Thursday, December 19, 2013

a word to my friends about phil robertson...

Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you, my brothers, my sisters, my tribe. I'm writing to conservative, evangelical Christians. I've grown up in your churches, your schools, and your camps. I've worked for your ministries, and I attend one of your seminaries. I sit next to you in the pew on Sunday, and we take the bread and wine together in the Lord's Supper. Like you, I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God, and I believe it is our only rule for faith and life. Like most of you, I believe that the covenant of marriage was instituted by God for relationships of one man and one woman. Like many of you, I was distressed to see A&E bow to pressure and suspend Phil Robertson from "Duck Dynasty" because of his expressed views on homosexuality.

However, my brothers and sisters, I must say this. I've been even more distressed and deeply hurt by many of your responses to Robertson's comments and his suspension.

First, although Phil's comments themselves aren't my biggest concern, I'll address why they still hurt, even as someone who ultimately agrees with him on the biblical view of sexuality. I've seen the response, "Why should they hurt? He was just quoting the Bible." Fair question. Yes, Phil's comments contained biblical references (1 Corinthians 6, for instance), and he correctly stated that homosexual practice is indeed sinful. However, I can't say that his comments were actually biblical. Why not? Because they were neither loving nor gracious. They lacked wisdom. They promoted false stereotypes. Phil's crude anatomical references were not just an inappropriate indiscretion, they painted God's beautiful gift of sex as something else entirely. We're left to assume from his words that Phil sees the main role of sex to be personal gratification. Can we commend a view of sex that reduces women to the usefulness of their body parts in gratifying the urges of their husbands? I reject that. I reject that completely. I reject that because the Bible has such a higher view of the sexual union between a husband and wife. It's a total union, body and soul. It's vulnerability and sacrifice and safety. Yes, it's pleasure, but it's much much more. Phil's comments insinuate that the only thing gay people are looking for is sexual gratification, not the intimacy and self-sacrificial relationship that I hope Phil enjoys with his wife. True, I never plan to pursue such a relationship with another man. I do not believe that is God's will or his design for marriage or sex. However, as Phil went on to describe his views of sin, he essentially equated the longings I have for intimacy and companionship with the sexual desires some people have for animals. It's clear that Phil rightly believes homosexual practice is a sin, but it's also clear that he doesn't understand the experience of same-sex attracted people in the slightest. He may claim to love and respect everyone (and I believe he is genuine in his desire to do so), but I would never feel safe or comfortable sharing my story or struggles with him after reading his comments. Why would I open up to someone who apparently finds my struggles so reprehensible and unfathomable, comparable to both bestiality and terrorism? Phil's comments did contain truth, yes, but they were incredibly insensitive and dehumanizing to anyone who experiences desires for their same gender. This is not how Jesus would have spoken...not even close. You can say a lot of true things, but if you're not speaking in love (the language of our Savior), you're not speaking the Truth. 

Secondly, while I found Phil's comments troubling, I do disagree with A&E's decision to suspend him. We can't have healthy dialogue if our first resort is always to silence and remove our opponents. I agree that A&E's move is a troubling sign for the future ability of Christians to speak publicly about our beliefs. However, as a Christian, I am far more concerned with the responses I have seen on social media from fellow Christians attacking A&E and rushing to defend Phil Robertson. I understand the concern, but I believe this is misplaced fervor. And you know what? I'll be hurts.

The Church would have far more credibility in her defense of free speech if she were actually seeking to create a safe place for vulnerability and dialogue in her own midst. Friends, there is a reason that this blog is anonymous! Maybe I would feel more sympathy for Phil Robertson if I hadn't always felt pressure to remain silent about my story within the very community where I should have felt the most freedom. We can rush to defend people like Phil as the victims in situations like this, but what about the hundreds and thousands of kids and young people and even adults who deal with their various struggles in silence out of fear of what other Christians will say? If we're looking at this from a biblical perspective, are they not the real victims here? The silent victims?

There is a swell of righteous anger when a reality star is suspended for his crude, insensitive defense of biblical sexuality in GQ, but where was this outrage when my friend was fired from his job at a Christian school because a parent found out he was same-sex attracted? Where was the outrage when another friend of mine was thrown out of his house in high school and shunned by his church because he came out as gay? Where is the outrage over the countless teenagers who are bullied (often by Christian teenagers) because of their sexuality? Where are the tears of remorse and contrition over those who ultimately find no hope and end their lives, convinced that no one could ever really love them? Where is our swell of righteous anger, Church?

I have been blessed with a loving family and incredibly supportive friends. More and more people know my story, and I attend a beautiful, grace-centered seminary that reminds me everyday that God is good and Jesus loves me. I have enjoyed blessings far beyond what most people with my struggle enjoy. But when you, my friends, seem far more concerned with protecting the rights of Mr. Robertson to express his beliefs than you are with making sure your brothers who struggle with homosexuality know they are loved, that they have dignity and worth...that hurts. It does. 

I'm not asking you to change your beliefs on the sinfulness of homosexual practice. I share those beliefs, and I'm certainly not changing mine! My convictions here are firm. However, I do ask you to think about the message you are sending when you rush to defend the comments of Phil Robertson.

Jesus didn't die to give us freedom of speech...or even freedom of religion. He died to give us freedom from the bondage of sin and the law. "For you were called to freedom, brothers," Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Gal. 5:13-14) We were not set free primarily so that we could express our opinions and live a happy life; we were set free so that we could love our neighbors--sacrificially--as we love ourselves. Is Phil Robertson free to make these statements about homosexuality? Yes. Are you free to defend him and post #IStandWithPhilRobertson on your twitter? Absolutely. But friends, I would ask you to consider if that is the best use of your freedom. 

Let us follow the example of Jesus. Jesus always moved toward the poor, the broken, and the outcast. He defended those who could not defend themselves, those who had no voice. He broke the social and religious customs of his day to show broken, hurting people that he loved them. The religious leaders said terrible things about Jesus because of the people he spent time with, the people he stood up for. In the eyes of the religious, Jesus was always defending the wrong people. 

If you think Jesus would be shaking his fist at A&E right now for their treatment of Phil Robertson, I'm not sure if you have an accurate picture of Jesus' life and ministry. Wouldn't it be better to imagine Jesus seeking out and comforting the young teenager whose family watches "Duck Dynasty" religiously...the kid who doesn't understand the feelings and desires that he's experiencing for other guys...the child who hears Phil Robertson's comments and only hears further confirmation that nobody could ever love someone like him, least of all Jesus? I believe this is where Jesus would be if he was walking the earth today, and I believe that's where we as his followers are called to go as well.

We will face injustice in this world. Our rights may be infringed upon or taken away. That's been the majority experience of the Church throughout history. Jesus himself was the victim of the ultimate injustice ever perpetrated: a perfect, sinless man crucified for the sins of the world. Jesus wasn't interested in securing his rights. His mission was love and healing and grace and restoration. He was interested to speaking the words of hope and life to a world in despair. 

As your brother in Christ, your fellow sojourner in the faith and one who happens to experience attractions to other guys, please hear these words. Please consider your response to the Phil Robertson situation and other situations like it. Please know that you have many other friends, friends like me, who see your responses and feel deep pain and betrayal. You may not mean it that way, but that's how it is received. Trust me. 

May we all seek to follow our Savior humbly to the all the broken places and people of our world...and may God have mercy on us all.

Grace to you, brothers and sisters, and the peace of Christ,

Love, Your Brother Behind the Mask

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I'm on fall break, ya'll, which means a much-needed week back home in the mountains. This part of the country was created specifically for this time of year. Thursday promises a mess of fried chicken, fried vegetables, biscuits, and apple butter. Friday will feature a hike to the most perfect and beautiful spot in southern Appalachia (just ask me...I'll share), and Saturday will be spent watching college football in one of the biggest and loudest stadiums in the country.

