Lessons In Love: Two Years After “Coming Out”

Today is the second anniversary of embracing the truth that I am gay. It’s been a great (and tumultuous) two years. Almost everything is completely different. Old challenges produced new understandings and environment. New challenges are producing deepening authenticity and wholeness.

For the past two years, I have written about losing relationships, leaving the culturally driven church, developing new friendships, and taking my place in the LGBT+ community. I have written a bit about the maturation of my faith in Christ as well.

After the horrible Pulse tragedy (7 months ago today), watching our community here locally, and around the world, grapple with the horror and yet respond and rally with love …that tragedy became a catalyst and helped my passion and vision to become crystal clear.

What I haven’t written a lot about is how incredibly humbling, and deeply personal, this past year has been relationally. It has been over the past year I deeply grieved the loss of my first love, facing relational fears of intimacy I didn’t even know I had and being open to dating someone else. All of this, which is quite normal I know, revealed some profound consequences of living 23 years in the ex-gay world. 23 years of believing I was “called” to celibacy (that was only briefly challenged by dating women on a couple of occasions).

When I came back out, I brought a healthy worldview and coping skill set with me. At the same time, I also stripped away a wall of idealism that had shielded me from looking honestly at the core of who I am concerning intimacy and being able to trust another. Dating has exposed those fears, weaknesses, and anxieties in ways that I still don’t fully understand or know how to articulate.

So, on one level, I am more than ready and will be speaking out about ending conversion therapy and carefully confronting ingrained religious and cultural stigmatization. I am very clear and strong along the lines of advocating for LGBT+ equality, rights, and protecting the gains our community has made.

Yet, when it comes to love and dating, I am still struggling to find the words; to trust myself with another; to trust another. I’ve been dating a wonderful man named Dan for two months (to the day, so it’s a dating monthiversary too). I am glad he is being patient with me :).

Other stuff has happened as well. This past year I also went to my first “Gay Days” and my first Pride Parade ever (in Orlando where Dan hunted me down :)). I started volunteering with the local HRC Orlando/Central Florida and am about share my story with two filmmakers for their documentaries this month. Plus, I may be attending and/or speaking at a few events this year.

Very fun and exciting!

It feels like my desire to turn the past for good, to be an honest and whole person, is truly settling in. The personal growth continues to deepen and I am very grateful.

I love Christ, I love my LGBT+ family, and I love what is happening to and in my heart. There are still plenty of lessons in love to learn. I’m ready.

It’s very good to be free…

Lunch Date with Mr. Calvinist?

Recently a friend said I should meet with a prominent theologian, we will call Mr. Calvinist, they have lunch with frequently. This theologian is a prolific author and lives in the area. My friend said that this theologian would probably love to hear how I justify being a gay Christian theologically.

I am not a theologian nor the son of one. In fact, I have used more variations on the base word “theology” in this post than I have, in any way, for quite a long time. While I would love to meet Mr. Calvinist, I won’t get into a theological discussion with him. Plus, knowing about this person and after reading some of his books in the past, I know he is a hardcore Calvinist (hence the nickname for him).

This conversation got me thinking about when I was a prominent leader in the ex-gay movement, nobody ever asked me to explain my views “theologically.” I did what most culturally driven Christians do and simply picked relevant Bible passages that appeared to affirm whatever bias I was teaching. Never, not once, was I asked for an in depth “theological” explanation. Maybe that is because my stated “scriptural” beliefs never threatened the culturally conditioned expectations and consequences that were in place in the conservative circles I was a part of.

In fact, tell a good emotive story, mix in a few scriptures in there, and voila … Insta-Ex-Gay Expert on Biblical Sexuality and Identity. I am not saying that to be mean, it’s simply true to my experience and what I have seen in many respects within the western church. There are a lot of “biblical experts” out there that are simply compelling storytellers, not real “experts.”

There is nothing wrong with being a compelling storyteller (as long as it is honest and not manipulative) and nothing wrong with being an expert. But, the presence of one does not imply the other is true.

After coming back out to embrace all of who I am as a child of God, including being gay, to some who never cared about my theological views along those lines before, a few now believe I owe them a scriptural case for being LGBT+ affirming.

