Sunday, July 31, 2016

Act Two, Scene Ten - "A Couple of Hyenas"

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you.  Please feel free to comment or contact me.  Thanks!

            While, I do wish that I could have learned what I needed to learn sooner and became comfortable with myself much faster, I apparently needed to take the time that I did in order to figure out who I was, and I am certainly thankful for that now as I do not still have those lingering questions about my identity in terms of being both gay and a person of faith.  Honestly, those were good times. It wasn’t as though I spent the entire time being miserable and held captive against my will.  Also, let’s remember that I entered my ex-gay period as an adult, of my own free will, and that they were merely assisting in what I had asked them to help me with.  This is very different than situations in which children are forced into situations aimed at changing their sexual orientation or coercing transgender to deny their true gender identity.

            I want to share with you what is probably one of my fondest memories from my time at my former church.  In 2004, I believe, I went on a mission trip.  In churches like the one that I went to, adult mission trips were less common.  They were usually seen as a development tool for young people, high school and college-age.  Well, since I didn’t begin attending church until I was 20, I kind of missed out on that phase of life in the church and the experience of going on a mission trip as a rite of passage.  So, when the opportunity came to go on a trip to Uganda as part of a group of adults from my own church, I jumped at the opportunity.

            The purpose of the trip was not to teach people about Christianity or to win souls for Jesus like many of the mission trips that young people from my church would have gone on.  This trip was, in terms of the work done, more similar to the work that I see done by adult missionaries now in my new context within the United Methodist Church.  We went over to build a classroom that would be used to educated children who had been orphaned through war, poverty, and disease.

            We spent a total of two weeks in Uganda, mostly in the vicinity of the county’s capital, Kampala.  During the first week, we built the classroom.  The second week was supposed to be more of a vacation.  During this time, we went on a safari.  On the day that we transitioned from the area where we had been working on the classroom to going further out into the countryside for the safari portion of our trip, we had been on the bus, more like a large passenger van, for a very long time.  When we finally arrived at the safari resort area, it was evening, and the group was divided as to whether or not we should go to the building where we would be staying or if we should have the drive take us out into the surrounding area to see if we could see any animals now.  We had to decide as a group because each choice required the driver to go in different directions.  Ultimately, the majority of the group wanted to go see animals.

            In the back of the bus, and part of the minority, were my former pastor and I.  We both just wanted to get to our rooms and our beds.  We were tired.  We had been on a bus for hours, and, at that point, we were getting more than a little slap happy.  We did see some animals that night.  Now, while others were only excited to see more animals by each one that they saw, he and I were sitting in the back thinking, if you’ve seen one giraffe, you’ve seen them all.  So, we were just in the back, I think, getting a little annoyed at first, and, then, we just started checking off animals, giraffe, check; elephant, check; gazelle, check; zebra, check.  Eventually, we got to the point that we were laughing hysterically each time we could check an animal off, and, then we would roll our eyes and laugh some more when people wanted to see more.  It got bad enough that the guide up front even had to tell us to be quiet which only made us laugh more.  It probably isn’t that fun to read my description of it, but I laughed so hard that night.  I had many good times with my pastor and the other members of that group and my church as a whole, but I don’t think I ever laughed as hard as I did during that evening as we rode around in the back of that bus and just laughed and giggled more insanely than any hyena we ever would have encountered out on the grassy fields and plains of Africa.

I share this because I feel that so much of this blog focuses on my inner turmoil surrounding my own acceptance of all aspects of who I am as a person.  I want you to know that it wasn’t all conflict and turmoil.  There was genuine joy and fun as well.

       On a much more serious note, what I did not realize at the time, by being a part of the actions of a conservative church in Ohio in support of the actions of the Kampala Pentecostal Church in Uganda, I played a role in introducing the conservative theologies in that country that have contributed to the horrible treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda.  As I mentioned above, our efforts in Uganda were aimed directly at supporting the education of children, but part of the education they received was a conservative understanding of the Bible and Christianity.  In some small way I feel that I contributed to the mindsets and attitudes that plague the United Methodist Church now.  

Twitter: @culbs1138

Act Two, Scene Nine Addendum

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you. Thanks!

I wanted to add some additional thoughts around my last blog post.  I realize that this post implies a certain level of sinister intent on the part of my former pastor, his family, and the leadership of my former church.  While I do see the structure of the church functioning in a very centralized and exclusionary many, what I do not see in any of the players, including myself, as I was once a part of it, is malicious intent. 

Of course, again, I can only speak for myself and my part in all of this, but I never consciously determined a course of action by saying I was going to exclude a certain person or group.  My mental framework tending to stem from an intent to protect the pastor’s family and those close to them.  In non-denominational church communities like that, the pastor becomes very much the center of the community.  Given this, it becomes second nature to protect them from those who present a challenge to them or cause them stress, especially during their down time.

The pastor also has a great deal of unilateral authority in such a church community.  Service was encouraged, but it was also used as part of a punishment and rewards system, again, not malicious in intent, but intended to spiritually correct people.  A person who behaves in a manner that that pastor does not see as consistent with the Bible might find themselves removed or suspended from the choir, teaching Sunday School, or other ministry duties until such time as they could demonstrate in the pastor’s eyes that they were fit to return to service. 

To give you a feel for what the messaging of my previous faith context was like, I’ve pasted below some links to YouTube videos that I assisted one of my pastor’s sons with producing while I was there.

