I want to live like there’s no tomorrowOver the last two-and-a-half years of blogging, there has been one question that has come up more often than any other (both in comments and in email). In more than 300 posts (I stopped counting, after a while) I've never been questioned about my faith in Christ, my theology, or much of anything else.
I want to dance like no one’s around
I want to sing like no one’s listening
Before I lay my body down
I want to give like I have plenty
I want to love like I’m not afraid
I want to be the man I was meant to be
I want to be the way I was made!
(Christian singer and worship-leader Chris Tomlin, "The Way I Was Made," from the CD Arriving)
No, the only recurring question I've been asked has been, "So....are you gay?"
And it started early on. There was my first topical post, where I suggested that the Christian church would do much better to stick to the challenges of Matthew 25 (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit those in prison) than spend all the time and energy that it does exposing and condemning gays.
There was "my fifteen minutes of fame" post, Just How Shocking Is The Gospel?, in which I took the John 4 woman-at-the-well story and set it in the context of the ELCA and the gay "Boystown" neighborhood of Chicago. That set off a firestorm of inquiries, to be sure...
And there was another post where one commenter on that post who got the mistaken idea that "a friend of Bill" was the same as an um...friend of Bill (as in, "this is my, um, friend Bill..."). While about 3 comments on their own blog mentioned the theological issues they had with my John 4 post, the other 30 or so were about how I was probably gay, and I was twisting the story around to suit my supposedly-deviant lifestyle. (Whch was funny, given the fact that I'd been celibate for 12 years at the time...I guess I missed out on the whole deviancy thing.)
My position, for the last two years, has been simply to discuss whatever the issue was at hand, and leave "me" out of it. After all, if I said I was gay, the assumption would be that I was "just supporting the lifestyle." And if I said I was straight, the assumption would be that I was lying, anyway. So I just sidestepped the questions altogether.
I should confess, too, that I started this blog out of a great longing for acceptance, after having been rejected as a candidate for ministry by the ELCA (for financial reasons) back in April, 2004. I was feeling cut-off, alone, and 650 miles from my friends and supporters back in Kansas. I found acceptance and approval out here in the blogosphere, and I desperately needed that, at the time. So I had a vested interest in rejection-avoidance, for a good long while.
But I'm in a better place, now. And the move to northwest Ohio, and the act of starting life over again, has called me to be more open and honest about who I am - as a brother, friend, co-worker, and follower of Christ (not in that order).
So yes, Virginia, to answer your question, I am a gay man.
And I have been, all along.
Now, to be rigorously honest, for more than thirty-five years, I didn't believe that. I was sure that I could somehow "fix" this, or that God would help me fix it. Interestingly enough, I used every trick to deal with my homosexuality that Bill W. (the co-founder of AA) tried to use on his alcoholism - denial, will-power, avoidance, and self-knowledge. I believed that marrying the right woman would do it, that dating the right women would do it, that endless hours of tearful prayer or church life or even ministerial service to God would do it.
But even after being sober for a decade and a half, none of it worked.
Over the years, I've tried to be so open about so much of my life (especially my struggles in recovery). But somehow for all those years, even after I got sober, I never found the courage to take the last step of rigorous honesty, and "come out" to anyone - even to the people I love. There were a lot of reasons for that - but the two main reasons I never came out were simply
- I never wanted to be gay, and
- I was waiting for God to heal me - to fix me, to make me "right."
Ever since I was first afraid that I had this orientation, at least one silent prayer has always been, "God, please - make me straight, heterosexual, whatever the hell 'normal' is. Help me desire what people tell me is Your natural order, OK? If being straight is really Your will, then please - let it be done, and let it be done quickly. I'm ready to go. I'll suit up, show up, and try to play the part - fake it 'till you make it, they say. OK. I'm ready when you are..."
And for years, when certain people suspected my true nature, I'd give them the party line: Of course not! After all, I'm not, am I? I was just like a cancer patient - waiting for a cure. And up until the last two years, if I had the choice, I still wouldn't have chosen to be gay. Let's face it - on the surface, given society as it is, and the consequences of living as a gay man in it, who the hell would?
