffee mugs, Christmas ornaments, and old shoes, Braden was selling a stick.

Yard sales are essentially eBay in the wild… with card tables. Without computer screens and user names for shoppers to hide behind, yard sales let you watch as people search for treasure in your trash. Standing among tables piled high with unappreciated Christmas presents and neglected what-nots, yard sales give suburban scavengers the freedom to scrutinize rejected possessions and haggle over worthless junk.

Maybe that’s why only the brave among us host these front-yard thrift parties. It takes a certain amount of courage to clean out your closets and decide that you’re willing to build a public display from everything you’ve found in the dark corners of your house. It’s hard to assign value to your own junk.

It’s also hard to watch your neighbors judge the things that once lived proudly in your home.  When your across-the-street neighbor sees your VHS collection of Little House on the Prairie, he might quietly judge both your sanity and your taste.  Or, if you’re lucky, you might catch him covertly digging through the box while he thinks nobody’s watching, trying to find the episode where Nelly Oleson makes Laura (aka “Half Pint”) eat glue.

That’s the risk of displaying your life’s leftovers and intimate secrets for strangers, family, and friends. Sometimes you feel judged as people casually pick through your collected life. But sometimes, when a curious shopper stops to admire a trinket or appreciate what others have ignored, you find comfort in the knowledge that we’ve all collected the same trash.

Of course, most of our yard sale fears are unfounded. Yard-sale scavengers might sometimes be discriminating and judgmental, but they will also buy almost anything for the right price. Before my nephew came to visit, I sold a sack of Christmas ornaments and a pair of swim goggles to a bearded man wearing a hat. Apparently, his family is planning to celebrate the holidays by bobbing for Christmas. Around 9:00 I sold a short woman four Tupperware tops without their bottoms. It felt a little indecent. Several people asked if I had any electronics for sale. I said no. I don’t trust people who sell electronics at yard sales.

I even sold a wet suit to a woman who wanted to know if it would keep her dry.

I think God understands when you laugh at yard sale people.

With all this perfectly wonderful junk on display, my nephew tried to help by selling a stick. He found the small branch under a tree where he was busy trying to keep the grass off his shoes. Braden is five years old and doesn’t like to be messy. Freshly cut grass in the morning is messy. It makes your shoes look like nature has thrown confetti all over them and leaves your socks wondering why the rest of you weren’t invited to the party.

While Braden wiped the confetti off his size three sneakers, he found the stick. And decided to help.

Braden has always been a good helper. He loves to help you eat the icing off your cake. He likes to help you get wet while he’s taking a bath. He’s also good at helping you play in the backyard. Some children help their parents and teachers only because they’re told to or because they want to be rewarded for their efforts with candy and praise. My nephew, however, is an exception to the candy reward rule. Braden likes to help simply because he wants to be near you while you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing.

On the morning of my yard sale, Braden wanted to help sell all of the things I was either tired of using or shouldn’t have bought in the first place. And a stick.

When he picked up the stick and started to play with it, I couldn’t understand why Braden had chosen to entertain himself with a broken tree branch instead of playing with the wonderful junk I was trying to sell. There were four chipped baseball bats and a pile of stuffed animals well within reach. And what kid wouldn’t be happy playing in a box of old socks?

“Boys will be boys,” I thought as I left Braden to enjoy his stick.

Braden, however, didn’t want to simply play with the stick. He wanted to sell it. Just as I was about to remind the boy that his mother would probably be unhappy if he managed to poke out his eye with a stick, Braden’s attention turned to a Hispanic woman digging through a pile of slightly used shoes. He held the stick out to her as if this particular stick was the most wonderful thing in the world. How have you lived this long without it? It’s just what you need! “Excuse me,” he said in his most polite voice. “Do you want to buy this stick?”

The pause that followed was filled with innocent and awkward. Braden stood in the grass with his tiny hand extended, smiling the precious smile of a child who still believes please is a magic word. While he shuffled his feet in a nervous dance of hope and terror, Braden’s eyes filled with a fear that he will only fully understand the first time he asks for a date or uses the words “I love you.”

