Monday, December 23, 2013


 Driving to work, I caught my reflection in the rear-view mirror...

The dark circles, the wrinkles, the blemished skin, the almost completely-gray hair. Well, at least I HAVE hair. In fact I have an over-abundance of it. On my back, shoulders, and...well...everywhere. Oh well. Another year older. But am I wiser?

I don't know if I'm wiser, but I have learned a lot this year by blogging and interacting with readers and other bloggers on social media. There are too many takeaways from 2013 for me to list. The one that has stayed with me the most is the concept of privilege.

I have wrestled with this word. It makes me uncomfortable. I don't want to own my privilege, because that means I have to be more vigilant of my words and actions. It compels me to be aware of those who have less privilege. It sheds light on injustice, oppression, and abuse. It makes me sad, and who wants to be sad?

The struggle with owning my privilege has been similar to the stuggle with owning my sexuality. As a gay person, I felt the need to guard my words and actions. Now that I am in an environment that is affirming and loving, I don't feel the compulsion to hide.

Here is the irony: part of owning my privilege means that, once again, I am being asked to guard my words and actions.

So, how does someone who has experienced marginalization--someone who has fought a lifelong battle to be open and honest and unashamed--deal with this ironic twist of also having a great amount of privilege? Ah, the plight of the margi-privileged*!

I don't have the definitive answer, but I can share my techniques and experiences with you. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

Don't get hung up on others' anger, tone, or "lack of grace."
When I first came out, I felt like a wounded animal. I had exposed a very deep part of myself to people that I knew would have a problem with it. Although all responded with good intent, some of the less careful responses hurt horribly. Because of the vulnerability I felt, I lashed out in anger. I know that my angry words hurt them, but I needed them to know how their words, however well-intentioned, hurt me. Most people were critical of how I responded, which hurt even more. Now, just imagine how someone who has been a victim of abuse feels when they lash out at their abusers, and are told that their response was "unhelpful."

Remember critique is not the same as personal attack.
I've had to tell myself this over and over again. For example, even though I wasn't involved in the NALT project, I felt that the critique given by some queer Christians (and non-Christians) was harsh. I internalized their critique; I felt that they were criticizing ME because I thought (and still think) that NALT is useful and helpful. But...I have come to understand that they aren't attacking me by disagreeing with me. They are offering an honest critique. Instead of telling people how to critique, the best thing I can do in this case is to (1) urge the people at NALT to listen to the words of their critique, (2) get involved to make positive change, and (3) offer encouragement to them.

If told to "check your privilege" or something similar, check your marginalization as well.
I truly believe that some of the conflict I experience around this issue is that when I'm given a critique, experience disagreement, or feel attacked, I am reliving my own marginalization. So, when this occurs, I check both my privilege AND my marginalization. Am I being marginalized because I do not fit a societal norm? Or, am I getting pushback from someone who is feeling marginalized by me? Could this person be experiencing anxiety and/or pain due to past hurts?

Be the change you want to see.
This has become my mantra. For all the talk this year of fundamentalism, post-modernism, grace, truth, oppression, abuse, tone, privilege, marginalization, and so many others, I can't control other people's reactions, responses, or critiques. The only person I can control is myself. I'm commanded to love; not to instruct others on the way I think they should love.

Use it as another opportunity to run to God.
Often I have felt deflated, depressed, discouraged, and disillusioned with what I've learned, seen, and experienced on social media and blogging. I've often wanted to give up on Christianity altogether. However, I can bring all of these conflicted emotions--including my disgust for Christianity--to God. I bring both my marginalization and my privilege--and all associated feelings--to God.

I can't emphasize enough that these techniques are what I'm trying to do in my OWN life. I don't want to give the impression that these techniques are the solution to conflict, disunity, dealing with abuse and oppression, etc. If anything, I'm writing this to those who are privileged and find themselves confused or frustrated with pushback from those less privileged. Remember that "to much is given, much is required." Remember Jesus, who gave everything--even his life--for all of us. Remember the Kingdom of God, where the first is last and the last is first.

What do you think? Critiques welcome here! I've much to learn.

*Thanks to Karla Keffer for coining this term!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Blessed Are They That Mourn

"Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." - Matthew 5:4

When I was living and working in Toledo, Ohio in my mid-20s, I often had lunch at this large, cafeteria-style restaurant downtown. Patrons would load their trays and sit in a large atrium filled with tables, booths, and a lot of potted ferns. The food was lousy, but the big plants surrounding each table made it an ideal place for conversation.

That atrium is burned in my memory. There, I confessed my crisis of faith to my pastor. It’s where I almost came out to who-knows-how-many people. It’s where I sat listening to co-workers talk about “hot girls” and dating, while I parroted the expected responses and tried to change the subject. It’s where I sat alone unable to think straight (let alone pray), mind swirling with doubt, confusion, fear, and disillusionment.

One particular lunch I remember sitting with my friend Charlie, trying to explain those paralyzing feelings of doubt and confusion. I felt safe with Charlie. Charlie was in his early 40s, a handful of inches above 6 feet, bearded, loud, passionate, and extremely kind. He listened to my awkward explanation, and then said: “Do you know that verse ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted’”?


“Mourning means to get on the outside that which is inside,” pointing to his heart.

“Um, OK. What does that mean exactly?”

“I’m just saying that’s what you are trying to do right now. You are in pain, and you are trying to identify and express it.”

Charlie’s words rang true. Part of me wanted to keep those emotions buried, to pretend everything was alright, and to keep playing the part of Kevin Shoop, mild-mannered evangelical Christian dude. But I couldn’t. His words encouraged me not to “rest in the Lord” or stop struggling, but to keep digging.

I struggled internally, in part, because I was wrestling with my sexuality. I knew I was gay, but I was taught it was open rebellion against God to succumb to the temptation. The “temptation” was not only to act on these sexual desires, but to identify as a gay person. So, I slogged through various ways to change my sexual orientation and/or commit to a life of celibacy (fervent prayer, ex-gay therapy, workbooks, Bible meditation, etc.).

During this time of struggle, Charlie’s words would come back to me now and then. “Blessed are they that mourn....” Years later, as I began to understand and embrace my sexual identity, it dawned on me: coming out is a form of mourning. Blessed are they that get on the outside that which is inside.


There is loss when someone decides to come out: family, friends, old belief systems, well-worn masks. We mourn all these losses. We also mourn "lost time"— compassion for the child/person who genuinely thought they were broken and desperate for change. But there is comfort in becoming more whole and authentic. Genuine growth and healing are possible.

Please note: Coming out is no easy task. In no way should an individual be forced or shamed to come out before they are ready. Some must choose between coming out and physical/economic safety. Please see this post for more on this topic.

Today, as a gay man no longer caught up in that specific internal struggle, I’ve had more energy and clarity to focus on oppression outside of my own story. If one is able to open one's eyes and ears to the real suffering caused by social and economic injustice, one cannot help but mourn. We mourn the horror on the daily news. We mourn for the church—for evil done in God’s name in the past and present. We mourn the jarring inconsistency between Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of God and the reality on the ground.

A friend of mine recently demonstrated this type of mourning. A woman he knew shared her concern that some Christian churches were beginning to affirm same-sex relationships. She told him, "I'm glad you and I see it the same way, at least." He didn't say anything to confirm or deny her statement, and afterward felt awash in sadness, guilt, and weariness. He was mourning not only his inability at that time to say something, but also the widespread view that so many Christians have about same-sex relationships. Feeling that pain—mourning it—becomes similar to that other beatitude: to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Mourning moves us to cry out to God in our weakness. Hunger and thirst drive us to right the wrongs we mourn from day to day.

