Saturday, January 20, 2007

Uma Goodness and the Transgendered Believers

God still shatters my paradigms.

I'm not even surprised anymore. I'm amazed and in awe at the things the Lord does and shows me. But i'm not really all that surprised. He consistently makes me think, "Wow. I would have never thought . . . ."

Transgendered Christians.

Honestly, I don't even know if I had/have preconceived notions about the trans community. Truth is, I don't know all that many very well. The ones I've met have always been very nice and kind and awesome actually. But I haven't asked all of those tough and uncomfortable questions that help me to understand what it's like to be transgendered.

I don't understand the experience. I can own that.

And I think that, like me, many people place judgments on the trans community because we simply don't understand. Frankly, in my observation in my area, many of the G's, L's, B's, and T's don't regularly interact as much - and even tell jokes about each other - because we all don't understand each other. You'd figure that the GLBT community would be pretty united but it's not really - at least here where I live.

So as a gay man, if I can own the fact that I don't understand the reality of a transgendered individual, then I can presume that similar (if not harsher) judgments would be made towards them by the mainstream straight community.

And to top it all off, there are also Transgendered Christians . . . .

Is it so hard to believe that God would indeed be moving and loving within this community? Well, it was enough of a paradigm shift for me to accept the reality of gay Christians, like myself, who sincerely love God and don't feel like we're compromising core salvation doctrine. In theory, I used to make reference to the GLBT community within the Church and that the Church ought to make room for us - or at the very least, acknowledge us as spiritual siblings in Christ. But I had never gone so far as considering the reality of a person of faith who is also transgendered. There aren't all that many churches that are not only inclusive of the trans community but are also represented by the trans community.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit one. It is a church in Riverside, CA called Safe Haven. It's a church plant of the New American Christian Church. Not only are they inclusive of all people, but they are also comprised of mostly individuals in the trans community. A GCN friend of mine does drag show sermons and so Anthony was invited as "Ms. Uma Goodness" to speak to their congregation. Anthony extended the invitation to some of us other GCN'ers. If you're interested in contacting the church, you can see them listed on this page.

It was amazing to see the genuine smiles on their faces as they worshipped the Lord. Not only were they obviously feeling free to approach the Lord authentically, but i can see that the smiles on their faces were because they were actually in front of the Throne as they worshipped.

Seeing Ms. Uma share the Word and be of tremendous encouragement to all of us was incredible. I was quite impressed by the way that God is using Anthony in ministry! I was proud to call him my brother and friend! =) Plus, I instantly thought Uma looked "gorgeous and fabulous"! (Anthony too!)

I know that it can be easy to judge them based on mere outward appearances. An observer may notice a person who appears to be of a male gender but is wearing a dress, lipstick, and a wig. It could cause a person to stare. A person may also be tempted to doubt the sincerity of their faith and worship.

But God doesn't judge by outward appearances. Rather, He sees a person's heart. As i spoke to many of these beloved people afterwards, I sensed an incredible love and heartfelt care from them. From what I had seen so far, I cannot deny that these indeed ARE my brothers and sisters in Christ!

Jesus talks about knowing a tree by its fruit in Matthew 7 and Paul talks in Galatians 5 about the fruit of the Spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I have witnessed this fruit in my transgendered brothers and sisters yet many people in the mainstream Church would deny that they are of the same Spirit. The irony is that they condemn with a form of judgment, disgust, and disdain for what they do not understand. If that's their fruit, what kind of a tree are they?

Throughout the service, I kept hearing God remind me of what He began speaking to my heart before I started my recent journey of reconciling my faith and sexuality. From 2003-2005, back when I was still Side X and thought it was wrong to be gay, I had been part of city-wide prayer meetings where we would pray against the gay community in our city. In my Sankofa testimony part 3, I talked about how God continued to pose two questions on my heart during these prayer meetings. Those questions were:

Why am I praying against a people I don't even know? Why am I praying against "them" when I am one of "them"?

