Sunday, October 22, 2006

An Anthem For The Outcasts

[Note: Scroll down to hear "The Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance and to read the lyrics.]

I used to think that participation in church culture was so vital to my spiritual growth. Instead, I realized that, eventually, it hindered it. As I dodge some of the stones that have already been propelled in my direction, let me also say that my use of 'church culture' refers to the religious routines and structures that attempt to govern what my worship, connection and interaction with God should look like.

I know I see the world so much differently now. Not just the world, but I see life and Church and purpose and connection so much more differently as compared to just a few years ago. It's not that I've left the foundation for my faith - something I imagine my critics and old friends would accuse me of. Rather, I think that the foundation of my faith, which is set in Christ, has enabled me to grow forward to experience His Deity in my life more profoundly.

In so many ways I feel like the Church's outcast. I'm one of them. I'm gay. I'm one of those organic faith people. I'm one of those feeling-driven Christians who has less faith because I don't "go to church" (or even "the same church") every Sunday. My discipleship of Jesus is dirty. It's ugly. It's messy. It's not perfect. I fall short so much and in so many ways. Church culture would either condemn me for this or pretend I wasn't there (or even pretend I didn't struggle). Its version of discipleship painted a picture of righteous acts - reading the Bible, maintaining quiet times of prayer, attending church services, participating in weekly 'small group', listening solely to Christian music, avoiding alcohol and holding my tongue from profanity.

But to me, church culture is a petrie dish. I looked up and saw Jesus exiting the fish bowl and I followed Him out to where real people were. He was with people who were dirty and ugly and messy and imperfect and I realized that I had more in common with them than I did with my evangelical brethren . . . .

I know it sounds utterly bitter - perhaps incredibly blasphemous. I don't regret being a part of church culture for 13 years because when I remove the shell casing of it, I acknowledge that my foundation for my faith was forming. I was learning how to listen and talk to Jesus. I was learning how to study His Word. I was practicing how to follow His Way and to make decisions that pleased my Lord. Underneath the church culture, I was learning Kingdom values and it is a part of me.

Now, I'm simply trying to live it out in the real world. I don't miss the parts of church culture that tries to manufacture relationships and squeaky clean boast-worthy discipleship. I can function without that culture because I still value the Word of God, corporate and personal worship, generosity, service, community, prayer, fellowship, and the pursuit of holiness. All I want to do is explore how I can integrate Kingdom values into my lifestyle - even if, especially if - it gets dirty and ugly and messy.

The journey I'm on still leads to God. I am still seeing Jesus out here. I'd love for the Church to leave the confines of its walls and join me out here. Over the past week, I've had more meaningful conversations and spiritually edifying discussions with friends at gay bars, coffee shops, parks, at work and on the phone than I have had in two months of attending 90 minute Sunday services.

I am still a part of the Church and I am being the Church with fellow disciples both in and out of the Sunday service. We ought to raise the bar for discipleship and lower the bar that governs what Church is supposed to look like.

So where does that leave me now? I try to live an organic lifestyle of faith, discipleship and worship. I can function as a disciple both in and out of church culture because I am part of the Church - I don't simply go to it. My early training in church culture helped me along. In latter years, my detoxing from church culture allowed me to seek Christ more fully. And now that i'm no longer co-dependent on church culture, I don't have to detox from it any longer either. I can be a disciple any where - even in the structures of Christendom. As I trudge along on my own journey, I can accept that my discipleship isn't perfect. It's not that my goal is to be imperfect. Rather, I understand that I begin the journey imperfect but I have a direction of which I walk towards God. And so He shapes me.

I'm okay with that.

Music has been carrying me through this journey lately. Certain songs in particular, many of which I've shared with you here, have affected me because they speak of life and death and pain and joy and triumph and heartache and regret - emotions I understand.

Music is a subjective art. Anyone can hear the melodies and read the lyrics and interpret them in their own way based on what it brings up for them. I don't know what My Chemical Romance intended when they wrote "The Black Parade" but after recently discovering them (and the song) on the radio, I've dubbed it another one of my new favorite songs and I have my own interpretation of it. I realize that my interpretation may not look anything like the band's actual video of the song, but then again, I can own the song because of what I see when I hear it.

For me, the Black Parade is the gathering of outcasts and underdogs who refuse to get caught up in the craziness of the world that hates them. We are the non-conformists. Both the church culture and the gay culture leaves a wreckage and the casualties mount too high. We don't fit in either of their parades. For those of us who are disciples, we claim independence from the parts of church culture that tries to define the quality of our spirituality and judges us without knowing our hearts. For those of us who are gay, we claim independence from the parts of gay culture that tries to define us by our sexuality and illustrates an example of promiscuity. We proclaim the freedom to choose a different picture of our future and our lifestyles - and this is the journey of our parade. I see myself in this parade - taught by my Father to value the outcasts and to encourage others to do the same. Those values are tested in the world and the challenge is made to overcome personal demons and dream stealers - those who break, beat, and damn us. The legacy left behind after us is the Black Parade that travels the "narrow road" and continues on.