I'm convinced that mourning is a discipline. It’s what we do when we have true empathy; when we begin to see with the eyes of God those who are oppressed. Holy mourning inevitably leads to a hunger and thirst for righteousness. It drives us to work toward Kingdom ideals. It also drives us to seek refuge, relief, strength, and courage from God.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

God Questions

These are my core questions about God and Christianity:

  1. Is God an actual person like you and me? Or is God more like a force? OR, is God more like a collection of all of us, perhaps of all existence?

  2. The Jesus who lived on earth over 2,000 years ago: is this same Jesus actually alive today?

  3. Is the Holy Spirit a person? Should it be toward the Holy Spirit that I concentrate my thoughts, energy, and devotion?

  4. To whom or what (or what member of the Trinity) am I praying when I pray to God?

  5. What's the deal with the Bible? How much can we rely on it to be holy and authoritative?

  6. Is Hell, a place of unending conscious torment, a real place?

  7. Will we have individual consciousness after death? That is, will I be conscious as "Kevin"?

How do you answer these questions? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to share in the comments or send me an email!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NALT, Activism, and Bridge-Building

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the tension between LGBTQ/intersectional activism and bridge-building.

Well, not really thinking about the tension. More like deeply feeling the tension.

Ever since I wrote the post about this tension, I’ve experienced more and more anger toward those who I consider activists. My anger comes from three specific frustrations:
  1. Not understanding the benefit to activists’ critiques of the NALT (Not All Like That) Movement
  2. Feeling unheard by these activists
  3. Feeling like these activists are speaking for me and others

The first frustration is something I have to accept. Deep down, I know there are different roles within the body of Christ. I’ve seen the benefit time and time again, both short-term and long-term, of uncompromising activism. Being someone who is conflict-averse, someone who values kindness and patience and bridge-building, I don’t usually like many activists' methods of engagement. I get angry and frustrated and sometimes I act that out. And that’s OK. It’s just a part of being in community with people. They don’t need my approval in order for the Holy Spirit to do good work through them.

This post is an attempt to address frustrations number 2 and 3. My hope is that these activists will understand my views on the issues of alliance and advocacy; that they will understand that bridge-building work is also something that the Holy Spirit uses to do good work; and that others who are doing bridge building work understand that the critiques of activists—while painful—can be extremely useful. At the same time, I want them to know that there are others within the LGBTQ community who know that so many are benefiting from your work. (These phenomena can exist simultaneously, in tension.)


In order to get my own thoughts clear, I created the chart below.

The Welcoming Line divides the sections. The groups to the right of the line welcome the LGBTQ community unconditionally and are moving in the right direction regarding full LGBTQ affirmation and equality. The groups to the left of the line show an increasing level of hostility toward the LGBTQ community, and individuals are not welcome unless there is at least some admission of brokenness or sin. These groups are moving in the wrong direction regarding full LGBTQ affirmation and equality.

Additionally, there is a box below each group that describes (generally) the level of affirmation offered to LGBTQ folks. “Utopia” is where all power structures have been obliterated, and there is no need for one group in power to welcome/affirm another group. All are equally regarded as members in the Kingdom of God.

Now, from this chart, one can see that activists can have valid critiques of each other group, both to the left AND to the right of the Welcoming Line. However, is there another way to view each group?


The image below shows a number of different “audiences” toward which the welcoming groups direct their message and actions.

Each group could speak to each audience in a different way. Realizing the difference in audience, focus, and purpose is where I believe activists could benefit from a bridge-builders perspective.

I realized a while ago that the Marin Foundation is not for me. I don’t actively support or give money to them, because I feel they should be more fully affirming. But in this case, it's not about me: I'm not their primary audience. Their purpose is to build bridges with potential allies, and to show those on the left of the Welcoming Line how their stances and policies hurt individuals and families. They have a different focus than the activist. Most importantly, they can reach and persuade people that the activist cannot.

The same is true of the new NALT movement. NALT goes further than the Marin Foundation in that they are fully affirming of LGBTQ individuals and their relationships. Dan Savage of the It Gets Better movement has used his huge platform to partner with affirming Christians in order to reach LGBTQ youth and other individuals struggling with their faith and with hostility from other people of faith.

I’ve seen much criticism of NALT from activists. Much, perhaps even most, of the criticism is valid. The emphasis is probably too much on making Christians feel better about themselves. There is a lack of diversity in the outreach and leadership. This is a lack of queer influence and leadership. It makes sense, and I hope and pray that those within the movement have thick skin and open hearts. I also hope that activists will become involved in more than just critiquing the movement, but also creating something themselves: whether it be a video, an offer to educate further, or a similar movement. At the same time, try to understand what an amazing step this is and how far we’ve come. My frustration (and my fear) is that so many critiques will demoralize those who are truly allies, and chase away those who are potential allies.

Having said all this, I know that activists do good, important, necessary work. I just wish they understood that others do, too. In the meantime, I hope all of us can find a way to live in this tension of loving each other well despite our differences. I feel like Paul: of sinners (those who do not love well in the tension), I am chief. If you feel my finger pointed at you, remember I am pointing four fingers back at myself.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fundamentalism Mad Libs

Using this pre-argument template, you’ll be able to label all potential criticism as invalid!

Probably the most controversial and rejected position we have at {organization/institution/website/etc.} is {belief/opinion/manifesto/etc.} It is even more vehemently opposed than {another belief/opinion/manifesto/etc.} Both of these positions we have are a threat to the trophies of the name of the {opposition/competition/etc. used as adjective} agenda, so the rejection we receive is always emotionally charged and ends up insulting, since once explained logically, the opposition runs out of substance and is only left to hurl insults and presume and misconstrue this practical wisdom into some {ironically-used adjective/quotes optional} evil.

*Template taken from the good folks at Fix the Family.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Decision to Forgive is Personal

Forgiveness is a tricky concept. Similar to coming out of the closet, forgiveness is an extremely personal process. Just as no one can tell you when to come out, no one can tell you when it’s “time” to forgive.

I’m beginning to suspect that one of the next steps for my own healing and wholeness from years of closet-living is to forgive those who inadvertently kept me there—perhaps even forgive those who still wish I was inside that closet.

Again, I can’t help coming back to the notion that forgiveness is extremely personal, and therefore takes on multiple meanings for different individuals in different situations.

Forgiveness is a word that is vaguely defined and haphazardly applied. What does it really mean to forgive? What is the scope of forgiveness? Does it include reconciliation? How does forgiveness look, practically speaking? It seems kind of empty to merely say the words “I forgive you.” There needs to be something transformative about it for the person forgiving. Ideally, it should also be transformative for the person being forgiven.

Unfortunately, those who have suffered physical, sexual, emotional, or spiritual abuse—even as a child—are often told that in order to heal, they need to forgive their abuser. One might as well say to a person with a compound fracture in the leg: “Don’t just sit there crying! Reset your broken bone, grab some needle and thread, sew up your wound, and put a plaster cast on your leg.” These may be the steps needed to heal the injury, but it is completely impractical and non-empathetic advice, not to mention absurd for the person to try to follow these steps on their own.

This metaphor, while helpful, doesn’t capture the complexity of the healing process for those who have been abused. A physical injury like a compound fracture can be treated in a straightforward manner by a doctor, and the injury will heal. The healing process for an abuse victim is much more complex.

Various authors of the Bible talk of healing for those who are oppressed and downtrodden. Jesus and others reference taking care of “the widow and the orphan.” Jesus teaches about the Good Samaritan who helped a robbery victim. The prophets in the Old Testament rage against the injustice toward the oppressed in Israel. In all these situations, the directive is toward helping and healing those who are abused, oppressed, and victims of injustice. The directive is NOT toward the widow and the orphan, NOT toward the oppressed, NOT to those who are ill-treated! We need to stop demanding forgiveness from victims of abuse, and tend to their needs instead. Forgiveness toward their oppressors and abusers, if and when it comes, will be personal and will occur as a part of their own healing process.

