Thursday, September 18, 2008

Coalition of Bridge Builders

Another big collaborative project that I've been working on the past several months doesn't have an official name but the phrase I've been using to describe us is that we are a coalition of bridge builders. The team is comprised of my friends Dr. Becky Kuhn (Global Lifeworks), Andy Marin (The Marin Foundation), John Lewis (Urban Youth Workers Institute), Ed Salas (Newsong Church), Brad Fieldhouse (Kingdom Causes) and also myself (Catalyst Community). We're all bridge building organizations and so the vision of the Coalition is to see the broader Church engage in a productive and safe dialogue regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals within our community.

This means that we are trying to build a bridge between the pastors of conservative churches and the pastors of inclusive churches, help each group to find common ground, and help create a space of conversation that helps us all share Christ's light and love for all people. (Side note: the link to GCN isn't meant as an official endorsement of the Coalition's work (though Justin does support what we're doing!) - its just that I'm using GCN's mission statement a lot in my every day language because I believe in GCN's mission so much that I think it should rightly be applied as a lifestyle in every context. Anyway, just giving proper credit.)

So anyway, back to the Coalition.

In this collaborative project, at times I feel like I am undertaking one of THE most difficult tasks the Lord has called me to do. He's told me to step, and I've stepped, but for me, it's really scary at times . . . .

I have my own baggage and hurts from the conservative Church and I'm dealing with a slew of emotions in this collaborative project - from hurt to resentment to bitterness to gratitude to excitement to hope. There are times when I fight back the tears because there's still much grieving to be done that I never allowed myself to go through back then. I just got busy with new vision and began the new work moving forward and following God, but the reality is that there is still pain deep down from when I was in the closet, being in the Side X culture, and even being patronized and rejected by people within the organization that I helped start.


Ya know, I've been great since coming out, feeling free to be authentic and all. I'm cool. But when the pain resurfaces, it's as if I'm in the closet again and I feel silenced. I'm not at all saying that the Coalition silences me - they do the opposite. I'm just saying that my participation in the Coalition is exciting while also requiring a great deal of emotional energy because I'm experiencing the silencing pain and at the same time being intentional about speaking up. There's a lot of internal wrestling going on while I'm at the table. Not only do I want to ensure that what we're doing is safe for inclusive pastors and other gay Christians, but I want to make sure that it's safe for me as well!

It's not easy to ask someone who has felt abused to be in the same room with those he/she perceives to be the abuser. That's what we're potentially asking inclusive pastors and gay Christians to do in coming to the table with conservative pastors and potentially Side X straight Christians.

That said, the Coalition has been great to me. The team have all shown me respect, patience in my need to build trust, and they have honored my contributions to what we're doing. I am honored to be at the table helping to shape what this Coalition looks like. And despite the stuff going on inside me in order to be at the table, I know that this is the very thing that God has been preparing me for and calling me to.

Here we are, in the Hot Zone - "that place of conversation where the issue of faith and sexuality and God are no longer the taboo subject".

To any of our knowledge, no where else is anyone trying to do what we're trying to do. In other places, there are Side A folks bent on changing Side B folks. There are Side X folks bent on changing Side A folks. But we haven't seen anyone else trying to bring the two groups of conservative pastors and the inclusive pastors together in the same room to talk about the issue that is dividing the Church globally while not having an agenda of one group changing the other group's mind. The difficult thing for our core team is to sift through all the complexities of both groups and trying to find a framework for a productive and safe dialogue for those two groups.

This past Wednesday, the Coalition had our very first event. It was a round table lunch discussion with pastors and leaders from conservative churches. The goal was to help share with them a new perspective regarding the GLBT community, give them an opportunity to share with each other about the GLBT concerns/issues that they are experiencing or are concerned about in their own ministries, and to introduce them to a bridge building framework so that eventually this group could engage in that productive and safe dialogue with the inclusive pastors and the gay Christian community.

The Coalition's bridge building approach is to also have a round table lunch discussion with pastors and leaders from inclusive churches. This will take place on October 8, 2008. The discussion will be similar in that we'll introduce them to the same bridge building framework that the conservative pastors and leaders heard. But we'll also give them an opportunity to share with each other about concerns that they may have for even trying to meet half way with the conservative group.