Back then, He was showing me that not only was I not praying in love (when I prayed against the gay community, my community), but also that I had no idea at the time that He had been working and moving and loving within these very people I was praying against. I saw for myself over the past year and a half just how much He loves His people.

So during the service last Sunday, I looked around the room and I watched them lift up their hands in worship and they praised God with their hearts and there was a sincerity in their smiles. And God reminded me of how I used to pray against "these kinds of people". I heard Him say, "See. These are some of the ones I was telling you about. You didn't know about them, but I saw and heard and received their worship of Me."

And for that moment, I could imagine what Peter must have felt like in Cornelius' home when he saw these Gentiles speaking in tongues.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Chair Strong and Sturdy

[Note: Scroll down to see the YouTube video of Joe proposing to Jason through a column of the Chicago Tribune. This one made me cry!!!]

I don't remember ever going on a third date.

I was having breakfast this morning with my pastor, his partner and a friend and as the conversation came up about dating and being single, I realized that I've never dated a person beyond three dates.

That makes me sound like a pathetic loser, doesn't it? Yeah, i'm a catch!

Well, considering that I haven't really gone on that many dates in the first place, plus the fact that it was only a year ago when I decided that I was ready to start dating other guys, I suppose I'm not *that* much of a lemon. It was also a little over a year ago when I talked about finding my Mr. Right and even when I talked about the kind of relationship dynamic that I was looking for.

In a year's time, I think i've only gone on a handful of dates. For many of those, I'm not even exactly sure if they were dates! I'd like to think that i'm ready for a relationship now. And as I consider the dating process, I've learned a few things from others that I'd like to incorporate into my approach . . . .

As you can guess from this photo, I'd like to start dating older men.


I'm so kidding! Really I am!

No, actually, this is a photo of me with Dr. Ralph Blair, founder of Evangelicals Concerned.

We met at the recent 3rd annual Gay Christian Network conference in Seattle, WA last weekend. It was INCREDIBLE! By the way, if you haven't registered at GCN yet, what are you waiting for? Seriously, God has His hand on it and if you are searching the Web for some kind of support and encouragement, there is an amazing community of people who either love God or have had a churched/spiritual background and are also gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or trying to figure it all out.

(Be sure to check out the new filmloop photos of my trip to Seattle for the conference at the top of the right column of this blog. Click on 'Watch the Show' to see the larger pics.)

At the conference, Dr. Blair led a workshop on dating that I found to be incredibly useful. He framed the dating process and relationships in the context of a three-legged stool. He said that a good romantic relationship is supported by three things:

Mutual Involuntary Attraction

He says that in every good relationship, the sense of mutual involuntary attraction is present. As he relates it, he's not simply talking about thinking that he or she is hot. Of course, that could definitely be there! But this sense of attraction has more to do with the overall perception of the individual.

So as I think about it, this would mean that not only do I 'like' this person but I also 'like him as a person'. Additionally, he 'likes' me and he also 'likes me as a person'. I want to be completely crazy for the guy and I want that involuntary attraction to be mutual and reciprocal.

I guess the first leg of a strong and sturdy relationship rests on being 'into' each other.

Shared Values

Dr. Blair also talked about how important it is for both people in the relationship to share common values. I'd imagine that this could include fundamental belief systems - like the good ole churchian exhortation not to be 'unequally yoked'. While I don't particularly like the insistent references to this from the old paradigm guard, I do understand it. I too want a relationship with a person who shares my love for Jesus.

But aside from belief systems, I'd like to think that Dr. Blair would also include lifestyle values in this particular leg in the support structure of a relationship. I think that both of us should be on the 'same page' on certain things - including the process of our relationship. We should both be on the same page in regards to physical intimacy. We should both be on the same page in regards to spiritual foundation. We should both be on the same page in regards to the relational investment into our community of friends.