(As you'll see, I'm coming, slowly, to feel differently. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly...)
For more than three decades, I prayed that "fix me!" prayer. And the only thing that happened is that I ended up more lonely, more sick of living a lie, and more desperately "apart from" the world (instead of "a part of") than I have ever been. At first I just got tired of waiting on what I thought was God's provision for my life. Later, as I learned more, read more, and prayed more, I came to understand that "waiting to be fixed" was not part of God's provision for me at all. And I got tired of despising myself in the process. (And if an angel or a scientist showed up with a magic pill today, a la X-Men III, I'm not sure I'd take it....but more on that later.)
For seven long years, as I experienced a true call to a life in ministry, I was ready to give it all up. Really...it sounds stupid now, but at the time it made perfect sense. I'd deny my sexuality, abandon any hope of intimate relationships just as a priest would, and just continue to live the lie that I'd been working on my whole life. For all those years, I really, honestly felt that it would better to live acting as a gay-friendly member of the "straight" clergy (who might be able to build bridges and soften hearts) than as an openly-gay clergyman (who would just seem to be pushing his own agenda). After all, the rules of my faith community insisted on celibacy outside of marriage - so either way, sex was out. So why not be of service, eh?
Well, that road is closed, for now - seemingly for good. (And for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with my sexuality. According to the rules of my denomination - if not their standing practice and tradition - I could have been ordained as a celibate gay man. We can argue later about how likely that might have been...)
Regardless of all that, I've come to believe that God is healing me (though so far, that healing is coming in a much different form than I ever anticipated). I've been gingerly exploring a radical idea: that God gave me this faith, this knowledge, this training, and this "time apart" from the religious community to face the truth of my homosexuality, to come to accept myself as His child in this way, and to find a way to be a voice for the untold numbers of gay Christians who are tired of hiding, tired of living in the shadows, tired of denying what God would have them be.
And that's the reason for the song-quote at the beginning of the post. I have come to realize a truth I ran away from for years: that I was created this way. I have spent almost all my life trying to deny the truth of what I am. But once I came to that realization, I had a choice to make.
In one option, I could believe that my sexuality was some kind of Divine error (that the One who had "known me before I was knitted together in the womb" had somehow dropped a stitch or two), that my homosexuality (which I surely would not have chosen) was a manufacturing defect on the part of the Creator. Doesn't do much for God's omnipotence there, does it?...
I could believe that - or I could believe that I am a part of God's creation. A different part, to be sure; not the dominant part...but still a valid and worthy "part of the Divine design," nonetheless. Once I thought about it, I knew what my choice would be...
There's another lie I had bought into: over the last several years (especially at seminary) I had also convinced myself that my orientation didn't matter...that being overweight, greying, over 40 and unattractive (at least in my eyes) meant that I wouldn't find any companionship, regardless gender, ever. Finally, God put in my life a couple of friends in recovery who suggested to me that the issue of my sexual orientation wasn't about who I was living or sleeping with, but who I was, period. It was about being honest...and they helped me see that I'd spent my whole life living a lie.
So, back a year or so ago, I began sharing my true life with people - at first, with folks inside the recovery community in Chicago. Then, in person and via email, with my own family and my church family in Kansas. By ones and twos, the word got out, so to speak.
My friend Eric, who has been one of my longest-standing friends in the church, was one of the first group of people that I told, a little more than a year ago. His reply is instructive:
I'm sitting here with a little smile on my face having just read your letter. I wondered when a letter or phone call like this might arrive. And to think, I was concerned you were going to tell me something life shattering like you feel off the wagon or had AIDS! I've known for MANY years that this was a struggle within for you my friend. I'm very much looking forward to reading your blog on this one! And I'm sure this will make for some interesting discussions!!And, to be honest, 99% of the rest of my "outings" have gone exactly the same way, as the journey has continued this last year.
Like the love of our Lord, my brother, I can love you no less for that love is not predicated on your sexual orientation but on your heart and very soul which is so beautiful to me!
