Monday, January 28, 2008

Snow Days in SoCal

Since last week was an incredibly emotionally difficult week for me (having felt slandered, publicly attacked, spoken harshly about, had my motives and character questioned, wrongly accused, and just plain persecuted by a couple (perhaps, really just one) of immature guys who claimed to be Christians (and my friends at one time) and were having a tantrum because their expectations for a meeting weren't met and so launched a witch hunt campaign against me which only succeeded in revealing their own pride and malicious nature), I decided to get away from the drama for a weekend by celebrating my pal Ryan's 30th birthday up in Big Bear.

I've gotta say that I had THE most absolutely FUN weekend EVER!

Oh my gosh, seriously, I enjoyed myself so much with genuine friends! It was Ryan's bday weekend so we rented a cabin, made a snowman named "Choncho", played board games (including a fun one called Boxers or Briefs), drank and were merry, enjoyed an awesome fireplace, hung out in the jacuzzi in the rain, stayed up all night, then had waffles for breakfast and spent Sunday afternoon inner-tubing down the slopes. Plus, I experienced my very first falling snow!!!

I had always romanticized "the snow" because i've never really lived in it. I left the Philippines when I was three years old. My family lived in Illinois for a couple of years after that so the last time I remember snow and making snowmen and making snow tunnels was back when I was around four or five years old! After this we lived in Hawaii for all of my elementary years, then I've lived in Southern California since then. So I've always wanted to experience falling snow. And now I have! I was way super excited and I was like a little kid when it finally happened.

The coolest thing though is that my friends didn't make fun of my exhilaration. They were excited for me and even participated in my anticipation of it. Wow, see these are the kind of friends with whom I want to surround myself. In our small group this weekend, we were all pretty much Ryan's friends. It was, afterall, in celebration of him! So some of these were actually new friends for me which speaks volumes of the kind of guy Ryan is and the kinds of friends he keeps.

Yeah, I'm a fan. He's my pal who I've grown to love and respect. Among the numerous things that I admire about him, one is his sense of adventure. Knowing him inspires me to want to live and experience life and new things. I've experienced many "firsts" with Ryan as we've hung out. Experiencing my first snow and going inner-tubing for the first time are just the most recent added to that list. The cool thing, too, is that we're working together in Catalyst and it's been so much fun connecting with him and sharing common vision and passion for serving the community. Ryan makes the list of heroes. It's going to be exciting to see what God has in store!

So anyway, as I searched online for a meaningful gift for Ryan, I wanted to find a photo that captured "Adventure". And I found a perfect one entitled, "Endless Adventure". I ordered it, cropped it myself, framed it myself, and presented it to my pal.

All this is to say, "Happy Birthday, Ryan!" Here's to endless adventures!

Check out our fun photos from our super fun Snow Days in SoCal here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Reconciled Friendship

I've always thought it to be God's sick sense of humor to use me as a relational catalyst. It's true that God has often used me as one who connects others together, facilitates introductions, and subtly steps back as others enjoy friendship and fellowship. It's fun being a catalyst because i'm connected in some way to many relationships. In the past couple months, I've recently been revitalized with fresh vision for Catalyst and I'm excited for what God has in store for connecting sub-communities together, pastors and people of faith together, individuals together!

I've often been called a social butterfly but the truth is that I'm very much more comfortable engaging in smaller groups. I refer to God's sense of humor because it seems like He's called one of the most unqualified people in the world to be a "people person".

Me? Are you kidding? Lord, you want me to engage the conversation with others about healthy platonic and romantic relationships in our community? No, seriously?!

God chuckles.

My own relationships are complicated enough. I can't possibly judge someone else's. I can barely navigate my own! I've gone on (few, trust me - few!) dates but i'm not dating someone (though I want to be). I love and appreciate my family but I'm not part of their daily lives and only see them on holidays or during family gatherings. I've got lots of friends but just a few that I'd call for a needed pick up at the airport.

