Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Weighty Reminder

I have shared on this blog previously that one of the ways in which I am actively working in the world to make it a better place for all people in general, and members of the LGBTQ community specifically, is by taking my life in a new direction professionally and pursuing a Master’s degree in the field of counseling.  As part of this educational experience, one of the ways in which we, as students, explore how we will function as counselors in the “real world” is through role plays.

During this past week, I volunteered to step into the role of a client who was in his thirties who had come to the realization that he was gay and that it was not going to change.  Having reached this point of self-discernment, he found himself struggling with whether or not to come out to his family, his co-workers, neither, or both.  Seems like something I should be familiar with, huh?

Ever since I came out, I have prayed that I would never forget how I felt during my own experiences of wrestling with my own identity and my eventual emergence as a gay man.  Going to work everyday, knowing you can legally be fired for being who you are, and living under the shadow of the possibility of being shunned by family, friends, and co-workers, is near crippling in its intensity.

As much as I have asked and strived not to forget, I am human.  To a certain extent, we do forget.  I am blessed to now live, work, and worship in environments where I know that I am 100% free to live openly and authentically as me.  I also have the benefit of experience.  I did take the leap, and I am out, either directly or indirectly, to my entire family.  I had the unfortunate experience of being outed to many of them through a front page  article in my hometown newspaper.  For most of my family it was either a confirmation of what they already expected or it was perceived pretty much as a non-event.  While not everyone in my former work environment was supportive of my decision, some of them were, and, even the ones who were not are still friendly towards me.  Even some from my former faith community have, after some years have passed, re-established connection with me.  While we all know that things might not ever be exactly the same, we share the value of human relationship and acknowledge that we can connect on areas beyond the limits of those things that might divide us.  Plus, my life, since then, has taken me in directions that I never could have anticipated before and brought me into contact with incredible people from all over the United States and around the world who are working towards equality and inclusion.

Despite having this past experience to draw from, when I made the decision to step back into that role the other day in class, it was a bit overwhelming for me.  It was important to me that I authentically honor the struggle that someone in this position would be going through.  Thus, I opened myself back up to the feelings of guilt, apprehension, and fear that characterized my life when I was working to resolve these choices in my own life.  I put myself into this man’s shows as he wrestled with the possibility of being cut off from close members of this family or facing termination or social ostracization at work or, even worse, experiencing acts of violence from those who judge based on labels and/or fear of those who are different.

As I went on about my day, I reflected on the experience of doing that role play, and I thought about you, the folks who read this blog.  When I look at the analytics for this blog, many of you live in countries where it is not okay, or even safe, to be gay.  Please know that my heart breaks for every one of you out there who is not in a place where you are free to live your life as the full authentic person you were created to be.  The world is changing, but human beings are creatures infused with a natural resistance to change.  We must all continue to work towards a day when everyone feels safe to come out and be open about who they are. 

I can tell you that, if you are not out, when you do take that step, part of what you fear will be realized.  Some people will turn their backs on you, but I can also tell you that there will be some who will not.  It will also surprise you as to who some of the faces are in both groups.  I can tell you that, while it may seem as if it will, the world will not end.  There are so many people waiting for you on the other side of that closet door, many of whom you haven’t even met.  I encourage you to be brave, but also be wise.  Be safe.  If you are out there and you know that your safety would be compromised by coming out, be wise about that, but I would also encourage you to begin looking at what practical steps you can take to put yourself in safer circumstances in the weeks, months, and years to come.  Until then, please know that, if you need a sympathetic ear, someone who knows what it is to live in fear of the world knowing who you are, please feel free to reach out to me at the e-mail below.  Please share this blog with others who might need encouragement.

~ Culbs

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Single and Bitter?

Rather than dragging you through this entire post before giving you the answer to that question, I’d rather tell you the answer up front and spend the remainder of this post explaining to how I arrived at this point.  The answer to the first qualifier is “yes.”  I am single.  The answer to the second is “no.”  I am not bitter.  This seems to surprise quite a few people.  Most people assume that, after spending the first three decades of my life hiding, fighting, or denying who I am, I would be.

            Let me talk to you about why I am not bitter.  First, let’s talk about those 33 years that I lost to self-denial.  It might surprise you to learn that I don’t consider them to be lost.  I wish that the world, including myself, would have been ready to accept me for who I am sooner.  I do.  I regret spending my twenties fighting who I was and finding love, but the reality is that I didn’t, and, as I indicated just now, it wasn’t just everyone else that wasn’t ready.  I clearly wasn’t ready either.

