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!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Road Trip Destination: Grand Rapids, Michigan

After visiting Indy last week, we drove up to Grand Rapids, Michigan on August 29th and 30th to hang out with Matt, Becky, Jane and Greg. We had just seen Becky in Louisville for her Ironman and I hadn't seen Matt in several months (when he was in SoCal) so I was way super excited to see them again!

Hehe, you can bet we drove the speed limit until we left the state of Indiana!

We did quite a bit of site seeing and museum visiting throughout our road trip so far, so we loved the idea of going to Michigan without any major plans. We enjoyed Matt's beautiful house, we caught up on some zzz's, we saw Lake Michigan, took some goofy photos (see link below), sampled the best pizza in Michigan, and checked out a gay club . . . .

As we drove in to Michigan, it was so awesome to see the fresh green trees and clear blue skies. Gosh, it's a beautiful state!

Matt let us stay at his place and I've gotta say that it was absolutely amazing. His house is humongous! He gave us a tour and it seemed like every time we turned a corner we entered a whole new wing of the house. Okay not really but kinda. What took my breath away was seeing his backyard. He has a deck that leads to a huge back yard with tall trees and the yard extended all the way back to a small lake with a small pier or dock, ducks and everything! It was gorgeous! There are no dividing walls or hedges between the neighbors so it looks like everyone just has the hugest back yard area and they all share the lake.


So after seeing the place, Michael and I decided that we really didn't need to see any sites or museums in Michigan. Instead we wanted to just relax and enjoy a peaceful couple of days in Michigan. It was, after all, our vacation!

On the first night when we arrived and met up with Matt, he drove us out to Grand Haven to see the pier off Lake Michigan and to see a show called the Musical Fountain. It's weird to see a lake where you can't see the other side. There were even waves that crashed into the pier. Michael almost got swept away! It was like being at the ocean except the water and air wasn't salty. Interesting.

The Musical Fountain was a nice water show with lights and music. It was a fun family atmosphere. After the show, we all got some ice cream and enjoyed the nice evening. Oh and there were tons of stars visible peppering the night sky with a full moon. I had a great time!

Matt's a terrific host and friend. These were week days so he had to go in to work during the day but he let us make ourselves at home. We got to sleep in until we woke up - without the aid of any stinkin' alarm clock. I got up before Michael so I spent some time sitting in front of the lake watching the ducks and then I had a bowl of Cheerios on the backyard deck to enjoy a still and crisp morning.


We took our time getting ready for the day and we eventually met up with Matt during his lunch break. We went to Yesterdog - that hot dog/chili dog hang out that was featured in American Pie. It had been a while since I saw the movie so I didn't realize that the movie was set in East Grand Rapids. So that was cool. I really liked the place though. It felt like being in the bronx (as if i've ever been) but in Michigan. When we arrived there were a ton of customers so the employees squeezed everyone inside hollering their instructions and they just started taking mass orders for food. When it was ready, they'd yell out, 'who had the ultradog?!' or 'who had the two yesterdogs?!' It was awesome! Eventually we got our food and enjoyed our thoroughly unhealthy heart clogging chili cheese dogs.

(And yes, i gained SO much weight on this road trip vacation!!! - ugh.)

After lunch, Matt went back to work. I spent the afternoon at the library catching up on Internet stuff while Michael stayed at the house doing laundry. It was rather nice because it was like living there (for a day). By the time evening came and Matt returned from work, the three of us went over to Becky and Jane's house (which is also gi-normous!) for dinner. Michigan isn't really known for its pizza so at first it seemed that Michigan wouldn't be in our road trip Pizza Wars but then we discovered that Jane makes a terrific spinach artichoke pizza. Yummers! So it'll make the review.

Jane is a super fun gal! She's Becky's room mate. What I love about her is her support for Becky. I first met Jane down in Louisville for Becky's Ironman and it impressed me to see how much of a rock she is for Becky. She not only cheers her on but she walks with Becky in the pursuit of her goals. She keeps her on schedule. She encourages her. She supports her. She reminds her of why she's doing the race. In fact, during the Ironman, Jane literally walked along side Becky during the race for, what?, 13 miles? So Jane got points with me - plus, i love her smile and not to mention the pizza!