Hear the song for yourself below, read the lyrics underneath it, and see how you relate to "The Black Parade":

"The Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance

When I was
a young boy,
my Father took me into the city
to see a marching band.

He said "Son when
you grow up
would you be
the savior of the broken,
the beaten, and the damned?"

He said "Will you
defeat them,
your demons
and all the non-believers,
the plans that they have made?

Because one day
I'll leave you
a phantom
to lead you in the summer,
to join the black parade."

When I was
a young boy,
my Father took me into the city
to see a marching band.
He said "Son when
you grow up
will you be
the savior of the broken,
the beaten, and the damned?"

Sometimes I get the feeling
she's watching over me.
And other times I feel like I should go.

When through it all,
the rise and fall,
the bodies' in the streets,
and when you're gone we want you all to know.

We'll Carry on,
We'll Carry on,
and though you say you don't believe me
Your memory will carry on,
we'll carry on,
until my heart I can't contain it,
the anthem wont explain it.

A world that sends you reeling
from decimated dreams.
Your misery and hate will kill us all.
So paint it black and take it back,
lets shout it loud and clear.
Defiant to the end we hear the call

to carry on.
We'll carry on,
and though your dead and gone believe me
Your memory will
carry on.
we'll carry on
and though you're broken and defeated,
your weary widow marches...

...on and on we carry through the fears.
ooh oh ohhhh

Disappointed faces of your peers.
ooh oh ohhhh

take a look at me,
'cause I could not care at all---

Do or die,
you'll never make me.
Because the world,
will never take my heart.
You can try,
you'll never break me.
You want it all, you wanna play this part.

Won't explain, or say I'm sorry.
Im not ashamed, I'm gonna show my scar.
You're the chair, for all the broken.
Lose it here, because it's only.

I'm just a man, I'm not a hero.
Just a boy, i wanna sing this song.
Just a man, I'm not a hero.
I! - don't! - care!.

We'll carry on.
We'll carry on,
and though your dead and gone believe me
Your memory will
carry on.
We'll carry on,
and though you're broken and defeated,
your weary widow marches on!---

Do or die, you'll never make me
Because the world, will never take my heart.
And though you try, you'll never break me.
You want it all, you wanna play this part.

Do or die you'll never make me
Because the world will never take my heart.
You can try, you'll never break me.
You want it all you wanna play this part.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Amen, and Amen Eric - You are not alone. I am with you. I always said that I was the ugly duckling of the church, they don’t know what to make of me - too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals, but all I was doing was being authentic and following the man, mission, and message of Christ, instead of the wishful control and manipulation of so many in leadership roles within our churches. In doing this, I question and challenge the tradition of my church culture - Pentecostalism/charismatic.

Keep on keeping on in the messy, dirty, and sometimes ugliness of being a disciple of Christ living among those Christ came to bring life, those that do not conform to the structure and trappings of power, position, and privilege within the church. However, we can only reform our traditions by staying connected in some way.

grace said...

Yep yep yep....i pray that i can continue to minister to tdub in such a way that he can get to this point....

it is NOT about specific "sin"...

i tread lightly to mention the word...and yet, this lies at the heart of what you are expressing here....

even IF we believe differently about what sin is....even IF we are not doctrinally lined up in every area....

what in the HECK does this have to do with loving one another and demonstrating Christ...BOTH ways??

love ya Eric!


Steve said...


This is a great're "back"! It's raw and open and what we love from you!

Thanks...I have experienced so much of what you articulate so beautifully: Christianity/religion = petri dish; leaving the fishbowl to follow Christ.

I love it! Thanks again! Thanks also for your example!

-Steve (ps403)

J0HN said...

The Bible says that homosexuality is a wrong thing, but that doesnt mean you cannot be a Christian of you are gay. It is similar to having anger issues, even though you have a bad temper, that doesn't mean you are going to hell. As long as you do not contridict the ressurection of Christ. Even so, that doesn't mean that it is right, you still should be trying to overcome these feelings for the same sex. It is okay to struggle with these feelings, but i suggest that you do not find a partner, that will only lead you into deeper sin. I think that it is unfair for someone to say "because you are gay, you cannot be a Christian."

Anonymous said...

I have been an outcast in churches all of my life and I have never been gay, just an almost 50 single woman. Gay people are not the only outcasts in church. In fact, I know several churches in which they are welcome, the Unitarians and some nondenominational. But old unmarried women really make Christians squirm, especially if they are not ugly, and no one understands WHY she is not married. Thanks for listening.