Monday, December 31, 2007

Side X Culture and a Vision for an Inclusive Community

Why am I different? How do we address those who are different? Who does God accept? Who should I accept? What would acceptance mean? How do I accept someone with differing perspectives? These are questions many of us have within the Church.

When I began my journey, it was to discover what I could own about the things I said that I believed. However, that journey evolved into one of reconciling my faith and my sexuality. I thought, at first, that I would come full circle in affirming my agreement that being gay and having same sex attractions were wrong. My journey took a turn when I realized that God’s grace extended beyond the box of my paradigm.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an academic person. I’m not well read and I’ve been criticized and called immature in my conclusions. I’m not all that interested in philosophical or theological debates about concepts. I didn’t start my journey or this blog to create terminology on issues more complex than my own understanding. My journey and my blog are about me finding a way to live a lifestyle of faith authentically and practically.

I coined the phrase “Side X” (or at least I had never heard of it used anywhere else prior to my usage) as a handle to assist my own process for making sense of differing perspectives. It was helpful to me in making categories on the left side bar column of this blog. Then other people started using the phrase – each with their own (similar) definition of what it meant. Since there had been discussion in some circles about its meaning and whether or not the term should be legitimized, I decided to unpack my own thoughts about “Side X” – NOT to provide concrete definition and proper usage as the person who coined the phrase, but rather to explain and clarify how I am personally using it to help my own thought process, and to cast vision for an inclusive community . . . .

The Spectrum of Perspectives

There’s a spectrum of perspectives regarding the issue of being gay and being Christian. Can a person be both? How do the issues of morality and identity relate to a person who has same sex attractions? Both Bridges Across the Divide and Gay Christian Network developed and utilize the terms Side A and B. In my own process, I use these terms as handles. I may or may not use the terms in the same way that they use them. Since I’m talking about my handles and not simply their terms, I describe them with my own bias.

In my view, I see Side A as the perspective that both same sex attractions and gay orientation are equal to opposite sex attraction and straight orientation, and that an appropriate response is a loving monogamous relationship in either a gay or straight context. Same sex attractions and gay orientation are not a result of “The Fall” (Adam’s sin) but rather lust as sin is a result of “The Fall”. God’s best, His ideal, His intention is for genuine love for all people in both platonic and romantic contexts.

I see Side B as the perspective that same sex attractions are a result of “The Fall” and that God’s best, His ideal, His intention is for opposite sex attraction. With a gay orientation, an appropriate response is to maintain non-sexual intimate relationships.

I see Side X as the perspective that same sex attractions are a result of “The Fall” and that God’s best, His ideal, His intention is for opposite sex attraction and straight orientation. Having same sex attractions are a result of gender identity confusion and the appropriate response is to recondition one’s gender identity as an opposite sex attracted male or an opposite sex attracted female.

Some may use the terms Side A, Side B, or Side X to describe themselves but not utilize the full description that I use. Within this spectrum of perspectives, there is a range where people may categorize themselves. So it’s not clear cut and definitive. In my observation, the range may include Sides A, AB, B, BX, X. So rather than seeing these as categories, I see them more as gradations. The point is that people have differing perspectives along this spectrum and I believe that every person ought to have the freedom to journey with God their own conclusions on the matter without the majority perspective imposing its ideology as absolute truth.

I think that the issue of being gay and being Christian is not a salvation issue but instead a “disputable matter”. Salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Heterosexuality is not part of the salvation equation. It’s not a gospel of heterosexuality. Therefore, though we may disagree on our perspectives, we shouldn’t be rejecting or disowning (or excommunicating) fellow believers because of it.

Romans 14 describes how we ought to accept one another and refrain from passing judgment on disputable matters. Verses 13 and 14 says, “Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.

Further, in verses 22 and 23 it says, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

So maybe it’s okay that we disagree on the issue of being gay as long as we respect each other as being Christian.

The Side X Culture

The problem, I think, is when the majority presents itself as better and superior and imposes its ideology in a way that devalues fellow Christians as true believers.

The Side X culture consists primarily of the mainstream church of straight people (and those who want to be straight) who take on the Side X perspective. Most mainstream lay Christians and pastors are uninformed regarding the spectrum of perspectives and by default take on a Side X perspective as one of the majority. This Side X culture operates with several assumptions.

The first assumption is about the superiority and normalcy of heterosexuality. The assumption is that God’s “best” and “ideal” is to be straight and that His “intention” was that He created us as heterosexual beings.

The second assumption is about the brokenness of homosexuality. The assumption is that having same sex attractions, being less common, are abnormal and not whole. At the fault of parental upbringing, the male/female identity has been broken. Many people associate the “homosexual lifestyle” with promiscuousness, adultery, and an immoral sexual lifestyle. The assumption is that having a gay orientation naturally means desiring what they associate with the “homosexual lifestyle”.

The third assumption is about the need for change. The assumption is that orientation and identity ought to be changed with a restored gender identity in order to fulfill their interpretation of “wholeness”. The assertion is that “being whole is being like us”.

These assumptions by the Side X culture give birth to ex-gay programs, ministries and therapies. With the encouragement of the straight majority, same sex attracted people launch a campaign to recondition each other’s gender identity by giving them tools to help suppress their same sex attractions. A primary tool is to reject and deny a gay orientation.

Ex-gay programs have changed their claims due to criticism. They used to claim a change in orientation but now they claim a change in identity. It’s a subtle difference that gives them a loop hole when a change in orientation doesn’t occur. “I’m not gay. I’m a straight child of God that struggles with same sex attractions. Er, for the rest of my life. But at least I’m not having gay sex anymore and that’s what counts. Right?

The assertion now is that same sex attracted individuals ought to seek a change in identity – or rather to heal the male or female identity as one that is attracted to the opposite sex. Nevertheless, their implication is the same – that heterosexuality is a whole identity and homosexuality is a broken identity and should be changed/healed.

Mixed Messages

The assumptions by the Side X culture taints interpretation of Scriptures. Interestingly, that’s the very thing they accuse gay Christians of doing. They are reading Scripture with a lens of “straight is best”. My assertion is that it’s the wrong lens. The proper lens should be that of "love".

The Side X culture and ex-gay programs give a mixed signal to those in the Church that are same sex attracted. They teach that God’s love is unconditional but they demonstrate the Church’s conditional acceptance based on their interpretation of wholeness.

I find this unjust. They deem same sex attracted people as broken, not whole, not right and not good. This creates a second-class group of outcasts that unnecessarily binds a person’s sense of being when few ever realize that hope of being healed as one of the “untouchables”. The same thing happened so many decades ago when black American slaves were beaten to strip them of their spirit so that their bodies could be used for labor. Their identity was stripped so that they could forever be bound and viewed as something less.

Gay Christians are told that we are merely same sex attracted gender identity confused individuals who ought to force our flesh into conforming to someone else’s interpretation of who we are. It’s wrong to be treated as outcasts. It’s wrong to be treated as second-class. It’s wrong to be treated as less. Further, it’s insulting to be called less of a man or less of a woman simply because we are same sex attracted. It’s emasculating and unjust.

The Side X culture needs to take some responsibility for modern day gay culture because in its war against homosexuality it pushes people who don’t accept the Side X ideology away from God. There are too many people in the gay culture that have had previous religious backgrounds. Yet they were hurt and broken by the Church and having been cast aside (socially or physically), they had little options and little example.

Inclusive Culture

Paul gives his Romans 14 encouragement to refrain from judging each other and continues in Romans 15:7 by saying we ought to “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” People may have differing perspectives on the spectrum. However, we can create an inclusive community that maintains a consistent message.

We need a Church culture with a consistent message of love. Genuine love is God’s best, His ideal, His intention for us as His creation. I think that’s where the Side X culture has missed the point. It’s not about being straight or gay as if one was moral and one was not. The point is about loving as opposed to lusting. If we are to change and to grow as God’s people, we should be striving to love better. Both gay and straight people are capable of lust. Our challenge is to grow past the objectification and sexualization of people we ought to love better. I’m still working on that. But as I’ve said before, it’s not about who I love; it’s about how I love.

The Church ought to be calling all people, both gay and straight, to genuine love in faithfulness, commitment and monogamy. We ought to be having the conversation about healthy platonic and romantic relationships. We ought to be talking about growing our relationship with God.