I see it like this, even people who make a living off of being a theologian can never satisfy each other with their various arguments. I could have a bazillion letters/credentials after my name, write a lengthy document with big words having lots of syllables, with citations, footnotes, Hebrew/Greek context… none of it will ever be enough for many on any side. Plus, it isn’t my job or gifting to spend my time and energy in that way.

Plus, we have to make up our own minds. We have to take personal responsibility for our beliefs and lives. It’s not always easy figuring ourselves, and our relationship with God, out! No one can do it for us. No formula or program will ever be enough and should not have the power to dictate our way of thinking.

Influence? Yes, if we want them to do so. Prescribe our beliefs for us? no.

There is more information than we even need to be fully informed on various beliefs regarding these issues. I can’t, and won’t, tell others what to believe. My only responsibility, joyfully embraced, is to love and respect anyone regardless of what they believe.

Yes, even Trump supporters…. :::laugh::: couldn’t resist :).

That said, I don’t mind sharing with people three books that really had a positive influence on me. The first was “Pure Grace” by conservative (and loving) Pastor Clark Whitten. Some would laugh at me for saying Pastor Clark is conservative because to the hardcore religious right, he isn’t. I know he is though and that’s ok! Next would be, “Making Sense of the Bible” by Adam Hamilton. Hamilton’s book puts my experience and beliefs about the Bible into words, beautifully! Then, a non-theological (or even spiritual) book, but especially revelatory for me is “The Velvet Rage” by Alan Downs. LOVE these books. Don’t agree with everything in them but …wow. They helped release a freedom and joy in me I didn’t know existed or to the depth I thought I was possible.

A Mr. Calvinist lunch date would be great but let’s leave the theological discussion for others to have somewhere else at another time.

The Dream About a Deflated Volleyball

My subconscious is a trip. Most of the time, dreams really do help process what is affecting me deeply. This particular dream is a good example.

In a dream Wednesday, it was night time (in the dream) and I was walking out of the edge of a city and suburb where I was living. The skyline and bejeweled lights spread out behind me as I headed toward a huge and expansive woodland area. No words were spoken but someone at the edge of these very dark woods, at the beginning of a twisting and difficult path into them, was taunting me. He was trying to provoke anger and stir up negative energy in our respective communities. Cloaked in a comforting and well-fitted overcoat, I made my way toward him.

About 40 feet away I recognized him as an ex-gay leader I actually know in the non-dream world :). One I had considered a mentor (of sorts, not my “official” mentor) for decades. We are no longer friends. In the dream, he also had some type of covering, but his cloak(?) was a tightly knotted mess. It looked like it was not allowing him to use his arms. It wasn’t a straight-jacket, he isn’t in need of one of those, he just refused to wear it the way it was designed to be worn. After recognizing him I stopped walking and was perplexed by his behavior. He was incredibly angry. Malice had twisted his face. That’s when he kicked a ball. When it landed it just planted itself about 2 feet in front of me. No bounce and it was a volleyball (the only sport I have ever been halfway decent at.)

Again, no words but in my head I thought, “This doesn’t make sense. He wants to play volleyball? There isn’t anything about this situation that is conducive to that. Looking up at him, I knew that he was trying to provoke me into engaging him and without saying it, I somehow communicated to him, “This, our disagreement, is not a game.”

At that moment, the ball deflated. Without any sadness or remorse, I turned and walked back toward home leaving the angry former friend to tend to his own path. While walking away, others started leaving the dark woods in all directions, too. Then I woke up.

Before the dream and earlier on Wednesday, I received some nasty troll’ish messages through this blog and via LinkedIn. I had also read an article by this former friend that called gay men like me who left the ex-gay world weak, harmful, selfish and regularly states in some fashion or form that we were blasphemous indulgent boys…not real men. Consciously, after those things happening within the span of an hour of each other, I made the decision to not confront/engage that leader and not respond to the troll’ish messages.

It appears my subconscious agrees that it is healthy to not play the game of allowing hatred/taunting to provoke and capture my attention. I used to be manipulated by that game (familiar) but now it simply falls flat, doesn’t make sense, and I can clearly see it provides a false context leading only to further dysfunction and darkness.