            Now, let’s talk about the thirteen years that I spent trying to change who I am through focused thought, prayer, and essentially cognitive behavioral therapy delivered by untrained and unlicensed church folks delivering a spiritual type of reparative therapy packaged in media and in-person meetings.  This time period allowed me to do something very important though.  It allowed me to be honest about my attractions and wrestle with them.  Another thing that needs to be noted is that I entered into this process to suppress and change my sexuality as an adult and of my own accord.  Throughout this whole process, I was in the driver’s seat.

            When I first emerged from my years of living as an ex-gay at the age of 33, I realized that I had a choice to make.  I could either wallow in the regret of the years I had lost or I could rejoice and celebrate the years that I have left, the years that I have that I can truly be me, and I live an incredibly blessed life.  My life now as an ex-ex-gay has brought me into contact with so many interesting people, some with similar stories and others with very different yet immensely powerful stories of fighting to reach a point of acceptance for themselves or for those that they care about. 

            Do I wish that I had a Valentine to share my evening with?  I do.  I would very much like to meet someone to share and build a life with, but, for the moment, I am still very much aware of the fact that I have found the love that eluded me for over three decades, the love of myself, not in a narcissistic kind of way, but in a healthy, it’s okay to be me kind of way.  For those of you who are still struggling to find a place and a time to safely come out and be you, hang in there.  It really does get better.  That’s not just a catching saying.  Know that you are valuable and that you are loved.  Know that you are not the first to walk this path, and know that my heart breaks for you to be able to open and authentic within your own life and circumstances.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

~ Culbs

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Can You Believe People Really Believe That?

I don’t know about any of the rest of you out there, but, for me, things seem to come in seasons.  What I mean by that is that, if something comes up in my conversation in one situation, it’s likely to come up a few more times in the near future, often in totally unrelated settings.  That happened to me recently when two different people, only days apart, shared with me that they had found themselves engaged in conversations with people who believed the earth was only 6,000 years old.  They were both astounded that people actually believe that.  Never wanting to be intentionally inauthentic (hence the name of the blog), I shared with them that I had actually spent some time (and money) studying, considering, and even for a while believing this point of view...or trying to.

My life has given me a very diverse and interesting perspective on faith.  I grew up in a what I’ll call “believing from a distance” kind of household.  Both of my parents label themselves Christians, but neither of them feel the need to regularly incorporate attendance of worship services into their lives.  Then, as many of you know, I moved into a pretty hardcore non-denominational conservative phase where I felt that I had found Jesus, gotten saved, and accepted the atoning work of Jesus on the cross as the key to salvation.  Then, finding myself confronted by the unchangeable truth of my sexuality, I began searching, ultimately deciding to remain within the context of Christian life, but pushing my belief in an almost totally intellectual direction, wanting to place distance between myself and the more emotionally driven charismatic type of faith experiences that had wounded me. 

Now, my faith journey has led me to a place where I live in the tension of those two ways of being and believing, and let me clarify.  Often, when the word tension is used, it conjures up images of conflict and anxiety.  That is not at all what I mean.  For me, living in the tension means existing at an undefined indeterminate point in between the two extremes and being okay with that, being okay with not feeling like I have all the answers and, yet, not feeling like I have nothing to hold onto or believe in either. 

When, someone asks a question like, “Can you believe people really believe that?”, my first reaction is one of embarrassment because I have to admit that I did believe things like that or, at least, I tried to.  I honestly could never fully reconcile this one.  I attended lectures and read books by extremely intelligent, well-educated people who told me that they way science was going about things was a lie.  I heard stories about scientists purchasing clay pots at Wal-Mart, smashing them, and performing a carbon dating analysis on the fragments only to have the results show that they were millions of years old which seemed to indicate that carbon dating was grossly inaccurate.  I was told that Darwin and other scientists altered their data to fit their hypothesis.  I was pointed to scriptures that seemed to indicate that man co-existed with dinosaurs. 

I really struggled with many aspects of this way of thinking, but, when you are in a faith community such as the one I was in, any kind of thinking that strays from a strict literal understanding of the Bible is strongly discouraged.  Questioning the Bible and, therefore, in the eyes of those in church, God was often met with a quoting of Isaiah 55: 8-9, NKJV:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways my ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways.
And my thoughts  than your thoughts.”

Therefore, I was often left with the feeling that I was somehow failing.  It felt all right though because, of course, I could never fully understand that mind of God.  I intentionally chose the New King James translation of this scripture because that is the translation that I read most often back then, and, to many, even it was considered to be unacceptable because it softened some of the language from the King James version.