We need a Church culture with a consistent message of authenticity. We have to see past the gay/straight, male/female, ethnic divide and explore our identity in Christ within the context of who we are in our relational/sexual orientation, gender, and ethnicity. We need to focus on the examination of our hearts before God and ourselves so that we can humbly come to God as imperfect beings who desire to grow in character.

As I’ve journeyed through my own process and discovered what God would have of me and for me, I am past reconciling my faith and my sexuality. I am revitalized with a fresher vision to pursue. My hope now is to see a greater sense of community, collaboration, and citizenship through meaningful relationships. Perhaps in the days and years ahead, I’ll unpack further what that could look like!

For more on the Side X culture, be sure to watch the fourth segment of my Survivor series on YouTube here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blade - December 2007 Issue

Since I hadn't been blogging for several weeks, I don't remember if I told you that I'm now a contributing writer for a local gay news magazine called the Blade. It's primarily a print mag but they recently launched a still-developing Web site to post their content.

I was interviewed by them to talk about Toastmasters in the July 07 issue here. I was also interviewed by them to talk about Two World Collision and being an ex-gay survivor in the October 07 issue here. Now I'm officially writing for them! Woo hoo!

So I thought I'd start sharing with you some of the stuff I've been writing for each issue. Plus you can check out other articles too (if you happen to be interested in some local scoop).

Here's the December 07 issue with my first two articles:

"Latino Men on Display in the OC" is about an unconventional men's beauty pageant.

"Men Chat to Help Each Other Grow" is about a local men's discussion group.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

That's How You Know

I enjoyed dinner at a cool vegan restaurant called Leaf Cuisine last night with my friend Peterson who was passing through LA from Portland on his way back home to Connecticut. He inspires me! It's been an absolutely full and crazy and fun and challenging and discouraging and encouraging 30 days for me and so I appreciate his friendship because he rejuvenates my sense of purpose and is a model for what can be and what should be done in this world.

Seeing as how it's been exactly one month (and a day) since my last post, and also since Peterson gave me an East coast kick in the arse as I dropped him off at the airport to just write SOMETHING . . . . you can blame him for this one!

I saw Enchanted a few weeks ago (which by the way, a good friend of mine who is a Disney photo shoot producer did promo stuff on this movie) and I have to admit that I really liked the movie! Yeah, it's cheesy but I am absolutely a romantic. Plus I like how they balanced out both concepts of believing in Love and also taking the time to get to know a person - dating. One of the hottest things to me is a guy who takes the initiative in expressing how he feels. =P

I laugh at myself every time I listen to this song because I actually really like it! And given the crazy last 30 days I've had, this song brings me up every time! Enjoy!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Re-Living the First Day

[Scroll down for video and lyrics for "The First Single" by The Format and also "Big Casino" by Jimmy Eat World.]

Today marks the 6 year anniversary of the day I hit rock bottom. It was a day that I made the biggest mistake of my life. It was a day that shifted the direction of my life. It was a day I wished that I could end my life.

I had many choices - each had consequences and repercussions that would have affected everyone I loved. This was the first day of my journey. It was when my two worlds collided.

How do I move on from regret? How do I alleviate the hurt in others that I've inflicted? How do I stop the memories and the flashbacks and the nightmares? How do I survive the fallout of my own mistakes?

The past is an anchor for me. There are times when . . . .the weight is less of a burden. There are other times when it's overwhelming. The November/December season has always been difficult for me because of 2001. And while I don't know if I'll ever get to a point of sharing that part of my story with you, I can say that I am intimately familiar with God's grace and restoration. I've had God's forgiveness for six years but I'm not so sure how long I've had my own forgiveness.

The amazing thing for me now is being able to not live in that place any more. Redemption. When God restores, He goes all out in the feast and celebration and robe and ring. A part of me feels like I shouldn't be able to move on - that should be part of my consequences and it should be a lifetime imprisonment of regret. I almost feel guilty for having hope. I almost feel guilty for being free.

But I have been set free. I have to remind myself of that because I go through incredible depression during this season, emotionally re-enacting those events. Six years ago, the Lord and I had a four month conversation.

It was in November and December when it began in Psalm 38, some of which articulated what had been happening at the time:

"O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger or discipline me in Your wrath. For Your arrows have pierced me, and Your hand has come down upon me. Because of Your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin.

My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. All my longings lie open before You, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.

My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away. . . . . For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin." (Psalm 38:1-11, 17-18)

I remember experiencing the full conviction of God. Then I asked the Lord to lift His hand from me:

"Remove Your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of Your hand. You rebuke and discipline men for their sin; You consume their wealth like a moth - each man is but a breath. Hear my prayer, O Lord, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with You as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were. Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more." (Psalm 39: 10-13)

And that's what I did. I pleaded with Him that His discipline would utterly destroy me unless He lifted His hand. So He gave me a pardon. That didn't mean a release from the consequences. It meant that Dad's spanking was done and the restoration was to begin.

"I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord." (Psalm 40:1-3)

In hindsight I can see that God was telling me the future. Not only did He lift me out of that dark and unstable place but He cleaned me up and set me on solid ground with a new message. The cleaning up part took a process of several months and years. I'm still being cleaned up. The solid ground, I discovered, was not only Himself (of which would be the only real stable footing I could have), but it was also a new land - a new place where He was calling me to. Long Beach, California. And that new message, that new song in my mouth? It's the message of authenticity that has the Kingdom message deeply embedded in it.

"I've been waiting all this time to be something I can't define." - The Format in "The First Single"

As difficult as November and December is and can be - depression and flashbacks and all - I live out the fact that He's still not done with me yet. In fact, it's still just the beginning. I was thinking about a lyric by Jimmy Eat World for a song called "Big Casino" that says, "There's still some living left when your prime comes and goes." The thing is - even with everything that has happened (both amazing and tragic), I've still not reached my prime. God has given me vision for things that still have not yet been articulated or realized. The hope is that there is plenty of living left.

I still have hard times. Difficult depression. It's not easy to move on from the regrets that anchor me. But I have and I am moving on. I deserve to move on. I can't change the past. In fact, if I did it may alter the person I am now. I can only move forward with humility trusting that it's okay to do so.

In light of today and this Nov/Dec season, I wanted to share with you two songs that have resonated with me:

"The First Single" by The Format

I can't stand to think about
A heart so big it hurts like hell
Oh my God I gave my best
But for three whole years to end like this

Well do you want to fall apart
I can't stop if you cant start
Do you want to fall apart
I could if you can try to fix what I've undone
Cause I hate what I've become

You know me,
Oh you think you do, you just don't seem to see
I've been waiting all this time to be
Something I can't define so let's
Cause a scene
Clap our hands and stomp our feet or something
Yeah something
I've just got to get myself over me

I could stand to do without
All the people I have left behind
Whats the point in going around
When it's a straight line baby, a straight line down

So lets make a list of who we need
And its not much, if anything
Lets make a list of who we need
And we'll throw it away cause we don't need anyone
No we don't need anyone

You know me,
Oh you think you do, you just don't seem to see
I've been waiting all this time to be
Something I can't define so let's
Cause a scene
Clap our hands and stomp our feet or something
Yeah something
I've just got to get myself over me
And I hate what I've become...

You know the night life is just not for me
Cause all you really need are a few good friends
I don't want to go out and be on my own
You know they started something I can't stand

You leave for the city, well count me out
'Cause all this time is wasted on
Well, everything I've done

You know me,
Oh you think you do, you just don't seem to see
I've been waiting all this time to be
Something I can't define so let's
Cause a scene
Clap our hands and stomp our feet or something
Yeah something
I've just got to get myself over me
You know me,
Oh you think you do, you just don't seem to see
I've been waiting all this time to be something I can't define
So let's cause a scene
Clap our hands and stomp our feet or something
Yeah something
I've just got to get myself over me, yeh, over me, yeh, over me

"Big Casino" by Jimmy Eat World

Before this world starts up again
It's me and night
We wait for the sun
The kids and drunks head back inside

Well there's lots of smart ideas in books I've never read
When the girls come talk to me I wish to hell I had

(Get Up, Get Up) Turn on ignition
(Get Up, Get Up) Fire up the system
Play my little part in something big

I'll accept with poise, with grace
When they draw my name from the lottery
And they'll say 'All the salt in the world couldn't melt that ice'
I'm the one who gets away
I'm a New Jersey success-story
And they'll say 'Lord, give me a chance to shake that hand'
(They'll say)

Back when I was younger I was someone you'd've liked
Got an old guitar I'd had for years I'd let you buy
And I'll tell you something else that you ain't dying enough to know
There's still some living left when your prime comes and goes

(Get Up, Get Up) Dance on the ceiling
(Get Up, Get Up) Boy, you must be dreamin'
Rock on young saviour, don't give up your hopes

I'll accept with poise, with grace
When they draw my name from the lottery
And they'll say 'All the salt in the world couldn't melt that ice'
I'm the one who gets away
I'm a New Jersey success-story
And they'll say 'Lord, give me a chance to shake that hand'

I have one last wish
And it's from my heart
Just let me down
Just let me down

I'll accept with poise, with grace
When they draw my name from the lottery
And they'll say 'All the salt in the world couldn't melt that ice'
I'm the one who gets away
I'm a New Jersey success-story
And they'll say 'Lord, give me a chance to shake his hand'
(They'll say)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Happy Birthday Me!