As a man, who also happens to be gay, I left the false path of someone else’s construction and am comfortable in my own skin, abilities, and purpose. I know where my “home” is and how to get there.

When I explained the dream to Dan, he asked if I thought my dream meant I was leading, or saw myself leading, others out of the dark woods; since they started pouring out of it from all over the place when I turned to walk back toward home. I didn’t get the impression in the dream that my action was leading to their freedom. That would be quite vainglorious indeed :)! It seems my subconscious was simply recognizing that I am not the first and definitely not the last who will find our way out of unhealthy religious legalism and the “ex-gay” world. We were all leaving the dark woods because we had all found our own way out of confusion and journeying in clarity.

While I am all for, and deeply value, encouragement, and support, I trust that people can think for themselves. They will … we will… find our way.

Now, it is the thought that others will relate to these observations that led me to write this post. Of course, this is my subconscious so the “interpretation” of the dream is biased to my beliefs and perspectives. That said, the dream feels very healthy and affirming. I hope it is encouraging (or at least a somewhat interesting read :)) for others.

If you are still making your way out of the dark and confusing places in your life, you will make it. In your heart you will know where to place the next step forward. Forgive and release even those that don’t seek either. Don’t be distracted by anger and fear; step by step you wil find your way home.

Just ignore the deflated volleyballs along the way.

Quote for the graphic came from a book called “Love Is All You Need.”

2017 Is Going To Be Amazing

I truly believe 2017 is going to be amazing. Up to this point, 2015 was a year of coming out of the church closet and the excitement, adrenaline, highs, and lows of discovering life truly unhindered. In 2015 I cast off the last grave clothes of legalism adopted from many culturally conditioned religious ideals that are unnecessary and unattainable. No more. 2016 took things a bit further and was definitely a settling in period. 2017 looks to be quite an exciting, even liberating, year. I feel it in my bones.

2015-16 was also doing the best I could to not trade in one form of legalism for another more “progressive” kind. Legalism is legalism. Done with it in whatever flavor it tries to manifest in.

I don’t mind being called conservative in some things and progressive in others if it helps bring clarity to the topic at hand. But, those individual points are not the full context from which to live a full and healthy life. It’s not fair or life-giving to expect myself or others to conform to any of those individual beliefs with high relational consequences one way or another.

2016 also was also a year of healthy assertiveness and catalytic moments. After joining the local HRC Orlando/Central Florida steering committee, experiencing the Pulse tragedy from a local perspective, enduring the horrible election cycle and results, there were many “crystallizing” moments in my faith and passion. I am gay, the LGBT+ community is my family, Christ is my Lord …and I am not ashamed or timid about any of that.

Now, to be sure, I don’t want to be an ass about any of that! That said, no need to be quiet, and plenty to chime in on so that’s what I will do. I want to get the rough draft of my book done by the end of this month. I will be interviewing for two different documentaries, and my goal is to blog 3-5 times a week! I also might have an opportunity to speak at a gay Christian conference this summer (still in the very beginning of that discussion so we will see if that happens.)

Speaking up… I’mma do it y’all!

All of that said, I am learning a lot of really humbling things as of late as well. Being true to self is not only celebrating the good and free, it’s also accepting the consequences, and working out, how past decisions are impacting current views and relationships. It’s so weird to realize how afraid and fearful I was/am of interpersonal intimacy and issues of love.

Yet another big adventure I am currently taking!

I have a feeling 2017 is going to be a great year. It’s not just a hope but an inner peace and resolve. No doubt it will be like the rest of life with highs and lows, but something in me rejoices with the thought that 2017 is going to be amazing.

Thank you for reading and for friends and supporters who allow me to be a part of your lives. To love and be loved is all we can do or ask for really. In this, I am a rich and blessed man indeed! Happy 2017!

Quote for the graphic came from a book called “Love Is All You Need.”

Leaving The Little House On The Edge Of The Boonies

When I entered the little house on the edge of the boonies three years and 10 months ago, I was still relatively conservative (spiritually, politically and otherwise). I was the Executive Vice President of Exodus and trying desperately to help figure out a way, with Alan’s direction, of course, to redefine and cast a new vision for the “world’s largest ex-gay ministry” or set a course for shutting it down.

