Wednesday, November 01, 2006

To Lay Your Armor Down

[Note: Scroll down to see Dashboard Confessional's AOL Sessions of "Don't Wait" on YouTube and to read the lyrics.]

A friend of mine who regularly reads my blog asked me the other day, "What's with the weird stuff on your blog?" I asked, "What weird stuff?" And he said, "The things you've been posting recently. It seems different compared to what you've written before." And I responded with, "It's not weird. It's my journey. And sometimes things aren't always 'fine and dandy'. I'm just trying to live."

I know my friend wasn't implying anything when he first asked the question, but the question triggered other thoughts in me. Sometimes I feel like church culture and gay culture expects constant growth of me and that if i'm not growing, then i'm backsliding.

That's stupid.

In the real world, if you're too busy climbing up the ladder one has to wonder what it is on the ground that you're running from. I don't think growth can be measured by how far up you climb the ladder or by how far along the road you've traveled or by how many sins you no longer commit or by how far out of the closet you are.

Rather, I think growth is measured by the degree of vulnerability one experiences when looking in the mirror . . . .

Last week, I went to an awards banquet hosted by one of the old local gay political organizations and I'll have to admit that I felt completely out of place. The room was full of the old guard - those who fought and are fighting the good fight of justice and equality for people familiar with discrimination, prejudice and bullying. What have I done - what could I ever do - to compare with these seeming pillars of the cause? I'm finally comfortable being "all of me" to my own family and I'm starting to be comfortable being "out" with my friends. I know it's only been a year and all since I've allowed myself to accept me for me but seeing as how I started a community organization for the G's, the L's, the B's, the T's, and the Q's, I guess I'm feeling like I should be further along in my growth.

Do I have to be completely out and proud and the most visible in order to be one of them? What if I don't want to be one of the old guard. I'm not THAT old. And frankly, I don't necessarily want to do things their way. They are politicians and activists and that's not my approach to community transformation. While I appreciate the path they have laid, those aren't the footsteps I want to step into.

I've got my own stride. It's a bit slower and funkier with a bit of attitude and humility. In fact, it's got nothing to do with me being a strong gay man. It has more to do with me being vulnerable enough to recognize where I'm at and being okay with it. It's my journey - and to some it may not look like growth and to others it may not look like leadership and it may not even look like progress. But it's still mine. And I want to be the one to define what it looks like - even if it's weird.

I am where I am and I don't have to be further along if I'm not.

My goal is to reinvent gay culture in this city over 30 years. I'm starting with chucking the old expectations that tell us what it has to look like.

The church culture is no better sometimes when it says I'm not being a good disciple if I don't show up "at church" on Sunday. Well, what if I'm building a valued friendship with someone by going out to breakfast on a Sunday morning? Is that a lesser form of discipleship?

There are other "anonymous" commenters here at TWC that caution me not to share too much of my journey because it may lead people "astray". Well, frankly, it's my journey to share. And on this journey, God is with me - so why shouldn't I live out my discipleship in public?

There are those in church culture that would measure spiritual growth by a decrease in masturbation. Okay, so maybe I do masturbate. A lot. (LOL!) Does that mean I'm not growing spiritually? Does that mean I am a "carnal Christian" because I haven't been able to abstain from the lust in my mind?

I'm not saying it's okay to lust. But it's not the only indicator of my growth. It seems like church culture tries to tell me which steps I ought to take in order to be considered good and holy and righteous and acceptable and straight. Go to church. Tithe 10%. Bring a friend to church. Read the Bible. Pray. Go to Bible study.

You know, that's not my agenda. That's theirs and they can keep it. I've got my own approach to discipleship. It's a lifestyle that characterizes my relationship with God. And in that relationship with God, we're talking things through. He's patient with me and so I'm patient with me. I'm not going to make excuses for what I know is wrong. I'll try to make better decisions. But it's a journey not marked by perfection. It's a journey marked by His love. And that's why I keep walking with him.

So who says that's a lesser form of discipleship?

Gosh, if it seems like my posts have seemed a bit weird lately, maybe it's because October has been a particularly rough month for me. I'm okay with having a rough month. I hate the low parts of the rollercoaster ride just like the next guy but i'm still going to appreciate the ride God has me on. On this ride, on this journey, I'm going to continue being vulnerable with myself.

For too long, I looked in the mirror with disdain at who I saw. In the mirror, I saw a shell because it wasn't the me I knew inside of me. It was the me I projected outward for the world to see. It was a manufactured me. It was the closeted me.

I'm done with that. For me, being out of the closet has less to do with being "out and proud" so that people know I'm gay and it has more to do with being honest and vulnerable with myself to look in the mirror and say, "Look. This is how I feel. What now?" For me, being a disciple has less to do with going through the religious motions of looking spiritual and it has more to do with having an honest conversation with God and being vulnerable enough to let God love me as I am at the present moment.

My journey is what it is. And I don't apologize for it. As imperfect as it is, and as rocky the road seems to be, the fact that I'm still on it is evidence enough of my growth. Lord knows that there were plenty of times when I tried to jump off track.