I woke up this morning to a slew of birthday wishes - through email, GCN, Facebook, MySpace, e-cards, text messages, voice messages and instant messages. Ah the greeting cards of the 21st century!

Thank you so much everyone!

Wow, so I've had three birthdays now on Two World Collision. Last year, I had a full week of birthday celebrations. Two years ago (when I first started this blog), I had a super fun Birthday Blog Party. Hmmm, some of you were around for that blog party too and have stuck around. That means alot to me!

Hopefully in the last two years and four months, you've gotten to know the person I am. I've tried to be as transparent and raw and honest as I can ever be comfortable with in an effort to be known - to myself and to you. There are still some things that I've reserved for myself as I am not yet comfortable with sharing them publicly both online or offline. That's just discernment, I think.

Either way, my hope is that you would join me in pursuing authenticity - let us discover ourselves and share our stories honestly so that we can continue to connect and relate with each other knowing that we're not all that different from each other and we're not as alone as we may think or feel.

During every birthday, I remember my teenage years when I never thought I'd live past 21 years old. It has now been over a decade beyond that self-defined life limit and I have to appreciate these times when God tells me, "You were wrong. I've had my own plans for you."

So Lord, thank You for another year of life. You have freed me from the shackles of death and also from the closet-prison. Continue Your intent in me so that in being authentic others may see that Your love has no restraints. In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Proud Uncle Eric

I have a pseudo-policy of not posting photos of my family here on TWC or on GCN or facebook/myspace, but I decided to make just one itsy bitsy exception because they are SOOOOO CUTE!!!!!

So this is a pic of my lil nephew Jacob and his new brother Gavin Alexander! Jacob's excited because he's been the only boy for years. He's got 5 other sisters/cousins (among my 3 siblings). Uncle Eric is proud and excited to now have 7 nieces and nephews!

Also, i thought it'd be fun to share an email message below that I received from my sister Michele about her experience going into labor. Here ya go . . . .

Hi everyone!!!!

I didn't make it to my due date of Nov. 15th. My baby, Gavin Alexander, was delivered on Tuesday, Oct. 30th. Yes, both he and Jacob have the same birthday!!! Can you believe it??? I woke up at 3am to use the bathroom (like I usually did), but I felt a little different. My first thought was that I couldn't be going into labor on Jacob's birthday. I decided to lay down and see if maybe I was wrong. At 3:30am, I wake up Brian and said, " I don't think you're going to work today." I was bleeding a little so I knew that I was starting labor. Brian took a shower and then went to Walmart to get cupcakes for Jacob's class. I took a shower and got my bag together. Brian calls my in-laws and we decide to head on over to Redlands Community before traffic started. As we're driving there, I feel my water had broke. I felt my contractions coming 6 minutes apart by then. We park the car (5:10am) and head on over to the information desk. By the time we get to the elevator, I'm telling Brian that we need to hurry! The nurses get my info. and take me into the labor room. I just had enough time to put on my gown and lay on the bed. I tell Brian to call the nurse cause this baby was coming NOW!! The nurse checks me and there's about 8 nurses rushing around!! The baby's head is coming... The on-call doctor made it there just in time! At 5:24am, Gavin is born [:x] I was lucky to make it to the hospital in time!!! Baby is doing fine and we are now at home. Gavin weighed 8 lbs 2 oz. when he was born but has gone down to 7 lbs. 14 oz. I just wanted to share the news!

How fun, right? Thanks everyone! I'll most likely see them this weekend. =)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Authentic Expressions of Love


One of the biggest fears I had when I was in the closet was that if I entertained the notion of being gay, then that meant compromising the fundamental beliefs that I held so dear. When I realized that it was okay for me to journey through my questions and fears and beliefs and things that seemed to define me, it was important to me that I remained solid in my faith.

But when we talk about sex, sometimes the assumption seems to be that engaging in it is crossing a spiritual line that reveals a faltering of faith. I see it differently.

A couple weeks ago, I talked about sex and how I didn't use the lens of sexual morality anymore. I was just unpacking what I had been thinking and processing about at the time and I've continued chewing on these things. I appreciate the comments from friends in that post and have considered those things as well - particularly the concepts of sexual integrity and relativistic morality.

Is the act of sex a compromise of sexual integrity? Is having sex an indication of having loose morals? Is saying that I think it's okay to have sex a demonstration of relativism?

In context to my post about discovering that balance of consistent intimacy, to those questions I'd answer both yes and no . . . .

Yes, I believe in sexual integrity. No, I do not believe that having sex in the context of genuine love is immoral.

I may say that I don't look through the lens of sexual morality but that doesn't mean I lack it. Rather, it means I own it differently.

When it comes to sex, the issue i'm concerned about is expressing genuine love authentically. I think scripture that talks about sex is raising this very issue. I'm realizing that before all this, I defined my sexual morality based solely on the "letter of the law" - which pretty much said (not in these words), 'Don't have sex with anyone who is not your spouse'. The emphasis there seemed to be the 'Don't have sex' part. The translation here for me used to be that if I did have sex, then I was being immoral. But what i'm realizing now is that my sexual morality needs to go deeper than that. I think the "spirit of the law" always has as a foundation authentic expressions of love. On the subject of romantic love, there is a context for sexual physical activity that is moral.

That being said, I'm not using the lens of "sexual morality" because to me the phrase is too closely attached to the "letter of the law". That lens is not useful for me because there doesn't seem to be an answer to the question of when it's moral to have sex. I prefer to use the lens of "love" because that requires me to be authentically honest with myself about whether or not it's actually love that i'm experiencing or if it's a lesser form of love (lust) or a premature form of love (genuine romantic care and interest) or an immature form of love (infatuation or crush). The question for me is what kind of physical expressions of intimacy match each of those forms? As Peterson alluded to in his comment in the other sex post, perhaps there are appropriate expressions of physical intimacy or even sexuality that are not sexual acts.

This is what I meant in my previous post about sex. I said that emotional intimacy should be consistent with physical intimacy - both growing at the same pace. If we're using that old baseball diamond illustration describing phases of sexual accomplishment - "getting to" first base, second base, third base, and home plate, (holding hands, kissing/making out, feeling each other up, having sex) then I would include the emotional elements of the relationship to match each base. As the relationship develops (not necessarily marked by time or events but rather by genuine love and trust), each physical milestone (base) matches up with each emotional realization of love in the relationship. So hitting a "home run" on the first or second date is no longer a trophy nor worthy of significant applause.

At the height of a developing relationship, there is marriage - that covenant relationship keeping and maintaining emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy. (For those using that "other" lens, this would describe reserving sex until marriage.)

In my opinion, this new lens of love and consistent expressions of intimacy does describe "sexual integrity".

However, the other issue that I raised was that of finding the balance. It's not so easy. For one, I don't have a whole lot of sexual experience so I'm just honest about the fact that I'm trying to figure out what kinds of physical intimacy parallel certain emotional feelings. The other thing that I'm just honest about is the fact that sometimes I want to have a sexual encounter that is detached from emotional feelings. So yes, there are times that I want to 'hook up'. That doesn't mean that I actually do every time I want it. That just means I've gotta figure out what to do with those desires when they do occur. If I do decide to 'hook up', i'm not excusing it as acceptable and i'm not relativistically shifting my moral compass to accommodate my behavior. Rather, i'm owning up to the fact that it's not an authentic expression of love and it's something that I must have a conversation with my God about.

Secondly, I don't think that sexual activity is a lack of sexual integrity. If i've already lost my virginity, does that mean I forever lack sexual integrity? No. It's not about "having sexual integrity" (or losing it once a certain activity occurs) but rather it's about "learning sexual integrity". This is the difference between fooling myself with a license to have sex versus learning the lessons and consequences of having sex.