NOTE: See David Hayward's post about The Anger Clock for more on this strange emphasis on the abused "getting over" their anger.

At this point you may be saying: oh, but Shoop. Didn’t Jesus say to love our enemies? Didn’t he say to forgive those who trespass against us? Didn’t he say to forgive, time and time again, those who do wrong against us (i.e., 70 x 7 times)? Yes, but in all these instances, Jesus is describing life in the Kingdom of God. I believe one has to balance the Bible’s teaching about the oppressed with these Kingdom of God directives.

Being a white, cisgender male living in the United States, I have a lot of privilege. Luke 12:48 records Jesus himself saying: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.” Understanding the thematic context of justice and healing for the oppressed throughout the Bible and Jesus’ teachings, isn’t it absurd to spend so much time telling the abused to forgive their abusers? Much more is asked from those of us who have so many cultural and situational advantages.

Where does that leave those of us who are privileged and haven’t suffered abuse? Jesus is looking at us, straight in the eyes, and telling us to forgive and to model forgiveness. To have thick skins and open hearts. The good news is that Jesus tells us to do this because we ourselves are already forgiven. As I grow older, I realize more and more that my “sin” rarely has to do with the things I do. It’s more often the things that I don’t do. I don’t do a hell of a lot to feed the hungry, help the oppressed, comfort the emotionally distraught, befriend the friendless, or advocate for justice.

These convictions move me to act in three ways: They bring me back to God in order to ask for help and guidance. They move me to find ways to do the things I’ve neglected to do as a Kingdom chaser. And finally, they encourage me to forgive those who have wronged me by their acts of omission.

To be completely open with you, readers, I have held much anger and bitterness toward members of my own family who haven’t pursued reconciliation and relationship with me after I came out to them (about 4 years ago). One of the primary reasons I came out was to have a more honest relationship with them; happily, this has occurred with many family members, including my parents. Still, many familial relationships remain strained.

I’m at a point in my life where I want to forgive those who haven’t accepted and affirmed my relationship with my partner. However, as I mentioned earlier, this decision to forgive is extremely personal. I could never and would never encourage anyone to “stop being angry and just forgive.” I am still figuring out what forgiveness actually looks like for me. I don’t want to force it. But I am curious to see how it works and how transformative it could be.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Smashing Oppression...Together!

I'm wary of the Bible. When you've been clobbered with something for most of your life, it's only natural to mistrust it. I've been able to revisit the Bible, in part, by focusing on the major themes of love, justice, and the Kingdom of God. For example, I was always taught that Ephesians 6:12 was a verse about spiritual warfare.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

One could perhaps interpret the last part of the verse as battling against spiritual forces, but what about the majority of the verse? The more obvious interpretation is that those who follow Jesus are battling against the kingdoms of this world. These kingdoms are the systems that exalt one group of people over another: patriarchy, racism, homophobia, etc. We don't battle against flesh and blood; we call out oppressive systems because in the end, these systems oppress us all, even the ones that benefit from the hierarchy.

There is talk that the church is dying; perhaps the reason it is dying is because the church is concerned with inconsequential minutia instead of the business of kingdom building (and oppression-smashing).

The author of Ephesians implores the chruch to put on the “full armor of God” in order to be able to wage this battle successfully. Besides the armor of God, there are three other helpful Biblical metaphors regarding Kingdom building: the body of Christ, the gifts of the Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit.

When I think of the body of Christ, I think of the church doing the work of Christ here on earth. In order to do that, the church needs workers with a variety of skills. And voilĂ , we are given these skills via Spirit gifts. But what gifts do we see being used? Here's what I've been seeing:

Speaking truth to power

Walking alongside those who are oppressed

Bringing awareness and knowledge, both generalized and highly-specific

Healing those who are oppressed; helping oppressors stop the cycle of oppression

Speaking and demonstrating unpopular truths both inside and outside the church

Bridge Builders
Bringing other people along who are stuck in the cycle of oppression

Some of these gifts overlap. Many people have more than just one gift. Also, although these gifts are not in opposition to each other, they can often feel that way. For example, someone who is a bridge builder may see an activist as being too forceful or strident. The activist may see the bridge builder as compromising. That's really OK. They don't have to be best friends. However, both are missing an opportunity for growth and connection if they despise the other (iron sharpens iron).

How can we tell, then, if someone's actions are "of the Spirit"? I believe one way we can tell by using the fruits of the Spirit metaphor: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Of course, the "fruits of the Spirit" concept has been used as severe behavior modification by those in power and authority. For example, I always mistook kindness for niceness. Being kind doesn't always mean being nice.

I realize that my view of the body of Christ is probably more like a body part of Christ, like the elbow or the chin. My thinking of God and the body of Christ tends to be too small. What other gifts do you see on display in the church? Also, how do you tell the difference between mere disagreement with a fellow Jesus-follower and disagreement with a "false teacher" (see Matthew 7)?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pushback Against Christian Homophobia

Yesterday's post (trigger warning: extreme homophobia) from The Gospel Coalition reminded me yet again of the importance of Christian LGBTQ allies. I had no desire and no energy to attempt to respond myself. However, two really positive things have occurred as a result of that post:

  1. The Gospel Coalition and those who align with that organization demonstrated that their disgust for LGBTQ people goes beyond their own narrow Biblical interpretation.
  2. The pushback from the Christian LGBTQ community and Christian allies through blog posts and Twitter conversations with TGC has been amazing.
Below I've listed the best articles I found so far pushing back against this article and TGC. These folks are all excellent writers; subscribe to their blogs and/or follow them on Twitter!

Have you read any other articles pushing back against this article or homophobia in the church in general? Please share other resources in the comments!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Reflections on Blue

Blue is my color. I always find myself somewhere on its spectrum. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m always sad. Let me explain what I mean by reflecting on three different shades of blue.

Note: When speaking of color, there is always a danger of casually equating White with Good and Black with Evil. It is problematic because white and black are also used to describe race. When I speak of “black” or “darkness” in this post, I am not speaking of a color in the sense that we normally understand the word. True darkness is the absence of all light and therefore of all color; for example, scientists use the term “black holes” to describe phenomena with gravities that are so strong that not even light can escape.

Sky Blue

Think of a cloudless summer sky in the early afternoon. The sun is almost white, and the sky itself is so bright that you can only see a faint hue of color. For me, that color is the color of happiness, energy, and joy. But despite the brightness, that touch of blue still remains; reminding me—even in moments of pure joy—of the gravity of life. Even if every relationship is fulfilling and synergistic, if every project goes smoothly and successfully, and if every destination is reached; even then, it doesn’t change the reality of ongoing injustice and oppression in the world. Like gravity, this realization pulls me down hard; but it also has a grounding effect. I find meaning (and even beauty) in it. Instead of removing joy, it gives it a splash of color. It gives me a reason to move forward.

Midnight Blue

Think of a blue sock or shoe that is so dark that you mistake it for black. Midnight blue is almost as dark as charcoal, but still has a tiny hint of color. It’s the shade of blue that looks and feels like utter hopelessness. When I feel that hopelessness, I visualize it as an inky dark sludge coursing through my body—even reaching my fingers and toes. It is physically heavy. For me, this “sludge” is midnight blue rather than black. The touch of color represents the spark of life that fights against being extinguished. I still feel that spark of life in the seemingly complete darkness.

Tragically, so many lives are devoid of even midnight blue. Driven to despair and utter hopelessness, they see suicide as preferable to living in pain. Some of those who are driven to such a desperate option are young people who are told they are sexually broken; this turns my midnight blue heart to FIERY RED. Just like the emotions associated with sky blue, these emotions compel me to act.