Dashboard Confessional is another one of my new favorite bands. I discovered them a few weeks ago, got their new album on iTunes and I love the sound of their songs. The lyrics of "Don't Wait" particularly struck a chord in me because it reminds me that my life is not guaranteed nor is an easy life guaranteed. When I tried to kill myself, God said "I'm not done yet". When I almost died in a car crash, God said "I'm not done yet". When I hit rock bottom several years ago, God said "I'm not done yet". Life cannot fully be experienced by looking outside the window from behind the curtain or by peeking through the slit in the suit of armor. In this song, God reminds me to lay my armor down, go outside, and live.

He's out there.

"Don't Wait" by Dashboard Confessional

The sky glows
I see it shining when my eyes close
I hear your warnings but we both know
I'm gonna look at it again

Don't wait, Don't wait
The road is now a sudden sea
And suddenly, you're deep enough
To lay your armor down
To lay your armor down
To lay your armor down

You get one look
I'll show you something that the knife took.
A bit too early for my own good
Now let's not speak of it again

Don't wait, Don't wait
The road is now a sudden sea
And suddenly, you're deep enough
To lay your armor down
To lay your armor down
To lay your armor down

Don't wait, Don't wait
The lights will flash and fade away
The days will pass you by
Don't wait
To lay your armor down [x5]


Peterson Toscano said...

Eric I appreciate your journey and how you grow and develop and then share it. I also find Dashboard Confessional to be very moving. Thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Eric this is totally unrelated!!! I L O V E that black, buttoned-up,long sleeved shirt on you from the photos you have here.

Anyway, I totally relate to what you posted. Sometimes it seems like we are expected to shape-shift so that we'll fit in other people's own jigsaw puzzle. We even have certain expectations from ourselves.

Well, if you're gay, then you have to be this and that. If you're a Christian you have to be a certain way...If you are Filipino then you have do this and that. If you're gonna make a difference in the world then blah blah...etc etc.

Well I'm freaking tired of it... We are not pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. We are who we are. Are we gonna constantly be on defensive mode about?

I've been kinda hard on myself lately... I just turned 34 and I thought...well...Jesus died at 33 and if I'm supposed to be His follower and be like Him, then why am I such a screw up? At my age now I should have achieved some of the things that Christ did right? WRONG!!!

I was reminded of something that I saw on an old episode of ER. When Carrie Weaver told her birth mother, "Why can't you have enough faith in God to know that He knew exactly what He was doing when he created me?"

I'm not like the Pastor or like the worship leader I see at church. I'm not totally like the person sitting across from me either. God has equipped me with my own strengths and my own shortcomings and my own that I can have my own journey.

Good for you, Eric!!! Be open to criticisms (even your own...if that makes sense) But no apologies!!! I still ask myself...Do I choose to do what's expected of me? Or do I choose to be me?

Eric said...

thanks Peterson! your encouragement is, as always, such a blessing to me. really, it is. thank you. =)

joon, you crack me up! hehe, yeah that's a cute black shirt huh? I got it for a costume party - in that photo, i wore that along with one of those masquerade masks - and that was my costume. i really like that shirt too!

as for your other comments, yes it's tough and frustrating when our perceived expectations of others (or even people's actual expectations) loom over our heads. it's constricting and it makes us want to just rip off the handcuffs, scream, and run far far away.

of course, running isn't always the healthiest thing to do. but distance can be good for a time if it allows us to regain our bearings.

you're awesome joon!

Anonymous said...

Eric-This last entry brought tears to my eyes. It reminds me of my own journey and how hard life can be and why things happen the way that they do.

I have been dealing with my sticker on my car you know the Jesus fish and rainbow. More comments about it. I begin to think should I take it off of my car. I ask God and I hear a voice that says, who cares what they think. You know and I know who you are and what you stand for. If I take it off then everyone else is winning. Ahh it is just a sticker.

Then I ask the question, does everyone who wears the yellow Lance Armstrong band have cancer?

Everyday I am learning that God knows who I am and so do the people who matter.

Okay, enough venting.

Thanks for your story. I love you so much.

On a side note it is snowing here, I need a job and a place to live there. And running cures many things. Just did a marathon this weekend:)

Love and Shalom

Becky O

Like Joon said I like the black shirt also, can I just say you look HOT:)

Anonymous said...

Eric, I always enjoy your frankness. You're very wise to see that you don't have to follow the path of the "old guard." So often we forget to find and follow our own paths.

I was taken aback when I first read your comment that you don't want to wave a rainbow flag, that the gay cause is not your cause. But then I realized that you were talking about a new vision all your own, rejecting the conventions of both the church and the gay movement .... oh, and transforming the gay community in Long Beach over the next 30 years. Just that, nothing more! ;-)

What really amazes me is that you're so humble and open about your weaknesses while at the same time presenting such a bold vision. Keep inspiring me, Eric!

Kristin Carreno said...

I like your blog a lot lol hands down on liking dc and I admire your views on church. And your relationship with God. I can relate to that.