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.