“Do you want to buy this stick?”

To a five-year-old, a stick is still a treasure, worth a few shiny quarters. It is a magic wand and a baseball bat, a sword and a shovel. It can attack a tree and poke things you’re afraid to touch, including (but not limited to) sleeping dogs, wasp nests, and girls. A good stick is at least as valuable as a tennis racket and more useful than an old waffle iron. It was therefore reasonable for Braden to assume that the old woman might actually want to buy a slightly used stick. She could use it to beat her husband or maybe stir some soup.

Unfortunately, the woman hadn’t used her imagination in a while. It had gotten rusty. She had no desire to attack a tree or poke a sleeping dog. She didn’t want the stick.

Braden clearly couldn’t understand the woman’s apathy. Why hadn’t she immediately accepted his offer and produced a handful of cash from her purse? Braden assumed that buried beneath the gum and tissues, mints, makeup and other womanly gadgets, the woman must have had at least two spare quarters that wanted to be spent on a stick…  but she wasn’t interested. The woman looked down at Braden like he was offering her a cup of lava or a few dozen mosquito eggs and walked back to her station wagon empty handed, oblivious that she had just rejected a five-year-old child who had only just begun to explore the wonders of a free-market economy.

The woman drove away without realizing that when Braden offered her the stick, he wasn’t really trying to make a sale. He was trying to make a friend. When Braden spoke to the woman, he was essentially asking a question he will continue to ask for the rest of his life.

Is what’s important to me important to you, too?

Is what’s valuable to me valuable to you, too?

Do we both think the same things are beautiful?

Do we both think the same things are funny or clever?

Do the things that break my heart break yours also?

Will you please decide that what I have to offer is valuable and worth your attention?

Would you like to buy this stick?

Whenever we try to find what we have in common with another person, we always risk finding instead what will keep us separate. But if we never risk rejection, we also never risk acceptance.

Fortunately, Braden’s innocence still protects him from the fear and insecurity future years will bring. When the ungrateful woman walked away, Braden didn’t cry or pout or even attack her with his tree sword. Instead, he dropped the branch and took up the new task of cleaning an old file cabinet with a barbecue brush.

Braden doesn’t like for things to be messy.

Later in the day, after Braden went home and the buzzards carried away everything of real value, a few yard sale snobs slowed their cars just long enough to glance at my picked-over tables. When they realized I had nothing they wanted, they sped away, avoiding eye-contact, anxious to find a coffee table the next block over or a few rare records across town. I tried not to let these suburban drive-bys hurt my feelings, but they did. I guess I’m not as secure with myself as Braden is, skipping through the yard with his clean shoes and four-foot bravery.

That’s why, when I walk out of my house every day, I leave everything valuable locked inside, hidden behind closed curtains and doors. If people had full access to my history, I’m afraid they might find all the memories that have filled my past, the stories that have built my present, and casually disregard them as unimportant or uninteresting.

Would you like to buy this stick?

If people were free to wander through my closets, I am scared they might poke thorough the boxes and uncover all the secrets I’ve wrapped so carefully and packed away in safe places on high shelves. I am afraid they will decide that I just have too much junk. The work isn’t worth it. And I can’t risk that. My confidence, like the economy and my property value, is simply too fragile.

I know it’s not particularly flashy or brilliant. It’s terribly ordinary. But it’s the best stick I have.

Sometimes I wonder if people understand that every conversation, every joke, every story, and every smile is essentially one person offering himself to another person, posing the same basic question. Every awkward silence, every nervous laugh, every spoken or written word is really me asking in my most polite voice,

Do you want what I have to offer?

Will you see that I am valuable?

Would you like to buy this stick?

I ask these questions hoping you will see that I am not just dead wood, broken and useless. If you look close enough you will find that I am also a sword, a shovel, and a magic wand. I am a child. A lover. A sometimes failure. I am even reasonably useful if you use your imagination. I can dig a hole or stir some soup. Or be your friend.

Would you like to buy this stick?