So I'm saying that I'm not afraid of having sex simply because it's sex. I'm saying that using the lens of love helps me to balance appropriate expressions of intimacy. I'm also saying that I'm giving myself room to figure it all out so that I can grow and learn.

As I continue my journey, I am thankful for friends who share my desire to be faithful to the desires of God. I don't want to walk the tight rope of relativism. I've always believed that conversations about sex should be had within our spiritual communities so that we can speak into each other - this way, there would be far less Christians turning to unhealthy outlets. This is all a continuous process for me of chewing on thoughts, learning lessons, and figuring out how to live out this lifestyle of faith as a gay Christian.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Abandoned Friendship

He used to talk about me that way.

I sat across the table listening to him tell others about how this other guy was right for the project we were doing. It was hard to hear the praises of someone else when we had formerly worked so well together. I was feeling replaced and for this past week, I've had to come to terms with some hard realities.

I think I was wrong about the substance of our friendship.

It was easier for me to always describe him as the straight friend who walked with me through my journey. As I shared my story, I would reference him as a friend I came out to and supported my process. He was someone I could bounce ideas off of - someone I could process my questions with. I wasn't alone on my journey because he was there.

But when I look back, that isn't what actually happened. We talked about the issue occasionally. He read my blog every once in a while. We saw each other every day because we worked together, albeit for God, and even talked passionately about vision and community and the things of God together. But when I reconciled my faith and my sexuality, he abandoned the friendship.

What happened to him walking with me? He was simply supervising my struggle . . . .

We've known each other for nine years. We shared hearts and passion and vision and paradigms. We had a synergy that I've not shared with anyone else. We both spoke the same language and God used our complementary strengths and weaknesses to serve His Kingdom. We were a pair. And when I came out to him, he supported my struggle.

I wanted to change. He wanted me to change. But he was patient with my process and he was willing to wait through my struggle. I participated in ex-gay programs for two years. He remained a supportive outside observer. He affirmed our friendship. I posed questions as I journeyed through the struggle. He loved the questions because it's refreshing to our faith. It led to interesting conversations, plus it was a good story for him to be able to say that he had a friend struggling with homosexuality with whom he was "walking with".

Then God began in me a process leading towards reconciling my faith and my sexuality. It started to complicate things. It started to challenge his own belief system about the issue. But he was still engaging the questions. How do we respond to the brothers and sisters within our Church who struggle with being gay? Celibacy seemed like the best compromise. I saw him journey from having a Side X view of believing heterosexual transformation was necessary to having a Side B view of believing that gay Christians ought to abstain from such activity. I saw it as growth in him.

Then I did reconcile my faith and my sexuality, claiming a Side A view that it's okay to be gay and Christian within the context of monogamy, commitment and faithfulness. I began to believe that there was no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals and that we all are capable of unhealthy sexual sin but we are called to an authentic and genuine love - for God and for each other. I began to see through a new and fresher lens.

But he knew me. I didn't fit in his box of what those gay Christians were like. I walked with God and my faith as a lifestyle was real and sincere. I short-circuited his belief system because if it were okay by God for me to accept myself as gay (even though I had been gay this whole time), then that would require an adjustment to his beliefs - something that would apparently require too much humility.

I became Side A and since he couldn't follow me there, rather than remaining at Side B, he found it easier to return to his Side X beliefs. He had to. His belief system was in jeopardy and he could either walk onto unknown waters on faith based on what God had been showing him so far or he could return to familiar ground.

I remember the conversation. He needed time away from our friendship so that he could sort everything out. I had stepped away from our public ministry because my potentially controversial presence would have been a distraction from our vision and message of unity within the Church. Ironic. But he needed to figure out how to function within that public ministry without me - without his pair. And we both needed to grieve that loss.

Our ministry relationship had been divorced and so it was easier for him for us not to be around each other. It may have been convenient for him as he eventually replaced me with a ministry team of people with whom he could lean on. That was a blessing for him and the organization. But I was still alone, feeling like our friendship wasn't worth maintaining.

Today's blog post was triggered by a blog post that Peterson wrote last week for ex-gay survivors. He listed off many of the ways we've been harmed by ex-gay experiences. One of the things he described was harm to our relationships. He mentioned, "friends who rejected us because the conditional nature of the friendship. Once we no longer identified as ex-gay and a struggler, they ended the relationship..."

He asked for survivors to share how they've been harmed and this is an excerpt from my response comment (that eventually led to me writing today's blog post): " . . . . This still has hurt me tremendously. I thought I had a friend who was walking with me but that wasn't true. Rather than continuing to walk with me despite how it challenged his paradigm, he chose to distance himself to repair his original theology. Knowing me screwed him up. And it hurts accepting the fact that he really wasn't walking with me. His compassion for me was limited by his conditional acceptance."

He joined the ranks of those who ostracized me - those who ex-communicated me from their regular fellowship. The problem was that his actions weren't consistent with his stance of friendship when we were on the phone or in person. So I held to the illusion of a friend who walked with me because I didn't want to admit the fact that he abandoned the friendship long ago.

I'm realizing that at the core of our relationship, it was a ministry one. When we removed the shell of ministry, we had no other interaction. We shared no common interest outside of the call to community. Our ministry relationship was divorced and we continued forward living out the call separately. Now, God has brought us back together into a different context - both a part of a broader community collaborative, now representing separate organizations.

Honestly, it's hard for me to see him succeed because I feel like he chose that over our friendship. Could he have had both? Perhaps. Or maybe he needed to distance himself from me in order to remain in the good favor of the pastors he was networking with. And I think there's some bitterness in me there too. I'm glad to see the work of the public ministry succeed. But my heart is still there because it was an organization that God birthed out of the two of us.

I voluntarily stepped away from the organization so that it could succeed in its vision. But he should have fought for me. He should have defended me. And that admission is hurting me right now.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Discovering the Balance of Consistent Intimacy

I need to get laid.

There are many days when i'll call or text my close friend and the two of us will joke about that. We're joking because we're serious. It's fun to have a friend that I can be that honest and raw with who totally understands the feeling of just wanting to get %*$#@!@.

LOL, okay that's a bit crude, but still. It's true. There are times when that's what I want and that's all I can think about. But I suppose the question for me would be "In what context do I want to have sex?"

Is pre-marital sex okay? What about for those of us who can't be legally married either by the state or in most of our churches? What is marriage even? Is it okay to have casual sex? Can I just have a "hook up"? Is it wrong to have a f*ck buddy? Is there anything wrong with having 'friends with benefits'? If i'm having sex, will that just help me get my mind off being in a relationship? If and when I am in a relationship, when is it okay to have sex? Do I have to wait that long? Is it okay to have sex with two guys I care about? What do I consider sex? Is oral sex . . . sex?

No, in case you were wondering, I'm not writing about this because Eric's been getting "it". Sure, i'll admit, at times I'm horny as hell. But no, i'm not getting any action. Over the past two weeks, I've been having conversations with numerous people about these very questions . . . .

I was reflecting on some of my previous posts about sex and it's interesting to see my very first post on the subject two years ago and how my perspective and approach to sex has evolved.

Sexual morality.

I don't use that lens anymore. It's attached to judgment and there's tons of baggage attached to the words. (Ah! So the critics are right! The gay Christians don't have real morals!)

No. That's not what I mean.

I just think that sexual purity is not the goal of my journey. My exploration of sexual freedom isn't the goal either. The goal of my journey is and has been about exploring my authenticity. And part of that is sorting through the questions of sex and relationships.

My lifestyle is characterized more by my faith than my sexual orientation. So while I can be honest about my very real urges, decisions, and actions, I think it's important for me to process these things with my God. Therefore, I no longer use the lens of 'morality' in asking these questions. When I was a churchian, I held to morals defined by what I read and what people told me. But I could never fully own those morals because they weren't really mine. So now, I use the lens of 'genuine expressions of love' in examining these questions. I have found that this lens is more effective in discovering what I can and can't own about my faith, beliefs and lifestyle.

I used to hold my virginity up like a trophy. When I lost it (years ago when I was still in the closet and so happened outside of a loving context), I felt regret. It was a virtue that I held on to for so long and after having that sexual encounter I felt like I gave in and showed my weakness.