And while I appreciate the people in my life who I interact with on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even occasional basis, there are even fewer in the inner circle that have been both time-tested and fire-tested. A couple months ago, I slammed one of those friends in "Abandoned Friendship" and even made reference to him on YouTube (of all places) in "Side X Culture". If a friendship was ever considered time and fire tested, this is one of them . . . .

Yes, we've been friends for about nine years. Perhaps it was a sucker-punch to make reference to him here. But he knows that this blog has always been a space for me to process my thoughts and feelings - raw. And since you as a reader only get my side of it, I can pretty much have the effect of demonizing him unfairly.


However, I didn't lie or say anything out of malice. I was honest about how I feel and that's significant for my journey out of the closet these past few years. It's not easy reassessing the friendship of someone who's proven himself worthy of the inner circle. The truth is that I actually was feeling hurt, replaced, abandoned for numerous reasons - many of which he's owned up to - but our situation the past several years has been complex. It's not so simple to say that our friendship was conditional. When I came out and voluntarily left the organization that we both started, I felt like I was thrown to the wolves. I had hoped he would have defended me when I was attacked.

While this recent season was challenging for our friendship, I also acknowledge that he's earned his stripes and trust with me in other seasons. He stood behind me during one of the most difficult trials in my life. He was there in 2001. If you've ever read or heard me say that "my character is not defined by the mistakes I've made but rather by the lessons I've learned", it's because he affirmed that in our friendship so that I could own that for my journey.

By the time I wrote "Abandoned Friendship" this past October, I had already emotionally given up. By the time I told my story and it was posted on YouTube at the new year, I had already been referencing him to make the broader point about the Church and gay Christians. He knew about both.

Earlier this week, we met for the first time since I wrote and spoke those things.

Over the course of our conversation, we were able to reconcile. Mostly, I think it was because in planning to meet, we were planning to reconcile. I don't think either of us were approaching the meeting with the intent of picking at wounds. We were able to reconcile because we both value reconciliation. So while I knew that it'd be difficult, I also already knew that we would indeed reconcile.

It was important for us to really hear each other. It was important for us to live out humility. It was important for us to acknowledge the hurt we each had been experiencing and that we each made decisions in reaction to that hurt.

I discovered that I was wrong about his stance. I thought that he was Side B while I was struggling with same sex attractions but that he had reverted back to Side X (yes, i'm aware of the political overtones of phrasing it like that) after I came to a Side A conclusion. My assumption was that he was willing to meet me half way in my "struggle" so that he could escort me back to Side X, but since I went the opposite direction he parted ways with a failed project. That wasn't true. I learned that he had always maintained a Side B view. (Not tracking my references to Sides A/B/X? See here.)

Honestly, this error shaped much of my hurt and how I re-interpreted our past. This doesn't negate the truth that so many of us are indeed hurt by what we perceive as conditional friendships in the Church. The Church still needs to acknowledge that.

But in this particular friendship, I took it very personal when I thought he went from Side B to Side X because to me it communicates inclusion to exclusion - from acknowledging me as a brother in Christ to acknowledging me as a heretic. I thought he had disowned me. That's why it hurt so much.

But he didn't. While theologically we disagree about the acceptability of gay relationships or the burden of celibacy, we both still acknowledge that we are in the same Family of God.

That's huge.

In many ways, God continues to call the two of us to the same vision - even now in separate organizations. He works with the mainline and mainstream churches while I strive to connect with inclusive churches that affirm gay believers like me and we each work to mobilize God's people towards relationship. Maybe God can use the two of us to mend a fractured Church? Or at the very least, fractured relationships. For both of us, it's never been about the organizations we establish or lead but rather it's always been about living out a lifestyle of faith in such a way to call the Church to do the same. The Church will always disagree about things but can we do so without disowning one another?

My friend and I were able to reconcile because we planned on reconciling. Perhaps the Church should take the same approach.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Side X Culture

This is the fourth video segment of my four part Survivor series telling my story of growing up gay, becoming Christian, struggling with same sex attractions, and reconciling the conflict between my faith and my sexuality. Daniel Gonzales of Box Turtle Bulletin (and in partnership with Beyond Ex-Gay) recorded, created and edited the video (creative commons license).