Our goal with both groups is to facilitate introductions so that they can begin to build trust. As trust develops, we'll bring them together - not to change each other, but rather to hear each other. This will take a process.

So the Wednesday round table event with the conservative group went well. Andy did a great job with sharing research results from his organization's national study on "Religious Acculturation within the GLBT Community". (In fact, to participate in the study, go here.) He was also the one to share the bridge building framework with the group. We then had someone share a personal story (honoring confidentiality here, but the person did an amazing job) to help give this conservative group a new perspective to consider.

While the event itself went well, all in all, internally I think I did fairly well too. I found myself fearful and silent at times. There were other times when I openly talked about my journey. And then there were other times where I intentionally left out details about my being a gay Christian and left it ambiguous because, well, the point of it all was that it didn't/shouldn't matter.

I spoke to someone who was clearly Side X and was not budging. I spoke to someone who was open to new perspectives and was clearly wrestling with them. I spoke to someone who has a heart for the GLBT community. I spoke to someone who felt somewhat conflicted - she wants to love on her gay friend(s) in her church and even would take steps in having her church be more supportive but she's also concerned about how other churches would respond to such things.

There were probably two or three gay people in the entire room which would include me and another Coalition member - and maybe someone in the closet. So you can imagine I had awkward moments. But really, it wasn't that bad. There weren't times when I just wanted to bolt out of the room. There were times when I recognized, "yeah, you're someone I normally try to avoid" but still I stuck around.

Ya know, being a bridge builder is really exciting because it totally forces you to stay out of your comfort zone. It's stretching me and that's a good thing. I ought to set an example so that I can tell others (in either conservative or inclusive group) that it's okay and it'll be worth it. But i'm learning a lot about myself.

One day, I'm going to have to be in the same room as certain other pastors that have profoundly hurt me. I'm not looking forward to that day. But I know, that it will come and I'm gradually getting ready for it. However, what I do look forward to is the day when we can bring all these pastors from both groups together in the same room, introduce and speak with each other, share a meal and prayer together, and then to talk about how we can all work towards sharing Christ's light and love for all people.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

HIV/AIDS Collaborative of Long Beach

One of the big collaborative projects that I've been working on is the HIV/AIDS Collaborative of Long Beach. Representing Catalyst Community, I've been on the core development and planning team for this since last year along with my friends from Global Lifeworks and (my first baby) Kingdom Causes. Together, we've been meeting once per month for over a year to formulate details of what and how we wanted to work within the HIV/AIDS community here in Long Beach.

I can say that the collaborative process is very interesting! We've learned a lot about each other (and ourselves) but through it all we've built a degree of trust with one another. We're all learning to value each of our contributions to the project as we all sit at the same table as a team.

Everyone on the team has contributed to what we're doing. One of the things I'm proud to have contributed is helping to catalyze our direction towards building a mutually supportive community. I'm not interested in starting just another project where "we" (healthy people) help "them" (sick people). There are a number of great programs that already exist and I'd rather not reinvent the wheel.

I wanted something more organic and something more catalytic . . . .

So months ago, I introduced the idea that "the community is the collaborative". In other words, the team is simply there to catalyze the HIV/AIDS community but that it wouldn't rely on the team as the collaborative to host events and so on. Rather, we'd catalyze a community of both HIV positive AND HIV negative individuals to work together, build relationship, and to meet each others needs - regardless of HIV status. This would equalize the community and communicate the fact that we all have value and can mutually give and receive from one another.

What does this look like?

It could be someone volunteering to drive someone else to the pharmacy. It could be someone sitting down with someone else to teach them how to use the computer. It could be someone hanging out with someone else over coffee to get to know one another. It could be someone taking someone else to the grocery store. It could be someone hosting a dinner party. Which of these "someones" and "someone elses" are HIV positive? It doesn't matter! It's not about making HIV positive folks feel like a project and making HIV negative folks feel like they're do-gooders. It's about inspiring a community of both HIV positive and negative individuals to be good neighbors.