Right now? I'm sitting in my favorite coffee old haunt and former "office"...sipping the best pumpkin-spice latte I've ever tasted. (Confession: I've tasted a lot.) It's one of those cozy gems that's hidden behind a crumbling brick exterior, in one of those tragically beautiful neighborhoods where there are as many couples taking engagement photos as there are people asking you for money. As I sink back into my chair in the corner (and I do mean my chair), I remember sitting in this very spot less than a year ago when I started this blog. Many of my favorite posts have been written right here in this spot.

This is appropriate...because I think it's time to take a break.

I'm running out of things to write as "the Mask." I'm certainly not running out of things to say, but I named this blog after the mask I'd worn my whole life--the mask that hides the fact I'm mainly attracted to members of my own sex. When I started writing in January, that mask was still firmly attached.'s largely a formality. I guess I'm still wearing it (loosely), but too many people know it's me to actually call it a disguise. My story now is less about my mask and more about learning to live without it. 

Basically...I'm ready to write as me. This blog has been a great outlet for me, and I've enjoyed writing it. Writing is very therapeutic for me, and often, I'm in a much better place when I finish a post than when I started. It's also been a great avenue for meeting many of you...many of you who I probably would have never met otherwise. It's also how I met one of my new "real-life" best friends. (Here's lookin' at you, @EleisonBlog).

But this puppy's run its course.

I'll certainly leave this blog online, but over the next couple months, I'll start transitioning to a new blog. There are still just a few loose ends I need to tie up, a few more conversations and a whole lot more prayer, before I start blogging as me. If you want to know when that transition happens, follow me on twitter at @themaskblog1. You can also get in touch with me on the "contact" page above, and I'd be more than happy to let you know.

Until then, thanks so much to those of you who have read, and especially to those of you who have faithfully encouraged and prayed for me...even though you don't even know my name. I deeply appreciate it, and I look forward to hopefully connecting with many of you in the real people...and soon.

God is good, friends. He's not just good when I'm hiking in the mountains on a beautiful fall day with a group of friends. He's also good when I'm sitting on my couch in the dark...lonely, depressed, and discouraged. You and me? We change with the slightest breeze. Our love and affections often come and go depending on how much love we're feeling ourselves, but His love never changes. It never fails. It pursues us, embraces us, kisses us, and transforms us. Radically.

God will be good if I marry a woman and start a family. God will be good if I remain single. God is good...and He will not, can not cease to be good. Because He is good, I know He will provide, no matter the circumstances.

May your hearts be gripped by the magnificent grace of our Savior, and may you experience His peace that passes all understanding.

Signing off, for now...

Your Brother Behind the Mask.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


"Your life is meant for something bigger."

The words jump off the page of my Christian-twentysomething magazine. Jagged mountain peaks soar above the clouds in this full-page advertisement for a new book. A climber perilously perches atop one of the peaks, surveying the scene laid out before him. "Become bold and courageous," the description promises. "Live undaunted." 

I flip a few more pages and find another advertisement, this one for a "seven-month overseas experience." Beneath the words "Live Your Dreams" and a faded picture of a mustached, outdoorsy-looking guy sporting a toboggan and backpack, I read, "Most of our lives we are told to, 'Grow up. Quit dreaming. Pull your head out of the clouds and get a grip." But, what if you truly could live your dreams? Imagine if you could discover your passion, learn how to walk it out, and use it to touch the world." 

Well...wouldn't that be nice?

Please don't hear me questioning the value or helpfulness of these things. I know absolutely nothing about either. However, I can't help but poke a little fun at these advertisements, because they're targeted directly at the fears, insecurities, and vanities of our generation. 

I mean, who wants to be ordinary? Most days I feel like I've had my fill of ordinary. I scroll through my Facebook feed and my Instagram, and it looks like all my friends are living much more exciting and adventurous and meaningful lives than I am. Where am I? Probably sitting in a nondescript coffee shop trying to focus on the stack of books I have to read for class. Or maybe I'm eating another Trader Joe's frozen meal over the kitchen sink. I might be sitting in traffic on the interstate...wondering if I'm just wasting my life.

Everyone else seems to be hitchhiking across Europe...or changing the world...or having babies. I'm not entirely sure what it means to "live authentically," but I'm pretty sure that everyone else is doing that...and I'm not.

Isn't my life meant for something bigger? What have I done this week that's even close to bold or courageous? I didn't even get out of bed until 10:30 this morning. I'm not living my dreams...I'm not even sure what my dreams are. In fact, I feel a little guilty, because it seems like everyone else in my generation has dreams and I'm just trying to hold myself together until Fall Break. 

Here's the crazy/funny/sad part. There are probably people who look at my Facebook and my Instagram and wish their life was as interesting or exciting as mine. Why? Because I'm so desperately insecure about how ordinary my life seems that I put significant effort into convincing everyone (including myself) that my life is indeed interesting and exciting.


[Enter Same-sex Attraction, stage left.] 

Hold the phone! Same-sex attraction, you say? Well, this changes things! Not only is that interesting, but in our current cultural climate, it's incredibly important. Maybe this is how God will make me extraordinary. Maybe this is why people will read my blog posts. Maybe this is why people will tell me my life is meaningful. 

On the record: I don't want all that. I don't want fame. I just want to tell my story.

Off the record: Bullcrap. Hand me that microphone...

This shouldn't come as any great surprise. Trust me, I wouldn't be pulling out this kind of vulnerability on the internet if I didn't believe that you probably know exactly what I mean.

Our generation has tended to spiritualize the extraordinary. Our everyday lives are well and good, but if we've truly been transformed by the gospel, we will do extraordinary things. Well, wait a minute...I actually agree with that. If we've been transformed by the gospel, we will do extraordinary things. I just think our definition of extraordinary is a little out of whack. 

The gospel is extraordinary, ya'll. 

There have been a lot of stories in history about various gods and deities and how mankind can gain their favor. However, in the gospel, we find the only story of the Divine entering our world, our time and space...eating our food, walking our soil, and breathing our air. It's the only story of a God who is willing to suffer humiliation, pain, and death for his people...people in open rebellion against him. It's the only story of a God who loves to rebuild, renew, and restore instead of replace; a God who promises to make everything sad come untrue. 

This is the story of Scripture...and it's extraordinary. There's nothing else like it. When we enter into this story and live it out, extraordinary things happen. Whether we're living it out in the jungles of South America or a suburban office park in South Carolina, we can't live out the radical story of sacrificially loving our enemies without seeing extraordinary results.

In that same magazine I mentioned above, I read a fascinating quote, "When Jesus called His disciples, He didn't tell them, 'Lead others.' He told them, 'Follow Me.'" We're not called to chart our own course. With all due respect to the seven-month overseas experience, Jesus never told us to "live our dreams." He told us to follow Him. Sometimes, following Jesus takes us where we've always dreamed of going. Sometimes, following Jesus takes where we never imagined we'd ever go...only to realize there's nowhere else we'd rather be. Sometimes, following Jesus takes us where we definitely don't want to go.

We're promised that following Jesus will involve struggles, trials, and pain. It certainly won't be easy. We might follow him to the Middle East. We might follow him to inner-city Chicago. We might follow him to the Nashville suburbs. We don't get to say, "God, you've given me too much!" Nor do we get to say, "God, you haven't given me enough!" He's told us to follow him, wherever he leads us...and he promises never to leave us or forsake us. Whether we're in Texas or Tehran, our Savior goes before us, beside us, and behind us, and He has won the victory.

"I may not know the way I go, but oh! I know my Guide."

I don't have to figure out all the plans God has for me. All I can do is trust Him and follow Him day by day. I don't have to order my life in such as way as to allow God to use me. He's got that under control. I'm just called to trust and obey. Trusting and obeying might lead me into a life of epic, non-stop adventures...stuff that everyone will want to read about. Trusting and obeying might lead me to a life of faithful, long-term obscurity...only visible to those who know me. 