Personally, I want to be with a person who shares my paradigm of Church. That's important to me because I'm pretty much done with the old churchian approach to evangelical religion. Ideally, I'm drawn to a person that shares an organic approach to living out a lifestyle of faith and who isn't caught up in the typical "spiritual" routines that are defined by churchian expectations. (Wow, that sounded bitter, didn't it?)

I want to be with a person who is nice. Just nice. Kindness is a lifestyle value that I find hot. I think shared values includes a common approach to interacting with humankind. It's just . . . decent.

I suppose the second leg of a strong and sturdy relationship is being on the same page.

Committed Willingness to Be a Team

Dr. Blair talked alot about how crucial it is for both people in a relationship to be willing to be a team player. The frame of reference should be at "us". What are "we" doing? How does this help "us"? As he talks about it, I imagine that Dr. Blair is talking about commitment. Both individuals are committed to doing what it takes to make "it" work. I can see how frustrating it can be to feel like the other person isn't trying to grow the relationship.

When I'm in a relationship, I don't want to feel like I'm single. I definitely wouldn't want either of us to act like we're single! I'm not describing an unhealthy co-dependency to where neither of us can function without the other. But I am describing a relationship, committed by covenant, where we are joined together.

I'm not looking for him to complete me. But I would want a relationship that is complementary. I want a relationship where we are better together than we are apart. We are better people because we are together. And when we are together, we are THAT much more unstoppable! We're a team!

For me, being a team player includes mutual sacrifice. In a relationship, we want to make it work. If we want to see each other, we work around the details so that we can make it happen. If one has a request, then the other maintains a willingess to adjust without needing to be asked. For me, taking initiative is super hot!

Being a team player, in my book, also includes open communication. I don't think I need to know every minute of the day what he is thinking or doing. But I do want a relationship where I won't have to pry things out of him. I want him to want to share with me the things that are on his heart - whether they be passions or burdens. In this kind of a relationship, I want us to have a sense of safety. We trust each other enough to where we don't feel the need to keep up the wall that we would normally erect for other people.

So the third leg of a strong and sturdy relationship is being an "us".

As I enjoyed breakfast this morning with my friends, one of the things that I began chewing on was the idea that there is a level of intimacy that God reserves exclusively for Himself. As intimate a relationship can be with all three strong and sturdy legs supporting it, there is still a kind of intimacy that my partner cannot experience with me. It's an intimacy with God where I have to cross over and experience alone. Hopefully, he is doing the same on his own!

The key to this idea is that there are some levels of intimacy that my partner is simply not able to meet for me. He wasn't designed to meet that kind of spiritual intimacy that I can only have with God. This frees me (and him) to enjoy and appreciate each other without an unhealthy expectation that only God can meet. My partner doesn't complete me. God does. God completes me. He fills that one space in my heart that is designed for only one key - Himself.

So with all of this said and done, with the insight of Dr. Blair, i'm viewing my approach to dating as a screening process of determining with whom I can have a strong and sturdy relationship that is supported by mutual involuntary attraction, shared values, and a committed willingess to be a team.

I know I haven't dated a truck load of guys. And there are times when I wonder what my problem is - why i'm still single and why I don't date as often as I'd like? But I'm feeling much better about knowing that I'm just not out there experimenting through trial and error to figure out who's out there and what I like. I know what I like. I know what I want. I know what turns me on. Maybe there's nothing wrong with being "picky".

I've got my insecurities - big ones! - but I find relief from the dating anxiety in that I don't have to worry about whether or not I'M good enough or cute enough or smart enough or holy enough or fit enough or perfect enough. I can be a pretty flirty guy. I'm a HUGE flirt sometimes. But I want to know that a connection can exist between me and another guy beyond the fluff of flirt. If a mutual connection doesn't happen, then maybe neither of us has to take it personally. As Dr. Blair puts it, "It's simply a 'successful screening'".

So the questions i'm asking myself now on this part of my journey are:

*How can I maintain this framework with people I might potentially meet locally?
*How can I maintain this framework with people I connect with at a distance?
*What happens when I connect with someone at a distance in a way that has more substance with anyone I've met locally thus far? Do I deny it while using the distance as an excuse? Or do I hold out for someone locally where it'd be "easier" to build something with?
*How does any of this apply to online dating Web sites?

