Monday, May 25, 2015

My Story - Part 3

It took me until November of 2009 to finally separate from my church.  I remember sitting down and looking at the church’s calendar.  There was a large multi-church prayer event that was going on during the first week of November.  I knew that I had to stay with the church and get them through that event, but I also knew that I had to get out before Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christian holiday season.  I wouldn’t have felt right leaving them in the middle of the holidays.  I just needed to get away from all of it so that I could even begin to start sorting through my own thoughts and try to get some sort of understanding of where this left me with God or if this meant that my life as a Christian had come to an end.

The moment the prayer service ended, people began moving about, and I began shutting down my computer and light board.  I looked down and saw the pastor standing at the front of the sanctuary with people gathered around him.  I really wanted him to be alone when I told him what I had to say, but I also knew that I needed to do this tonight.  My heart began to race, and I broke out in a cold sweat.  I slowly removed my church keys from my key ring and stepped out of the sound booth at the rear of the sanctuary.  Trembling, I made my way to the front.  Some of the people had begun to disperse.  I approached the pastor and I pressed the keys into his hand and told him that I had to go.  Tears had begun to form at the corners of my eyes.  He asked me if we could talk, but I again told him that I just had to go.  Then, I turned and walked away.

As I stepped out into the cool evening air, I had no idea what the future held for me.  That church and the community of people within it had been my whole life for the past thirteen years.  It terrified me to walk away, but I knew that I had to do what was right, and being honest with myself and them was the right thing to do.  I felt so alone.  I remember looking up at the night sky and speaking to God as I walked to my car and saying, “I’m trusting You.  I’m scared, but I’m trusting You.”  I remember feeling the warmth of God’s embrace and hearing in my mind the response of, “Do you think I’ve brought you to this point to let you fall now?” 

That was a very dark night for me.  I had just walked away from everything and everyone that I knew.  I sat in my car for a few moments, and I contemplated just going home, but I knew that it was not a good time for me to be alone.  I remembered that another church was preparing boxed meals that night to be delivered to families that needed them.  This church had similar views to my own, and I knew that they would also not be supportive of my decision, but I also knew that they wouldn’t know yet of my decision, and I needed community at that moment.  So, I went and busied myself amongst friends and packaged the meals with them to be taken out and delivered to those who were in need.

Over the next few months, I began reading everything that I could regarding Christianity and Homosexuality.  It quickly became apparent to me that, regardless of which path I chose, someone with far more education than I had already laid out clear intellectual, scientific, scriptural, and theological arguments.  I began to get frustrated because I wanted someone to just hand me the answer.  In fundamentalist Christianity, many believe that it is possible to definitively know God’s mind on any number of issues and that there is only one correct response in almost any situation, and I just needed to find the correct response for this situation. 

During this time, I avoided contact with people from my former church.  I knew where they stood on this issue, and I knew that they would not be helpful with me considering any other way.  The few gay friends that I had begun to make reacted differently than I expected.  I had anticipated that they would try to convince me that I just needed to accept the fact that I was gay and move on.  Instead, they would simply tell me that they loved me and that they supported me no matter what conclusion I finally came to.  Their unconditional acceptance spoke volumes to me.
Finally, one day, I was venting to a friend about my frustrations with not being able to find the answer.  He gently but deliberately, grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “You can read all you want.  You can pray all you want, but, tomorrow morning, you’re going to wake up, and you’ll still be you.  Only you can decide what to do with that.”  I realized that he was right.  I had to take ownership of my own life and seek a path that was right for me.

It did eventually end up being a book that tore down the wall within me that told me that me homosexuality and my identity as a spiritual person needed to be separated.  It was, of all things, a young adult fiction novel that I had stumbled across.  It was called The God Box.  It was written by a man named Alex Sanchez, and it depicted the story of a young man who struggled with having grown up as a Christian struggling with his attractions to other boys and then finding himself confronted with a new student at his school who identified as both gay and Christian and didn’t see a conflict between the two.  Essentially, on an adolescent level, it was my story on paper.  By reading this story in a work of fiction, it was able to penetrate and speak to me in a way that the well crafted and researched non-fiction books that I had been reading were not able to.  I was finally able to get to a place where it wasn’t even necessarily an answer that I was looking for.  It suddenly stopped being about the answer and became more about asking difference questions, living comfortably in the tension that those questions created, and trusting God to make up the difference.  I was finding peace within myself, but I was still leery of churches or anything that looked like a church.

There were a handful of attempts at intervention on the part of folks from my former church.  One evening, a couple of the guys from the church invited me over to one of their homes.  They asked me very pointed questions, wanting to know if I was having sex with men or if I had a boyfriend.  When I responded “no” to both questions, they became very confused.  They couldn’t understand why I would identify as gay if I wasn’t committing gay acts.  I tried to explain to them that it was more important to me that, for me, it was more important to work through the identity piece first before I began to act on it.  There were also occasional confrontations when I would encounter someone from the church in public.  There were also some tense e-mails exchanged between myself and the pastor of the church.  Having spent a number of years living from their perspective, I understand that their actions are born out of a genuine place of love and concern, but it just helped to clarify to me that I could not step back into that perspective.

~ Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2015

My Story - Part 4

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