A Seed of Grace

They call it “Coming out of the closet”.

The moment that nearly every queer person faces at some point in their lives. The moment when they stop pretending, stop lying, stop hiding and step out with truth into who they really are. Usually it starts with just one person: a close friend, sibling or even a family matter. Before long it becomes easier to be honest and authentic with everyone. But there’s almost always a moment when the person inside, the gay man, the lesbian, the bisexual or the transgender person steps into the light to be seen and known.

The first person I ever told is still one of my closest friends. But it was only 5 years ago (On midnight of January 1st 2014) that I told my parents that I am gay. Five years may seem like a long time, but it is not nearly long enough to reverse over 30 years of hopes and expectations for a wife, and children and a “traditional life”. So while I’ve have a lifetime to come to terms with who I am and to find strength and confidence in who God made me to be, I know that it also takes those closest to us a long time to reach that point. And so my parents have only had 5 years to transition from expecting their son to settle down with a wife and start having children, to their son being gay and wanting to spend his life with another man. And so, imagine my surprise that when I told them, almost exactly 5 years to the day that my partner and I are planning to move to the U.K. and we are considering marriage, they responded with, happiness; joy… acceptance.

Their exact words were: “Our love for you and soon both (of you) outweighs any difficulties encountered. We love you so much. You are our only son!! We care about your happiness and welfare.”

It was a beautiful moment for me. One that I haven’t felt since many years ago when I first built up the courage to tell some of my closest friends my “deepest, darkest secret”. But what I remember from those times is a feeling of overwhelming grace. The need for acceptance is a universal trait. In some way or another, we are all looking for it, needing it, craving it. But for the queer individual, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, that acceptance all comes down to a moment, the seconds after uttering the words are the most tense and nerve-wracking I have ever felt. It’s in that moment a queer person discovers the reality of their relationship. For some, revealing their sexual orientation to friends and loved ones has meant disappointment, rejection even repulsion. Far too many have lost their homes and families when being truthful about who they are cost them the safety and security of a place to call “home”. For others, including me, it has meant that the relationship with close friends is suddenly ‘not as close’; Being honest sometimes means losing the trust of people who they had thought would always be there for them. Of course, this should never be the case. No one should have to fear that by being themselves they will lose friendships or be kicked out of their homes. But sadly, it happens. And as long as people remain flawed humans, then our relationships will also be flawed.

So in that moment, in the seconds after admitting our “deepest, darkest secret”, when we find acceptance, when there is nothing but love and acceptance, it’s the sweetest moment of relief and joy. Because when someone sees us, for who we really are, no pretense, no illusions and nothing withheld and they accept us and love us regardless, to me, that’s true grace. For me, it’s a glimpse of Heaven on Earth: unconditional love, grace that wraps arms around us in tears and laughter warms the soul and calls us to what we were made for. The moment 5 years ago when after I had just “came out” to my parents, they hugged me, told me that they loved me and are still proud of me, and the text message from them this week that told me they are excited to welcome my partner into the family and celebrate our union together, these are the moments that we live for.

There is a seed of Grace hidden within every moment of raw, honest truth we choose to live out. The responsibility on all of us is to take those moments when we are faced to accept or reject the person in front of us, is to allow that seed to grow. Choose love over condemnation. Take the path of acceptance and away from rejection. Because when we do, we become that little piece of Heaven on Earth to someone who needs it.

The “Other”

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything.

As a matter of fact, I haven’t posted anything since the U.S. Election.

And no, it’s not because I needed a safe space to cry or feel feelings.

I’ve been grieving, yes. But not about the election.

What saddens me is as I read the news from country to country the common thread that I see occurring is division– a slow, polarizing of peoples, races, ideas and countries that are splitting once unified groups of people into “us” and “them”; or, “We who are right” and “The others who are wrong”.

This isn’t new news. People have been reporting on it, writing about it and blogging their opinion on it for years. And it’s because I feel that everyone is talking about it that it’s hard for me to sit here and blog about my two cents.

I’ll be honest, the thing I struggle with most and the reason that kept me from creating this blog for so long is the thought that somewhere, anywhere, there are lots of other people saying the same thing that I want to say and they are saying it better than I ever could. So, why should I bother? It’s a feeling of being an inadequate, ineffective voice that is simply creating noise that no one really cares about that I think has kept me back from doing so many things in my life. I had this post nearly finished back in November. I had quotes and references, stories and examples. But the more I read from other people the more I became discouraged with the mediocrity of what I had written.

So I gave up.