It was so much fun hanging out at Becky's place. This was the first time that Matt, Becky and I were in the same place at the same time. Matt and I first met through this blog. He had been reading Two World Collision and it was in an email on September 27, 2005 that he first introduced himself to me as a fellow journeyer. We began a dialogue and stayed in touch and we've been friends ever since! Almost a year after that first email, Matt came out to SoCal from Michigan and we met for the first time. (Read about that awesome time here.)

It was through Matt that I got connected with Becky a couple months later. They were both friends over there in Michigan and Matt told Becky about Two World Collision. We made contact and I soon discovered Becky's awesome heart for the GLBT community as a straight ally. She loves us. Period. Because God loves us. So how can she not? That's what I love about her. "Love Wins" is a phrase she adopted from the church she is a part of out there (Mars Hill). I've written about her before so hopefully by now you know that she is an amazing triathlete. If you can only get to know her, you'll discover that she has a heart of gold. She makes me laugh! We finally got to meet each other just a few months ago. (Read about that awesome time here.)

It's crazy how I developed such good friendships with Matt and Becky separately before me even meeting either of them. It probably helped that the two of them are good friends. But as time went on, we just had a connection. It wasn't that we talked every single day - if you know me at all, my life is too crazy busy to be able to manage that. But it was more that we all had this common thread of relating to the colliding worlds of faith and sexuality and we were each willing to walk with each other (in a way) on that journey. So meeting Matt was awesome. Then meeting Becky was awesome. And it was on this trip that the three of us were finally together at the same time and we were able to take an actual photo with all of us present. If you're gonna know me a bit more through this blog, then you've gotta know that these two people hold a very special place in my heart.

(Cue the 'Awwwww' in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - Go!)


Then there's Greg. Greg inspired me. He's a friend of Becky's and Matt's so of course he's gotta be a good guy. But really, I was inspired by his sincere heart for connecting with "his" gay community. He does so with such love! It was still a week night and Matt and Becky both had work the next day. Greg was planning on going to a club called Diversions for Karaoke night and he invited Michael and I to join him. Since we wanted to see what 'gay areas' were like in different cities along our road trip, this turned out to be a perfect opportunity to see what it was like in Grand Rapids.

It looked like a fun two story club. Upstairs there was a bar and a Karaoke system set up. Downstairs there were several rooms - one with billiards and another with a dance floor. In appearance, I was surprised that many of the guys reminded me of West Hollywood guys. But I was also interested to see that the club overall was pretty diverse. Perhaps it was that particular night or maybe it's like that all the time but there was a pretty good mix of guys, gals, older, younger, mostly white but some hispanic, black and asian.

The thing that really impressed me about Greg was seeing him in his element. He's the guy that is friends with or knows mostly everyone at the club. He had people coming up to greet him and talk with him or catch up with him or schedule a time to hang out. Greg would tell us snap shots into each person's story and knowing those stories added dimension to each person that I was looking at - and that increased in me a sense of compassion. That's what was inspiring to me - the fact that he knew them and they knew him. I saw a sincerity in his interaction with them though. He wasn't simply there "as a witness" (gag). He was there in community with them. He was them. He was there to love. Period.

After leaving the club, Michael and I talked for quite a while processing what we had seen that night and throughout the road trip and what we sensed God revealing to us. One of the things that I had been processing is the fact that I can't do everything that I'd like to do in the community on my own. Seeing Greg helped me to realize that I need someone like Greg here in Long Beach.

I've known for some time now that part of the (Catalyst) vision that God has for me in building bridges to enable community and connections is that relationships need to be developed in the mainstream church community, in the gay Christian community, and in the gay community. For the past several months, I've been investing in building gay Christian community. I think i'm planning on writing more about all that in a future post soon. Years ago before I came out, I started investing in the mainstream church community. After leaving that organization I helped start, my ministry co-partner at the time continued our efforts and still maintains those relationships. I've only touched the surface in building relationships in the gay community.