After the initial wave of embarrassment passes me, I find myself having a very different reaction.  I find myself experiencing a mixture of sadness, anger, and frustration.  It isn’t really focused at the person asking the question.  It really isn’t directed at anyone in particular.  I find myself becoming discouraged with our ways of being and believing.  Faith in our world, much like our broken and often ineffective political system is divided between two passionately divided extremes.  Even that is okay.  It’s the tendency of both extremes to look across at the other and say, “Would you look at them?  Are they ever stupid?  They are never gonna get it.”  This is frustrating to me.  Both sides have the sacred texts on their side.  They merely read them differently.  They both have ordained clergy as well as graduate level leaders and experts helping them to make sense of their faith and their world. 

This binary divide exists in all faith systems.  I write about Christianity because, of course, it’s what I know.  We pick the dumbest things to divide ourselves over, too.  At the end of the day, does it matter if the world is 4.5 billion years old or 6,000 years old?  If I believe one of those statements to be true, and you believe the other to be true, does that prevent us from being friends?  For some people, it does.  We divide ourselves over whether or not two consenting adults can marry and build a life together.  Why is the happiness, and apparently the marriages, of others so threatened by someone else attaining happiness?  There are honest to goodness real problems in the world.  There are people on our planet that need food, clean water,  shelter, education, and medicines, and we want to fight over whether or not The Flintstones could have been a more realistic depiction of life during the Stone Age than previously thought.  There is something wrong with us.

Please, even though I don’t always say it, thank you for reading!  I am amazed at the steady flow of traffic that this blog gets now, not only in the U.S., but also from all over the world.  Please, feel free to comment or drop me an e-mail.  I’d love to hear from you and learn more about your story as well.

~ Culbs

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Proposal for FTC to Ban Conversion Therapy

This is an interesting tactic to get a ban on conversion therapy in place, but this could be the way to go.  The promises made by those practicing conversion therapy are deceptive, and discriminatory practices in general are bad for business.  Plus, this may be the only way to get the practice banned for adults as well.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Lent.  Growing up, I had no idea what Lent was about.  We celebrated Easter and Christmas.  I knew that Jesus was born on Christmas and died and was resurrected on Easter.  That was about the extent of my theological understanding.  Somehow, that deep theological mind has made its way to being a seminarian.  Hard to believe, I know.  I remember the first time that I really became aware of Lent and Ash Wednesday in particular.  I was in my early 20’s and working in a bank in my hometown.  I quietly pulled one of my co-workers aside so as not to embarrass him when I pointed out the evidence of the tragic copier toner accident that he’d clearly been a victim of.  Fortunately, he was a good sport about it and explained to me the reason for the smudge on his forehead.

My previous, conservative non-denominational, faith context taught me that seasons such as Lent and Advent were meaningless and ritualistic.  To them, it mattered that Jesus was born, that he died, and that he rose from the grave, but the ceremonious nature of the liturgical seasons within most mainline denominations were perceived to be empty and merely a matter of empty tradition.

Admittedly, some of those prejudices continued with me as I found myself entering and becoming a part of the United Methodist Church.  Over the years, I have consistently found these prejudices challenged.  There are times that I miss the energy of the worship services that I experienced in my former faith context, but, at the same time, I appreciate the depth and intellectual challenge of my current faith environment.

I remember the first time I ever took communion in a United Methodist Church.  First, communion was not served with any kind of regularity at my former church.  The pastor felt that serving communion on a regular basis made it expected and ordinary and took away from the specialness of it.  Also, it was never served by intinction.  Each person was served their own individual mini cup of juice and a piece of bread.  Then we all ate and drank in unison.  While I know that not all United Methodist Churches serve communion by intinction, I know that many do, and the two United Methodist Churches that I have attended with any kind of regularity serve it that way.  It seemed weird to me at first.  I didn’t want to eat bread dipped in juice that who knows who’s fingers have touched.  But, then, I did it.  Yes, other people may have dipped to far and touched the juice with their fingers, but, regardless of that, the who experience is so connective and unifying that you forget about that.  The sense of connection extended beyond the walls of the church I was in as well.  Knowing that other churches across the United Methodist connection were engaging in the same act of remembrance reinforced to me that I was, in that moment, a part of something much larger than me.  I was also taken aback by the fact that the communion elements had to be blessed and that not just anyone could bless them.  At first, I saw this as elitist and exclusionary, but my perspective quickly shifted to seeing it as a far more reverent act, and I was honored the first time I was ever asked to help in serving communion during a service.

Today, I attended my first ever Ash Wednesday service at the seminary where I am a student.  It was the first time that ashes had ever been applied to my own forehead.  Being in that service among peers, faculty and staff from my school, a place that has very much come to feel like a safe place, a place of belonging to me, I again felt that strong sense of connection and belonging.  Today, I downloaded a Lent devotional from the Reconciling Ministries Network.  I plan to take in the first reading before I go to sleep tonight.  I am so thankful to be apart of this shared experience for the first time as we wait for the coming resurrection.

~ Culbs