I've always believed that it's difficult to really get to know another person in a group setting. Personally, I prefer smaller group things and one on one interactions. However, I also believe that we need a balance to catalyze community.

Here's what I refer to as my organic approach to catalyzing community in a nutshell:

Events are an opportunity to facilitate introductions between people. More events allows people to become familiar with each other. Once familiarity develops, shared interests can be identified and trust gradually forms. As trust is established, people will begin to connect on more personal and casual contexts outside of the events while events
concurrently continue to happen. Relationship develops as people continue to connect. As trust and relationship are nurtured, people will naturally form partnership and collaboration around shared interests and causes. That's when we can organize and mobilize.

In the process where relationship happens, that's where we can educate each other about the facts and realities of living with HIV and AIDS. (I believe this approach to catalyzing community can be applied in any context.)

We had a lunch time event yesterday where we introduced the vision for this kind of community. We had about 25 people there - men, women, families, singles, HIV positive, HIV negative, young, old. It really was quite exciting to cast vision and to see everyone begin to own it for themselves. "We" are the collaborative!

There's much more I'd like to say as there is more going on in terms of pointing people to existing resources in the community; perhaps I'll write more in future blogs as things develop. But for now i'll share with you the official vision and mission of the HIV/AIDS Collaborative of Long Beach.

Our vision is to build a mutually supportive community between HIV positive and HIV negative individuals that cultivates authentic relationships while meeting the physical, spiritual, and psychosocial needs of everyone involved.

Our mission is to:

*Create a safe environment that facilitates open and honest sharing in the spirit of friendship.

*Provide opportunities for people to volunteer, encourage, and acknowledge one another.

*Promote citywide involvement in providing services, resources, workshops, and spiritual support to empower individuals in the HIV/AIDS and broader communities.

I'll try to keep you posted as things progress!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hawaiian Adventures - Day 8

After spending three days on the Big Island, I flew back to Honolulu on Oahu and stayed the night with my dad in Waikiki.

For my last day on the islands, I really wanted to snorkel one last time and go kayaking for the first time (since I missed doing these things when I went on my spontaneous adventure through a Hawaiian jungle in the Waipi'o Valley!). So I got up early and made my way to Kailua Beach to spend the day in the sun and water.

I didn't have a set plan - just that I'd rent snorkel stuff then later rent a kayak. Both would have cost some cash but it turned out that there was an opening for a guided kayak tour around the bay, then afterwards use of snorkeling gear was included (along with lunch). So it turned out to be a great deal!

We had a really cute kayak guide named Andy who was actually a really cool guy. He is from Delaware but had just moved to the island about six months ago. Talk about a great job! He gave us a lil orientation on the kayak and paddling then we took them out to the water.

This was my first time kayaking and I had so much fun! Actually, it wasn't that difficult and I figured it'd be easy to tip over but in my experience it was pretty sturdy. It was a great upper body work out too and Andy says that "I'm not too shaby!" *blush* lol

We took the kayaks out around the bay then landed onto Flat Island where Andy took us on a tour to see the protected bird life there. This island was unique in that it's the only island not formed out of volcanic activity. It's actually more coral reef. So the whole coral island was really pretty interesting. (or is it that Andy made it interesting! *fawn* lol)

After spending a couple hours kayaking, I had lunch and met a nice older married couple from Canada. She highly recommended this place called Prince Edward Island which I'd love to check out for myself one day. Stay tuned for Eric's Canadian Adventures!

Andy recommended a sweet snorkeling spot so I made my way to that part of the bay and went out in the water. While snorkeling, I spotted a turtle! So I followed (more like harassed) the turtle taking photos and video. Be sure to check out the video in my Facebook page!

Since it was my last day in Hawaii, I decided to just lounge around on the beach, enjoy the day, and lay out for a bit. It's not that I really *needed* a tan, but I got one all the same. While laying out, I met this cute cool guy named Tim and we ended up talking for a couple hours both in the water and on the beach. He had just moved to the island a week prior and will be there for a year. He's a civilian that works with the Air Force as an engineer. He's from Rhode Island (and had this cute accent).