To supplement this video, also read "Sankofa (Part 3)" and also "Side X Culture and a Vision for an Inclusive Community."

Have you missed previous segments? Be sure to check out:

Part 1: Suicide and the Porcelain Punisher.
Part 2: The Ex-Gay Program.
Part 3: Isolation and Exclusion.

And now watch, Part 4: Side X Culture:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Isolation and Exclusion

This is the third video segment of my four part Survivor series telling my story of growing up gay, becoming Christian, struggling with same sex attractions, and reconciling the conflict between my faith and my sexuality. Daniel Gonzales of Box Turtle Bulletin (and in partnership with Beyond Ex-Gay) recorded, created and edited the video (creative commons license).

To supplement this video, read "Community of Profound Loneliness".

Have you missed previous segments? Be sure to check out:

Part 1: Suicide and the Porcelain Punisher.
Part 2: The Ex-Gay Program.
Part 4: Side X Culture.

And now watch, Part 3: Isolation and Exclusion:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Missed Opportunity

I have a confession. I pre-judged RJ Helton unfairly.

He was a guest at last weekend's GCN conference in DC and I wasn't exactly one of the guys fawning all over him. Honestly, I had never heard of him before. The only thing I knew was what others had been saying "about" him - something about him being on American Idol season 1 (which I never saw), him being gay (which seemed evident), and him being caught with his pants down at a club. Actually the rumor I heard was that a photo was taken with his pants down showing his underwear but I think the context was that he may have been "pants'ed" by a drag queen? while he was performing a song.


The point is that I . . . . formed my whole image of who this guy is based simply on things people said about him. So when the time came to see him, I didn't give him a chance. In fact, I didn't even go to his concert (except for peeking in for literally two minutes out of curiosity). Then as the conference progressed and people who liked him shared about how they were touched by him, I felt pretty indifferent about it.

Then it came time for everyone at the conference to share their experiences during an open mic session that lasted three and a half hours. RJ was asked to sing a song and before doing so, he shared from his heart about what was going on inside of him. He began to share about how much it meant to him to have so much love from all of "us". Yeah, Gay Christians. He said that it was because of his interaction with many friendly people at the conference, he had finally begun looking again towards a God who loved him. He cried and cried and people cried and cried and then he sung an (honestly) amazing song.

I realized, then, that I'm a schmuck. I hadn't given him a chance. And even IF the things I assumed about him were true, who am I to judge him and to not give him the time of day or to even listen to him sing one full song? God touched his heart and drew him back to Himself by using gay Christians at the conference. And I wasn't one of them because, what?, i'm too good? Not at all! I was so set on not being impressed by his celebrity that I didn't allow myself to be impressed by his heart.

Lord, forgive me for judging RJ Helton harshly and for not demonstrating or expressing Your love towards him. To RJ, (doubtful he'll read this), while I never spoke to you in person, I'm sorry for being a prick - in my heart towards you. I pray God's continued blessings for you. I don't want to miss another opportunity to serve God because I wasn't paying attention to who He was loving at the time.

Gosh, I feel like the mainstream Church who are clueless about the fact that God is loving His gay people. Ouch.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Blade - January 2008 Issue

The January '08 issue of the Blade is out now. As a contributing writer, I've got one news article in there on Mick & Mack's - a local gay bar/restaurant/club in Long Beach that has been closed for a couple months.

Check out my article here:

"Mick & Mack's Down But Not Yet Done"

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Ex-Gay Program

This is the second video segment of my four part Survivor series telling my story of growing up gay, becoming Christian, struggling with same sex attractions, and reconciling the conflict between my faith and my sexuality. Daniel Gonzales of Box Turtle Bulletin (and in partnership with Beyond Ex-Gay) recorded, created and edited the video (creative commons license).

To supplement this video, also read my "Ex-Gay Survivor Story".

