Monday, September 22, 2014

Filters That Distort


This post is a very personal reflection on depression, spiritual abuse, and filters through which we process information and interactions with others. It is not a critique of how people engage online or in person, nor of anyone else's spiritual journey, theology, or behaviors. My experiences should not be universalized and should not be used in an attempt to silence or critique others.

I’ve been feeling really depressed lately.
Oh GREAT! Another blog post talking about depression. Another crybaby looking for sympathy. Another white dudebro complaining about how hard life is for him. BOO HOO. WANK WANK.
Be that as it may, if I can’t be honest and vulnerable about my own personal and spiritual journey, what’s the point writing and sharing anything at all?
You don’t get it though: your pain doesn’t matter. Jesus doesn’t love YOU; you are too privileged. He came to save those who are oppressed, not those who already have easy access to power. Sure, you may be gay, but let’s be honest. In terms of oppression, white gay men are the least oppressed of all oppressed groups. Hell, straight white women are more oppressed than gay white men. So fuck you and your "pain."
Why I do tell myself these things? Why do I filter every direct criticism—and every criticism toward anyone that looks like me—into a criticism of my worth as a human being? Why am I so threatened, personally, by even indirect criticism?
Because you are used to being coddled in society as a white male, and any threat to your power means that you will feel threatened. Embrace the discomfort, you asshole.
I actually think that is true. But I think there are two other reasons at play; for me, anyway.

The first reason is that I suffer from depression. I hate to admit it, because it sounds like an excuse. But it’s true. I’ve been taking medication for depression for over 20 years. I now take two separate pills for depression and another pill for anxiety. I’ve experimented with not taking the pills, and the results have been bad. Physically, it feels like a thick, heavy sludge of hopelessness.

Even when I take the medication daily, the heavy sludge comes and goes. When it comes, I don’t know how to get rid of it except to just wait it out. The sludge is sitting there right now.
OK fine, you’re depressed. So are people who have had to struggle against so much more than YOU. People who don’t have access to healthcare like you do. People who have no supportive family or friends to help them through. You don’t get a cookie for admitting your mental illness. Shut up about your own problems and get to work in the Kingdom of God, you piece of shit.
The second reason is that I’ve suffered years of subtle spiritual abuse. Now, to be clear, I have a loving family who never, ever abused me spiritually, physically, mentally, sexually, or otherwise. Spiritual abuse occured because of the systems in which I grew up—the Christian churches and schools and universities and workplaces. I heard the message loud and clear: you are not OK. I heard and internalized this message even before I knew I was gay.

To make things more complicated, I was both blessed and cursed with an especially keen sense of what other people wanted. This awareness became my coping mechanism. Using this awareness, I shaped my thoughts and actions to match up to what I thought was expected of me. I was a quick learner. The more I got the affirmation, the more I craved it. I was more “OK” when I received that affirmation, so I molded my thoughts and actions to match up to those who were willing to give the affirmation.

Coming out was the most subversive and courageous thing I’ve ever done in my life, because it went against every coping instinct I had. It opened the door to a journey of healing and wholeness. That journey is taking me to a place where being OK, despite criticism and non-affirmation, is possible. It’s allowing me to dive deeper and find my true self, instead of hiding behind the masks that I manufactured according to others’ specifications.

Unfortunately, I’m far from there. I’m still coping. I’m still manufacturing masks. I’m still threatened by criticism.
Of course you are. Another idiot male threatened by criticism. You’re just using these arguments to garner pity for yourself. But you know what? You don’t deserve pity. You don’t deserve being loved and affirmed. White men are loved and affirmed every day for merely existing. Just shut the hell up.
And I’m still haunted by voices. Today, though, as I try to make sense of and integrate a Christianity that is focused on social justice, the voices use different words. They have different priorities and expectations. Unfortunately, the voices still sound the same—and the thick, heavy sludge is still there.

I know these aren’t the real voices. The voices I hear and the things I read are filtered through my experience, my pain, and—yes—my mental illness. I understand this from a cognitive distance. It doesn’t help the way I feel. And at this point, I don’t know what to do about it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crushed by Sin

Like other white Americans, the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson shocked and angered me. It then reminded me of past injustices, left me feeling and acting defensively, and finally left me broken.
  1. I was shocked that an unarmed man was shot and killed.
  2. I was angered that such injustice and violence continue to happen against people of color.
  3. I was reminded that this type of violence and oppression is a devastating reality of U.S. history.
  4. I became defensive—how could I be responsible for sins of the past? Why are people of color angry at me and others who are only trying to help?
  5. I was left broken, feeling cursed with the "sins of the fathers, visited upon the third and fourth generation." Intentional or not, I participate in this oppression in ways I’m only now beginning to understand.
This morning, my brother-in-law and I were discussing the concept of "sin." He mentioned how sin in the Bible is almost always characterized by a path--a path to destruction--rather than specific actions. Jesus, in contrast, is described as the path of Life, or simply The Way. Repentance from sin is a turning away from that path of destruction to The Way of Life.