Before you answer, I need for you to close your eyes and use your imagination. I need for you to be willing to look into my deep darkness, and sadness, and fear, and hurt, and hope and not cringe or laugh at what you find there. I need for you to realize that every house has a closet full of unappreciated treasures and misunderstood trinkets. And trash. I need for you to understand that sharing these things with the world is scary.

Very scary.

And so, if one day I gain the courage of a five year old and really offer myself to you, please don’t walk away. I might not handle the rejection as well as Braden did.

Would you like to buy a stick?

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Encouragement, Research, Stories

True Love Hesitates

Contrary to popular belief, being gay isn’t all about sex.  Homosexuality is about emotional and spiritual attraction as much as it’s about physical attraction.  But let’s be honest… it’s also sometimes about sex.

When straight Christians speak against homosexuality, I think their problem isn’t just with the mechanics of our sex life (what we like to do with our genitals), but also with the volume of our sex life (how many people we do these things with).

Many straight Christians feel that being gay is immoral not just because LGBT people might want to have sex with someone of our own gender… but because they assume we want to have sex with anyone (and possibly everyone) of our own gender.  They think we’re “loose.”  They think we’re “promiscuous.”  They think we’ll have sex with anything that wiggles.

In his article “Christians and the Sin of Hating Homosexuals,” Randal Rauser (professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary), says:

This seems to be the reasoning [of many straight Christians]: an additional reason to reject homosexuality is because homosexuals are generally more promiscuous than heterosexuals.

Here’s the problem. The degree to which there is promiscuity in the homosexual community has absolutely NOTHING to do with homosexuality per se. And how do I know this? Because it is a male problem, not a “homosexual” one. Males have a very different libido than females. So it is hardly surprising that when males are attracted to males, promiscuity rates rise. Consider this experiment: do you suppose that the average number of sexual partners for your typical male sports hero or rock star is closer to the number of the average heterosexual male or homosexual male? Clearly the latter. And the reason is opportunity: they have women willing to meet their sexual desires on a regular basis. We definitely can’t blame Tiger Woods’ fall from grace on homosexual tendencies. So we shouldn’t be blaming homosexuality per se for male homosexual promiscuity rates. Rather we should blame the male gender.

(Need it be said that Jesus doesn’t see much difference between the male who sleeps with six hundred partners and the male who would have slept with six hundred partners if only he had the opportunity? I would have thought the Sermon on the Mount made that point clear enough.)

Promiscuity isn’t a gay problem… it’s a human problem. Pretty wise, eh?

Those of us raised in churches that preached “no sex before marriage” undoubtedly feel the tension between sexual desire, sexual opportunity, and sexual purity.

As teenagers, our youth pastors taught us that “True Love Waits.”  Of course, if our teenage self was “playing straight,” it wasn’t hard to wait.  In fact, waiting was easier than the alternative.  “Purity” was our excuse to not do the things we really didn’t want to do anyway.

After we give ourselves permission to be gay, however, the game changes. As gay people with lots of gay opportunities, the ideal of sexual purity starts to sound, well… idealistic.  Especially for guys in relationships with other guys, the combined demands of two testosterone driven sex drives can be overwhelming.  “Wait” feels practically impossible.  We begin to wonder if “True Love Hesitates” might be a little more realistic.

Many of us also begin to wonder whether the church is more concerned with sex than it should be.  And to prove how open minded, free spirited, and sexually uninhibited we are, we give in to the gay stereotype (and our newly liberated sex drives) and have sex at every opportunity.

In essence, we rebel against purity.

But what if the idea of sexual purity is more about why we have sex with someone than it is about whether we have sex with someone?

If Jesus is as concerned with our motivations as he is about our actions (as the Sermon on the Mount suggests), does this new perspective take away a few of the hang-ups our sexually obsessed churches have given us, while still maintaining a standard that would make Jesus proud?

4 Comments

Filed under Conversation, Opinions, Questions

Not All Gay People Get Stoned

A few years ago, I preached a sermon about a woman who was caught in the act of adultery and was about to be stoned by some Jewish guys… which is a pretty terrible way to die.   In the story – as told in the Bible – Jesus comes to the woman’s rescue.  Many of us know his heroic line, “he who has no sin can cast the first stone.”