Have you missed previous segments? Be sure to check out:

Part 1: Suicide and the Porcelain Punisher.
Part 3: Isolation and Exclusion.
Part 4: Side X Culture.

And now watch, Part 2: The Ex-Gay Program:

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Final Day in DC

As the GCN conference closes for 2008, the official announcement has been made. The next GCN conference for 2009 will be here in Southern California! Woo hoo!!!

I'm back home now and apparently it's been raining all weekend here. I love the rain so I'm a tad bummed that I've been missing it in exchange for the nice clear days in Washington DC. Well, not really all that bummed. Besides, it's still raining.

I had time to say a few good byes before leaving for the airport. Among so many people that I was glad to meet, one of them was my pal David from the blog Resolving Realities. That's our mugs in the pic. We didn't get to hang out for a lengthy period of time, but it's always fun meeting fellow bloggers! It was also super fun seeing my bud Charlie from London again. He always, ALWAYS makes me laugh and smile.

With next year's conference coming to this region next year, I'm wondering and hoping that the conference planner(s) will let me take an active role in planning things - if not certain parts. I'd really like to take it to the next level for GCN and I've got a vision for how it could be. But it all depends on what they say because it's their role to plan the annual conferences. Either way, i'll make myself available to help in any way since I'm local. Plus there are tons of local people here that would help out too. Regardless, Ryan and I will be working together this year to establish and to bring an awareness of a gay Christian infrastructure in Southern California - including connecting with inclusive churches, businesses and community organizations. This will be an activity of Catalyst so it would only make sense to tie things in with GCN's conference.

It'll be awesome!

Third Full Day in DC

As much as I could, I tried to be friendly and introduce myself to people I had never met. I would hope that I am an approachable kind of guy - sometimes it would appear like I'm always busy or always on the move or always around people but really I enjoy connecting with people. Being an introvert, I took some time every now and then to rejuvenate on my own by sitting alone to take a breath before plunging back in to the crowds. Being social really is a choice for me and I try not to let being an introvert become an excuse not to talk to people. I'm genuinely interested in people and since I have no other agenda except to know people and to let them feel valued, it's easier for me to be that "social butterfly".

I'm really glad that several people throughout the past three days sought me out and introduced themselves to me just to say hello and thanks for TWC. I felt like there was a mutuality to my experience here - both I and others were making an effort to meet new people. I had some really awesome and lengthy conversations, heard a great keynote from Jay Bakker, led a workshop i'm happy about, and heard some awesome tear-jerking stories from conference-goers . . . .

At the beginning of the day, the first keynote speaker of the conference was Jay Bakker. I was touched in so many ways as he talked about the death of his mother Tammy Faye, other issues with his own family, and the hurt he felt from friends for being a straight advocate for gay rights. He's such a big name here that people often fawned over him. I'm not the type to stalk celebrities because I don't want to come across as "one of those fans" so I tried to respect his space and distance. I imagine it can be overwhelming at times and I'd rather just be normal. So I went to the elevator last night and saw him trapped in it by a guy holding it open just to talk with him and I was like "oh no, one of them!" So when the guy finally released the door, I laughed and Jay affirmed being held hostage. I introduced myself and we were both friendly. I don't think any of us left the elevator scared. LOL

In the afternoon, I led my second workshop on "Catalyzing Tangible Community in Your Local Area" and I was very pleased with it. I got to share my heart and my approach to working with groups and I got to offer practical tips for them to catalyze their own local groups. I got tons of great feedback from people who found the workshop very helpful so I'm looking forward to staying connected with many of them who want to continue the conversation and bounce ideas and questions off me. I'd love to do this workshop again!