If dating is a screening process that uses the three legs as a framework and assesses suitors for the potential of a good healthy relationship, then the one that lasts and makes it through that process will be "the one". Maybe that's the guy that gets the second or third date! Maybe he's the one who becomes my "we".

[Remember, if you'd like to read the book "Undressed" by Jason Illian with me and others, get it now! I'll be posting about the first few chapters in about two weeks! Click here for more details. ]

A friend shared this one with me that seemed perfect for today's blog post. I totally cried after watching it! Here's Joe proposing to Jason in a column of the Chicago Tribune (click here to read the column):

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

We're Not Done Yet

[Note: Scroll down to see ME giving the commencement speech at my University graduation on YouTube followed by the speech transcript!]

It's been a long six years since 2001. When will I stop marking time by it?

Sometimes the regrets and mistakes of the past can anchor my momentum forward. I can never redo that year. It will never come again. It is the paralyzing memories of that "rock-bottom" time which is why the November-December season has always been a difficult one for me.

Though tethered to that year, the choice to move forward served as my redemption. I could no longer be bound by the past, so God planted in me new vision in order to shift my attention. Upon looking into His eyes, I began to see hope and that is how I moved on from the past. I began walking towards Him, and along that journey I passed the present to get to the future.

The best way to get over the quicksand of looking backward is to keep looking forward . . . .

And that's what I did in 2002. I went to a friend's university graduation and watched her being recognized for earning a bachelor's degree. Prior to this, I had been out of school for 7 years - went to University for 2 1/2 years after high school then stopped due to lack of $$. During the ceremony, I saw myself on stage getting my bachelor's degree. Further, I saw myself being awarded Valedictorian. Additionally, I saw myself giving the commencement speech. I saw all of this and I wasn't even enrolled in school! And I knew that God was speaking to me.

So three days after this, the following Monday, I went in to the admissions office of my friend's university. I filled out an application, was interviewed, arranged financial aid, and I was enrolled for the next trimester which would start in two weeks. On February 25, 2005, I was recognized for earning a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems, with a 4.0 GPA Summa Cum Laude, was awarded Valedictorian of my class, and was given the honor of delivering the student commencement speech for the three-campus graduation ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (See speech below!)

When I think about how challenging the past has been, God always restores my joy by reminding me of the wonders that He performed shortly after those challenges. While 2001 was marked by mistakes, failures and endings, 2002 was marked by grace, vision and new beginnings; 2003 and 2004 was marked by forgiveness, healing and climbing; 2005 was marked by completion, shifting paradigms and new journeys; and 2006 was marked by resolution, releasing and renewed purpose.

In just a few years time, I saw God bring me from a place of shame and closets to a place of acceptance and light. The darkness of the closet inevitably leads to a stubbed toe or a broken leg. As God brought me into the light to reveal myself authentically, I understood unconditional love. I understood just how much God can make good come from horror. I understood the potential of the future in spite of the past.

"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)

So God keeps me forward-thinking.

And what of 2007? It could potentially be a monumental year! How can I dare to seize the year when insecurities plague me with paralysis, remind me of deficiencies, and magnify my sense of loneliness?

I think of my favorite Biblical hero: David. But not David when he was king. I think of David when he was just a young cute shepherd boy who dared to challenge Goliath. Saul told the boy David that he is not capable of fighting the enemy's champion. But faithful David recalled the times when a lion or bear would attack one of the sheep he was tending. In rescue of the sheep, David had killed both the lion and the bear. Goliath would be no different. (1 Samuel 17:33-37). David's faith was strong and confident because he remembered past victories and used them as evidence of God's track record.

Well, the Lord has certainly established a successful track record with me in the countless times that he's preserved my life, fixed my mistakes, forgiven my sins, restored my purpose, and granted me vision. Time and time again, I have witnessed God's wonders and glory in the midst of pain and suffering.