What we sometimes miss in this story is that when Jesus said this famous sentence, he went from kneeling in the dirt to standing next to her.  When Jesus stood up for the woman, he literally stood up for the woman, taking his place confidently at her side.

Of course, Jesus stands for us, too.  It’s nice to know, however, that he’s not the only one…

(This video is from ABC’s “What Would You Do?”  It’s an experiment to see how customers in a Texas diner will react to a gay couple and their family.  Before you watch, get a tissue… seriously…. especially if you’re from the South)

Leave a comment

Filed under Devotions, Encouragement, Music and Media, Supporters & Allies

Gay Christians Tell Their Stories

For most of us, several years pass between the day we first admit to ourselves that we’re gay and the day we first admit to another person that we’re gay.  As Christians, that “incubation time” is filled with a powerful mix of emotions and questions.  We’re afraid, lonely, and confused.  We’re ashamed of the things our bodies want to do. We’re frustrated that we can’t control our desires and properly “repent.” We question whether God can forgive us for feeling the way we feel. We pray for God to make us feel things we’ve never felt.  We wonder what everyone would do if they knew our “secret.”

We want to serve God, love Jesus, and worship with our family and friends… but wonder if this is a life gay men and women are allowed to live.

My coming out process would have been so much easier if I had known other gay Christian men and women… people who could have told me it’s possible to live as an openly gay person and still worship God in a church on Sunday morning.  If I could have heard their stories, I might have believed there was life outside my closed closet door.   Just as Thomas needed to feel the scars on Christ’s hands before he could believe the resurrection was real, I needed to “poke the wounds” of a few gay believers before I could believe the impossible was possible.

That’s why it’s so incredibly important for those of us who have walked this road to share the story of how we found the strength to live as gay Christians.  By telling our story, we fulfill the Great Commission… we preach the gospel… we stand as a light on a hill… we calm fear…. we provide hope… we act as a “great cloud of witnesses”… we assure our LGBT bothers and sisters that faith in God is possible, even for us.

In the weeks to come, a few of my friends have volunteered to share their story on this blog.  Some of these stories will come from straight people (including a few pastors).  Others will be from LGBT people (including a few pastors).

I would be honored if one of the stories would come from you.  Email me (stillforus@hotmail.com) if you would like to share your story!

In the meantime, check out what this leader in the gay student community at Harvard University says about his experience as a gay Christian…

…my personal experience as a gay person from the South has shown me that some of the people who most readily accept me have been evangelicals or conservatives. I have known I was gay since the very first time that I learned what the concept was. As soon as I hit puberty my realization that I was not attracted to girls like the other boys began to be confirmed for me. Until this date, I have never been sexually aroused over women, so my homosexuality has always seemed to me so central a part of how God made me that it is unfeasible for me to believe it is something that I could ever change.

As I grew older I began to be as certain in my identity as a gay person as I was certain that God was the force that had brought so much good into my life. And so when I was a freshman at Harvard College, in a spirit of love and honesty, I chose to come out to my parents. About two months after that, they expressed an unwillingness to accept me and went so far as to disown me completely. I haven’t spoken to them since that time. But out of this horrible ordeal, I have gained a great faith in God and the purposefulness of my life in His eyes. Ironically, it was through my very gayness and the qualities of humility, resilience, and tolerance that it has forced me to develop that I have grown to be a stauncher Christian than I ever was before I fully embraced my identity.

As I began to reach out to other relatives and family friends, I was most struck by the fact that many of those who I most suspected would be most homophobic have actually been the most accepting. Some of the most supportive people for me have been the very same conservatives and evangelical Christians that I had so readily written off before. What began to change their mind on this issue was not some abstract set of arguments, but rather the personal connection and love they had for me…

Read the full story here.  Also, subscribe to this blog to be notified when future stories are posted.  There’s a subscribe link just under the banner at the top of this page.  -b

2 Comments

Filed under Encouragement, Role Models, Stories