Ocean Blue

Think of a tropical location with white sand and clear blue water. The sun’s reflection sparkles on the ocean, and the transparency of the water allows you to see deep below the surface. Ocean blue is the color I strive to be. I want to be transparent—without masks, without hidden motives—in order for others to see me, not someone I pretend to be. Transparency makes true love and connection possible. It makes life risky, difficult, refreshing, and meaningful. Sort of like the ocean.

A friend once told me that he thought the verse “Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4) referred to those who are able to bring outside that which is inside. Meaning, those that mourn are those that can authentically express their emotions and live life more fully human. This verse came to mind as I meditated on the color blue, and what that color has come to represent linguistically. Feeling “blue” has come to mean feeling sad. But similar to how my friend saw “mourning,” I have found new meaning to being blue. Blue is a reminder of the realities and complexities of life, it represents hope in the darkest of times, and it aspires to transparency and authenticity. It means more to me than just being sad.

What about you? Do you also resonate with the color blue? Do you have a different "life color”? What do you think about my friend’s interpretation of “mourning”?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Doubt, Love, and Connection

Doubt is my constant companion. I used to think I had doubt, but that doubt was more inwardly focused: Am I really a Christian? Does God love me? Will God reject me if I give in to my same-sex attraction? That type of doubt assumed that the existence of God, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the evangelical doctrines of Jesus’ death and resurrection were beyond question.

Today, for me, nothing is beyond question.

A few months ago I started reading through the book of Matthew in an attempt to blog through the Gospels. I ran out of steam, primarily because of doubts about the Bible. I decided to pause that project in order to read other books. Books that dealt with my questions and fears. Books from people who also wrestle with these doubts.

One book I read was Amy Hollingworth’s Letters from the Closet, which I reviewed in detail on Amazon. The book is not a "how-to" manual on relationships or a story about how Jesus arrived to magically save the day. It's a book about authentic love and connection. It's a book where ongoing doubt is a necessary part of the story.

Three other books I've read recently further explore these themes of love and connection which transcend doubt:

The Road Less Traveled (M. Scott Peck)

I first started reading M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled in the mid-1990s. I couldn’t finish it because I don’t think I was ready for it at the time. I picked it up again a few months ago, and this time I was hungry for Peck’s message. This book provided the best argument for the existence of “God” I’ve ever read. The primary focus of the book is not an apologetic for God’s existence, but on the healing power of Love. To very briefly summarize: despite the law of entropy, the universe keeps striving for something better. Human beings also strive for improvement despite a desire to remain constant. Peck identifies this higher force for good as Love. Love is the power of the unknowable God—is the unknowable God.

For me, the leap of faith comes in choosing to understand this unknowable God through Jesus. But what is the best way to know and understand Jesus? The most accessible tool we have is the Bible. Yet the history of how the Bible was written and canonized is fraught with plagiarism and political corruption. Furthermore, after Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of Rome, Christianity transformed into just another kingdom of the world; it has rarely looked like the Kingdom of God (as described in the Bible!). And what about the mystery of the Holy Spirit?

The Heart of Christianity (Marcus Borg)

An author who has helped me sort through (and sit with) these questions and doubts is Marcus Borg. Borg is a respected scholar and Jesus historian. I put a lot of stock in what he has to say because his knowledge about what is known about Jesus the man goes way beyond what the Bible reveals. In The Heart of Christianity, Borg describes two paradigms of Christianity: the existing paradigm and the emerging paradigm.

Note: The emerging paradigm described by Borg shouldn’t be confused with the Emergent Church movement, although there are some ideas that overlap.

Borg argues that while the existing paradigm for Christianity (i.e., a traditional understanding of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible) has “worked” for many people in the past, it has less and less relevance for fewer and fewer people. He is careful not to disparage the existing paradigm, but instead describes the practice of an emerging paradigm of Christianity with topics such as Biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, Kingdom of God ideals, and the emphasis on (and the different definitions of) belief.

The book profoundly resonated with me. It helped me understand that even amidst a thick fog of doubt, one can still practice Christianity and find meaning and purpose. I cannot say it better than how the publisher describes it: “…the Christian life is essentially about opening one's heart to God and to others.”

Faitheist (Chris Stedman)

Connection with others is a major theme of the latest book I read: Faitheist by Chris Stedman. Stedman is young gay man who identified as an evangelical Christian for a time, but now identifies as an atheist. His passion for social justice, however, has been a constant. Today he works as a Humanist Chaplain and an advocate for interfaith organizations.

I loved this book so much. Stedman is incredibly generous to engage with those of us who enjoy "religious privilege" in the U.S. His message of love, connection with others, listening well, and solving social ills together is so desperately needed. He’s gotten some forceful pushback from anti-theists and some atheists—those who believe religion is a primary reason for the world’s problems. But in risking criticism, Stedman reaches out in an effort to understand those with whom he disagrees in order to find connection and to work side-by-side overcoming oppression and injustice in the world.

The other day I was walking downtown (where I work) in order to grab some lunch. The concepts of love and connection were running through my mind. As I passed a woman on the sidewalk, it occurred to me that I’m connected to her. I am part of her. She is part of me. I immediately felt great compassion for her. This all happened so quickly and the compassion I felt was so acute that it’s difficult to describe accurately. However, it was a glimpse into something very true. If we truly love someone, we feel a connection that binds us to that person. That connection is what could allow us to have an empathy that goes beyond just “feeling bad” and compels us to action. Not guilt, not duty, not gratitude. Love.

Love and connection is the common theme in these four books. Love and connection could heal the world. No matter what details I believe about it, if Christianity can’t help me love and connect with others, it’s worthless.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


I have to admit that I’ve been pretty sad lately. Actually I’ve been sad, angry, and confused. It’s a thick, dark sludge of pain that has been heating up and is starting to bubble up to the surface.

To explain, it might help to briefly summarize my own history. I am someone who grew up with a loving family, but whose family was (and is) surrounded by Christian fundamentalism. Notwithstanding the love of my family--which made it bearable--I can describe living in this environment using three words: fear, shame, and coping.

I was/am afraid of:
  • a god that would send human beings to hell (eternal conscious torment)
  • hell
  • cruelty and the capacity for cruelty in human beings
  • meaninglessness
  • other people’s anger and pain

I felt/feel shame about:
  • being gay
  • sexuality in general
  • laziness
  • cowardice
  • physical appearance

I have coped/cope with this pain by:
  • pleasing others to win approval/affirmation
  • behavior modification
  • constant diet and exercise planning
  • turning off/numbing painful feelings (withdrawing)
  • losing myself in books, TV, games

In January of this year, I started writing about this history and my continuing journey. After a period of church detox and therapy, I needed to reconnect somehow with God and spirituality. Writing about it and sharing it has been very healing for me. I’ve met other sojourners who have helped me understand myself and the world better through their writing and their friendships. The whole blogging experience has shown me the potential for a more meaningful life by loving well.

However, I still see these patterns of fear, shame, and coping in my own life. They keep cycling back in different forms, in different situations. When I look back, I can see growth; I know I have been more honest and authentic with myself and with others than at any other time. But the same coping mechanisms are still present and easily accessible. Using these old ways prevents further growth. When I use them—and it is so easy to do so—another cycle of shame and coping begins.

My guess is that I haven’t fully grasped how fear and shame tore my humanity to shreds. I also believe I haven’t fully mourned the loss of the god of my youth. That god was also a coping mechanism. He (my god was definitely a “he”) was anyone I wanted to be on that particular day: comforter, savior, santa, father, or king. Maybe this is one reason I still so readily rely on those old ways of coping: I’m trying to hold on to youth itself.