Either way, I know this. Trusting and obeying will lead all of us into a life that is truly extraordinary. There's no way around it. Whether you're rescuing slaves in Eastern Europe or making your home a warm, safe, and hospitable place where your children can bring their friends after school...following Jesus is extraordinary, and it will have an impact on the Kingdom. 

And when you stand before the Throne on that glorious day, you will hear those beautiful words: "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

Saturday, August 10, 2013


"I miss coming out somedays for that very reason"

I received this text from another same-sex attracted friend a couple nights ago, and it got me thinking. I'd just told him about a particularly encouraging "coming out" conversation that I'd just had with another friend.

I've  been having quite a few of these "coming out" conversations lately. 14 conversations already this week, to be exact. That might sound absolutely crazy to you. It would have sounded crazy to me a few months ago. I the past 24 hours, I've already told more people that I'm attracted to other guys than I told in my first 24 years!

So what's the rush? Why this sudden burst of self-disclosure?

As I wrote earlier this summer, I'm on the road to being "out." The Groucho glasses will come off, so to speak, and I'll walk in the light of openness and honesty about what God has done [and is doing] in my life. That's a decision I made a while ago, but there were a number of reasons it couldn't happen right away. There was a chapter of life that needed to finish and another that needed to begin. There were a number of people who needed to hear it straight from me before they heard it anywhere else.

I'm not good with gray area. I'm not very patient. I hate waiting. After I decided that I would share my story publicly, the idea of waiting months to do so seemed unbearable. I was tired of the mask. I was tired of living two different stories. I saw "coming out" as a rather awkward, unpleasant process to be powered through as quickly as possible.

Hence...these 14 "coming out" conversations in one week, with more to come. I'm ready to be done with all this. 

That's why my friend's text message gave me such pause. He missed coming out? Why on earth? Here he is, living his life in the open, and he misses the days of double-life and awkward conversations?

But then I reflected on the conversation I'd just told him encouraging "coming out" conversation that made him miss his own "coming out."

The guy who I'd just come out to is involved with the ministry I used to work for. He's a very good friend. I had spent 2 years listening to him and trying to encourage him, love him, and point him to Jesus. Now, a few months later, over pizza, he was listening to me, encouraging me, loving me, and pointing me to Jesus.

I've had many encouraging "coming out" conversations. I haven't had any negative responses, and I've been deeply moved by the love and support shown to me by countless friends and family members...but this guy --let's call him Brad-- Brad took it to a whole new level.

What did that look like? What made this particular conversation stand out among the rest?

First of all, as strange as it may sound...he smiled. He smiled the whole time. Sure, he was just as surprised as anyone else, but his first reaction was to smile. He wasn't being insensitive or callous. He didn't think anything was funny, but he was instantly moved by the power of what I was sharing. He knew what it meant that I was telling him this. When I saw his smile, I didn't see someone glossing over the weight of my story...I saw someone grasping the full beauty of my story, difficulty and pain included. His smile said that he was glad I was sharing this with him, that he knew God was sovereign, that he was hopeful about my future...that this didn't change the way he saw me at all. 

Brad's smile as he listened to my story made a big difference in how I told it. I told my story with more hope...more thankfulness. I felt the freedom to tell the harder parts of my story, because I knew he was looking at the bigger picture. It reminded me that despite all the challenges, my story already has a happy ending that can't be rewritten.

Brad listened, he smiled...occasionally he'd shake his head in amazement. He asked questions...good questions. He wondered aloud how hard it must have been for me to live with that secret.

I told him about the impact Wes Hill's book, Washed and Waiting, had on me...and before I could even think to suggest it, he asked me if it would be a good book for him to read, to help him gain a better understanding of the struggles faced by same-sex attracted Christians. He wanted to learn read more. This showed me his support. It gained even more of my trust. It let me know just how valuable he saw my story to be.

There's a place for tears. There's a place for sorrow and weightiness. There's a place for challenge and exhortation, but Brad's simple, authentic response communicated so much to me in that moment.

It said that he loved me, but it also said he respected me. It said he wanted to enter into my story's framework rather than try to fit my story into his framework. It said he didn't see me as someone to be pitied, but rather, someone he could learn from. It said he wasn't weirded out by what I'd just told him...and that I was free and safe to share more.

It reminded me that at the end of the day, my story is not a tragedy. It's a story of hope. It's a story of light. It's a story of Redemption

I've been blessed with so many of these conversations this week. I only have the space to talk about this one, but that's not to say the others haven't been just as encouraging or moving. The more I see friends respond with smiles, with interested questions, with affirmations of love and proves to me that these friendships were not fake after all. The lies that my heart had told me for so long were false. My friends didn't just love my Mask; they loved me...and when my mask came off, that love for me continued...even deepened.

For the first time, I'm experiencing what it feels like to be truly loved and truly known. It's a lot like being loved by Jesus, and it points me right back to His Love. 

So I think I'm starting to understand what my friend meant when he said he misses coming out. These are special days I'm living in. This is such a cool period in my life. It's not a time to be rushed and hurried through. It's not a time to be characterized by awkwardness and shame. It's a time to be characterized with a smile--like Brad's smile--with embraces and words of support, like so many embraces and words I've received this week.

These are moments to be cherished...moments to soak in. For the first time, finally, the love of my friends and family has breached my heart's defenses. It's flooding in. It's filling all those dusty places and dark corners. It's pointing me right back to the love of my Savior, the love that's always been there...the love that's always seemed too good to be true. 

I'm moved to thankfulness. I'm fully aware that the support and love I've experienced is not true across the board for many people in my position. Far too many find rejection and fear when they share their story. Instead of being pointed to their Savior, they're pointed away. They're told they have to be fixed before they can be loved. They're told they don't belong...and they believe the lies. They start to believe that Jesus feels the same way. (If this describes you, I'd love to talk more.)

I'm so thankful for the love and support of my friends and family. It's my desire, my passion, my prayer that more and more brothers and sisters would experience this same kind of love from their communities. We need this love. We need to learn how to show this love, and we need to learn how to receive it. This love changes lives. 

These moments of "coming out" have drawn even closer to the heart of God, my Father, my Daddy. The day is coming, blog readers, when you too will know my identity and hear my full story...but I'm in no rush. I'm soaking in these moments. 

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

Friday, August 2, 2013


Let's talk about me.

I mean, really...why stop now?

Let's talk about me.

Okay, well obviously, this is a blog. It's my blog. I write it. I'm a Millennial (not to mention a human-being), and it's going to be about me. I want to write about me...what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see.

(Sorry. That's the first and, hopefully, the last time I channel Toby Keith...but I make no promises.)

Surely none of you are too surprised that the primary topic of this blog I don't apologize for that. But when that self-focus overflows from the blogosphere into my real-life relationships...that's when a great deal of repentance is needed.

I'm an INFJ. I like talking about my feelings, and my feelings and I are pretty tight. We interact often. We have open lines of communication. The problem comes when I try to include everyone else I know in that party-line of my inner dialogue.

Don't get me wrong...we all need to vent sometimes. We need friends who will listen to us when we just need to rant and get things off our chest....or just verbally process something. Absolutely. I'm blessed to have friends who will "listen to me bitch," so to speak.

But somehow, the vast majority of my conversations, like my blog posts, tend to revolve around me...what I think, what I feel...what I think and feel about what I think and feel. Convinced that such vulnerability is healthy, I talk and talk while my friends patiently listen, ask questions, offer thoughts and feedback. Sometimes I'll sense that things are getting one-sided, and I'll ask some token questions about what they think. But invariably, their responses will remind me of something else I was thinking about, and boom...we're back on the ME-train.