Then towards the end of December a friend of Luis who lives in the States came to visit us for about a week and a half. I was a little nervous about his visit because, from everything Luis had told me, he was very conservative in his views and beliefs and I felt there was a very good chance that we would have extremely different viewpoints about a lot of issues.

On the outset, I was right.

In a lot of ways, Luis’ friend and I couldn’t have been more different. And for me, those were the first things that caught my attention. For one example, it was probably the second night of his visit he mentioned that he voted for Trump and for a lot of people I know, that would have been the end of the conversation right there.

And yet, in-between and under the things that divided us, there were many things that unified us. We both were born in the United States and were US citizens. We were both white men in our 30’s. We both spoke English as our native language. We had both traveled to several countries and found that our ideas about life and the World had changed as a result of our travels. And, perhaps most importantly, we both confessed a faith and utter dependance on Christ as revealed in Scripture as the basis for our spiritual beliefs.

What I began to find over the days of his visit and the numerous conversations we had till one in the morning (or later) was that each time we discovered something that divided us, we, both of us, had a choice; either to focus on those polarizing ideas and beliefs or instead, to take the time to understand the how and the why behind those ideas and beliefs. And it was in those ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ that I found commonality.

In this experience I learned firsthand that if we allow labels and lines to define our relationships with people (gay – straight, Republican – democrat, pro-life – pro-choice, Christian – Muslim, black – white, the list goes on and on and on…) then all that we’ll be left with is a small bubble of people that fit into all the same labels and lines that we do. And everyone else, the “others”… well, it’s a lot easier to dehumanize the “others” because they aren’t you. They aren’t right, they’re wrong. They aren’t a help, they’re a threat. And when the “other” is a threat to “us” then “doing away with them” suddenly seems like the right, the safe, the moral thing to do; instead of the tragedy of destroying a living, breathing soul created in the image of God that it really is.

So I’m thankful for those who don’t think like me and act like me. The world doesn’t need more people like me. The world needs more people who are willing to look at someone across the divide of politics, religion, race, economics, nationality, faith, and orientation and find the commonality; to see themselves in another’s eyes.

May you look beyond what divides us to what unifies us.

May you continually hope that what unifies us will bring understanding.

May you live in the peace that understanding will bring love.

May you love in a way that closes the divide until the “other” is “us”.

Grace From the Shadows

Shortly after coming to Shanghai in 2014 I was missing the community I left behind in the US. The church of believers I regularly fellowshipped and worshiped with had been wonderful, but after I left, I only heard from maybe 2 or 3 people; and hardly on any kind of regular basis.

I was lonely.

I began feeling the need for a community. I began longing after a group of people with whom I could open up to, trust and who would encourage me to continue to seek after God.

About 2 years ago, I wrote this in my journal:

I’ve spent the better part of the evening looking up Churches in Shanghai. The longer I search, the more I keep asking myself if I’m crazy. My experience with [churches] hasn’t always been the best. I don’t function well in “community”.
But that’s not a quality. It’s a weakness.
Living in community requires humility and other-centered living; two of the many things that I lack. I know that churches nor the people who frequent them are perfect. Which is why I so often go in with my guard up.
Walls high.
No one gets in.
I don’t get hurt.
But staying isolated doesn’t protect me. It (only) keeps my pride and independence intact. With my defenses in place, I don’t have to care for anyone else. I don’t have to be vulnerable; don’t have to place others at the center of my life… instead of myself.
Can I change my thinking when encountering a new church?
Can I walk in, walls down and arms open?
Can I go to encounter God, seek nourishment and find a way to help others?
I. Need. To. Try!
(October 19th, 2014)

It would be several more months before I could get the courage to pick a church and go.

In early 2015 I began attending Shanghai Community Fellowship.

It was amazing!

I got connected with a fellowship group that met every week. I felt like I had friends and a kind of “family” in a place where I had been feeling so alone. And the best thing for me was the opportunity to be challenged and grow spiritually.

 

Over the summer of 2015, I did some traveling and took a CELTA course in Prague. While I was there, the city was also hosting its annual gay pride parade. And, having only been to 2 and both of them only in the US, I decided to go and see what it was like. While I was at the parade, I posted a picture (top of this post) and a status about it on WeChat (a popular social media app in China). One of the girls in the church community group who I had become really good friends with “liked” my picture and, while I thought it was interesting, I didn’t give it that much thought. I had never “come out”or said anything about my sexuality to the Church. I wasn’t “hiding”, but I didn’t see any reason to say anything as the topic had never come up.