As I look back over the list of coping techniques, I think I can see a way forward. If I can somehow be aware of when I’m using these techniques...even just being aware of when they occur could be valuable…

Regarding the loss of my own image of God (and using this image as another coping mechanism), I’d like to quote Morgan Guyton, an amazing writer who is also a pastor, who provided an astoundingly brief but accurate summary of the philosophy of Slavoj Zizek:

“…Zizek makes the provocative, paradoxical claim in his recently published behemoth of a book Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism that the most faithful way to be a Christian is actually to be an atheist. In his reading of the New Testament in the light of 'death of God' theology, the cross represents the death of the idea of a transcendent god. Subsequent to the cross, for Zizek, the Holy Spirit becomes the collective 'spirit' of the faithful community rather than a transcendent being outside of that community.”

This really speaks to me. It's close to where I stand at this particular moment in time. For now, I am abiding in the mystery of the unknowable God and learning how to truly mourn.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Overrated and Underrated: A Meditation

A few months ago I was reflecting on the difference between niceness and kindness, in the context of human conversation and interaction. To me, being nice means using certain words or tone in an attempt to smooth over differences. It means saying things that you think another person wants to hear.

Being kind, on the other hand, means remaining true to yourself while holding empathy for the other person. It means not only speaking, but active listening. It means bringing your whole self to a conversation, including your anger. Niceness doesn't require relationship--in fact it discourages it. Kindness seeks relationship and understanding. Niceness isn't that difficult; in fact it can be a cover for manipulative or passive-aggressive behavior. Kindness is costly because it requires authenticity, vulnerability, and true connection with others. It risks rejection.

Niceness is overrated in our culture, while kindness is (scandalously) underrated. I started thinking about other words and concepts that American and/or Christian culture--especially those of us who are privileged--either value highly or undervalue. The list below is a result of meditating on these concepts.

Keep in mind that I do not believe that everything I list as "overrated" is necessarily bad or unhealthy; some are merely over-valued in comparison with what I list as underrated.

Overrated Underrated
Niceness Kindness
Certainty Mystery
Expertise Intellectual Humility
Arrogance Pride
Relevance Authenticity
Criminal Justice Social Justice
Explaining Listening
Conventional Wisdom Instinct
Atheism/Theism Humanism
Shame Guilt
Having Good Intentions Assuming Good Intentions
Modesty Rules Healthy Sexuality
Freud* Jung
Playing the Martyr Practicing Meekness
Fixing Empathizing
Destination Journey
Notoriety Obscurity
Stability Change
The Bible The Holy Spirit
Truth Love

* With apologies to Amy Hollingsworth!

What do YOU think? Do these comparisons resonate with you? Are there any with which you disagree? What would you add or remove from this list? Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Known By Our Hate

“So, I’m coming out to my parents tomorrow!”

Her announcement on Twitter spread quickly in our small group of online friends. My heart went out to her, because I remember how incredibly difficult it was for me to come out, and how difficult it remains for all of us in my family to process.

I recalled another woman I had met recently, married with children, who somehow found the courage to come out. Her husband was incredibly supportive; however, when she told her parents…there was only grief and the refrain: “how could you DO this to us?”

I thought of a friend in nearby Washington, who got engaged to his partner of over 10 years after the State legalized gay marriage. He sent invitations to his family, and got a letter back from his sister—using the RSVP envelope from the invitation—that told him how wrong and immoral it was that he was getting married to his partner.

I remembered another friend, a recent college grad in his mid-20s, who wrote a long heart-felt letter to his father, explaining the journey he’s taken: praying, trying to change, and finally understanding that God loves him as he is. His father wrote back: “it would be fine with me if I never saw you again.”

I’ve heard countless other stories from the LGBTQ alumni group of the Christian university I attended, where some or all family members continue to scorn, ignore, or outright reject their loved one.

Update: Please see the heartbreaking true story at Christian Nightmares Too called What hiding the truth from church members cost one Christian man.

So when my friend announced her impending coming-out, I worried for her. A few months back, I had shared with her the story of my formerly-married-friend-with-the-supportive-husband-but-unsupportive-parents. Graciously, she asked about her and her well-being. “Doing well,” I said, “but it’s still a struggle. I’m hoping your parents are much more empathetic. It’s hard when you are taught your whole life that homosexuality is a sin.” Since she is a self-identifying Christian, I just assumed that her parents were too. But she said, “Oh, my parents aren’t religious, so I don’t have that hurdle.”

The first thing I felt was relief. Oh, GOOD! That makes it so much easier!

I also shared this news with my formerly-married friend, and she had the same reaction: one of immense relief.

Then it hit me.


LGBTQ people are afraid of religious people; they are afraid of Christians. And can you fucking blame them? Like it or not, Christians have made a name for themselves. As Rachel Held Evans pointed out in her post last year, How to Win A Culture War and Lose a Generation:

"When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was 'antihomosexual.' For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith."

As Christians, we’re known for our hate.

THIS MUST CHANGE. It’s not an option. Following Jesus is not holding on to “literal” views of the Bible in order to feel better about your own shortcomings. Following Jesus isn’t defending what you call “truth.” Following Jesus is not being hyper-defensive and playing your martyr card when someone calls you out on your bullshit. Following Jesus is not word-policing or tone-policing or behavior modification.

Following Jesus means loving people where they are; being a champion for justice and mercy; acknowledging your own advantages and humbling engaging with those who are less advantaged than you are--listening to them; calling out abuse and injustice and those who perpetrate it.

I’m the first to admit: I’ve got problems and issues. I don’t love people well. Too often I’m blinded to my own fortune, participating willingly in a world where white men are seen as superior.

On the other side of the coin, I don’t know HOW to love people who are stubbornly abusive, unjust, and ignorant. I feel I’m learning how to love those people who are caught UNDER that trap of being unknowingly abusive and unjust, because I know I’ve done it and continue to do it. I’ve been forgiven MUCH by God and by others. But I'm not there yet. And I still don’t know how to love the perpetrators of it. Perhaps in time and with maturity I will understand how this can be done. (See Rachel's post today for some wise words about this conundrum).

In the meantime, I’m just angry. I want to see a community of people who live out Kingdom of God ideals; instead I see marginalized people relieved when they don’t have to deal with Christians.

As for the woman who came out to her non-religious parents? It went really well. “I have GREAT parents!” she said.

I celebrate with her.

I also mourn for us.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tennis as Metaphor

I play tennis. A lot. It's fun to play. It's fantastic exercise. More significantly, I've formed meaningful relationships through tennis. Today, many of my best friends are avid tennis players with various backgrounds, beliefs, and worldviews. If it weren't for tennis, I may never have met these loving, kind, empathetic, fun, and complex people.

Side note: I realize that most of you that read this blog (all 8 of you) probably aren't really into sports, let alone tennis. A few of you may even think that I'm extremely frivolous to write about something as non-consequential as tennis. (I mean, besides golf, what other activity screams "WHITE PRIVILEGE" more than tennis?) As to that, all I can say is that one of the best aspects of the USTA (United States Tennis Association) is their investment in tennis programs that make the sport more accessible for everyone. Yes, racquets and tennis balls still cost money, but you don't have to be a member of a tennis club in order to play regularly in leagues and tournaments, or just for fun.

On a more personal and subconscious level, the reason I play tennis is that it has become a profound spiritual metaphor for my life.

As much as I love tennis, the game frustrates THE HELL out of me. Twelve years ago, I won my first tennis tournament. Little did I know that by the age of 40 I would STILL be trying to win my second one! I tried again these past two weekends.

In the first tournament, 2 weekends ago, I actually did quite well and reached the final, losing to an 18-year-old in 3 sets. However, last weekend I lost in the 1st round and THEN lost in the 1st round of the consolation draw: a very poor result. Both men who beat me were older, in better shape, and had better shots.

Near the end of both matches, I could feel myself disengaging. I felt small, awkward, and humiliated. At the end of the second match, I congratulated my opponent, walked out to a hidden part of the parking lot, and spent a good 15 seconds systematically smashing my racquet against the concrete curb. Then I disgustedly hurled it into some mulch.

