It’s another Thursday morning.
I’ve been awake for a few hours now, but I admit that I am still in bed. I haven’t had coffee or spoken to anyone yet. My room is a mess and I don’t intend on cleaning it up anytime soon. I’m listening to music from 10 years ago and my heart is heavy. I have tried my best to swallow the frustration and move on, but injustice can only be tolerated for so long.
As some of you know, I came out as a gay man in March. Within minutes, my phone was littered with text messages, phone calls and emails. Some felt the need to express concern, and even sadness, with my decision to be honest. I tried my best to focus on the positives. My family has been nothing but love and support. My closest friends have drowned me in kind words and admiration. Hundreds of you have expressed gratitude and thankfulness. But for every comment that has lifted my spirits, there is one waiting to tear me down.
I know the internet is a sad and dangerous place for someone like me. You can’t scroll through any sort of discussion thread without seeing hateful, ignorant and close-minded comments. Whether it be about religion, politics, race or sexuality, they are everywhere and coming from both sides. Every time we open our computers or check our phones, we are entering a war zone. People are hiding behind keyboards, eager to destroy and tear apart those who think differently than they do.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been deeply involved in the Christian church for the better part of my adult life. I made a very intentional decision not to blame or share more of my frustration with church than necessary to tell my story. I’ve only spoken lightly about my current involvement with faith, and for good reason. I surrounded myself in a performance-based culture. Regardless of what people say, the Gospel I followed was rooted in checklists and moral do’s and don’ts. We raised eyebrows at friends who were sleeping with their girlfriends or smoking cigarettes. Gossiped about people who had walked away from youth groups or read “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
I haven’t stepped inside a church in over a year. And it’s been even longer since I’ve opened a Bible. I didn’t want to tell people that. I guess, even in the midst of pain and confusion, I still wanted to give the illusion that I was “good.” That I hadn’t completely gone off the deep end. But to be frank, I don’t know what I believe anymore. The Bible in itself is confusing. It’s not as black and white as I once believed, and people have been torn for centuries about “key” issues. I have a hard time conforming to an organization that makes human beings feel like monsters. Of course, this is a broad and sweeping statement, and this does not apply to everyone. My very best friends love Jesus deeply and have turned around to love me as well.
But it’s time for the church to wake up. There are gay men, women and children sitting in your pews. Some of them will carry their secret to the grave. Most will spend hours and hours on their knees asking God to “fix” them. Some of them will end up taking their own lives because they can’t handle the pressures and hurtful words that are being tossed in their direction. Are you so concerned with being “theologically correct” that you will disregard the call to be morally responsible? We are talking about human beings, not animals.
Like I said, I have resisted saying this for quite a while now. I have tried hard to sculpt an online presence that is positive and uplifting, free from the muddiness of politics and religion. But I’m losing sleep. My heart is in a million pieces, wanting desperately to live in a world that is more focused on loving others than being right. More concerned with the wellbeing of their neighbor instead of who they sleep next to at night. More willing to serve someone who thinks differently instead of just those who share the same beliefs. That sounds a lot more like the church I want to be a part of.
I’m not sure what the future looks like- for me or the issues my generation is facing. It’s overwhelming, to be honest. And I’m not ignorant enough to believe that my struggle with sexuality and faith is at the top of the list. My news feed is covered in images from Ferguson and Israel. The world is hurting. It’s messy and broken. I can’t change most of that, but I do have control over my words and my actions- how well I choose to love others and make them feel wanted. We all have that power.
Some nights, instead of climbing under cold covers, I walk barefoot to the old brick building around the corner from my house. I don’t mind the damp grass or the goosebumps that erupt across my skin. I’m not worried about jumping the rotting wooden fences or the “no trespassing” signs. I’m fairly convinced that I am the only visiter this property has seen in years. The broken windows are mine. The dusty floorboard footprints belong to me. In that empty, forgotten mess of bricks and bone, I am king.
Towards the back of the building there is a room filled with books, none of which have been written in the last 20 years. The walls groan towards the sky, and pieces of the ceiling have caved in. It smells like old paper, which at first bothered me. Vines from the garden outside have claimed an entire wall, winding and covering the peeling wallpaper. I placed a moth-eaten chair next to a table in the corner and castles of candle wax stretched across the windowsill.
Tonight, the moon is full, dancing and reflecting off mirrors and picture frames on the fireplace. A candle has been lit, making ghosts rattle and moan across the room. I have pulled books from the shelves, stacking them next to my chair. Inside their pages, I feel invincible. I’ve read stories about countries at war and heartbroken mothers. Infidelity and theology. Space travel and historical heroes. Millions of tales, all composed of the same 26 letters in a different pattern.
I started thinking about my own life, my own letters. Will someone read my story years from now? How will it make them feel? What will they think? Will it end with “And the man got nervous to be himself, so he squeezed himself into the box that the world told him to fit in. He played by the rules and died like the rest.”? Sitting in that chair, I thought about my pieces of paper that have yet to be written on. At the end of the day, I can fill them with whatever I want. I can put letters together that talk about climbing mountains and living beside the ocean. Falling in love with someone kind and holding a crying baby at 2 A.M.
I closed the book I was holding and looked at the floor. It was littered with pages from books I had finished and crunchy leaves from the trees outside. Alone in the dark, I started to laugh. The magic of life and the promise of possibilities was ringing in my ears. I began to walk home, thinking about how I wanted my story to end.
…and the man found freedom to be himself. He broke the rules and helped other people escape from their boxes. And he didn’t regret a thing.
I’ve been writing books in my head.
Every day is June and my skin is still sunburned. I have swear words on my bedside table and nothing to feel sorry for.