The thing is - I feel pretty comfortable in continuing to build relationships within the gay Christian community. But it's somewhat awkward for me to try and rekindle relationships I had within the mainstream church community. And I feel like I don't have time to delve into a whole other web of social networks within the gay community (although, i'd like to). So in talking and processing with Michael, I think that God was showing me that I don't necessarily have to try to work within all three communities. If I connect with my old ministry co-partner who has the relationships with the mainstream church community, and if I connect with someone who already has a web of natural relationships in the broader gay community, then the three of us can explore together how we might forge relational bridges among the three communities in the "Hot Zone".

So that's something that I'm still processing and chewing on right now. You may read more about it later.

Our time in Grand Rapids, Michigan was amazing. It was so good to reconnect with friends and to make new ones. If you'd like to see tons of other super fun and goofy pictures that we took here, be sure to check them out here at my facebook album!

Labor Day weekend was approaching and we were preparing for the next leg of our road trip.

Next stop - Chicago, Illinois!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Road Trip Destination: Indianapolis, Indiana

It was time to continue onward on our road trip so we drove up through Northern Kentucky to drop off Jason home in Florence, KY. We were close to Cincinnati so we decided to stop by to try some famous Cincinnati Chili. It was okay. Then we moved on to Indianapolis, IN to see a fellow GCN'er, Haskle, who showed us around his city.

So we were there from August 27th - 28th and we saw some cool sites, a museum of fast cars, sampled fine pizza, took some fun pics (see link below), and got stopped by the Indy State Troopers - aka, the Speed Nazi's . . . .

The drive through Northern Kentucky and Indiana was quite nice actually. I loved seeing the trees and farmland. Northern Kentucky is a bit more hilly so that was cool to see too. It was a very nice drive.

We got to the Indianapolis area and found our hotel. We discovered why it's a good idea to suspect why a particular hotel is significantly cheaper than all the others. The Econo Lodge. It was near the freeway, near a gas station, and near a XXX adult video store frequented by truckers. The pool of the hotel was full of water - green and blue, crusty with critters. The hotel lobby and hall ways had the fresh aroma of cigarette smoke with every door and window marked with a no smoking sign. The carpet was gringy and I could feel the floor cling to my sandals with every step I took. The free internet was available in the lobby only and the work out gym was a small room with some rusted bike machines, dumb bells, and a bench.

But it was a roof over our head, a bed to sleep on, and most importantly, we had internet access.

After checking in to our hotel, we located Bazbeax Pizza, which I saw on the internet somewhere that they were rated #1 best pizza in Indy. So we entered them into our Pizza Wars and will include them in our Mid West Pizza Review. Stay tuned as we will be posting our reviews next week!

The next day, we made our way to Haskle's place to meet him for the first time. He's a fellow GCN'er and apparently the only one in the area that we knew of. Then it happened.

I was in the left lane and traveling a little SLOWER than the flow of traffic. Actually, I was driving at 65 MPH so I thought I was doing just fine. That's the speed limit in Southern California and who even follows that? I passed by an Indiana State Trooper who was parked in the left shoulder and an internal flag went up.

Uh oh, did he see me? Uh oh, he's starting to move. Let's try to hide by changing lanes and going slower.

I squeezed between two small cars to pretend like I was going the right speed - same as everyone else. But our big red SUV between two small compact cars made us stick out like a sore thumb. I watched the trooper begin to gain speed in the left hand lane. Then he approached our location. All the other cars around us slowed to legal speed and started distancing themselves away from us like we passed gas or something as if to point their fingers and say, 'THEY DID IT!'

Sell outs.

The trooper changed lanes and positioned himself behind us. Oh great! Then there was that split second of hope that maybe he was just driving along and he just happened to drive behind us. Then it happened. Hope was shattered as his red and blue lights started flashing.


Michael and I stayed calm. I pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the engine and put the keys on the dashboard. I got my driver's license while Michael found the car rental information. I watched in my rear view mirror as one trooper climbed out of the car like he was dismounting his horse and the other trooper stayed inside his air conditioned vehicle to keep an eye on us. The trooper put on his cowboy-looking light brown and gray state trooper hat and began to waddle toward us side to side with every step imbalanced from the weight of his utility belt fully equipped with gun, hand cuffs, mag-light, baton, tazer, pepper spray, light saber, rope and black berry.

He walked up to the passenger side window next to Michael and I hit the switch to roll down the window. 'Howdy. Y'all know how fast you were going?'