When I was working with a therapist, we discussed my tennis game regularly. Our discussions weren't focused on trying to win more matches, but on the dynamics of the interactions on the court as well as the feelings I was experiencing during and after matches.

Tennis is a tool for me to understand some of the more raw emotions that, as a gay-but-closeted evangelical Christian, I was unable to express. Not only was I unable to express these emotions--I was unable to FEEL them. I learned to cope by transforming negative emotions such as anger, shame, fear, and guilt into numbness. (I call it the Emotion Transformation Machine.) I could easily describe this transformed feeling as "hopeless," but it was an anesthetized type of hopelessness. I became familiar and comfortable with the feeling, and preferred it over the "messier" emotions.

Sometimes when I'm playing tennis, I experience the non-transformed emotions so quickly and so acutely that I can't help but feel them. I don’t have time to transform them; at least not right away.

Examples of acute, negative emotions while playing tennis:

  • When I'm playing someone who is just as good as or better than me, I experience fear, anger, and shame.
  • When I'm playing lousy, I experience anger and shame.
  • When I'm playing someone who is a jerk or who have fans that are jerks, I experience anger and shame.
  • When I'm playing someone who isn't very good and/or I'm beating them soundly, I experience guilt.
My therapist encouraged me not to suppress/transform these emotions during a match, but to experiment with them.

I fully admit that when I'm playing a match and I feel the flood of these emotions, the last thing I want to do is experiment. My first instinct is FLIGHT. My coping mechanism, the Emotion Transformation Machine, kicks in. I have a very physical reaction of numbness in my legs. My shoulders droop, and I can barely keep my head up. I can't look my opponent in the eye. People who have seen me play have witnessed this transformation. I am present only as a physical entity--I am completely disengaged from the match and from my opponent.

Not only does this dishonor me, it dishonors my opponent.

When I experience these emotions on the tennis court, I have a unique opportunity. Instead of transforming them, I have the opportunity to identify the emotions, to face them by fully feeling them, and to be fully present on the court. In the few times that I am able to do this, something very profound happens. I realize something at a bone-marrow level:

I am worth fighting for.

At some subconscious level, tennis has become a metaphor for my own life and identity. It is the drama of my own existence that is played out every time I step onto the court. I battle my opponent (and myself) for space. I make a statement saying: "I belong here. I am an individual. You cannot take that away from me." God has created someone who is beautiful, worthwhile, strong, and lovely; someone who is equipped to fight against the dark forces in this world; someone who is able to stand up to oppression in all its forms; someone loved and able to love.

Someone worth fighting for.

For someone who was taught the opposite, these are profound truths indeed. Sometimes, if we are damaged by spiritual abuse or other forms of abuse, we don't have the capability to comprehend these truths. Even if we are told over and over that the lies we've learned to tell ourselves aren't true. That is why there is so much power in a metaphor. It speaks to us at a subconscious level. (It is the same reason that dreams have so much to tell us.)

This life-metaphor has also shown me how important it is to honor one another's anger, especially those who have been damaged by fundamentalism. We are taught to wear masks. We are taught that anger is sinful. We are taught to flee from our own humanity. When we do this, we aren't able to connect with others--love becomes impossible. We are also unable to come to God as we are. We become "whitewashed tombs." Jesus railed against this. He railed against it hard. So did all the prophets. And they always railed against the powerful, unmerciful, and unjust. Specifically, Jesus railed against the religious leaders of the day.

For all these reasons, the tennis court, for me, has become holy ground.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Big Fix

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and we were hanging out at home with our friend Bryan. We were doing that odd, slouchy multitasking common to the new century: watching TV while deeply engrossed in our smart phones or tablets, rearranging rows of candy, scrolling through Facebook and Twitter feeds, or messaging with other friends. He looked at me suddenly and said, “Oh! I want to show you something.”

We set aside our smaller devices and grabbed the old-fashioned laptop. He navigated to YouTube and brought up a music video. “I just saw this yesterday and wanted to get your reaction.”

I had heard about this song and had seen part of the video, but I had never just allowed myself to sit there and actually watch and listen. I did, while Bryan stood to the side and also watched.

You know those moments when you’re watching or experiencing something deeply moving with someone, and there is this palpable sense of reverent silence surrounding you, focusing your senses more fully to the experience? This was one of those moments. We were both very still as we watched.

When it was over, I looked over to Bryan. Teary-eyed, he said to me in a soft, broken voice: “Kevin, I really hate this world.”

He didn’t have to clarify. I knew what he meant. Like me, Bryan is gay and was raised in a conservative evangelical eco-system. Unlike me, he has a family who would disown him if they knew he was gay. Also unlike me, he married a woman and tried to make it work for years. He has two beautiful kids from that marriage. Thankfully, he has a number of supportive friends as well as a supportive church. Still, he carries a heavy burden.


I am impatient. I want to fix people. I want to make Bryan’s problems go away. In that moment, I wanted to take Bryan’s pain away. So, I launched into an off-the-cuff “elevator talk” on the benefits of therapy, how it’s helped me, and how it could help him too.

If you are cringing right now, good. I’m cringing too.

As I continued talking, I noticed that his face—which was softened by the hope of that song and the longing for a better world--was hardening. His eyes went from teary and searching to glazed-over and blank. I was losing him! So I tried to explain with more thoroughness and more clarity how talking to a therapist can help one deal with issues of shame and anger and confusion. He nodded and smiled, but the moment had passed.

What he really needed from me in that moment was to be with him and listen. He needed me to sit there with him in the gloriously awkward silence. The truth of this matter is: I was afraid to be there with him. I was both afraid and ashamed of the strong emotions that were being stirred up in me. In fear and shame, I pushed him away by giving clinical advice. My response wasn’t loving, because love and fear can’t be in the same space.

By the way, it’s ok that I “messed up” here. I’m not beating myself up about it. Bryan and I have a close friendship, and I’ve since told him how I wish I would have reacted in that moment. There are times when advice is warranted and needed; this just wasn’t one of those times. I’m learning that when I have an impulse to “fix” somebody, I need to pause, listen first, and simply be with the person. It’s OK if it’s silent and awkward and messy. In fact, it’s probably a good sign!


The Mr. Fix-It impulse reminds me of the recent apology by Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, the organization that attempted to change a person’s sexual orientation through “reparative therapy.” The apology was followed by the announcement that Exodus International would shut down immediately, and a new organization would be formed called From the apology:

“Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.”

Chambers added later that the new organization would “work to change their churches to be more like a loving, accepting ‘father church’ than scolding, judgmental ‘older brother church’” (Think Progress, h/t Taylor Marsh).

So, as a gay Christian, what do I think about all this?

I think before they do anything, they need an Exodus of their own--which includes a significant time in the wilderness.

I think these individuals have good intent. But good intentions can make you blind to the damage that your well-intentioned actions are causing. Even before the apology, they believed they were helping people; thankfully they now realize that that wasn’t the case. However, how can an organization that got it so wrong for so long simply say “Oops! Sorry!” and then start again, immediately, on a different track? Perhaps there is a strong urge to right the wrongs. However, even assuming the best intentions, it would be more helpful if these individuals stepped away from the public forum and listened for a time—not only to the LGBTQ community, but to themselves and to God. Some serious soul-searching must take place before they can be helpful bridge-builders. This takes time. It cannot be rushed.

I understand the desire to “fix” people and to alleviate suffering. But even with those with whom we share close relationships, great care and wisdom is needed before attempting The Big Fix. How much more so with those who have done so much damage for so many years?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Please Stop

The last two days have been unexpectedly difficult. While I celebrate the SCOTUS decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, the responses of many Christians have re-opened some old wounds.

I thought I was over it. I thought I was past feeling the pain of the proof-text grenades. I thought I could handle the burning, fear-based rage that seems to consume the Religious Right after every political victory for LGBTQ equality. I thought I was properly shielded from the arrows thrown by theological scholars with no empathy.

