Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Sankofa (Part Two)

**Sankofa is a four part series looking backward so that I can move forward. Be sure to read Sankofa (Part One) to see early beginnings and the wonderful love affair I had with my porcelain punisher. From there, we continue to Part Two . . . .

So I survived in pain. It was utter suffering. By 5:00AM, it was done and I could safely sleep. I hadn't yet been introduced to a personal God but it was only a matter of time. Nobody knew what I had done. I was alive so it really didn't matter - I suppose. I hadn't told my family nor my best friend because, well, let's face it, I had already detached myself to the point of not wanting anyone's help. I was going to do this alone. Nobody knew what I did. Nobody would understand why. I was still alive so the only thing left was to move on with my life - alone . . . .

My mom bought a house in Riverside so we moved. By that time, all I really had was JROTC because that was the one place that, if I performed, I was acknowledged - noticed. My tantrum didn't help much so I started my 10th grade year in a new high school. The blessing in this was that my one year in Long Beach as a part of a championship team gave me the experience and the edge above my new classmates. I was placed in leadership, as a sophomore, and remained in leadership since. I naturally rose up the ranks, continuing to earn the awards and recognitions, while being placed in authority over my peers. It was at this young point in my life that I understood how lonely it is at the top. Leadership provides a different perspective - one that most teenagers never really comprehend. So I saw myself set apart from my peers. With a different perspective, I saw things differently and so I made decisions differently. I was different.

I definitely had my share of crushes. Boy, did I have crushes! My hormones were raging and my same sex attractions were denied a real life outlet because of social stigma. Fear. It was easier to hide behind success. That made the facade so much easier to maintain. But even though I crushed hard on many, many, many, many, many guys around school, I was drawn towards a female friend of mine because she was right there with me in leadership. The two of us were typically in command (of something or another) in JROTC and so we found in each other a person who could understand - the stress of responsibility and the drive to achieve. So we started to date and we became a couple. I tried. I really tried to make it work. We lasted about three months, broke up, got back together again, lasted for another two months or so, then broke up mutually agreeing that we were better off as friends. It was true. We're great friends - even now - we just aren't the boyfriend-girlfriend type. Funny thing - she ended up being the girlfriend-girlfriend type while, as you know, I'm the boyfriend-boyfriend type. Go figure.

High school was a lonely time because of the leadership dynamic, the family dynamic, and the whole gay thing. During the Summer after my junior year in high school, at 16 years old, my cousin invited me to a Christian church. The first thing that I noticed was the music. Drums! Guitar! Keyboard! Microphones! What the - ? This is church? This is way different from mass. I began to be introduced to a formerly foreign concept to me - a personal God. Jesus. As I learned the truths of what He did for me, I embraced Him as my God - my Savior. As I recounted in a previous post called, "Embracing A Different Gospel," me being gay had nothing to do with my decision to believe in Him and accept His Sovereignty. It wasn't about feeling any kind of guilt for being gay. It was about realizing the fact that God loved me even though I didn't deserve it. Period. Purely grace.

It wasn't until afterwards, that I realized a sense of condemnation for being gay - not by Jesus but by His people. The tough thing about this was that the church served as my surrogate family. I allowed myself to see them as family - my brothers and sisters in Christ. Over a period of 10 years, I grew in faith. I grew in my knowledge of Scripture. I grew in the many ways that I could serve Him. In various contexts I led Bible studies, I led worship (keyboard), I led youth groups, I was a greeter, I helped to set up/take down for services, I ushered, I counted tithes and offerings, I did baptisms, I created church bulletins and calendars and flyers, I was a part of small groups, I preached at Sunday morning services, I did neighborhood prayer walks, and I was a part of ministry to the homeless, elderly, and at-risk youth. I listened to nothing but praise and worship music and contemporary Christian music. I was all about the "church culture". I was a "successful" Churchian.

I can own the fact that this seems consistent with my drive to achieve in order to gain a sense of acknowledgement and acceptance. But I can also say that through it all, I was sincerely loving Jesus more and more.

In whatever local church that I was a part of at the time, what I found consistent was that there was a limit to the level of depth that I could have with my surrogate family. The love and connection seemed limited to the confines of the "church culture" - the events, the programs, the ministries, the services. I saw the acceptance of God's people only when I was doing what they viewed to be righteous - merely being present, being in attendance. As long as I was doing the church thing, then everything seemed great. Their knowledge of me was limited to the person they saw at those events. But what about when I was away from church? Did they really understand the profound loneliness that I was experiencing among them? Would they truly love me and continue to hug me on Sunday mornings if they knew that I was attracted to other men?

So over these same ten years, I experienced two types of colliding worlds.

The first type of collision was between the "church culture" that expressed a conditional love in the context of a spectator faith clashing with my recognition of how superficial this felt and how ineffective we were being with the very people we were trying to reach out to. As a person who desperately hungered for relationships with substance, I starved within the "church culture".

I began to have questions - questions about why? Why are we simply going through the motions? Why do people within the church not realize how ineffective we are being with people outside of the church? Why do we play church on Sundays without acknowledging the pain of the person sitting in front of us, or next to us, or behind us, or in the back row? Why do we call each other brother or sister without even knowing where the other lives or what the other needs or even the other's name? Why do we condemn each other without even knowing the context of how things came about?

Over the past three years, I began to realize that Jesus was leading me back to when I first accepted Him - back to when I realized that He was a personal God. I began to realize that He was revealing to me the "church culture" and drawing me away from it, and instead was drawing me towards living a lifestyle of faith that wasn't confined to the structures of brick and mortar or programs and events. And so, I began to realize what I articulated in several previous posts on my "Church" paradigm ("Death of a Church and Life in the Hot Zone", "Jumping the Walls", "Band of Brothers and Sisters", and "Church Outside The Box" - I definitely recommend reading all of them in that order) and instead of waiting for the church's permission or programs, I simply chose to live and function as the Church among the Church and the world. I began to live out my faith, follow Jesus to the places the Churchians didn't want to go, and explore what it looks like to be the Church there.

The second type of collision that I experienced was the clash between what the mainstream church interpretted in Scripture regarding all forms of homosexuality being a sin (an opinion that I held at the time for 13 years of being a Christian) and the reality of living with my same sex attractions for 22 years (since I was 8 years old) while discovering that there were indeed Christ-centered gay people out there.

*Read on to Sankofa (Part Three) to read about this second type of collision and how I entered this journey of exploring these colliding worlds which led to this blog - exploring what it looks like to be both gay and Christian!

5 comments:

Angel said...

"Why do we play church on Sundays without acknowledging the pain of the person sitting in front of us, or next to us, or behind us, or in the back row? "

This, my friend, is one of the reasons I was so drawn to your blog. I am always moved by your writing, and how it applies to us all and our personal struggles.

(That, and you ROCK :::grin:::)

Anonymous said...

Hey Eric--This entry brought tears to my eyes and it also gave me chills. I believe that the spirit is working through you my friend.

Love

Becky O

Matt said...

Reading this has helped me come to terms with the reasons I haven't been to a church service in at least 15 years!

jeremy sawatzky said...

once again, beautiful words man.

next time youre on msn, remind me to ask you something regarding this blog ok?

what do i want to ask? ahhh, the suspense! its killing you, isnt it?

Heidi said...

Eric - I know I've been a bit absent from the blogging world as of late, but I'm glad I didn't miss this post. It is so impossible for me to think about going to church, even though I love God and love his people. I'm glad I'm not the only one...glad that someone out there understands...especially as some current situations in my life keep causing to bang my head into the wall over the church situation...