I don't think that way anymore. Abstinence doesn't hold much substance for me if I can't own why it makes sense. And so I no longer see the choice not to abstain as a weakness. I see it as an experience that requires interpretation.

Keep in mind, I say all of this in the context that I'm not just freely having sex. Yes, I've had sexual encounters in my life but for me it's not about giving myself the freedom to do whatever I want. It's about giving myself the freedom to walk and learn from God the life intricacies of sexual intimacy and relationships.

It's not about a license. It's about a lesson.

Here's what I've learned so far. Asking questions and framing the issue in terms of whether or not certain sexual conduct is moral doesn't help me. What does help me is reframing the question in terms of What expresses genuine love most authentically?

The first thing I ought to own up to is assessing how I actually feel towards a person. Do I actually love him? Am I lusting him? Am I just crushing over him? Is this infatuation? These are things that I need to be honest with myself.

The next thing would be assessing how I choose to express those feelings. It would be inauthentic to express physical or sexual intimacy in a way that is inconsistent with the level of emotional intimacy that I have with him. What do I mean by this?

It's not about morality. It's about having balanced and consistent levels of emotional and physical/sexual intimacy. Is it okay to have sex before marriage? Well, if I reframe it with my new lens, I would say let's examine our intimacy levels. If i'm still getting to know a guy, then I am still in the early process of developing trust. This means that I have minimal emotional intimacy with him. If I then choose to have full-on sex with this guy, then my level of physical intimacy with him is way off. I barely know the guy, much less trust the guy. If I don't know him or trust him, then how can I actually be loving him?

However, if we've gone on a few dates with each other and we're both mutually discovering an emotional connection with each other, then it would make sense to kiss him because that form of physical intimacy is consistent with the level of emotional intimacy that I have with him. As the two of us continue to develop our emotional intimacy with each other, it would also make sense for our level of physical intimacy to increase accordingly and at the same pace.

I think that physical intimacy is a tangible expression of genuine emotional intimacy. I also think that emotional intimacy is the intangible substance of physical intimacy. I think marriage is a covenant that describes a relationship that has realized (and is committed to keeping and maintaining) emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy. If full-on sex is considered to be the highest form of physical intimacy, then it would be most consistent to do it while in a relationship that experiences the highest form of emotional intimacy with him. Marriage.

I know, i'm not exactly providing proof-texts for any of this. I'm just trying to unpack how I see the process and development of genuine love. I don't think it's realistic to say that a person completely loves someone in the beginning. It takes time. And balancing levels and forms of intimacy seems like the healthiest way to experience love in a relationship.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't have all this down pat. I don't always keep it all balanced. But i'm not afraid of making mistakes or discovering for myself where those lines of consistent intimacy are. These are just things I'm thinking about - things that i'm learning as I try to figure it all out for myself. It's direction. I'm not having tons of sex. But when I do have a sexual encounter, i'm not feeling super guilty because I had the sex. I simply sit down with God and talk it through - this is what I did, this is why I did it, this is how it made me feel (emotionally, physically, spiritually), this is how I think it made him feel. And I try to use the lens of authenticity. If I was just plain horny, then I'll own up to it. If I actually had feelings for the guy, then was I physically expressing what I emotionally felt for him. If yes, what does that mean? If no, what does that mean? Did I do this out of temptation or out of affection?

This just has me honestly evaluating the emotional, physical, and spiritual consequences of my intimate relationships.

So after all of this, I guess what i'm saying is that i'm not concerned about morality as much as I am concerned about authenticity.

Yes, there are times when I really feel like getting laid. Sometimes it's because I'm lonely. Sometimes it's because I had a really bad day and would like a distraction. Sometimes i'm just freaking horny. Sometimes it's because I'm longing for an intimate connection.

If i'm going to have sex, I want to at least be authentic with myself about why I'm doing it. It is these lessons that help me discover what I can and can't own about my faith, beliefs and lifestyle.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Across the Universe

There's a movie you have got to see. I don't care what the critics say in their reviews. They never like the movies I appreciate anyway.

I saw it a couple days ago with a friend and I loved it for so many reasons. I hadn't realized that it was a musical until I was told less than an hour before watching the movie. (I remember watching Rent for the first time not realizing that it was a musical. I know, don't take away my gay card but I had no idea - I had never heard of it before but I loved Rent! Remember this one?)

Knowing that it was a musical prepared me for the frequent breaking out in song and dance but I was very pleased to realize that these songs were all Beatles songs! The characters, Jude and Max, in the movie are adorable eye candy and the actors that play them, Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson, sing beautifully. I downloaded the soundtrack from iTunes and I'm loving it!

Across the Universe.

I loved this movie because its about the journey - of finding love, of finding adventure, of finding success, of finding peace, of finding friends, of finding purpose - a cause worth fighting for. What is it that we are looking for on this journey of ours? For some of us, it's reconciling our faith and sexuality. For others of us, it's finding redemption. And yet for others of us, it's finding community or companionship.

We're all on a similar journey. But we all have a different cause - a different passion of which to root the purpose of our lives. Some take up their cross. Some take up their flag. Some take up their paint brush. In our own way, we can change our world.

Just do what you do.

I'd say for me, on this journey of mine, I'm looking for me. Who am I? Who is this person that God loves? Who is that guy in the mirror and can he love (himself and others) like God does? My journey across the universe is of finding my sense of authenticity. If I can discover me, then I can help others discover themselves - authentically. And so if we can begin to know and be ourselves, then we can begin to know and understand each other, and at the same time we can begin to know and understand our God. Perhaps, then, we can begin to love our God, love each other, and love ourselves better.

This is my journey, my cause - and, to me, it's one worth fighting for.

I love this one:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

One Man's Change of Heart

How does a person - a politician - a Republican - a "traditional family values" man - who advocated strongly against gay marriage - get to the point of changing his stance on such a controversial issue?

It's when he realizes that the people in his life of whom he loves - are gay. It's when the issue no longer is black and white. It's when he's forced to live in the gray because denying the rights of "those people" means also denying the rights of his own family and friends.

Last week, San Diego mayor, Jerry Sanders, showed that he had a change of heart regarding the issue of marriage equality:

Pressconfsm (Thanks to JJ for the video lead!)

Four years ago, his daughter told him that she was in a committed relationship with a woman. Two years ago, as he campaigned for mayor, he held a position against gay marriage. He thought that civil unions were a sufficient "alternative". He pledged to veto any support of gay marriage . . . .

Now, as mayor he announced that he has had a change of heart and supports equal protection and recognition of same-sex relationships under the law. He has decided not to veto the San Diego City Council's (5-3) decision for a resolution in support of marriage equality for LGBT Americans. San Diego, with its 62,000 gay households, joins cities like Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Oakland in such a resolution.

I was proud to be a citizen and resident of Long Beach last year when our own city council voted unanimously (with the support of our mayor) for a resolution supporting marriage equality. Theirs went a step further by urging state and federal legislatures to pass law protecting our rights. According to the federal census in 2000, Long Beach has approximately 80,000 gay or lesbian residents. That's about 20% of our city's population.

Here's a copy of the City of Long Beach's Resolution on Marriage Equality (pdf)

The fight for marriage equality continues because it's state law that needs to be changed in order to have full legal recognition. But we're one step closer as cities continue to step up and take a stand for justice. I've never felt like my role was to be a political activist for this cause. I do believe that organizations like Equality California are needed for such advocacy. I believe my role to be that of a relational catalyst - encouraging people to be authentic through relationships because that's when the issue becomes more real for people when it does come time to vote.

Change can happen when both activists and catalysts continue to do their work. Activists bring the issue to the forefront of society's attention. They herald for systemic change. Catalysts bring the issue to the forefront of our relationships. We herald for community change.

Sometimes it's difficult, and even discouraging, dealing with stubborn people who seem so set in their ways. It's good to see that relationships actually do make a difference in changing hearts, minds and eventually the law.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Setting The Record Straight

Hypocrite. Liar. Deceiver. Confused. Damned.

I can only imagine the kinds of things a certain person must be thinking of me.

I was chatting with a friend today and someone told him several months ago that I'm an atheist.


LOL, yeah, you can bet I laughed and thought my friend was joking when he asked me if it were true. Then I discovered he was serious. Apparently, someone "overheard" me saying that "I prefer to consider myself an atheist" while I was at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference a couple months ago . . . .

Wow. Can you believe that?

But what if it were true? What if I was an atheist? Considering all the things i've written about myself and God on this blog, this whole thing would all be a joke. Geez, that'd be pretty messed up.