I had an incredibly refreshing dinner conversation with a new friend named David. As many of the conference-goers went to dinners in large groups, David and I decided to deviate and have a more quiet meal together in our own booth. I found David fascinating as he told me his story. He's clergy and gay. He's Side A celibate and leads to an independent Catholic parish - two things that I had never heard of before. Maintaining a Side A perspective, he does believe that it's okay to be gay and that all people (both gay and straight) are to have healthy romantic relationships. However, he feels personally called to celibacy. I find that fascinating! He also told me that there are many independent Catholic parishes that are no longer connected to Rome. Many of them keep relations with other independent Catholic parishes and it was awesome to hear how they support one another and even develop their own accountability system among trusted fellow clergy. I found so much in common with David and I learned so many things that I had not known before. He truly was a blessing! I'll be staying in touch with David.

Last night's conference session was a sharing time - an open mic to give conference go-ers an opportunity to share what's on their hearts, what God has been revealing to them, some of their story, and who has touched their lives at the conference and during their journey. This is my third conference and it's always amazing to hear how God is actually using GCN to impact so many lives. It last three and a half hours and concluded at midnight!

Another awesome conversation that I had was with Ross of In Lay Terms. He came to the conference as an invited guest as someone from Lutherans Concerned - an LGBT organization for Lutherans. He's also a co-director for The Naming Project - an LGBT youth organization. He had been spending much of his time talking with various people about one of the upcoming conferences he's connected to so, like me, he was always around people. I mentioned to him at some point that I wanted to talk with him later during the conference to hear his "schpeel and his schory (story)" - to know more about the conference, his organization, and his story. It seemed we could never get together during the meal breaks or in the hotel lobby so I figured it'd never happen. Plus, I thought, with all the people he's talked to, that he didn't remember me anyway. Until last night he went to look for me! I'm glad he did because we ended up talking all night (morning) from 1am - 4am. It was fun because we mutually shared our hearts and passions and vision for things we're a part of. We're similar in tons of ways and it was fun just to have one of those natural kind of conversations where every time we realized it was late and would have wrapped up our time we'd end up talking about something else and talk for yet another hour. I'm looking forward to keeping in touch with him!

I've met tons of awesome people here, many of whom I'm looking forward to staying connected with!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Second Full Day in DC

I pretty much slept in yesterday morning because I hadn't fallen asleep until 4am. By the time I was up and ready for the day it was brunch then off to the next keynote speaker. For the afternoon session I facilitated the first of two small group workshops. This one was on "Blogging: Sharing Your Story Online While Developing Community in the Process" and I think it went relatively well. I intentionally kept it casual and I wanted it to be more discussion oriented. On the blogosphere, we're all on a level playing field - everyone has a voice. I definitely don't consider myself an expert at blogging, so during the workshop I wanted our interaction to reflect that same level playing field where we could all learn from one another's stories and experiences. I built a blog for the workshop to illustrate examples and to share resources. We'll also be using it to connect everyone part of the workshop.

For dinner, I hung out with my friends Christine, JJ, and Eugene - all fellow bloggers. It's super fun connecting with them in person because all of us kind of developed a sense of friendship and community with each other progressively online through our blogs. In fact, JJ started her blog soon after I did, then Eugene did after her so we were all pretty new to blogging when we all began to connect and share lives and comments virtually. Fun times!

Later in the evening, a bunch of us hung out in the lobby until 2 AM playing board games. I have a new favorite game now - it's called Guillotine! Oh so much fun! Then we chit chatted for awhile as more people came by then we played Settlers of Catan's exansion Knights and Cities. I hope that's what it's called. I was learning it for the first time.

Over the past 14 years, I've gone to SO MANY conferences. I find the most value in connecting with people. I've been meeting tons of new friends. I've been reconnecting with old friends from different parts of the country. It's a privilege and honor to be able to contribute by leading and facilitating workshops. The keynote speakers are thought provoking. So I'm having a great time.

Today should be fun. This morning, Jay Bakker of Revolution Church will be the keynote speaker. He's known for being on the forefront of being inclusive of gays and lesbians in the Church. As a straight pastor with notable parents, he's been taking tons of heat from the mainstream Side X church community. So i'm looking forward to what he has to share. Later this afternoon, i'm leading the second small group workshop on "Catalyzing Tangible Community in Your Local Area". I'm excited about what I have to offer so I hope it all goes well!