Having said all that, I also have to say that this blog is going to continue to be about what it has always been - "reflections on a journey of life, faith, and recovery (from inside and outside the church and the 12-step communities) from a believer, seeker, theologian, and 'slightly more than part-time thinker'." That's not going to stop.
When I first started coming out, I started writing a lot about the experiences (imagine that) . And eventually I started posting them in a parallel blog, A Rainbow Flag in Narnia. (The name came from the fact that I still saw myself following "the One True King," but I had spent so much time deep in the closet that it was like a different world to me.) My first posts, I can see now, were deeply imbued with a "please accept me and love me, even though I'm gay" message. But, like this blog, I hope that my "rainbow" posts are on a journey to greater self-acceptance.
So I'm going to continue to post most of my gay-and-coming-out-in-the-church discussions over there, for now, at least. If you're curious about the process I've taken to get from there to here, that would be the place to look. But there is one item I want to cross-post here from "over there," because I think they're important.
Back at the beginning of March 2006, I was back in Kansas for my friend Eric's father's funeral. A couple nights before the service, I had the chance to have coffee with him, and just talk face-to-face for the first time since I'd come out to him via email. Eric asked an interesting question which, as best I remember it, was, "So really - why are you doing this? Most of the time, when people have come out to me, they are generally looking for approval of their adopting a homosexual lifestyle. Is that what you're looking for? And if not, why are you bothering?"
It's an important question - if only because in many ways I am coming out without the "carrot" of a same-sex relationship, and yet without the "stick" of gay-related disease. For a lot of straight folks, there would really be no other reason to come out. But (for better or worse) I have neither issue in my life, for now.
I gave this answer several times that weekend, when the question came up, and I think it's important to share it here:
First, because I'm tired of living the lie, and having the folks who care about me not really know me. For me, my sexuality is a non-issue, in many ways - but it's a non-issue that I've expended incredible amounts of energy to hide from people. So the first part of this is simply about being honest - with myself, and with you. It's just easier to be open and honest.So that's why I'm doing this.
The second part is more general, if no less important: there is a very prevalent stereotype of homosexuals and the homosexual lifestyle that absolutely does not apply to 90% of the gay and lesbian folks I know. Everyone keeps talking about this 'homosexual lifestyle,' but so far I haven't received my Homosexual Lifestyle Starter Kit, with the hot cabana boy, crystal meth and and a spandex outfit. (Maybe it was sent out, and I just wasn't there to sign for the delivery.)
But the only way that this stereotype is ever going to die is going to be when gay men like me are willing to step out of the closet and stop hiding their "gay lifestyles," which are so damn normal in so many ways!
The only way that people are going to come to understand gay life is when they realize the vast number of relationships that they already have with gay men and lesbians all around them. The fact is, it's simply harder to hate what (and who) you know.
And especially in the Christian church, when people debate "the homosexual question," when my straight church friends think about them, I want them to think, "Oh, yeah - they're talking about my friend Steve..."
And that's it, for now. Being gay isn't a big thing, and it's not going to be a big part of what I share here, even if learning to live "out" is a big part of my new life here in Ohio. But it's a small thing that I have spent an amazing amount of energy hiding from folks. So hopefully I can spend that energy on something more productive...
(It should also be noted that if you're going to post any hateful comments here, I may leave some of them up as a symbol of what folks are capable of...but for the most part, I'm going to delete them. I'm not putting up with hate or condemnation in this new life, especially from those who claim as their Savior the One who said, "Love one another, just as I have loved you.")
Perhaps it is appropriate that I missed "National Coming Out Day" on October 11th, and that instead I am posting this on Reformation Sunday - the day that the Lutheran Church remembers the beginning of the Reformation and the renewal of the Church. After all, I too am in a process of re-formation, of re-creation, renewal and rebirth...a process that is only just begun. Please forgive the length of this post - but a sub-text to my desire for acceptance is also a desire to be understood, even if I am not accepted.
For now, I leave this effort in God's hands, and leave you with my favorite prayer from the Lutheran Book of Worship - the prayer with which I ended my very first post on this blog:
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
(Lutheran Book of Worship, page 137)