I dunno how this person came to hear or think that I would say or believe such a thing. Clearly, this person doesn't know me well enough to know better or to give me the benefit of the doubt and seek clarification. So for months, he or she has been under the impression that I'm an atheist.

Does that mean that not only do I not believe in God but that I also hate God? Does that mean that I can't stand hearing people talk fondly about Him? Does that mean that I am godless? Does that mean that I refuse to acknowledge that He is the Source of Life and that He is the one who has provided for all of my needs?

Maybe it means that I don't need Him? Or maybe it just means that I simply don't believe that He exists? Maybe it means that I think I've survived this long without Him? Maybe it means that I think there's nothing to hope for whether in this life or after death?

I could develop an entire identity around this paradigm of atheism.

And what if other people actually believed that I believed these things? What kinds of things would they think of me? They could form their entire perception of who I am based on the assumption that what this person says about me is true.

And what about God? What would God think of me if He thought I was an atheist? He'd think that I didn't love Him. He'd think that I wasn't thankful for every breath of air and life that I took. He'd think that I didn't appreciate the things that I have in my life - family, friends, employment, purpose. He'd think that I refused to acknowledge the good things that He's actually done for me. He'd think that I didn't believe that He was real. He'd think that I didn't accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross on my behalf.

How long could I go on with my life knowing that God and other people thought such things about me? How long could I go on before I felt compelled to tell God and other people what I really believed and thought about God? How long would it be before I had to set the record straight?

I wonder if that's how God feels sometimes.

People, His Church, misunderstand Him or misinterpret something He's written or mishear something He's said (to them) in prayer and they go on telling other people that He hates gay people. They tell their entire congregation that God is more concerned about you loving the opposite gender like a heterosexual (because your purpose is to procreate) rather than you loving all people with a genuine and sincere heart. They tell people that God died for them but gay people are going to hell anyway. Unless they change.

And many people believe what these people say. They believe God to be a God of conditional love. They believe God to value heterosexuality as superior and as His intent. They believe that God's acceptance of gay people is limited to whether or not those gay people renounced their sexuality.

And if a gay person who believes in God also believes in what these people say about God, then that person may think that God doesn't love him or her completely and fully.
That person may think that he or she isn't really Christian. That person may think that he or she is a second-class Christian. That person may form his or her entire identity around the notion that he or she is worthless and unlovable. That person could form his or her entire perception of who God is based on the assumption that what these people say about gay people is true.

How long before God corrected those who missed the point and viewed Him incorrectly? How long before God says to the world that those people are wrong? How long before God sets the record straight?

He'd say that God actually does love all people - His gay ones and His straight ones. He'd say that we are all wonderfully made in His image and on purpose. He'd say that nothing can separate us from His love. He'd say that He knows about the things that burden us and it breaks His heart too. He'd say that even when people abandon us, He never will. He'd say that He wants us.

If there is any doubt - I love God with all my heart. Unapologetically. I believe in Him. I know that He loves and accepts me, despite my imperfections. He walks with me as I journey life to discover authenticity. There's still so much more to learn and figure out. I don't have all the answers - just more questions. But He's my Teacher about life because He's the One who breathed it in me.

It's hilarious to me that someone would actually think that I'm an atheist because I believe more in God than I believe in myself!

It's good to know that God understands. He understands what it's like to be misunderstood. He understands what it's like to be misheard and misquoted. He understands what it's like for people to assume the worst about one's character.

He understands me. And because we know each other, I've no doubt that He knows how I feel about Him just as I know how He feels about me - despite the false assumptions and misinterpretations that certain others may have about me or my God.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I'd Rather Be Honest Than Impressive

Being authentic can be embarrassing. In fact, it can make me kinda want to be inauthentic just for the sake of not looking like a basket-case, or worse . . . desperate.

I'll try to resist the temptation of being fake. I went to a Jay Brannan show Saturday night (which was absolutely awesome!!!) and he sang a song with a lyric that truly resonated with me. He said, "I'd rather be honest than impressive."

At the end of the day, my journey has been about discovering my own authenticity - first with myself, then with you. Being in the closet for so many years produced a dualistic persona - neither the closet-Eric nor the public-Eric were completely me. Coming out, for me, has never been about accepting myself to be gay or even presenting myself to the world as gay. Coming out is about exploring my authenticity, not my sexuality . . . .

So despite how embarrassing and uncomfortable I can feel about unpacking something raw here on this blog, i'd rather be honest with myself about how I feel. Or at the very least, for right now, acknowledge the fact that I haven't been honest with myself. The truth is that lately, I've been consciously forcing myself to deny any feelings of interest towards a person because i'm thoroughly tired of being disappointed. I found myself yelling (at myself) in the car like a crazy schizo person, "What the hell are you doing? Stop it! No! Quit doing that! You are NOT going to start liking him!"

I've been trying to condition myself not to like anyone because I'm afraid of being hurt when I realize that the "interest" is simply a one-way crush. Yeah, that's a punch in the gut. I know i'm just trying to protect myself. It's probably best that I not date until I can get out of this mode of cynicism. Either way, I want to move on with my life. It's just that sometimes, I'm frickin fed up because I feel like I can't figure out what other friends around me who are coupled (or are connecting) seem to have figured out.

I dunno. I suppose I can't like him (and expect him to like me back) if I don't even like me half the time. I know, I know - that's not so attractive. I get it. I'm just writing this out so that I can get past it.

So where am I at now with this? Well, okay maybe I do like him. That's honest. But just because I do, it doesn't mean I have to express it to him. If he's interested, he'll have to make the first move in expressing it. By default, I'll assume he's not interested in me and we'll just become better friends. And what of authenticity? Hey, i'm taking baby steps here. So what if I'm a little guarded. Besides, I don't want to get sucker-punched again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Road Trip Destination: Chicago, Illinois

Oh, I know! Finally, the long-awaited (by me) final blog post on the road trip has now arrived. LOL, almost two weeks after it happened. What can I say? I've had some readjusting to do after being back from vacation. Plus i've had some other blog-worthy thoughts and events since returning that may or may not make its way to a live post. We'll see. But this post here will be a long one (I warned you) because this part of the trip was full and it was fun! So bear with me if you've been following our journey and choose to read on. Plus be sure to check out the link to the full album of photos. =)

But here it was. The end of the road trip vacation!

Chicago was my favorite leg of the road trip. It was also the last destination before returning to Southern California. After Grand Rapids, Michael and I spent our Labor Day weekend hanging out in Chicago. It was fun because we got to do a little bit of everything.

We met up with a new friend and reconnected with another (both GCN'ers) for smoothies. We got to ride the "L" - Chicago's rapid transit system. We met some incredibly interesting yet random people. We had Chicago pizza. We saw some of Chicago's sites. We connected with other local GCN'ers. And we spent some time exploring how the Church could be reconciled with itself in regards to that ole' gay issue . . . .

As we entered Chicago, I could already tell that this was going to remind me of home. Well, at least, the part of home I try to avoid. I live in Long Beach which is roughly 30 miles south of Los Angeles. Without traffic, it could probably take 40-45 minutes to drive in to LA. However, with traffic, it'd take at least an hour or more to get to where we'd want to go. So I try to avoid LA if at all possible.

So when we first arrived in Chicago, we hit the Labor Day weekend traffic - all the people rushing home from work or rushing out of the city's madness.

Welcome to Chicago!

Nevertheless, it was quite exciting to be entering this city for the first time. It is so packed and condensed. We drove through Chicago's ghetto areas. We drove along the beach and waterfront. We drove passed the skyscrapers. We drove in bumper to bumper traffic. But it was really interesting to see the diversity of people on first impression - varying ethnicities, varying cultures, varying economic status, varying fashion, and varying personalities in both the people and in the city's structures. Very cool!

We were meeting up with a GCN'er named Michael for the first time. This is gonna get confusing so i'll refer to my travel companion as Michael and i'll refer to our new friend as Michael M. That'll do, right? So this is Michael M. We were quite excited to meet each other! Hehe.

Michael M. hung out with us on Friday afternoon and evening, then also all day on Saturday. So over the course of these days, I was continually very impressed as I got to know him a bit more - his heart, passion, and personality in action.

