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