I'll cut myself some slack. I am processing through a lot of stuff right now. I'm still coming to grips with what it means to live as a same-sex attracted Christian. I'm learning the dance of attending seminary while simultaneously being attracted to my same gender. I'm struggling to trust that God has indeed called me to full-time ministry and anxiously wondering what the ordination process in my conservative Presbyterian denomination will look like for me. Throw in the loneliness and battles with shame, and sure...I suppose I do have a lot to talk about.

I could talk to you for hours about what the Church can do the Church can love me better. I could produce a whole list of ways that my friends and family can love, serve, and support me as I deal with the implications of life as an evangelical, same-sex attracted pastor-in-training. Basically, I'm an expert at telling you how you can love me better.

But you know what I'm not very good at? Loving the Church...loving the world...loving you.

I'll gripe about how hard it is to find my place as a single man in my church, but I avoid service opportunities like the plague.

I lament the possibility of never having children of my own, but whenever my church asks for nursery volunteers, I'm oddly M.I.A.

I love to see myself as a victim...even a martyr! But I consistently numb myself to the suffering of millions around me. I forget about those who are hungry, sick, and oppressed. I forget those whose very lives and loved ones are at risk because of their faith in Jesus.

I talk about how much I need and want community, but when push comes to shove, Netflix is one of my closest, most trusted friends. #1 on my speed-dial, if you will.

I long for close friendships, but I forget that friendships are two-way streets.

I'm quick to demand sacrificial love, but so painfully slow to offer it myself.

You know, there are a number of things the Church could do better in regards to loving singles and especially gay people. I think that's an important conversation to have. I also think it's an important conversation for my friends to know how they can love me better, but we must be having the same conversations about how I can love them better too.

A self-absorbed life is a miserable life. I spend way too much time rattling around inside my own head, analyzing my thoughts, questioning my analysis, lamenting my lack of growth, wallowing in my mess. I need to break out of my bubble, my petty web of needs and insecurities...and learn how to love.

I love this C.S. Lewis quote: "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." Wow...right?

I'm not saying it's wrong for me to desire love and friendship. I'm saying it's wrong for me to sit around waiting for love and friendship instead of going out and looking for ways that I can love other people like Jesus has loved me.

Maybe a married friend needs help running errands. Maybe the young parents next door need someone to watch their kids so they can have a night out together. Maybe that guy who always sits alone at church needs someone to talk to. Maybe the church needs me to use my spare time and resources to serve her various ministries. Maybe the church needs me to start a new ministry to meet that need I'm always griping about!

Maybe my wonderful, patient friends need me to stop talking about how much I love them...and simply listen to them for a change. 

I'm a slow learner...but I'm learning. I'm learning to listen, and I'm learning to love. I still have a long way to go.

I think it's time for me to stop asking what the Church can do for me...and start asking what I can do for the Church.

I'll need a whole lot of grace for that endeavor, but His grace is sufficient...and it never runs dry.

Your Brother Behind the Mask

Saturday, July 20, 2013


It was a little after 9:00 on a cold, Chicago winter night. Our college group was spending a week serving, learning, and living on the city's South Side with a local ministry, and we had just finished dinner at a couple's home. As we walked the few blocks back to the ministry's office, a woman came around the corner. She gave us one look, and, in a low voice, she warned, "You boys watch out. There's a cop back there." 

I was confused. Watch out? For a cop? Why did we need to watch out for a cop? In fact, I felt safer knowing that cop was there, know. We were a group of white kids wearing expensive clothes walking through a black neighborhood late at night. Surely we weren't the ones the cops should be looking out for!

But then it dawned on me. I remembered what the ministry staff had told us earlier that week. White kids from the suburbs do come to this inner-city neighborhood on a regular basis. They come to buy drugs.

It suddenly made sense. I wanted to turn around and chase down this woman. I wanted to say, "Wait a minute! You have it all wrong! You think that we're here to buy drugs...just because we're white? As if that's the only reason we'd ever be in your neighborhood?"

Those words that I wanted to say, those perceptions and assumptions I wanted to all stuck with me for a few days. It made me uncomfortable, but as I reflected on that discomfort, I realized that it was temporary. It was limited. It was localized. At the end of the day, it didn't really impact my life.

In just a few days, I would be leaving this neighborhood and returning to my life in the majority. I would return to no longer worrying about society pre-judging me and my motives by the color of my skin. Store clerks would not watch me any more closely than anyone else when I went shopping. People would not lock their car doors when I passed by. Overzealous neighbors would not follow me with a gun when I walked around my neighborhood.

My mom never had to have the talk with me about how to avoid being seen as a threat simply by existing somewhere. I've never thought twice about getting into an elevator with a white woman...or anyone, for that matter. When driving through the gate of my Christian college after midnight, my friends and I could hold up slices of cheese instead of our school ID cards, and the security guard would simply wave us through, chuckling.

As I reflect on the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, I'm realizing just how much I don't understand. 

It's one thing for me, as a white man, to say, "this isn't about race!" It's another for me to realize that for thousands of my fellow Americans and brothers & sisters in is most definitely about race. It's one thing for me, as a member of the majority, to say, "I don't care what color you are! It makes no difference to me!" It's another for me to realize that many of my fellow Americans and brothers & sisters in Christ care very deeply about what color they are...that it makes a very big difference to them.

It's one thing for me to say, "Justice was served! It was a trial by a jury of peers! Let's accept the decision and move on." It's another for me to realize that, regardless of the trial's legitimacy, the verdict does nothing to calm or assuage the deep-seated fear and pain of these fellow Americans, my brothers & sisters in Christ. If anything, the verdict confirms those fears, it intensifies the pain, and my callous words of color-blindness only spit in their wounds. 

If I'm going to love my brothers and sisters of different races, I don't need to explain and argue to them why I'm not prejudiced. I don't need to tell them why my words weren't intended to be hurtful and why they should give me the benefit of the doubt. I need to be quiet. I need to reflect. I need to pray. I need to cry. I need to sit beside and stand in solidarity. I need to listen. I need to listen a lot. I need to keep listening until I think I can't bear to hear anymore, and then I need to keep listening. 

Then...maybe then...I can speak.

I don't understand prejudice. I don't understand race relations in America. I can't understand the depth of pain and fear and anger generated by George Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict. I don't know what a black mother feels now every time her teenage son walks out the door.

But I can't be content to sit here in this lack of understanding. I must listen, I must ask questions, and I must learn. I must be willing to admit that I've been blind, that I've been callous...that I've been wrong. I must let myself be shaped by the love of our Savior, love that isn't color-blind, but love that sees and values the beauty of diversity he created...diversity that leads us to greater unity. 

I'll admit, as I move towards greater openness with my story as a same-sex attracted Christian...I fear some elements of prejudice myself. You may be aware of the stereotype that gay men have a far greater tendency to be pedophiles. This stereotype, as false as it is, has already left deep scars on my soul. "Maybe I can't be trusted," my subconscious whispers. "Maybe I am just a sex-obsessed reprobate." What will people think if I sign up to serve in the nursery or with the youth group? As I deal with the deeply painful prospect of never raising and loving kids of my own, I find myself avoiding opportunities to love and care for other people's kids for fear of being misjudged or drawing suspicion. Now yes, of course, I am a sinner. I am capable of just as much sin as you are, and I must rely on the grace of Christ just as much as you do, but this stereotype has slowly led me and many others to believe the lie that we're much more capable of sin than anyone else. Not only are we more broken...we're more dangerous.

I want to be very careful about equating my experience with that of racial minorities in this country. But I do want to add my voice as we speak about the deeply painful impact of harmful stereotypes. For a black man to have to explain why he doesn't want to shoot or steal from you...for a gay man to have to explain why he doesn't want to molest your kids...can we get a sense of the deeply dehumanizing effect that can have? 