The three of us first hung out at this Hookah cafe place for some tasty smoothies. Michael really seemed tempted to try the Hookah for the first time, but he took a rain check. I took the opportunity to talk with Michael M. a lot about his experience going through one of the Marin Foundation courses. Remember Greg from Michigan? Greg works with the Marin Foundation quite a bit. In fact, even Becky is good friends with Andrew Marin. In a nutshell, Andy is this straight guy who just has a huge heart for the GLBT community (much like Becky). Through the foundation, he works to build bridges between the gay community and the religious community. But its his approach that is very interesting and some of us in Long Beach are considering bringing him here to do some of his work. I'll talk more about this at the end of this post. Michael M. went through one of the courses offered by the foundation geared for gay people. I really wanted to get his feedback from going through it so that I could assess its potential usefulness here in Long Beach.

Michael got to share some of his story with Michael M., as well as discussing his journey of examining the Side A/Side B Debate (see left side column links). Michael M. teaches music at a university so he is quite familiar with academia. It was also interesting to hear about some of his passion for music. He's a composer! Check out his Web site here.

As the three of us hung out, Shawn was on his way to meet up with us. Shawn is a GCN'er who lives outside of Chicago. We met in Southern California, first at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference at the end of June (I let him crash at my place for an evening after the conference), then a second time at the post-EC Conference GCN bonfire at the end of July.

After Shawn got off from work, he took the "L" to meet up with us and he had to use the restroom SOOOOO bad! It was funny because I told him we were going to the store to get him a box of Depend. It took him a while to find the cafe that we were at so when he finally found us, he post-poned the standard hugs and greetings and went straight for the restroom with us holding the door for him and waving him in the right direction so that he could find his relief.

Shawn's a character and he had me cracking up several times. He also hosted us the entire weekend. Not only did he let us stay at his place through the weekend (thanks Shawn!), he also hung out with us the whole time. It was fun getting to know Shawn's personality too (as well as his history).

We were starting to get hungry for dinner so we decided to make our way downtown for our first Chicago pizza (yes, for the Pizza Wars). It was my first time riding the "L"! Wow, I was in Chicago riding the elevated transit train passing by Wrigley Field. Sigh. While on the train, we had an absolutely fun time talking with these random strangers. Actually, it'd be more accurate to say that they were talking with us.

It was sooo fun! Michael and Shawn were sitting on one bench to my left (see picture above). Michael M. was sitting on the bench in front of me (pictured here on the right). The "L" made a stop and picked up a lot more passengers and along came this rather interesting couple. The woman sat next to Michael M. while the man sat right next to me. Almost immediately, the two of them began to engage us in conversation.

"Do you like my tattoo? Is it cool? Does it make me look hard? Do you like it? Awww, you don't like it! Does it look gay? Does it make me look faggy? It's cool, huh? Huh?"

The man was so overbearing with the almost immediate and random barrage of personal questions and comments but he did so with such charisma and friendliness that I totally thought it was all fun. So I engaged him back. I found out that the two of them had previously been divorced (not with each other). They met three years ago and have been committed to having fun and living life. They have two lists of things they want to do and experience. One list is a "good" list - the one you can tell the family about. The second list is their "bad" list - the crazy fetish type stuff. The funny thing was that he was sharing details about the kinds of things that were on their list and the things they've done and crossed off the list. It was so hilarious and fun because he showed absolutely no boundaries with me but was super friendly. He sat really close to me, shoulder to shoulder, and told me about their journey and asked me about mine. He wanted to know about the road trip and the places I've been and seen. He'd oscillate back and forth between telling me stuff on their lists to asking me about me then inquiring about whether or not I thought his girlfriend was hot.

The funny thing is that she was having a similarly humorous conversation with Michael M. "What do you think about my nipple ring?"

The whole experience was hilarious! And it was a fun random encounter with Chicago natives.

We finally got to downtown Chicago and we were surrounded by the towering skyscrapers above us as we walked along the sidewalks with the herds of people. We were all starving and we searched with minimal success for pizza places to eat that didn't have a hugely long wait. We settled on Pizzeria Due that had a 45 minute wait time. I'll comment on the pizza during our Pizza Wars post. However, it took absolutely forever to get our food! It's like all of Chicago goes out for pizza every night.

The rest of the evening after dinner was pretty uneventful since we knew that Saturday would be a full day. We took the "L" back to where our cars were, we parted ways with Michael M. who would join us for breakfast, then Michael, Shawn, and I drove out of the city to Shawn's place. By then, we were pretty tired.

Before the trip, I got in touch with a Two World Collision reader and fellow blogger ("A Journey of Reconciliation") - Michael R. Yeah, another Michael. Michael R. impressed me when he first made contact with me a few months ago. He recounted his own experiences and shared with me how many aspects of both our stories paralleled each other. Since he lives in "Boystown" - an area in Chicago largely populated by GLBT people, he agreed to show us around his neighborhood.

We all met for breakfast first at Ann Sather. I guess they are known for their huge cinnamon rolls that accompany every breakfast order. Soooooo good!

After breakfast he gave us lil' tour around Boystown as I asked numerous questions about the GLBT culture there. The bars and clubs and businesses are only one way of seeing the GLBT community in a city. In any city, I'm concerned with how people relate with one another. Do the G's, L's, B's, and T's get along? Do they interact well? How well do people of varying generations connect? Ethnicities? What kind of leadership does the community have? Can people meet new friends outside of the context of the bar or club?

It was interesting to see that while it does look like a cohesive community - as compared to others I've seen in West Hollywood, Long Beach, Palm Springs, Louisville, St. Louis, Grand Rapids - Boystown has much the same issues as every city i've been to when it comes to a need for a healthy relational understanding of one another as gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals. That's been my theory - that fragmentation happens within the GLBT community (as well as in any community) because the sub-communities don't understand one another. When people don't understand one another, they tend to lack compassion for one another which leads to isolation or social fragmentation. One of my goals with Catalyst is to help catalyze a sense of compassion and interest in venturing into relationships outside of their comfort zone for the sake of building tangible community. What does this look like? That's what i'm exploring. And that's why i'd like to see if it already exists somewhere out there. This is something that I lack in my own life and i'd like to be more intentional about developing these kinds of relationships.

We had a great time walking up and down some of the streets of Boystown. We checked out some of the shops and stopped for ice cream. We even met up randomly with Tahir. He was walking up the sidewalk and Michael M. and Shawn both knew him and were surprised to see him so they started chatting. "Hey! It's good to see you! How's it going? Funny running into you here!"

I was just joking around and pretended like I knew him too. "Hey! It's good to see you! How's it going? Funny running into you here!"

Then Tahir says, "Actually, yeah, I know you. Author of Two World Collision dot blogspot dot com. Yeah, i know who you are."

I was shocked. Michael and I both looked at each other, "What the - ".

He introduced himself and I recognized his name. He had been reading this blog too and we started corresponding for awhile through email a couple times last year and this year. I didn't know what he looked like. I thought it was so funny because I was totally joking about knowing him. What are the odds that I'd actually know him? Talk about another random moment in Chicago!

Anyway, it was really good to meet Tahir.

We parted with Michael R. (for the afternoon only) and decided to see some Chicago sites so Michael, Shawn, Michael M. and I all went to see the Sears Tower. Apparently, it was the tallest building in the world for a time. Now I think it's 3rd or 4th tallest. It was interesting to visit because it's a business building in downtown Chicago that just happens to be super tall but it's also set up like an amusement park attraction.

There were the windy lines. There was a gift shop. There was a station where people can have nicely done photos taken. There were ticket booths. Then there was the elevator that led to the top of the Sears Tower. Before heading up, they crammed a large batch of people into a room that played a movie educating people about the history of the Sears Tower. Actually, this was smart of them because it had us appreciate it as more than just a really really tall building with a great view.

It was a great one, by the way. The view was awesome! From up top, there's a viewing room that let's you see Chicago from an amazing perspective. There were also maps of the city that showed you what buildings and sites you were looking at. It reminded me of St. Louis' arch.

Along the walls away from the windows, they displayed pictures of historical and notable Chicago people. It was an interesting presentation of honoring those who have contributed to shaping the city.

After leaving the Sears Tower, we ended up talking with a group of Mennonites outside the building. They had been there all weekend singing and witnessing and passing out literature. Most people would have passed by them without giving them a second thought or they would have engaged them in debate in regards to the right of gays to be acknowledged in the Church. But Michael M. really impressed me in the way that he spoke with one of them and genuinely tried to get to know him better. The result was that he was able to get to know Michael M. better. As the whole conversation unfolded between the two of them, Shawn, Michael and I just watched while Michael M. established authentic friendliness. He allowed this young 18 year old kid the opportunity to share his faith and story. That's what he was out there to do. Eventually, the kid discovered that we were gay Christians and we could tell that it made him pause. "Oh. Oh. Oh! You're . . . gay . . . Christians. Interesting. Um. All . . . of . . . you? Interesting. Okay. I . . . didn't . . . know."