When I got back to Shanghai, I met up and had lunch with one of the guys from the Church fellowship group, the husband of the girl who liked my photo who had also become a really close friend over the past year. During our lunch he asked if he could share his “story” with me.

He told me that he identifies as gay. But believes that same sex relationships are not in God’s plan for humanity. His wife identifies as a lesbian. They decided to get married and do ministry in China. Which is absolutely fine. I completely respect other people’s beliefs and their desire to pursue the life they want to live in good conscience before God.

He asked me about my story, so I told him. If you’d like to read the condensed version of my story, you can find it here. He seemed quite troubled when I told him that I believe that God who designed humans, our sexual natures and our desire for love cares most deeply about our love and care for others over the anatomical way in which we express that love and with whom we share it. I explained that I believe it is possible for two people of the same sex who are followers of Christ, to worship together in Spirit and Truth and be vessels of love and compassion ministering to those in need and the community while lovingly committing themselves to each other as mutual helpmates and partners with a desire to edify, encourage and support one another for the rest of their lives. Now, the actual discussion lasted for several hours over two separate days and was more complex than what I could put in this blog post. I’m aware that not everyone agrees with me, in fact, in most Christian circles I am probably on the fringes. I am humble enough to admit that I may be wrong. I am small and finite and God is great and beyond my comprehension, so I can only live as His Spirit guides me. For now, at this time in my life, this is how I reconcile my faith and my life.

He did not agree.

Through eyes filled with crocodile tears he told me that he could not allow me to continue coming to the fellowship group. He explained that he saw me as a false prophet, a divisive, unrepentant backslider who would be a moral and spiritual danger to the group. He emphasized over and over how much he loved me like a brother and that he was so broken hearted about having to do this. And I think on some level he believed that. But in that moment it was hard to feel the “kiss on the cheek” when there was a “knife in my side”. We parted. I respected his wishes (command) and never went back to the Church. No one from the group has spoken to me since.

That was over a year ago.

And while the hurt, anger, betrayal and heartbreak I felt has subsided, I feel scared because now I feel the Spirit leading me back to find a community to worship with. There are only so many times I can sit and read alone, or watch/listen to a sermon podcast alone. I feel like a limb that’s been severed and is slowly draining of life.

A part of me wants to walk away and never open myself up to a painful experience like that again. But I know I can’t. If my faith is real, if what I believe has any affect on my life at all, it needs to flourish within a community who also seeks after the same things.

In the journal entry I quoted earlier, I had also written a response to a quote by Frank Schaeffer I had read at the time:

“(Jesus) criticized everything religious around him yet still participated in the traditional, liturgical, formal worship of his day even though it was led by hypocrites he denounced”   -Frank Schaeffer
In scripture I’ve read a million times about Jesus being in the synagogue on the Sabbath. But never did I picture him being led in liturgy and worship by the very religious leaders whom HE KNEW would crucify him!
(October 19th 2014)

As I said before, of course, no religious institution is perfect. I would never expect it to be. And I know that many of you reading this post have felt the exact same sting of hurt and rejection from people who profess Christ and yet seem more keen to do the crucifying. InterVarsity has been in the news recently as they are causing a similar kind of rejection, pain and heartache to people on a massive, nationwide scale. And sadly, they aren’t the only ones. But the purpose of my post is not an angry rant against the Church, Christians or the use of personal beliefs to reject, exclude and condemn others.

As I look around, read, and talk to other LGBTQ people, I hear their pain, their heartache to belong, to be in community, to worship God with their partners in the fellowship of other believers. I hear the anger and the sadness of people who have been beaten down and rejected by those who are supposed to be their brothers and sisters in the faith and who many times are their own family! People are DYING! Both spiritually and literally because of the actions of people who claim to follow Christ.

But my faith is not in the religious people. My faith is in the One the religious people crucified.

I have to believe that the same Spirit that is calling me to worship and fellowship in Church & community is calling the community & Church to reach out and embrace the stranger at their gates. And while it’s difficult, and while the road may be painful on both sides, it’s what I’m called to do. My only choice is to open my heart and continue to love as much as He loves me. To move towards acceptance and reconciliation. To show Grace from under the shadows of the Church doors.

It’s all I can do.

 

pro-image-cropped-1    Thank you for reading!

If you are part of the LGBTQ Community and have had a similar experience as what I have shared, I would appreciate you leaving a comment and sharing YOUR story. Or perhaps you have questions and would like to know how to be a help to those in the LGBT community who have been hurt by the Church, please leave a comment and share. I would appreciate you keeping your words respectful and I will try to reply to any comments or questions I receive.