Some gushy words: I want to start off by saying "thank you" to all of the overwhelming support I received from last week's post. I was completely shocked at the outpouring of people who wrote me texts, comments, and emails to encourage this discussion or to share your own story with me. It's overwhelming to see the positive support that this discussion has. I hope that this project can start even more of the much-needed conversations in the Church and the gay community alike.
Historically speaking, I’m what Christians would call a “church brat.” The typical church brat would be defined as the kid who was physically in the church for inordinate amounts of time, usually as a result of a highly involved parent(s). Sometimes, partially in my case, these kids are affectionately referred to as “pastor’s kids.” However, I probably gave new definition to these somewhat cheeky terms. In fact, I embodied not only the physical qualities of this term, but also gave a new face to the solo term: brat.
My typical Sunday morning or Wednesday night involved less of actual church attendance and more of just, well... causing problems. I spent many church services talking under my breath to my friends at a volume that revealed just how unaware I was of my obnoxiousness. If I wasn’t in service, I was off seeking out my dad’s Sunday school classroom to throw dodge-balls at the window to distract him from teaching. If I was in my small group, I was probably distracting the group with side-comments aimed to get as much of a laugh as I reasonably could without being asked to leave. If the group happened to be too focused that evening, it was no challenge for me; that was nothing that a good, loud fart couldn’t solve.
I was the epitome of a church brat.
As I got older, I found that my snarky sense of humor was something that many people (aside from my parents) enjoyed. That sense of humor gave me a repertoire among the youth as an informal leader of theirs. This started to get me interested in the actual leadership of ministry.
I really loved God. Whether I could avoid it or not, I was, by my very lifestyle a stereotypical Christian teenager. It was in this that I learned the customs that helped to shape the people in this community–I was no exception.
I want to take the next two posts to piggy-back off my first post to better examine the identities that I subscribe to. I have to admit, the purpose of me examining my Christian identity is more selfish in nature. I believe that, if I were to successfully exist in both the Christian and the gay community, it would be a good idea for me first to acknowledge the positive and negative aspects of these communities and take ownership of how I have contributed to them.
A Warning: I may look like a bit of a jerk
Before I go into this discussion in more depth, it’s worth mentioning that I will exhibit generalizations in this post—it's inevitable. There are so many bright spots and so many dull spots in every community and I cannot account for all of them on either side of the discussion. That said, bear with me in the tension of my experience and reflect what you can into your own context.
AT MY WORST
One of "The Plastics"
To the non-church world, Christians’ image varies from person to person. However, one categorical assessment of Christians has been our lack of true understanding for the very real issues people go through. In our attempts to love, we’ve allowed our personal conviction of peoples’ actions to get in our way. In our attempts we strive to change people, to force compliant behavior on them, and find ourselves unable to relate when individuals aren’t “living the way they should.” I’m really no exception to this generalization.
I’ve thought that I had it all figured out. I mean, I have this cool scripture, I pray every once in awhile, and I go to church every week. Clearly I have fallen under the misconception that I know how people “should live.”
I’ve looked on people groups and I’ve judged them beyond any hope of grace or redemption. I’ve looked at a person and thought that they looked fat, looked flamingly gay, looked like a jerk, all without having any knowledge of who they really were. Making it more collective, I’ve turned and talked about these judgments with my friends. My Christian friends and I have sat around and assessed peoples’ value based on their appearance and our limited understanding of their lives.
Bad intentions may be one thing, but what about in my best attempts? Yeah, I’ve even passed this type of judgment under my best intentions. I’ve seen someone and thought “Well, he could have so much more opportunity if he just wasn’t such a nerd. I mean, bless his heart*!” In my genuine attempts to care about people, I have attempted to elevate myself to the level of the very God that I serve.
Bob the Builder...That you never hired
I’ve behaved in ways that, not only degrade who God is, but also ways that degrade who Christians are. Christians are notorious for being a people that, like what I’ve said above, expect actions out of people that they aren’t always capable of maintaining themselves. I am also not the exception to this generalization either.
In my attempts to hide from myself, I have acted in ways that scripture tells me not to. I’ve heard sermons on subjects that would challenge my life and then walked out of the service to immediately and willfully disregard any transformation from the information I had just heard.
Vulnerability? Thanks, but I'm good
While we Christians like to create environments where we can be fully known, we tend to find ourselves reverting back to fostering environments where we want to appear that we’re fully known. This, of course, means showing people just how incredibly perfect we are(n't actually).
As a gay man, I’ve chosen to hide from Christians. As a teenager, I struggled with intense shame for all the sexuality-based confusion I was going through. As I got older, I still maintained an image of heterosexual in an effort to find security in belonging in this community. The only problem with this was that no one would truly know who I was. My friends would know just a small portion of what I was going through because I was to ashamed to admit that I had an actual dilemma going on in my life. I’ve hidden from the very people that I claimed to be closest to. Worse yet, my hiding helped no one, not even myself, but that's a subject best kept to a much different post.
I explain these quite bleak issues above to reveal that, at my worst, I have epitomized the baggage that the Christian community is stereotypically known for. I have made contributed to the problems that make this community appear sour. Put simply, I've been a crappy Christian at times.
AT MY BEST
God is insane, but the good kind
I love God and genuinely believe that He’s working in peoples’ lives. I believe that He has a community of people who truly can show others just how transformative God really is. As a pastor, I got to demonstrate to people frequently–how the Church can be a positive and active force in the communities in which it exists. My friends frequently see me working on these weird projects (such as this blog) and I get to show them what pursuing an engaged life story looks like.
I get to show my friends that Christians actually help society. When Christians are highly functioning, we can use our relationship with God to, quite literally, change lives in the areas in which we live.
I honestly can’t say that I have ever personally “led someone to the Lord,” but I can say that I have helped a homeless woman find human services that she needed, I’ve counseled a friend through a dying marriage, and I have demonstrated (for my friends) that life is meant to be lived with purpose through my own capers. These are the types of things that we Christians can be known for at our best and I wouldn't disassociate myself from it even if I wanted to.
I get to be community
Christians are known to be a people who authentically live. We know that we don’t have this whole “life thing” figured out. We give people permission to screw up and we admit when we screw up ourselves. We provide a community for people unlike any that I've ever seen—one in which people can be fully known and embraced for it.
One thing that I have heard a lot in my life is that I'm hospitable. While I have a harsh exterior at times, I have been able to provide community with people in my life that’s unhindered by fear of vulnerabilities and in a way that people can feel like they are themselves around me. When I am fully being myself, people around me feel as if they can be too.
WHAT SHOULD I/WE BE? EXISTENCE THAT SUPERSEDES IDENTITY
My existence in God is what informs my identity in the Christian community. My understanding and relationship with God is what allows me to function at my best within this group of people. I reject the fact that Christians are stuck being deemed as judgmental people who live in a plastic manner. This is a community that is formed on the common fact that we are people who serve God and live in relationship with Him. When I realize this fact, I am able to approach my identity within this community in a pure way. I am enabled to mitigate the negative stereotypes of this community, as I seek to embody the positive qualities of these people.
This existence allows me to believe that, whether the output is positive or negative, my actions and attitudes are inextricably bound to this community. And that's a pretty beautiful thing.
I'm curious what Christians would say to these positives and negatives. And, non-Christians (gay or not) what's your experience with these ideas?
*Bless his/her heart” = “More wholesome” way to call someone an idiot.