I really did not want to leave! But I stretched out my time as long as possible and so I said my good byes to Tim, the Hawaiian beaches, waves and sand, and made my way back to Waikiki to say good bye to my dad.

By the time I returned the rental car and got to the airport, I missed my flight! Fortunately, I scored an alternative flight which was a direct flight to Los Angeles. My other flight would have had my layover in Dallas/Fort Worth. That was a sweet deal!

And for a grand farewell from the Hawaiian Islands, there was a musical group and a guy/girl pair doing hula for airport travelers.

All in all, this was an amazing vacation that gave me some wonderful adventures!

First time experiences:

-First time kayaking
-First time snorkeling/swimming with a turtle
-First time getting a Hawaiian tan!

Check out photos of the day here!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hawaiian Adventures - Day 7

I spent my last day on the Big Island checking out a lil more of Hilo then went to check out Kilauea - an active volcano.

I checked out Queen Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo. It was a beautiful and lush gardens given as a gift from Japan. While there, I went geocaching and found #5 of the trip!

Then I went to see the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory. They have self guided tours where you can peek in and see how the macadamia nuts are harvested, processed, and packaged. Of course they had a store so I bought a bunch of cans to bring back home for peeps.

Afterwards, I made my way to the Volcano National Park where Kilauea is. There I saw many of the volcano craters and the smoke plume coming from Kilauea.

Then I went for a hike in a tropical rain forest surrounding Kilauea's crater and even got to hike through one of the craters inside of it! It was amazing! And a great work out too! My personal trainer would be proud. =P

What an awesome three days on the Big Island! I ascended to over 13,000 feet elevation to the summit of Mauna Kea. Then I descended 2000 feet to the floor of Waipi'o Valley then hiked through a jungle to get to the base of a waterfall. Then I hiked through a tropical rain forest and through a volcanic crater. Wow! So much fun!

First time experiences:
-First time visiting Queen Liliuokalani Gardens
-First time geocaching on the Big Island
-First time visiting the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory
-First time hiking through a volcanic crater

Check out photos of the day here!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Hawaiian Adventures - Day 6

By far, Day 6 was the most adventurous day of this vacation! It was such an incredible day that I'm going to write a separate blog post later detailing the adventure and the journey because there are lots of life lessons that I can extrapolate from the experience.

Here's the abridged rated G version:

My original plan was to drive from Hilo (on the East side of the Big Island) to Kailua-Kona (on the West side) via the northern route around the island while making a stop midway at Waipi'o Valley on the North tip of the island. But I was planning on spending the majority of the day in Kona to snorkel and kayak then go to a luau.

When I got to the lookout at Waipi'o Valley, I saw an amazing view. I got curious so I started walking down a road hoping to take some better pictures and before I knew it I had descended the 2000 foot elevation and I found myself at the valley floor.

In the distance I discovered a waterfall deep in the valley and I began a trek to find the base of it. I soon realized that there was no actual trail to the waterfall.

Then I made the decision that started the adventure - I spontaneously hiked through the trees along the stream figuring it'd be pretty easy to get to the waterfall. I just had to not get caught because it was all private property.

I got deeper and deeper into the valley and before I knew it, I was treading through an actual jungle! I was wearing shorts and a tshirt and I was marching through plant life and greenery and trees that were all taller (and older) than me. There was no real trail. I was just trying to follow the stream whose current by the way got stronger and stronger.

I tread through trees and vines and rocks and huge rocks and then eventually through the water too! I had to keep crossing the stream every time I reached a go-no-further point on each side. I slid down hills, I slipped on huge rocks in the fast current stream, I clawed up walls. It was quite dangerous, actually. On numerous occasions in the water and on rocks and on trees and on the side bank, I fell on my hands, my butt, my elbows, my knees, and my shins. There were times when I could very well have fallen and broken my neck, my leg, or an arm or sprained an ankle. I had dirt all over my shorts. I had dirt in my mouth. I got my shorts drenched in the stream. I got my shoes drenched in the stream.

At one point, I even ditched my tshirt, cell phone, car keys, camera, watch and sun glasses because I couldn't go further with them. I even lost my eye glasses. I was neck deep in water walking along the slippery rocks beneath me with EVERYTHING I had (think about that one for a sec) bundled in my shirt trying to hold it above the water, then it got deeper suddenly and my head went under - and I lost my eye glasses.