From 2013 to now has been the most tumultuous season of my adult life. Many highs and quite a few deep lows. Today, it feels like a rebooted life. Completely different…transformed and free. While moving forward into the unknown, it doesn’t feel strange or cumbersome. As I drove away from this house for the last time, it felt as if a mountain fell off my shoulders and a fresh wind is empowering the journey forward.

This house has seen a lot of pain.

Here my prayers were answered and the resulting meditations helped make a case for and eventually shutting down Exodus. This house has seen many tears during the implosion, infighting, public criticism (from all sides), and betrayals at Exodus. This is also where I came to the humbling (almost humiliating) realization that I had also caused others pain and hurt during that time as well.

This house saw deep mourning as I continued to grieve Michael’s suicide shortly before I moved in here. It is here I experienced another type of relational death in that I got some shaming texts from an elder at a church I attended (copying my friends at the church) that pushed me over the edge to leave. After 23 years of attending church every Sunday I could, 10 of them at my last church, I have only visited a few services a handful of times over the past year and a half (my choice).

During my time here, after Exodus closing and my coming back out, I lost almost all of my long-time friends. There are a few that survived (thank goodness, love them!) but not many.

Even though there has been a lot of pain, don’t want to elaborate and recreate a full “bitterness” list (no one needs that), it was all part of blinders being ripped off and the death of an idealized false authenticity. In other words, it was a healing pain (or turned for good and productive pain) and not wounding pain left to fester.

This house has seen a lot of love.

In two weeks I will have been “out” as a gay man for two years. It is here I fell in love with another man and had my first passionate “moment(s)” with him in over 20 years. It is where my current love interest and I tease each other and watched “The Crown” on Netflix together. He also helped me move out of this house and has been a great support and incredibly loving.

It’s here that my war on Big Ass Spiders gained social media traction :). It’s in this cute little house on the edge of the boonies where I baked my first Whiskey Chocolate Pecan Pies and painted my first large paintings. It is here that I gave names to a cast of characters like Hubert the Handsome Humble Hybrid, Arnie and Annie the Armadillos, Joe the Tortoise, Henrietta the Hangry Hawk. Danger Kitty (various feral cats) that prowls through the yard three times a day to protect us from Zombies and Sasquatches (raccoons). Also, the day I “came out” publicly, I saw a pair of bald eagles so vividly and clearly… beautiful moment.

It is in this little house on the edge of the boonies where I have begun a new career as an Online Content Creator and Social Media Consultant; embraced that I am truly a “creative” writer and artist. It’s also where I have made many new friends locally and around the world. Yay, Interwebs and social media!

It is in this house I found my own voice, vision, and passion that will not adapt/modify for someone else’s purpose.

This is where I have had many, many, moments of laughter and fun conversations about life, about and with God, friendship, love, and joy. So many life-giving and beautiful moments.

Ready, Set, Launch!

This house has heard bitter tears as well as laughing so hard I got dizzy… more than a few times! This house was the safe place where freeing epiphanies came to reveal that, of course, God would never forsake us. This was also a season of deeper revelations about grace toward others in times of conflict; not being derailed by the “should be” and staying focused and gracious toward “what is.” We are united in His Spirit, always have been, always will be.

I came into this house talking about freedom a lot. Now that I am leaving this house, I am actually, truly, free. My pursuit of freedom hasn’t changed, finally living this deeper understanding of it is.

I came into this house at the top of my “game.” I am leaving this house realizing that life isn’t a game. That life cannot be lived in a false authenticity and a false idealization. Real life is only worth living in love; to love and be loved by God, to love and be loved by others.

No more games. Eyes, mind, and heart open.

Coming into this house, I was a caterpillar; leaving a butterfly. Came in as a Mourning Dove; leaving as an Eagle. But, obviously, I am still into over-the-top metaphors!

I wept while thinking of all the “moments” and changes that have happened in this little house on the edge of the boonies. Now, the tears are done. My wings are unfurling as I launch off into the future…