Friday, January 04, 2008

First Full Day in DC

Yesterday was our first full day in Washington DC - here for the 2008 GCN Conference. This is my third conference! Bryan, Ryan and I spent the afternoon at the National Mall checking out the sites and it was awe-inspiring to be in such a historical place of freedom. We also took some goofy pics! You can check them out here in my facebook photo album.

By dinner Ryan and I went to dinner with Heidi and Mike. It was so awesome meeting them for the first time. While i've met fellow bloggers and/or TWC readers before, I'm the first online blogger friend that they've met. It was really fun meeting them and we had some great conversation about the Church, about being "post-congregational" and about the Church's response towards gay believers. They are an awesome couple!

After dinner, I met a ton of cool GCN'ers before the conference began. It's also fun to meet some of you TWC readers! Gosh, that's humbling cuz I am SO not a celebrity. If you're here at the conference, be sure to introduce yourself to me! Justin gave a fun keynote speech as usual. Later in the evening, we made our way to an Irish pub and I got a tad buzzed. You know you're gay when you go to an Irish pub and order a blue drink. Hey, i like Blue Hawaiians! Plus I had a couple shots of jaegermeisters too. =P

It was a fun first day! Today, the conference continues and I'll be doing my first of two small group workshops - "Blogging: Sharing Your Story Online and Developing Community in the Process". I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Suicide and The Porcelain Punisher

This is the first video segment of my four part Survivor series telling my story of growing up gay, becoming Christian, struggling with same sex attractions, and reconciling the conflict between my faith and my sexuality. Daniel Gonzales of Box Turtle Bulletin (and in partnership with Beyond Ex-Gay) recorded, created and edited the video (creative commons license).

To supplement this video, you can also read "Sankofa (Part 1)".

Here are the other segments of the video series:

Part 2: The Ex-Gay Program.
Part 3: Isolation and Exclusion.
Part 4: Side X Culture.

And now watch, Part 1: Suicide and The Porcelain Punisher:

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Washington DC, Here I Come!

It's just after 2 A.M. and I'll be waking up at 5:30 A.M. to get ready and go to the airport. I'll be heading to Washington DC for the GCN Conference on Jan. 3-6th, 2008. I'm so excited to be going!

I'll be rooming with my good friend Ryan. We'll be having a large group dinner for early-arrivers Weds night. Thursday, we'll be going to the National Mall to see stuff, then we're going ice skating!

Then (hopefully) we'll be meeting up with . . . . Heidi and Michael Daniels for dinner. They are fellow bloggers and it's always fun meeting bloggers offline during my travels. (Gosh, I remember it was two years ago while at my first GCN conference in Florida when I met my first fellow blogger - my gal bud Angel and her family. Fun times!) So I'll try to post a pic of us!

Anyway, the conference starts Thursday night and I'm excited to be meeting tons-o-folks! Plus, this year I'm leading two small group workshops: "Catalyzing Tangible Community in Your Local Area" and "Blogging: Sharing Your Story Online While Developing Community in the Process". I hope people like what I've got to share!

Here's some last bit of catch up on my holiday weeks:

My Christmas day was mellow but good since I spent the afternoon and evening with my family. The day after Christmas I had a blast hiking at Joshua Tree. The next evening, I had an awesome time hanging out with Ryan. We're both super excited about some projects that we're going to do together. The day after that, my friend Daniel Gonzales from Box Turtle Bulletin video recorded my story in four segments (with a fifth Q&A segment). It's posted on YouTube now! You can search for it now if you like (just watch them in order from P1 to P4 then bonus), otherwise I'll post them up here on TWC in a few days. Then all weekend through New Years, I've been working on the two workshops for the conference.

Whew! So I finally finished packing and I (sorta) cleaned the apartment (including taking down decorations from the tree, dishes, laundry, trash) before my buddy/room mate returns from Iowa. And here I am writing to you still. Oy, I gotta get to sleep! *yawn @ 3:26 A.M.* Okay, stay tuned for news from the conference!