I was in the heart of the jungle of this valley, too late to turn back, and I kept proceeding forward for several hours until I finally reached it. The base of the waterfall!

So I went swimming and enjoyed it all! But no camera to document it because I had abandoned it to get there. However, there's a chance that some people I met may send me photos of the falls.

It was absolutely amazing and I'm seriously leaving out really good details about the adventure - saving it for my blog!

So the pics in this album seem like everything was nice and fine but I couldn't take pictures of the crazy crazy parts because i left the camera behind along the rocks.

Along the way, I met a super cute hot buck-naked golden boy from North Carolina (that's all for now, the rest in the more detailed blog to follow later) (i know right? totally random!), and three older ladies guided by a younger gal who had done this before. All the ladies lived there on the Big Island.

Afterwards, when I got back to my car (stinky and filthy) I cleaned up and rushed to Kona (2 hour drive) for what turned out to be an even better luau than the one I went to on Day 1 with my dad in Waikiki. It was really fun!

After the luau, I drove back to Hilo via the Southern route which took 2 1/2 hours. I was exhausted but it was an amazing adventurous day!

First time experiences:
-First time viewing Waipi'o Valley
-First time hiking through a hawaiian jungle
-First time running into a super cute hot buck-naked golden boy while hiking through a jungle
-First time skinny dipping!
-First time standing/swimming at the base of a waterfall surrounded by 2000 foot walls
-First time completely driving all the way around the Big Island

Check out photos of the day here!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Hawaiian Adventures - Day 5

I left Oahu and island hopped over to the Big Island which is actually called Hawai'i. (Honolulu is the capital of the state but is on the island of Oahu).

When I arrived to my terminal at the airport, I was pleased to see a large crowd around some passengers playing the ukulele and entertaining everyone. Two couples were dancing to the music too. Then this older lady stood up and started doing the hula. It was all pretty random but cool!

When I arrived in Hilo, it was raining. Apparently, the Big Island has 11 different climates throughout the island. I got a rental car and found my way to my hostel called Arnott's Lodge & Hiking Adventures. hehe, funny name but by far THE BEST hostel I've ever stayed at. It was clean, had decent beds, various dormitories each with separate rooms that had two sets of bunk beds, free wi-fi, laundry, dvd theatre center, and many more amenities.

At the hostel, I met these two guys from Switzerland. (Yes, they were cute too! If you've been reading up on my past days, you'll notice that I keep meeting some really cute guys. Dunno! But no complaints here!) Anyway, the two are buddies traveling together - they've been friends all their lives and their families even hang out. They both are now at separate universities and so decided to vacation together to spend time. I was like....awwwww!

The hostel was leading a tour to Mauna Kea and so I went along. It was an all day thing because it took time to drive out there, then trek up the 13,796 feet elevation, and by the time we got to the summit we caught the sunset, then had a time of star gazing. It is AMAZING up there! There are numerous astronomical observatories from all around the world at the summit because Mauna Kea is a prime spot to study (and in our case gaze at) the stars and constellations.

For the first time, I saw the band of our Milky Way galaxy. This was also my first time making the trip to Mauna Kea and hiking to the summit. At that elevation, the air is very thin so it's common to be lightheaded, dizzy, and nauseated. But even feeling those things too, I still was able to make the hike to the summit! woo hoo!

I was impressed by how much the hostel's tour guide knew about stars and astronomical facts and current events. We spent some time looking up at the stars and he pointed out the constellations in view for us. He also gave us a history of islander naval navigation using the stars as they traveled around to other islands (Samoa, Figi, Tahiti, etc.) in their canoes.

I also met a man from Orange County and a man from Brazil. Cool guys.

It was a fun first day on the Big Island and seeing the views from atop Mauna Kea was a great start. =)

First time experiences:
-First time staying at a hostel in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai'i
-First time at Mauna Kea and hiking to its summit
-First time being at 13,796 feet elevation
-First time seeing the Milky Way galaxy

Check out photos of the day here!