There's a lot I don't understand about racism and racial prejudice, but I want to learn. Before I speak, I need to listen. Before I claim my innocence, I need to consider where I might be complicit...or even guilty. I need friends of different races and cultures who can tell me their stories, who can teach me, who can show me different aspects of the gospel that I've never seen.

I humbly ask for the same thing as the Church moves forward in its conversation on sexuality. I ask you to listen. I encourage you to build friendships with those of different sexual orientations, not to prove that you hang out with sinners like Jesus did, not to preach and convince, but to love and be loved yourself. Whether or not your beliefs or political positions change, you will be able to engage in the conversation in a way that truly reflects the love of our Savior. You will no longer just speak theoretically of "gay people," but you will have names and faces and stories....names and faces and stories of people who you love and who love you back.

As I do the same, as I seek out friends of different races and ethnicities, when I discuss the Trayvon Martin case, I won't just think of a generic "them." I will think of names and faces and stories and tears. I will think of people I care about so deeply that their pain becomes my pain.

Christians are called to identify with the outcast, to stand with the oppressed and seek justice.

We're called to weep with those who weep, to mourn with those mourn. Right now, the African-American community is mourning. It's hurting. What will our response be, people of God?

Let's start by listening.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

***In the spirit of this post, I welcome your feedback. If you feel that something I've written lacks sensitivity or understanding, if I have a blind spot...I'll be the first to admit that I don't always understand. I welcome your thoughts and challenges, either in the comment section or via email at 

Thursday, July 11, 2013


"I struggle with same-sex attraction."

These words have rolled off my tongue quite a few times over the past year. As I share my story with a growing number of friends and family, the hardest part has actually been figuring out what words to use to describe...well...this part of my story. There is a lot of bulky language and creative verbal tap-dancing to avoid labeling...well...the issue? Ordeal? Condition?

The label I finally settled on was "same-sex attraction." This is a very clean, scientific sounding term. It sticks to the basics and makes no assumptions. I am a person who is attracted predominantly to persons of my own sex. That about covers it, right?

Lest anyone get the idea that I'm okay with this arrangement, I've usually added the words, "I struggle with" to my description. See, I'm not just same-sex attracted...I'm fighting it. I'm dealing with it. Don't worry, I hate this part of myself just as much as you do.

That's what I'm trying to tell you when I say I struggle with same-sex attraction.

But is that right? Is it really a struggle? What does that even mean?

[Okay guys, I'm about to do something all of my college professors hated, but at least it's not in my introduction. Get ready...]

Merriam-Webster (ah there it is) gives the following definition of the word struggle: "to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition." Also: "to proceed with difficulty or with great effort." Both of these definitions describe different parts of my life...but do they actually describe how I relate to my same-sex attraction?

Let's take the first definition...strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulty or opposition. I do see this kind of struggle in my life. I struggle with idolatry. I struggle with arrogance and pride. I struggle with lethargy and gluttony. I struggle with lust.

How about the second definition? Proceeding with great difficulty or effort? I have plenty of this kind of struggle to go around too. I struggle with insecurity. I struggle with my appearance. I struggle with loneliness. I struggle with the messiness of community. I struggle with fear and anxiety.

But none of this answers my question. Do I actually struggle with that fact that I'm attracted to other guys?

I don't think so.

It's not something I ever chose for myself...nor would I if given the opportunity. But it's there, whether I like it or not. It's been there--for as long as I can remember--and if the studies are right, it's probably not going anywhere.

You could call this my sexual orientation. In fact, it'd probably be helpful to call it that...because I'm pretty sure that's what it is.

I don't struggle with my height. I don't struggle with my skin color or my ethnicity. I don't struggle with the color of my eyes, the sound of my voice, or the size of my feet. I don't struggle with my family of origin. I don't struggle with the fact that I'm an INFJ. I don't struggle with the fact that I'm a man.

I didn't choose or decide any of these things, but they all impact my life--to various degrees. The part I sing in choir, the shoes I buy, the position I play in basketball, the high blood pressure that runs in my family, the privilege I have in modern American society...all of these things are impacted by forces outside my control, for better or for worse.

You could say these things are part of my identity. None of them encompass who I am, but all together, they start painting a vivid picture of what it means to be me.

At the end of the day, our sexual orientation--who we are naturally attracted to--is one of these integral parts of who we are. It doesn't define us, but it has a dramatic impact on our lives and relationships. If you're straight, the fact that you're attracted to the opposite gender plays a pretty important role in your I right?

So why do I insist on referring to my sexual orientation in the same way I refer to my unhealthy diet or a sinus infection? Is it a bad enemy to be conquered? Like every other part of who I am, my sexuality has been bruised and broken by the Fall, but also, like every other part of who I am, it has beauty, it has purpose, and it is being redeemed. 

I wrote a post back in February (check it out's one of my favorites) about coming to grips with my sexual orientation, about the first time I was able to write the words "I'm gay" in my prayer journal, and about the freedom and relief it brought me to pray those words.

But here's the thing...those words have stayed in my prayer journal. They haven't escaped the leather bound cover [except in the picture above...but you get my point] You see, I'm still torn about the word "gay." It's taken on all kinds of meaning and connotations in our society. It's packed with mental images and assumptions. Many of these assumptions are unfair and based in stereotype, yet there they are. People hear me say, "I'm gay," and they assume I want to date, marry, and have sex with a man. Some will hear me say, "I'm gay," and no matter how well they know me or for how long, they'll see me as part of an agenda...aligning with the enemy.

There will be churches that will not hire me, simply because of those two little words.

That makes me anxious...and it hurts.

Because honestly, saying "I'm gay" says no more about my lifestyle than someone saying, "I'm straight." Your grandmother and Kim Kardashian might both be heterosexual, but that's likely where the similarities end.

My "gay lifestyle" probably doesn't look too different than that of many single, straight, Christian guys in their mid-20's. I watch football. I hike. I shop at Goodwill. I eat frozen pizza and lots of peanut butter sandwiches. Grabbing a beer with a few friends is my idea of "night life." My room's a mess. I'm not a good dancer. I listen to Mumford & Sons. I've never had sex. I go to church every week, but I don't read my Bible nearly as much as I should. I'm not saying any of this makes me better than anyone's just who I am. I'm gay, but I might not fit your stereotype.

I don't struggle with being "gay."

I do struggle with the implications of being gay, especially since I believe the Bible says that to act on my attractions would be contrary to God's will.

I do struggle with the loneliness that comes with singleness. I do struggle with the fear of what a life of singleness could look like. I do struggle with the shame of believing my brokenness is somehow worse than everyone else's. I do struggle with the insecurity that comes from living life behind a mask. I do struggle with anxiety in my friendships with other guys, always afraid of getting too close. I do struggle with anger when I hear fellow Christians make hurtful, ignorant statements about gay people. I do struggle to keep my heart pure...just like every follower of Jesus.

My identity is not found in my sexual orientation. I am not defined by the fact that I'm attracted to guys. My identity is found in Jesus Christ, and I am defined by His record. He is the foundation, the rock that the rest of my identity is built on. 

There are many different parts of my identity, many different facets that make up who I am. My sexual orientation is one of those parts...and it's an important one! But my identity is centered and built on Jesus. Each and every aspect of our identity is subject to His authority. My sexuality must be subject to Jesus, just like yours must. As I seek to take up my cross and follow Him, I believe that means laying down my sexuality at His up my desires, ever for a committed, monogamous same-sex relationship, and trusting that He is sufficient.

That is not easy. It's quite difficult, actually*, and it's rather controversial too. It's a struggle. 

So no, friends, I don't struggle with my same-sex attraction. I struggle with living faithfully as a child of the King. 

And that's what we all struggle with.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Breaking the Rules.

We were smack-dab in the middle of a sweltering Southern summer. No matter how bright the sun was shining (and it was bright), you still felt like you were swimming every time you stepped outside. It was that thick, wet, suffocating heat that makes you wonder how people even breathed below the Mason-Dixon Line before air-conditioning was invented. 