Framing sin and repentance in this way, the concept of sin becomes so much more apparent and real. Somehow, white-centered Western Christianity became obsessed with individual "sins" and behavior modification. The fight against sin has been waged against flesh and blood, rather than what Paul describes in Galatians 6:12 as "principalities and powers."

When it comes to racial inequality, it makes sense when the Bible talks about the inevitability of sin ("for all have sinned")--both sinners and the sinned against. This helplessness against sin also makes sense when we realize that we live with the consequences, namely the "principalities and powers" that were constructed before we were born. But, as the Bible teaches, it doesn't make us any less guilty. Thus: sin truly is a curse.

The concept of sin being passed down is also illuminated in the Genesis creation myth. The writer of Genesis provides a metaphor for a sin committed in the past, dooming not only the ones who commit the sin, but also all of their descendants. The theological tradition that I absorbed was one of sin being passed down individual to individual, almost like a genetic trait. However, I now view sin as inherited oppressive societal structures, which are solidified by each generation that continues to ignore it.

At this realization, how can we not help but feel powerless? How can we not help but feel crushed by the weight of the sin of past generations, not to mention the sin that is perpetuated daily by its denial? How can we not feel crushed by our own intentional and unintentional participation? No wonder the origin of sin in the Bible is said to be a serpent—a wily creature that confounds and deceives.

I share these personal epiphanies about sin with you, not because I am the first person to come up with these ideas. (Far from it!) I share this with you because it is where I find myself: broken and unable to fix the problem. For me, it is the time for mourning, sackcloth and ashes, and lament. It’s this utter helplessness that brings me back to the concepts and teachings of Jesus, and the hope of the goodness and wisdom of what the Bible calls the Holy Spirit. Finally, I am driven to listen closely to the prophets of this and past generations, who have led and continue to lead us to fight the principalities and powers that violently and heartlessly tread on the least of these, and eventually curse us all.

Listed below are a few articles from modern-day prophets that I've read recently. Required reading for those of you who want to know more!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


The past 12 months have been a year of upheaval for me. There have been significant changes and challenges at work that have prevented me from writing and engaging as much as I’ve wanted to online and on this blog. I also haven’t felt the same spiritual energy and excitement I found a year ago. I’ve stopped attending church, in fact. I’ve also decided to take a year off of competitive tennis. And on Twitter and Facebook, I have been at times frustrated, infuriated, apathetic, defensive, and vindictive with people. I lost the thread of my story and the path of my journey.

Through various conversations at work, at home, and online, it finally hit me: I have no vision.

A vision is not meant to describe a current state of being. A vision is meant to stretch, challenge, and lead the way forward. Lacking a vision, is it any wonder that I feel confused, fearful, defensive, and reactive?

At the moment of realization, I started thinking about such a vision. I dug deep, beyond thoughts, into what I was feeling—both negative and positive. I wrote a draft, talked through it with my partner. I asked for guidance from friends. I lit a candle and sat in silence (this is how I pray). I made more edits and finalized both a vision and guiding principles. This is how I want to engage with family and friends, at work, in my community, and online.

I want to be very clear: the vision and guiding principles listed below are mine alone. I do not and will not expect others to live up to my vision and guiding principles. There are so many moving parts in the Body of Christ. It would be unfair and foolish for me to judge others on the basis of my own call.


Listen. I will open my ears and heart to actively listen and respond to those who share their journeys, challenges, struggles and cries for help, giving precedence to those who are marginalized by oppressive structures and systems in society and in the church.

Amplify. I will amplify the voices of those who are marginalized. I will not use those who are marginalized to amplify my own voice.

Speak. I will actively seek my personal hero’s journey. I will follow the path of this journey whenever and wherever I find it. I will speak up and share this journey in order to encourage and empower others, and to enable true connection.

Do Better. I will continue to grow and move forward by applying that which I have learned by listening, amplifying, and speaking. I will learn from my mistakes rather than give up because of them. I will be willing to change.

Guiding Principles

Honesty. I will be honest about my story and journey. I will be authentic in my engagement with others, including (and especially) when we disagree. I will honor (not deny) my thoughts and feelings, and communicate them using the other guiding principles.

Kindness. I will be kind (not necessarily “nice”) in my interactions with others. I will see God’s image in each individual before engaging. I will have compassion for myself and others.

Humility. I will be willing to accept and admit error. I will not engage with arrogance nor with negative humility (i.e., false modesty).

Patience. I will have patience with those who ask questions honestly. I will have patience with myself: I will not panic if I have nothing to share—the sharing will come eventually by following the journey.

Courage. I will not be afraid to stand up to those who use power to abuse and silence others. I will push through fear and tell my story.

Receptiveness. I will assume positive intent. I will be open to criticism and disagreement. I will be willing to engage when asked or challenged. I will not take disagreement personally.

Do you have a vision and/or guiding principles that have helped you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter/Facebook!