Turns out I can still be hit right between the eyes.

I simply don't understand such hatred and ignorance coming from people who claim to follow JESUS CHRIST.

I'd like to live my life guided by the Holy Spirit. I'd like to live out Kingdom of God ideals taught by Jesus. But I don't want to share a label with these people. How in the hell can these people be my "brothers and sisters in Christ"?

I don't know how to resolve this conflict.

The thing is: I'm a grown-up. I'm 40 years old. I have a loving partner, we live in a progressive city, and we go to a loving and affirming church. I have wonderful and accepting friends. I have a family who are trying to learn and grow and accept who I am; they certainly haven't rejected me. And despite all these support systems and privileges, the potential for being re-wounded remains. Their words and attitudes still have to power to inflict profound shame.

If this can still happen to me, how is it for those who live in conservative areas, go to conservative churches, and hear day after day that there is something broken about them? Whose family would disown them if they knew? Even in the more "loving" churches, where the homophobia is covert rather than overt. Where they hate the sin but love the sinner. I don't think most Christians understand how this covert homophobia affects the soul. It eats away at the psyche. It prevents growth. It kills the spark of life within.

I'm using my tiny platform to plead with Christians to Please Stop, but I know it isn't going to stop. No one who disagrees with me and reads this will change their minds. I guess I'm not writing it to change minds. I'm writing it to document and to make known the very real pain that you are perpetuating with your words and actions. It's not love. And therefore, it is NOT from God. It just can't be. It just CAN'T be.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Gay Pride vs. Gay Shame

By the time I was 10 years old, I knew there was something wrong with me. I had no idea what it was exactly, but it was there.

Perhaps because I felt defective, I had a strong inclination to hide, cover up, and use deliberate caution in any situation. Even though I liked to be hugged, I pretended I didn’t like it. I was embarrassed to take my shirt off to go swimming. I couldn’t say “I love you” even to my parents. I craved the affirmation from those in authority, because their acceptance was the only thing that distracted me from feeling...not quite right. Therefore, I was an extremely well-behaved and compliant child. I remember my 10th birthday—and what happened—so vividly, because even by that time I rarely let my guard down.

We were at Timber Lanes Bowling Alley in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma on a Saturday afternoon. With me were my sister, two cousins who also lived in Tulsa, and two other cousins who lived in Toledo, Ohio, visiting. They were my best friends. Around them, I felt safer than anywhere else. We made each other laugh.

That particular day, we were really cracking each other up. It was the kind of laughter when tears are actually flying out of your eyes; when you’re actually bent over holding your stomach and gasping for breath; when “throwing your head back and laughing” actually happens in real life.

Laughter has a way of lowering your defenses. I was feeling great. I exuberantly flung the heavy black ball down the alley, flapped my hands and arms in excitement, and wiggled my body and hips to will the ball to hit the pins. In these moments of joy and freedom and vulnerability, I forgot there were other people around us. Watching us. Specifically, there were 3 or 4 boys a little bit older than us in the next lane.

How could I not have noticed this?

I can’t remember exactly what made me see him. But I remember what he said and how he said it. With a look of disgust on his face, he said contemptuously: “Are you a BOY or a GIRL?” His friends around him were laughing.

It was like someone had thrown a water balloon right in my face: a shocking *SLAP* that left me stunned and ice cold. I tried to cover and said, lamely, “What do YOU think?” And he said something like: “I don't know! That's why I'm asking!” More laughter.

I tried to ignore him, tried to recapture the momentum of the fun we were having. But it was gone. I was shamed back into hiding. I was careful before, but this clinched it for me: I vowed to keep my shameful exuberance in check from then on. I never wanted to feel that way again.


This past weekend was Gay Pride weekend in Portland. During the early years when I struggled to integrate my sexuality, identity, and spirituality, I was uncomfortable with that word pride. When you are raised as an evangelical Christian, pride is a sin—one of the seven deadly ones, in fact. Also, I wasn’t really proud that I was gay. In those days, I sincerely wished I wasn’t. Life would be so much easier. Even so, I had learned to accept it. If anything, I wanted to march in a Gay Indifferent parade.

“We’re here! We’re queer! And we don’t feel that strongly about it one way or the other!”

As more time went on, I learned not only to accept my sexuality, but to embrace it as a gift. This gift has given me a pathway of spiritual growth, as well as opportunities to develop empathy. It has given me numerous friends I never would have known, had I not been forced on a journey to find something better than a shame- and fear-based faith.

It was just this past weekend that it dawned on me: Gay Pride is the opposite of Gay Shame. “Pride” in this sense does not describe superiority, or blindness to others, or lack of humility, or obnoxious arrogance. It is the state where one can laugh, flap their arms, sing, and express joy without paralyzing caution. Being “Pride-ful” is being whole, more fully human, yourself.


Overall, my relationship with the LGBTQ community has been positive; I’ve received support, love, and wisdom from friends and from the community at large. But being a member of a large, supportive community doesn’t exclude tension, disagreement, or resentment within that community. I’ve written in the past about how confident and exuberant people expose my own Shadow.

You're not supposed to act that way! If you do, bad things will happen, like getting shamed at a Bowling Party!

This weekend, I discovered more nuance as to why I have such strong, negative feelings of resentment and social anxiety around such people, including those within the LGBTQ community. These nuances came to light by watching the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus (PGMC) Pride concert. I used to be a member of that group, but recently took a break to work through some issues. As I sat in the audience, I was feeling those same vague feelings of resentment and social anxiety.

WHY? What can’t I just enjoy the show and shed these negative feelings? So I tried something that my therapist often encouraged me to do when I was having confusing feelings—I “went into the weeds” of the feelings and just sat in them. Soon, I had an epiphany. To summarize:

  • When I see confidence and /or exuberance on display in people that I find to be shallow or unkind or insincere, the really negative shame and anger cycle begins. Cue resentment.
  • When I see confidence and /or exuberance on display in people that I find to be smart, kind, and sincere, I want them to like me SO BADLY! And if they don’t, then I feel horrible. Cue social anxiety.

IMPORTANT NOTE: there are so many wonderful men (and women!) in PGMC. My partner and I have established some wonderful friendships with other choir members. Because the group is over 120 people, and because of my own introversion and Shadow, it only takes a handful of people to set off these feelings—whether or not these few people actually are shallow, unkind, or insincere! My Shadow would be exposed by any group of 120+ people. I love and respect PGMC and its members; I only refer to it because I have learned so much about my own issues by being a member.

There is so much power in being able to give a name to something that oppresses. Now that I have greater understanding of what’s going on internally, my hope is that I will be able to honor and integrate these feelings—becoming more whole, more fully human, and more myself. Related to this, my friend Emily wrote a piece about identifying (and feeling) the negative emotions of loss. I believe it is so important to be able to enter into these negative spaces and feel them, rather than trying to hide from them. As children, we learn how to cope with a lot of pain by hiding. This develops the Shadow. A primary task we have as adults is to let go of these coping mechanisms and learn to face our pain.

The journey out of shame is long and arduous. But I feel incredibly grateful to have found joy (even exuberance!) as a result of taking this journey.

What about you? Is there a type of person or behavior that brings out the Shadow in you? When you recognize it happening, what do you do?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Interview: Ex-Gay Therapy

Earlier this year, I was interviewed by Luke Botham (for Siren FM in the UK) about my experience with ex-gay therapy. My interview snippet begins around the 1:33 mark. However I encourage you to listen to the entire 3 minute clip--especially the man featured at the beginning.