My high school basketball team was attending a week-long camp at a nearby Christian college, and we were making the daily trek from the dorms to the gymnasium...wearing long pants.

Yep, you heard me...long pants. Summer. Southern. Sweltering. All-guys Basketball Camp. Long pants. 
At least modesty in sports has improved over the years...

The college that was hosting the camp had a very strict policy that men could only wear shorts in their dorm rooms and on the basketball court. Maybe they knew something about legs that we didn't, but needless to say, the rule seemed a bit oppressive.

So just how serious were they about this policy? 

Well, let's just say that the emergency evacuation procedures, clearly posted in every dorm room, spelled out that in case of emergency, everyone must be dressed in proper "street attire" before exiting the building. It seemed they'd prefer us burn in a dorm fire than burn in eternal hell fire for letting a lady firefighter see our shapely calves. [slight exaggeration perhaps?]

Of course, I realize having to wear pants for one week of summer is nothing compared to some of the overbearing standards imposed on women year-round in the name of "modesty." (See this article and this "modesty heart check"

Guys have it easy. We really do. The usual line is that guys are wired to be visually stimulated, and therefore, it's the woman's job to keep her brother from stumbling. Meanwhile, guys are typically let off the hook, free to wear just about whatever they want (except at this particular college, where lower-leg nudity is still frowned upon)

Brett Harris wrote about this double-standard recently on the Rebelution blog, in an article called, "The Other Side of Modesty." His conclusion: "If girls should be modest, so should guys...If girls should consider their brothers in Christ, guys should consider their sisters in Christ." On one hand, this could be seen as refreshing. Finally! Guys are being held to the same standards as girls! If girls have to cover up at the beach, then so should guys! If girls are expected to do "modesty heart checks" before leaving home each morning, then maybe guys should consider their motives for wearing that small v-neck instead of the medium crew-neck. 

Upon further reflection, though, is Harris' solution really that refreshing? Is it even a solution, or is it actually part of the problem? Instead of shaming and sexualizing only women's bodies, are we not just doing the same thing to men?

We're reducing modesty to a culturally-influenced dress code, placing the blame for lust on the one lusted after, and buying into the lie that our bodies are inherently shameful and sexual rather than beautiful and glorifying to the Creator who designed them. 

Brett's article also brought something else to light in this discussion...for me, at least. Modesty is usually discussed in a very binary, black-and-white manner. Girls, consider your brothers. Brothers, consider your sisters. Ladies, guys are lust-machines, so watch what you wear. Gentlemen, show the ladies some respect and keep your britches up. 

But what about brothers and sisters who are not attracted to the opposite gender...brothers and sisters who find more temptation with members of their own sex? We can't just ignore it and pretend it's a rare exception to the rule. It's real. It's relatively common. It kind of changes our conversation. 

Back to basketball camp...Wednesday night was swim night, but of course, "mixed bathing" is a big no-no. (Could there be a more awkward name for something so non-awkward?) There were some other co-ed camps running at the same time as our basketball camp, so guys and girls were each assigned specific time-slots to use the swimming pool. The pool was surrounded by a very high wall, and behind the privacy of this wall, we could wear shorts AND take off our shirts! [gasp]

This extreme separation of the genders betrays an assumption that I believe is far more widespread than just this college. The thinking goes like this: when in the presence of the opposite sex, one covers up to prevent the temptation of lust. However, when in the presence of only one's own gender, such covering up is unnecessary. If the goal is to remove the temptation of lust, we're assuming that there's no such temptation in a gender-segregated environment. This, of course, is simply untrue.

For these kinds of modesty rules to make any kind of sense, we have to assume that same-sex attraction either doesn't exist or that it's an extremely rare anomaly. What was the responsibility of the other guys at the pool? They had no idea I might be attracted to them. (Heck...I was still in denial myself.) If one of them caused me to "stumble," where does the fault lie? If we're truly trying to remove the temptation of lust, then we either have to pretend that guys like me don't exist...or require guys to wear shirts in the swimming pool. And if we're taking this to the logical conclusion, we can't just limit it to the pool. What about living arrangements? Dorms? We again have to either deny that guys like me exist, isolate us in separate quarters, or require all guys to remain fully clothed at all times...even in their rooms. Do we see the absurdity of all this?

Let's leave high school now, fast-forward through college, and arrive at last year. I'm staying in the same hotel room with three of my good guy friends. These are guys that I love, trust, and respect. Guys that love Jesus. These guys are the first peers that I've decided to come out to. Our conversation that afternoon is incredibly encouraging. They listen well, they ask thoughtful questions, and they assure me of their continued love and friendship. They encourage me about the role my story can play in the Church, and their prayers for me bring tears to my eyes. They said all the right things, and they said them well.

But it wasn't just what they said that was so encouraging...their actions spoke far louder than their words. That is to say, their actions didn't change. They didn't treat me any differently. Back in the hotel room, they weren't afraid to change their clothes in the same room or even share a bed with me. They might not have even thought twice about this, but the message I received was one of trust, love, and acceptance.

Now what would the Modesty Police have thought about this? If I was a female, my friends' lack of "modesty" would have been quite inappropriate...not to mention sharing a bed! Now, of course, I'm not a female (important difference), but if our motivation in modesty is always keeping our brothers and sisters from stumbling, why were my friends' actions any different?

Because the alternative would have been isolation. It would have meant further confirmation of my otherness rather than my sameness. It would have said "You're definitely not a woman, but you're not quite a man. We're the same biologically, but you don't really belong here." But wouldn't that alternative have been the loving thing to do? Wouldn't that have protected me from temptation? If you're one of the Modesty Police, and the elimination of temptation is your top there any other option?

What did my friends' response communicate? It communicated that they saw me as one of them, still one of the guys, a brother. It communicated that they trusted me, and that they trusted Jesus. It communicated that they were committed to me...that they weren't going to let me go.

So many of our modesty rules are built around this core idea that we can eradicate temptation, and if we eradicate temptation, we can live holy lives. But we can't escape temptation. Even if you throw out your TV, cell phone, and computer...even if you never leave home, never see another person can't escape temptation because you can't escape yourself!

The best way to fight the battle with lust is not shame, fear, and hiding. It's relationship. It's friendship. It's community. For heterosexual guys, it's seeing women as beautiful sisters in Christ, sisters with gifts and talents and passions and a story....not just bodies. When we focus on covering up and hiding the body, we only draw more attention to it. We quietly feed the lie that bodies are sex objects...and shameful. We say "SEX! Don't think about SEX! Stop thinking about SEX! Why are you thinking about SEX? Why can't you stop thinking about SEX? Stop thinking about SEX! You're still thinking about SEX!"

For me, as a same-sex attracted guy, I must be able to see other men as my brothers in Christ. We have far more in common than we have different. This brotherhood happens the same way it does for most guys: friendship, vulnerability, accountability, common work, and shared basically, community. Pursuing this kind of community is not without its dangers. The rules of modesty and propriety, designed to keep the genders safely separate, also do their work of separation when applied to male friendships. My heart is an idol factory, and it will always be looking for something--or someone--to idolize.

What I'm trying to say is this: if I'm going to have friends, if I'm going to have community, I can't just run away every time I'm attracted to another guy. That's not the gospel. That's a recipe for a desperately lonely life, cut off from the life-giving Body of Christ. No, I have to separate attraction from lust...and learn to tell the difference. I must certainly guard my heart, but I can't guard it so tightly that I never let anyone inside. I must faithfully pursue holiness and purity in all areas of my life, including my sexuality, and I must believe and rest in the fact that Jesus has paid it all.

If my friends make it their priority to keep me from stumbling, they will keep me at arm's length. They won't let me into their lives; they won't let me feel like I'm one of them. They will keep their guard up. However, if my friends make it their priority to love me, they will respond like these guys did. They will welcome me in and let me know I belong....that I'm one of them. They will let me serve and love them as brothers...just like they serve and love me. And when I do stumble, they will be by my side to walk with me through it...and I too will be by their side when they stumble.