I could actually see the wheels turning in his brain and learning that we were "gay Christians" almost short circuited him. But Michael M.'s approach and presence was so friendly and so disarming that the kid continued on with talking about God's love for all people and his own story. Seriously. I was absolutely impressed with Michael M. It was inspiring because he set an example of how we could shatter stereotypes by simply being willing to be authentic without overly emphasizing needlessly the fact that we're gay. During the conversation, two other Mennonites came over to hover as if to protect the kid. But as they stood by and watched their dialogue, I saw them gradually change their demeanor from "who are these guys and why are they talking to our guy" to a completely humble demeanor of "who are these brothers of ours". It was very interesting to see it all unfold. Eventually, Michael M. began talking with the other two Mennonites while the rest of us continued talking with the kid.

Anyway, this was another fun random encounter with strangers in Chicago and I was impressed by the leadership that Michael M. showed.

As we moved on from the Sears Tower, we wanted to go check out Millennium Park. There are some cool exhibits on display that attracts the crowds.

We took some time to get there though because it took us forever to find parking! That's something I noticed about Chicago. There is very little parking and for the ones that are available, you've gotta pay an arm and a leg for it. Granted, it was Labor Day weekend, but still. A friend of mine in Manhattan was telling me about how people need a mortgage broker in New York to help them find and secure a very small apartment - much less a condo or home. Here in Chicago, you've gotta get a mortgage broker to help you find and secure a parking spot! It's craziness!

Well when we finally got to Millennium Park, it was fun! We saw a fountain to take a photo in front of and we ended up having yet another random encounter with strangers.

Pictured here to the right is a trio of Children's Theatre performers. (LOL, every time I look at this photo I actually laugh out loud because of cutie Drew in the middle who poses like a dinosaur!) They are an acting troupe that travels around to do what they love. We started talking because both our groups wanted a group photo taken so we each happily snapped a shot of the other. We struck up a conversation with them and they turned out to be super fun people.

I shared with one gal for the majority of the time about our road trip and about how we are a part of a Gay Christian Network. She was incredibly compassionate about the way that gay believers are often displaced from their churches because of the issue. She comes from a religious fundamentalist background and so she's familiar with how hard it can be for people like us. Being in theatre, she's had many gay friends that have shared with her about how hard it's been for them. So she thought GCN was a great thing to be a part of and was glad that we're networking together to support and encourage one another. I wish and pray that more and more people within the mainstream Church would be like this gal - compassionate before judging. I sensed her genuine sincerity. It was fun sharing hearts about things we're both passionate about in the community.

One of my goals for the Chicago trip was to see the "Bean". I don't know if that's what it's actually called - but it looks like one. Several months ago, a friend of mine posted pics on Facebook from his Chicago trip and I was intrigued at seeing this bean looking structure. At the time, I had no idea that i'd be going on this trip but I knew that one day, i'd like to see and touch it for myself.

So the exciting thing for me is actually doing it! For a long time, i've always dreamed about experiencing things (like travel) but I never actually did it. So I feel like I missed out on alot of years. I don't want to dream anymore. I want to experience more. My goal recently has been to be intentional about stuff like that. So here I am, like that hilariously odd couple that we met on the "L", and i've got my metaphorical list of things I want to do and I'm crossing them off the list! And now i'm the one posting photos of it on Facebook!

Ooh! I can imagine . . . . one day i'll be sharing photos with you on this blog about visits to Paris, London, and Sydney! I can't wait!!!

Hehe, sorry, got a bit excited for a minute there.

After seeing Millennium Park, it was time to meet up with the others for dinner. Yes, we went out for more Chicago pizza. Again, it took absolutely forever to get seated, then to get our food. Chicago really likes their pizza!

But it gave us an opportunity for all of us to hang out, reconnect, or meet for the first time. This was a fun dinner because besides Michael, Shawn, Michael M. and I, we were joined by Andy Marin, Michael R., Troy (another Chicago GCN'er), and Earl (a TWC reader that I met through Facebook and have kept in touch with). It was a fun mix! Michael R. and Earl are now on GCN too! =)

After dinner, Michael R. made special arrangements with a friend of his to get us into a show to see the Blue Man Group. I've gotta say that this was totally awesome of Michael R. to do for us. (Thank you soooooo much Michael!!!!!) He got the five of us in - Michael, Shawn, Michael M., Michael R. and myself.

It was one of the best shows that I've ever experienced. It engaged all of my senses - even taste because I kinda up-chucked during a part of the show. It was fun and funny. I'm not going to spoil it by divulging details of the show but it really was amazing. I went in not having any idea of what to expect and I left having had a blast. We even took pictures with one of the blue guys!

After the show, Michael R. took us a few blocks to see his apartment. He shared with us a little about his family and friends through photos and I really got the impression that he loves the people in his life and they love him. He is a wonderfully sincere and nice guy! Hehe, so maybe he does have an "interesting" hobby but it may take him out to SoCal soon so I'll get to hang out with him when it does! =)

It was a full and fun day for the four of us and this would be the last time we'd see Michael M. during our time in Chicago. So on the ride back to drop Michael M. off at his car, what do these four gay Christian boys do? LOL, we sang songs from Aladin (rather they did) and we sang worship songs.

Sunday was our last day in Chicago and we'd be flying out later that afternoon. As our final point of connection, we met back up with Andy Marin for lunch - yes, for pizza. Hehe, well, they all knew about our Pizza Wars and so some of the Chicagoans disagreed about where the best Chicago pizza was served. So Andy had to take us out to his favorite!

I planned this meeting because I wanted to be able to talk with Andy more about the foundation and to hear more of his heart for what he's trying to do within the gay and religious communities. He was open with me about his story, open about some of the not-so-positive press he had gotten from a "gay" DJ (who has since been discredited by certain national GLBT organizations), and also open about his goals in forming the foundation.

Since he's a straight man, many people are concerned about what it is that he's about. Some gay people are concerned that he's advocating change. Some straight evangelical conservative people are concerned that he's advocating for the "gay lifestyle" (gag that phrase). Some are concerned that he's either both or neither. But at the same time, many more people on both sides of the spectrum and in between are excited about his approach and what he's trying to do. I can see why some would find him hard to read because he approaches the "issue" differently than most.

Andy doesn't make it a gay or a straight issue. He elevates the conversation above the politics and talks about more important things - spiritual growth while trusting Jesus to communicate to an individual His heart and will through a growing relationship with Him. At the end of the day, that's what Andy is concerned about. Here in Long Beach, i'm working with others from various organizations who want to navigate the "Hot Zone" and create a healthy dialogue within the Church about the taboo subject of gays in their midst. Andy could very well navigate this because he doesn't speak the language of politics. He speaks the language of bridge building. I can relate to this because I take the same approach with Catalyst and everything else. I think the key for all of us is to start teaching this new language to both sides of the bridge so that we can begin to talk with each other in the middle of that bridge.

This is my second long sit down with Andy. Several months ago, he was in Southern California and I sat down with him over dinner. He was pretty consistent in his message and his heart. He's sincere and i'm looking forward to working with him more.

And then it was over. We got to the airport, returned the rental, boarded our plane (which was on-time!), and returned to the Los Angeles area. Michael caught a connecting flight home to Santa Barbara and my friend picked me up and took me home to Long Beach.

Click here to see all the fun Chicago pics in my Facebook album!

During my first two days being back, I had a really hard time adjusting. Much of the drama that went on before I left was never resolved. Work was a crazy pit of mess - still. Plus I was still a bit irked because of that other situation. So I left home feeling all of these things. The vacation was a great respite. But now I return home still having to deal with all those feelings. I felt crappy for all of last week and half of this week. But now i'm starting to feel better and I'm moving forward.

I met soooo many people during this road trip vacation. I lost count but I suppose I could always go through all the Facebook photos to count 'em all up. So can you! Be sure to check out all of my Facebook photo albums in the section in the right column.

But the funnest part of the whole vacation was doing it yet again with a good friend of mine. Michael. It was fun times and i'm looking forward to the next one!