So I enter 2007 without fear, despite 2001. I anticipate struggles. I expect challenges. I prepare for obstacles. But I look forward to the lessons, the victories, and the blessings that will come because I know my God's track record. We cannot stand by on the sidelines when there is too much Kingdom work to be done. God is not done yet. And neither are we.

"Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)

Transcript of my Commencement Speech at DeVry University's Graduation Ceremony, February 25, 2005 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California:

Good morning, to Dr. Dishman and Dr. Chu, to the Deans and Professors, to our families and friends, and to the graduating class of Fall 2004.

This is it! The time has come. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. So many people have invested in us – people who have loved us, cared for us, sacrificed for us, pushed us, and even hated us – but collectively they helped to propel us forward to this day. The time has come. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. But it’s not over.

Now is the time to give up…to give up on the idea that anything, really, is over. This is merely a transition – a part of our process. Most of us will be leaving DeVry. Where we learn may change, but we will always continue to learn…learn new skills, learn about ourselves, learn about the world. Now is the time to realize that we’re not done yet!

Now is the time to give in…to give in to the idea that we can do it…whatever our “it” is…we can do it! We have run this race – we’ve persevered. There are other races to run and to complete and to win. Let us choose to enter that race we call “life” – now is the time to believe in ourselves!

Now is the time to give back…to give back to our university, our family, and to our community. We have something of value to contribute. Let us remember to take that which we have learned and make it useful. Let us find ways to apply the skills and life lessons that we have learned and to sow them back into the world around us. Let’s find a way to encourage our professors; to bless our family; let’s find a way to mentor another person along similar or even different paths. Now is the time to invest back so that the collective return of a better world is reaped by us all.

We have come this far, but not alone. Friends and family, professors and peers, day care and health care, probation officers and loan officers – this day – this thing we did – we did together.

This is it! The time has come. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Let’s say our thank you’s. Let’s say our apologies. Let’s say our congratulations. But let’s not say our good byes. We’re not done yet.

DeVry graduating class of Fall 2004 – see you out there!

Thank you.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Let's Get Undressed!

This isn't my New Year's post. I'm going to lunch with the family soon and i'm planning on writing that this afternoon when I get back, so stay tuned! (Happy New Year, by the way!)

I wanted to give you a heads up about a new book that I'll be reading. My good friend, Becky O in Grand Rapids, Michigan told me about this really awesome book about dating and being an adult single and issues of love and sex from a Christian perspective. The thing is - I've found all those other Christian dating books SO cheesy that I could never get past the first chapter without chucking it out the window. But this one seems different and Becky O affirmed that!

So would you like to read it with us? Go out and get the book if you want to and i'll start posting about it in about two weeks or so and we can discuss it. It'll be fun!

Last week, I read GCB's post about the need for us in the blogosphere to have examples of what healthy relationships look like. I love the way he casts vision and he typically inspires me when he does, so I think this will be a good start for the new year. Besides, a healthy relationship in 2007 for me is something that I definitely look forward to! *grin*

So the book is called "Undressed" by Jason Illian. Here's a summary of the book followed by a link where you can read a chapter excerpt:

"In a world where we don't know whether we're dating, courting, hanging out, living together, or just having sex, Jason Illian exposes the naked truth about relationships.

There is magnificent middle ground between "kissing dating good-bye" and "kissing everyone good night," says Jason Illian, who made waves on 2005's The Bachelorette for his outspoken position on sexual integrity. In UNDRESSED, Illian brings a fresh voice and much-needed perspective to the discussion of sex among single adults as he helps readers apply uncompromising moral principles to their dating relationships.

Can single adults embrace their sexuality without sleeping around? Yes, says this national speaker, budding TV personality, and former corporate executive who tackles the controversial issues that make dating so difficult. UNDRESSED helps single adults uncover their hearts and unleash their passions—without compromising their convictions."

Click this link for a chapter excerpt.