Modesty rules as a means to prevent temptation ultimately can't least not with any kind of sustainability. These kinds of rules lead to pride, judgment, anxiety, and shame. They work against community because they divide and separate. They point fingers and lay blame. They send the message that people are sexual bodies to be covered rather than images of God to be loved and appreciated. Modesty is not about what's on your body, it's what's in your heart. Of course, what's in your heart will ultimately affect what's on your body, but we must stop judging people based on outward appearance.

We must stop blaming our idolatry on our idols.

Instead of trusting our dress codes, we must start trusting Jesus and His finished work for us on the Cross. In that freedom, we can appreciate and rejoice in the beauty of those around us, seeing that beauty as a testament to our Beautiful Creator.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

Sunday, June 23, 2013


My heart pounded as I shifted my weight from foot to foot. I stood before the director and his assistant in the otherwise empty room, waiting nervously for the accompaniment to start and trying to avoid eye contact. I had been convinced to audition for a role in a local high school production, but I was starting to think I'd made a big mistake. 

It wasn't the singing or acting that had me so worried, though. I was entirely outside my comfort zone. I only knew a few of the other people auditioning. This wasn't my crowd. My school didn't have a drama club. I wasn't a "drama kid." Sure, I had always been a fan of musicals, but I was a basketball player. I didn't know the theater lingo or etiquette. I didn't understand the inside jokes. I had never heard of "Wicked." I was an outsider. 

A piece of me dies every time I remember this scene.
It was my own High School Musical story...except I wasn't particularly stellar at basketball, I wasn't all that great at singing or dancing, my hair looked nothing like Zac Efron's, and thankfully, none of our basketball practices ever involved choreography.

There was another component to my discomfort too. While many of my fellow cast members were also believers...many were not. Up until that point in my life, my social circles pretty much consisted of church friends and classmates at my small Christian school. It was my first time in a social environment that wasn't specifically religious, and that kind of freaked me out.

I'm not entirely sure why it freaked me out. I don't know what I was scared of. Maybe it was because I knew how the kids in my Christian school tended to treat people who were different. Maybe it was because I knew how I treated outsiders--no open hostility, of course, but polite indifference. And if we were the Christians, how would they treat me now that the tables were turned?

I had bought in to the narrative that the real intolerant people were the unbelievers, the liberals, the secularists. They preached tolerance for everyone except for us, the oppressed moral majority.

Imagine my surprise when I ventured outside my Christian bubble and found a greater sense of welcome and belonging than I ever had back inside.

I'm not even talking about my sexual orientation here. I was still in deep denial about that, and not another soul knew about the battle raging in the deep, dark corners of my heart. No...I just mean welcome. Plain, old-fashioned welcome. I mean coming in as an outsider and almost immediately feeling like an insider, without having to prove anything first.

What a concept, huh?

For the first time in my life, I had friends who weren't religious. I had friends who didn't go to church on Sunday, didn't know who John Piper was...friends who didn't know all the words to "Here I am to Worship" or the Veggie Tales theme song. Some of these new friends were believers but had grown up with unbelieving friends; they were used to the tension.

These friends didn't make me earn my place among them. They were themselves around me, and thus, I felt free to be myself around them. They invited me to parties...and no, not wild, drunken parties with Top-40 hits and cigarettes, but pool parties and movie parties. We watched musicals, and for the first time, I could sing along without shame because everyone else was singing along too. We didn't "hit any clubs," but they took me to Applebee's for my birthday and we stayed until after midnight, laughing, talking, and eating enormous brownie sundaes. They liked me. They appreciated me, and they went out of their way to let me know that.

This is not a story about poor-little-outcast-me, because for all the lack of acceptance or affirmation I felt in my Christian bubble, I was just as guilty. I can't tell you how many "do-overs" I wish I could have, for people I hurt with my words, my anger, my arrogance, my judgment. I thought that I was a welcoming person, but my welcome was limited to those who got with the program and conformed to our system. If they wanted to play our game with our rules, then sure, they could join our team. Otherwise, it was live-and-let-live.

Of course, for the sake of illustration, I'm painting a rather black-and-white picture (please see note at the bottom**). I'm leaving out some important nuances. I had some very loving and accepting Christian friends, and I knew many non-Christians who were anything but loving and accepting.

But nuance aside, this is how I felt:

In my Christian school and church circles, I felt like I had to perform, to fit a mold, to play a part in order to be accepted. In my eagerness to be accepted, to have others seek my acceptance, I only continued the vicious cycle. 

In my non-religious theater circle, I didn't feel like I had to perform (well, except on stage). I felt like I could be myself, that my self was welcomed and valued, and that I could be honest. I didn't have to earn my way in. I was already in. 

Which circle do you think I was most drawn to?

What if the Church was seen as a place of such welcome? What if people knew that they didn't have earn their way into our fellowship and community? What if, simply by showing up, they knew they were already in?

I'm not talking about church membership. I'm not talking about changing our beliefs our softening our doctrinal standards. I'm certainly not talking about watering down the gospel, because I believe this kind of welcome is the fruit of a gospel-rooted heart.

We have to be able to say, "You are welcome here" and "We love you" as complete, stand-alone sentences. Not "you are welcome here, if..." or "We love you, but..." There is a time and a place for so-called "tough love," but it is not at the beginning. When we open with our list of must's and must-not's, we're communicating that people have to clean themselves up before they can come join us, and that lie of the devil then gets attributed, by association, to Jesus.

Jesus, who didn't require a public apology from the prostitute before he let her wash his feet with her tears.

Jesus, who told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more, but who did so after publicly defending her against the judgment of the religious leaders.

Jesus, who called the selfish, swindling Zacchaeus down from the tree and invited himself over to his house for supper, bewildering and infuriating the religious elites.

Jesus, who called you and me out of our own slavery before we could do anything to earn it ourselves. 

from the "Jesus Storybook Bible"
We must stop excusing our arrogant, Pharisaical behavior, and we must stop excusing our kids. Maybe our church's teenagers are faithfully attending youth group and Bible studies. Maybe they've all signed True Love Waits pledge cards and listen to Christian music. Maybe they don't drink, smoke, chew, or go with girls/boys that do, but this is not mission accomplished. 

Have their hearts been transformed by the grace of Christ? Are they welcoming to other students who aren't like them? When they're at school, are they standing up for the bullied and ostracized? Maybe they memorize Bible verses, but is there evidence of heart change? Maybe they don't cuss or tell dirty jokes, but are they telling jokes that are hurtful or demeaning to people who are different? Are their lives moving toward the outsiders or the insiders?

Which teenager is closer to the Kingdom of God? The one who has kissed dating goodbye and is outspoken about his Christian values (that was me)...or the one who sits down and eats lunch with the openly gay kid who came to school that morning with his eyes red from crying? (that was not me)

Now I understand that these two scenarios aren't mutually exclusive, but we continue to celebrate and promote this "outspoken" Christian witness to our youth over and above the sometimes unspoken witness of a life rooted in the radical grace of God. We beam with pride when our young people follow in our footsteps of culture war, rather than the footsteps of Christ...footsteps that lead to love, to sacrifice, to the Cross.

Yes, we must continue to preach a message of holiness and obedience to our youth, but that message must include the call to love the outcast, to welcome the outsider, to defend the defenseless. Imagine if hurting young people, especially hurting young people who carry the shame of same-sex attraction (like me), found in our churches the same kind of warmth and welcome and belonging that I found in that drama club.

We don't have to choose between truth and love. We don't have to emphasize either justice or mercy. All of these are united in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We don't have to choose between "fixing" same-sex orientations (like Exodus International) or "celebrating" them (like Glee). The gospel calls our churches to be even more open and welcoming than the Glee club, and even more committed to the truth of Scripture than Exodus International. 