I would love to hear your reactions in the comments, as well as any experiences you may have had with ex-gay therapy!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Fundamentalism Trap

My partner and I live in a small condominium complex in Southwest Portland. Although the building is close to a busy road, trees tower over the neighborhood and the surrounding area, providing a sense of beauty and serenity. The backyard is shared by all residents, and it’s a great place for our dog Archie to run around and expend some energy. Other owners have dogs, including an older woman who lives on the bottom floor with her Yorkie. This woman happens to be deaf, and because my partner knows American Sign Language, they have conversations now and then while the dogs romp around on the lawn. She’s a lovely, kind-hearted person.

A couple of nights ago, someone smeared dog shit on her front door.

The message was fairly obvious: Clean up after your dog, bitch. This person chose a malicious act instead of sending an email (all residents have each other’s email addresses), posting a hand-written note to her door, or even talking to the HOA board about the issue.


Yesterday, a good friend told me a story about his neighbors, Reg and Paula (not their real names). A week ago, Reg got a call from the State telling him that his ex-wife in Eugene had been arrested for dealing and possession of meth. His 8-year-old daughter was waiting for him to pick her up. He did so. She had two ear infections and head lice.

While it is good that this little girl is now in a more stable home—with Reg and Paula and their two small boys—what horrific neglect and abuse did she endure? Reg was told that while the police were surveying the house, drug dealers and buyers were coming and going at all hours. This little girl was in an extremely dangerous place. It is now up to her dad and step mom to provide a home of love and the potential for healing. It won’t be easy.


Every day, in the news and in my own small corner of Oregon, I see so much non-love. Of course, for every agonizing question, there is a fundamentalist Christian answer (sin!), but it’s not good enough. I don’t see Christ’s love demonstrated by most fundamentalist Christians—all I see is judgment and self-righteousness. In fact, I’m beginning to think that fundamentalism itself is not a solution but a symptom of what’s wrong in the world.

What is fundamentalism exactly? Fundamentalism is usually applied to world-views or causes that have something good to offer the world and the individual. It attempts to create very specific rules, guidelines, policies, procedures, and processes in order to achieve a goal or a vision. However, this practice tends to choke the life out of something that can otherwise transform a person and provide a pathway for growth. Fundamentalism removes the innate humanity, mystery, freedom, and scalability of a world-view. Worst of all, fundamentalism is a hostile environment for the practice of love.

Among Christians of all types, other religions, atheists, and any cause or group you want to name, there is always some level of in-fighting and arrogant posturing. This arrogant posturing is another key component of fundamentalism. The posture of fundamentalism makes true love, relationship, and connection extremely difficult.

How does this happen?

The rules and guidelines created by fundamentalism attempt to make something complex and/or mysterious into something simple and tangible. I believe that removing this complexity makes us more apt to cling to the dogma—making the dogma itself a part of our identity. And when our dogma is questioned, our identity is questioned—we instinctually go on the attack. In the case of religious fundamentalism, we raise our dogma to the level of God. When our dogmas are challenged, God is challenged and must be strenuously defended. Thus, the posture of fundamentalism is one of defensiveness and (at its worst) arrogance.

Something that should be transforming us into more loving human beings turns us into defensive, arrogant, and unloving people.

It’s quite easy to find harmful examples of fundamentalist Christianity. Take, for example, the sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic church in recent years, as well as the Sovereign Grace Ministries sexual abuse scandals in the past few months. The posture of these institutions has been arrogant, indignant denial and public relations spin in order to protect those in power. They are so convinced of the correctness of their theology and dogma, that they seemingly will do whatever it takes to protect their reputation. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of victims and potential victims of abuse.

A more recent (and less drastic) example of a fundamentalist act was seen when John Piper tweeted a verse in Job following the tornado devastation in Moore, Oklahoma. There have been differing opinions on what was actually meant by the tweet, but at best he showed lack of discernment and lack of empathy. He also has a habit of coming out with declarations of God’s wrath after tragedy, so naturally many people assumed this was just another example in his pattern.

There are countless examples of fundamentalism in Christianity—the poster children being the Westboro Baptist Church. Although they are the most extreme example, they are an object lesson of where fundamentalism can lead when taken to its logical conclusion.

I believe that a fundamentalist posture can infect anything, even a progressive cause that isn’t normally linked with the word. One recent example of a more progressive individual with a fundamentalist posture has been Tony Jones, who has been criticized for being arrogant and unwilling to listen. I have found a lot of good and helpful information in what Jones has written in the past. He has been a champion for the LGBTQ community in the church, and for that I am extremely grateful. But even though he has battled against fundamentalist Christianity, he has also displayed the posture of a fundamentalist, especially when it comes to women and their lack of a voice within the emergent church. This has been one of the most painful things for me to watch, personally, over the last six months.

Another progressive who has sometimes taken a fundamentalist posture is Dan Savage. Recently, Savage wrote a book review in the New York Times about Jeff Chu’s new book, Does Jesus Really Love Me?. In the review, Savage compares Andrew Marin and the work of the Marin Foundation to Westboro Baptist Church, except “with hugs.”

As a gay man, I appreciate the work Savage has done on behalf of so many. His “It Gets Better” campaign is well known and has raised awareness of the problem of bullying. However, as a Christian, I’ve also appreciated the work Marin has done to build bridges with evangelical Christians. Honestly, I find I agree more with Savage than I do with Marin. However, Marin’s work is specifically geared to those who are outright hostile to LGBTQ individuals and freedoms. He is working to raise awareness within the more conservative areas of the Christian church about how poorly Christians have treated LGBTQ folks. Marin’s work is especially vital for LGBTQ youth who are being raised in these types of churches. Unfortunately, with Marin, Savage has taken on a fundamentalist posture. He sees all of Christianity as damaging; therefore, in his opinion, Marin is doing damage by not following the same path as he does with his activism.

I have also seen this type of fundamentalist posture within both LGBTQ and Feminist communities.

First of all, I do identify as a Feminist. As a Feminist, I understand that I have a great deal of societal privilege simply because I am a man (and especially because I am white). I understand that patriarchy in our society is a real thing, and that misogyny both within and outside the church is pervasive. I am a participant in these systems, and I am trying to learn how to change that. I believe that Feminism is a Kingdom of God ideal that we as Christians should be striving toward.

However, as a gay man and as a novice Feminist, I’ve seen occasions in both LGBTQ and Feminist spaces where honest questions and curiosity were shut down just because the person was one of privilege; occasions where there was unwillingness to listen to honest criticism; and occasions where shame was used in an attempt to silence dissenting opinion. I’m guilty of it myself, probably more often than I realize.

One important note: there is an inherent danger when labeling someone as having a fundamentalist posture within any religion or cause. As a (self-proclaimed) Feminist and a gay man, I think strong pushback and calling out damaging behavior is appropriate more often than not. As Suzannah Paul put it to me, labeling someone as, for example, a fundamentalist Feminist “can be used to dismiss legitimate anger/perspectives, too. It is hard enough as a woman to get a hearing without being written off as emotional/angry/bitchy/irrational/dogmatic/etc.”

What is my point in all of this? I began this blog post with two specific examples of my direct experience with non-love. Our world needs love so desperately. As people who follow Christ, we have to figure out a better way to love.

But then, perhaps there is an inherent danger here as well? If we provide a specific rubric of behavior for every type of situation, won’t we just be re-creating another type of fundamentalism? There is a balance here that I don’t yet know how to strike. All I know from observing the world is that we are in desperate need of humble hearts, thick skin, and the Holy Spirit, whomever or whatever it is. The fine line we attempt to follow is indeed a narrow road.

The Bible is overflowing with passages about love. Love is mentioned over and over as the most important concept to grasp—the greatest of all things, greater even than faith and hope. I know that I personally, desperately, want a step-by-step procedural manual on how to do this well. But that, again, is a tendency to “fundamentalize” something that is too complex for rules.

There is so much risk involved by stepping outside of our various paradigms in order to love well. In the end, it’s something we must all individually choose to do. We can never force anyone else to love. To try to do so is just another act of fundamentalism.