'65', I replied somewhat confidently. What could possibly be wrong with going 65 MPH on the freeway (I thought to myself)?

'The speed limit is 55 miles per hour all throughout the state of Indiana', he said with a drawl.

'Oh', I said with a genuine look of surprise while I heard the wooshing wizz's of cars from the Interstate passing by at 75 MPH laughing at me.

We gave him my driver license and the car rental information. Great. I had a California driver license in a rented car with Texas license plates. What are these two asian bandits running from?

I continued watching in my rear view mirror as he climbed back into his car. By now, i'm sure his partner Tonto ran our plates. They called in our information to do a complete background check - you know, the standard criminal history, credit history, academic history. I think they even checked with my past employers and called my references.

It took them quite a while to do the research so I figured that they were going to write a ticket. If they were going to let me go with a warning, they'd have told us by now. Plus, I saw trooper Adams writing something as Trooper Tonto assisted by holding the eraser. The sucky part is remembering a sign that said something about a $1000 fine for speeding and jail time for reckless driving. Oy vey!

I guessed that they decided not to call for back up because Trooper Adams climbed back off his horse and returned to Michael's window. He handed us a green slip of paper and informed us that he was going to let us off with a warning, that there would be no court fees and no jail time. He also told us that the speed limit is 55 MPH state wide (which is not true) and that we ought to be careful as we re-enter the Interstate to rejoin the flow of law-abiding Indiana drivers.

Whew and thanks and yes sirs were given.

So I continued on down the freeway with my cruise control set to 55 MPH as EVERY single car wooshed by us waving their fists at the slow and crazy asian driver. Sigh. I don't care. I'd rather piss people off by going slow on the freeway instead of paying $1000 fine for speeding because I ignored the grace of a warning and got caught driving too fast a second time. The funny thing is that I saw Troopers Adams and Tonto approaching again, drove right along side our slow butts, flashed the red and blues and pulled over another car. Whoa! They totally would have caught us a second time had we been speeding.

So we laughed at the next guy they pulled over.

We finally made it to Haskle's home and it was great to meet him. He had the day off from work (sort of - we went in with him at the end of the day) so he took the whole day to show us around. Thanks Haskle! We went to the Indianapolis Speedway and Museum. That was hilariously fitting after just receiving the warning from the Speed Nazi's.

We also drove around Monument Circle and took pics of the center of town where this huge structure is located to commemorate the city's war history.

For lunch, we went to Fazoli's which I had never heard of. It was awesome! It's like a fast-food Italian restaurant chain. I've never seen that before. Once they make it to the West Coast, I think they'll bank big time.

Then we made our way to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It was funny because right when we walked through the door, one of the museum staff started talking to us about this fun and interesting piece of art that we could actually touch and that it's an amazing experience. So we ran up to the third floor in search of the exhibit only to discover that the staff guy and the exhibit was "full of air". We walked around and looked at some of the other stuff.

I'm not exactly an art-guy. I don't look at a painting or a sculpture and evaluate it's texture and color and blah blah blah. For me, I like art for what it makes me feel or for how it affects me. I'm looking for something that brings out an emotion from me. So when I go to a museum, i'll walk around hopping from piece to piece and i'll stop if the artwork itself makes me stop. Nevertheless, it was fun to look around, joke around with Michael and Haskle, and move on.

For dinner, we went to Weber Grill. It was nice enough. Haskle and I both fawned over our server and we convinced Haskle to leave a note for him. Yeah, he was pretty cute. He was the one who took this photo of us. You can bet how tempted we were to tell him, 'great, thanks for the photo, now YOUR turn!'

Haskle filled out the customer feedback card and told "Adam" thanks for the great service. Then he bolted out the door before our server returned to see that it was Haskle that left him the lil' secret admirer note. He's silly. Ah, to be in junior high school again!

It was really good to meet Haskle and to get to know him more. I think he and I have a similar sense of humor. I enjoyed connecting with him and hearing more of his story. As we trek through parts of the Mid West, it's awesome to see a common thread in each of our lives - this journey of figuring out what to do with the realization that we are gay but are also very much in love with God. We're not all that different - nor alone.

I've got tons more pictures of our time in Indianapolis. Be sure to check them out here at my facebook album!

Next stop - Grand Rapids, Michigan!