For this, we pray.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

**Re: the missing nuance from this piece. I'm writing this note in 2016, and I want to reiterate the point that I was purposefully painting a black-and-white picture for this piece. I want to make it perfectly clear that I had wonderful friends in my church and Christian school who loved me well, loved me unconditionally, celebrated me, enjoyed me, etc. I could not have survived high school without these friends, and I know, without a doubt, that had I decided to come out to them in high school, they would not have rejected me. They probably would have been even better friends to me had I let them that far inside my world. I love them fiercely, and I am so thankful for them. 


(Update 8/18/16): Below are some pictures from my summer with the theater kids...Summer Stock Theater's 2005 production of "Beauty and the Beast."

Me & Belle

Me, Charlana, & Mimi (a.k.a. the Wardrobe and Silly Girl #2)

Practicing "Be Our Guest"

The Whole Gang

Monday, June 10, 2013

Light of Life.

I'm a mess.

Okay, yeah, I am an emotional mess at times, but I'm also quite messy in a very literal sense. My room is in a constant cycle of clean, cluttered, choas, "Hoarders" film crew, clean, cluttered, choas, etc. ad infinitum. Sometimes I have to fight with my laundry for space on my bed. Forget monsters hiding in the closet, there are some dust bunnies lurking in there that could devour my friend's chihuahua (which wouldn't ruin my day).

Note: Not actually a picture of my room.
But here's the beautiful thing about my has a door. My room has a door, and I can close that door (most of the time...sometimes I have to move some boxes first.) 

"Hey man, can I run upstairs and grab that DVD?"

"Errr...hold on. I'll get it."

"No it's okay, I can get it. Just tell me where it is."

"Trust me. I'll get it. Something might fall on you."

Yes, that door stays closed 24/7, because you never know when an unsuspecting guest might wander in...and nobody has time for a lawsuit. Ha, but seriously, as long as nobody else ever sees my room, what difference does it make? Right?

Plus, I can then devote that time and energy to making sure the rest of the house is presentable. Not spotless, of course, but presentable. My kitchen is actually pretty clean. (Girls have told me this. I have witnesses.) Odds and ends occasionally start to accumulate in the living room, but before long, that pile gets gathered up and dumped behind the closed door of my room. It's the rug I sweep everything under...the mask for my mess.

Aha! Do you smell that? I think it's a metaphor! 

Unfortunately, like my room, it's easy for me to get lost and bogged down in my metaphors, so... Wait, we're doing meta-metaphor now? This must stop. 


As I've written before, life inside the closet of same-sex attraction gets less and less comfortable as I spend more and more time outside its confines. The more people with whom I share this part of my story, the harder it is to keep up the charade with everyone else. It's like coming home after a long don't realize how tired and sore your feet really were until you take off your boots. You've been wearing them all day without really noticing, but now that they're off, the last thing you want to do is put them right back on. 

Just like my bedroom door, my "closet" door hides a whole lot of crap that I don't really want people to see. I've been in ministry for the past few years, and I'm currently training for future ministry. One day, Lord willing, I will be a pastor. I've had and will have people coming to me for spiritual guidance. They can't know what's behind this door. They just can't. If they did, they wouldn't listen to a word I said. Right? 

Pastors are supposed to minister to people with same-sex attraction, not actually struggle with it themselves. Sure, it helps for pastors to be open about their own weakness, but not this open...not this weak. Right? 

Hopefully this is sounding ridiculous. It certainly feels ridiculous as I type it out, but this is what runs through my head. This is what's lodged in my heart. This is what keeps my closet door closed.

I've recently moved to a new city, and I'm starting a new life chapter. There are a lot of exciting things happening, and I'm seeing God at work, leading me down this path. For the first time, I'm fully convinced that my anonymity is temporary. I don't know just long or short the road will be, but I'm on the road to full openness and honesty about my story. Sure, that scares the heck out of me, but I just can't see any other alternative.

A life lived in a closet is a life lived in darkness. All kinds of nasty things thrive in the darkness. It's there, in the darkness, that they remain hidden, under the radar. I remember the old gymnasium where my middle school basketball team used to play. Some of us would show up early to help the coach set things up. There was an old maintenance closet where they kept the big dust mops, and none of us wanted that job. You'd reach in, flick on the lights, and... [shudder]

Roaches. Everywhere. Skittering. Scattering. Scuttling...

For a few moments, there was panic. There was terror. Revulsion. Occasionally a disoriented little monster would come charging toward us, in which case there was also embarrassment.

But then they were gone. With that forsaken closet flooded in dim yellow fluorescence, the roaches didn't dare show their disgusting little carcasses. If they did, they were immediately dispatched. The problem was that we always had to leave. We had to turn the light back off and close the door. The roaches could return to their revolting celebration.

But what if we didn't have to turn off the light? What if we didn't have to close the door? What if we didn't even need a door? What if we could put in a window and let in some fresh air and sunshine? What if we could start unpacking some of the boxes of crap and odds and ends that had been piled and left in there for who-knows-how-many years? What if we could let more people in?

John writes in 1 John 1:7 that "if we walk in the light, as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."

When light pierces through darkness, when the curtain is torn away, the mess has nowhere to hide. It must flee or be dealt with.

When we walk in the light, when we live our lives outside the darkness of our cozy little closets, there is nowhere to hide. There is nowhere to nurture our secret sins and self-pity. When we walk in the light, people see us. They see our lives, they see our stories, and they see our mess...but they also see Jesus.

When we walk in the light, we welcome others to do the same. When we walk together in the light, then we have fellowship.

We're no longer trying to relate to each other's masks and affectations. We're relating to each other. We invite each other into our stories, and we challenge and encourage each other on the road to godliness. We give and experience grace, reflecting the matchless grace of our Savior.

Darkness is the enemy of fellowship. It's the enemy of grace and the enemy of peace. Darkness keeps us isolated. It keeps us isolated from God, from each other, and even from ourselves.

I think it's time to start opening this closet door wider, and the time may soon come when I'll step out once and for all. He has given me a story, and He's given me a voice. Most importantly, He's given me His grace. I'm beginning to realize that these weren't intended to sit under a bushel or behind the mask of an anonymous blog. He's also given me a name, and He's given me a face. It's the face of a redeemed child of God, washed clean by the blood of His Son. It's a face that will soon be attached to this story, a story that is similar to so many others.

It'll be a process. This isn't something that happens overnight. There is a lot of prayer, a lot of thought, and many conversations with friends and loved ones that need to happen. But it's happening. I feel like I've been caught up in a current that's carrying me forward, a current I didn't mean to stumble into. I don't have much control over it, but I know Who does.

And I'm excited. There will be bumps. There will be times I'm anything but excited, but this is clearly the path God has laid out for me. The signs are unmistakable.

So no name and no face today. I'm not sure exactly when...but soon. I love the line at the top
of this blog from the hymn "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say." (That's why I put it there.)
"I looked to Jesus and I found in Him my star, my sun. And in that light of life I'll walk 'til pilgrim days are done."
A pilgrim's journey is long, difficult, and sometimes dangerous. If he's travelling alone, it's also quite lonely. It's his purpose, his goal, his destination that keeps him going. If God is calling me to a life of faithful celibacy, then there are indeed some pilgrim days ahead. Even if that's not His plan, as I travel this road ahead, I need companions. I need community. I need friends who, like Samwise, will pick me up and carry me when I feel I can go no further. I also need friends who will need the same from me.

Most importantly, though...I need light. I need the light of life. I need the light of life that comes directly from the source, from Jesus, my star and my sun.

I'm excited and terrified all at once, but I have peace. I may not know the way I go, but oh, I know my Guide. His Love can never fail.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother who remains, for now, Behind the Mask