Additionally, this is another video that was produced by a friend of mine who was basically my equivalent on the youth ministry side in terms of coordinating video and media elements of the services for my former church’s teens.

If you have any thoughts, please comment below, reach out to me on Facebook or tweet me at @culbs1138

Thursday, July 28, 2016


            Fear. It’s such a powerful feeling.  It is also a powerful tool that can be used to motivate people to do almost anything.  When people fear for their lives, they can be coerced to commit almost any act.  Right now, when I look at the atmosphere created by our presidential election here in the United States, I admit that it is easy for me to be overcome with fear.

            I spent so much of my life motivated by fear. Fear of going to hell. Fear of rejection by family, by friends. Fear of losing jobs, and, yes, even fear of political candidates.  On the evening of November 4, 2008, I stood with tears in my eyes when I realized that Barrack Obama would be the next President of the United States.  My tears were not tears of joy.  They were tears of sadness and defeat.  I was standing in the Republican headquarters in Muskingum County, Ohio. 

The local Republican headquarters that year was in an empty former furniture store that had been leased by the local Republican group, and most of the building’s exterior walls were glass for the purposes of showcasing the furniture that used to occupy its showroom floor.  I had sat at tables in that space many nights phone banking, reaching out to voters and attempting to persuade them to commit to supporting John McCain and Sarah Palin. That night, election night, as I stared out those same windows at the cars as they drove by on one of the city’s busiest streets.  Did they know, I had to wonder?  Did they know that America had just elected a Muslim and that our demise as a Christian nation had surely been cemented?

I write with those words because those were the words the filled my mind that night.  I have changed a lot in eight years.  Now, the thought of losing President Obama as our nation’s leader can easily move me to tears.  Again, the tears are tears of sadness, and, again, because, in January, the United States will have a new president.  Times have changed.  I have changed. I actually don’t really find myself being fearful very often anymore.  I am generally in environments that are very supportive of me in terms of who I am and in terms of my safety.

I do admit to allowing fear to creep in during this election though, and I don’t like it. The fear comes from the increasingly real potential of a Donald Trump presidency. I am critical enough of myself to ask the question, “Are you just doing the same thing all over again? Are you just fearing the idea of a President Trump the way that you once irrationally feared an Obama presidency?” I don’t think so. I do believe that there are very real reasons for those of us as citizens of the United States and really as citizens of this planet to fear the idea of Donald Trump being put into a position to have that much power.

Over the past several days, we have watched as the Republican Party officially placed their stamp of approval on their nominee, and we have seen the Democratic Party do the same.  I am bolstered by the hope that I see embodied in our Democratic leaders, and I am reminded of where I have come from.  In the last eight years, my spiritual and political beliefs have undergone a complete renovation.  I no longer believe that President Obama is a Muslim, but, more significantly, it wouldn’t matter to me if he was. Additionally, I have let go of the idea that the United States was founded as an exclusively Christian nation.

 As I made that transition, I knew that I had to approach each day with a commitment and determination to do whatever it took to build a new life for myself, and, along the way, I reminded myself that I also owed it to the world around me to make life better for others.  During this time and continuing into the present, I have been amazed at the kindness and generosity of other human beings.  I have been blessed beyond measure in so many ways, and I continue to be; so, when I find myself being fearful of what I imagine others might do, I am reminded of the beauty, the love, and the generosity of so many.  I believe that goodness is the essence of what is at the core of the majority of Americans and at the core of so many of us around the world.  No matter where the road takes us or how dark things become, I sincerely believe that love will triumph, and, in the spirit of doing all that I can to make the world better for as many as I can, I will be doing the most powerful, real-world action that I can take in order to make sure that the unabashed hostility and division that I see embodied in Donald Trump. I will be voting in November for Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States.  #ImWithHer


Twitter: @culbs1138


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Act Two, Scene Nine - "Seeking Favor"

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you.  Please feel free to comment or contact me.  Thanks!

           In my former church community, I felt like I was in trouble a lot.  With the fall of the Cord, I focused a lot on what I could have done to make things turn out differently.  Was it my fault that it failed?  Did God make it fail because I was gay?  I was trying to fix that though.  Didn’t that count for something?  On another guilt-ridden channel of my mind, I was asking other questions.  Was I supposed to even have been involved at all?  Did I do harm by being involved because I had gone against my pastor, the person God had placed in spiritual leadership over me?  My response to all of these questions was to double my efforts to crush any remnants of homosexuality within me and to live a life as pleasing as possible to God.  I knew that I could never achieve perfection, but I had to try to get as close to that standard as I could.

            In retrospect, I can see that I was trying to earn the approval of men, and one man in particular, not God’s, but, at the time, I equated the approval of my pastor with the approval of God.  I saw him as being more experienced in relating to and communicating with God.  Of course, he would have more insight into what God’s will might be than I would.  I was afraid to trust my own judgment.
            In order to make sure that I stayed on what I perceived to be the right path, I threw myself into my work at the church.  I also further narrowed my social circles, which were already pretty small.  I made efforts to stay within the insular community of the church and, more specifically, within the circle of my pastor’s family and close friends.  As I have had the opportunity to reflect back on things over the past few years, that really is where the true power of that church as other’s like it came from.  Participants within those communities were encouraged to spend time together socially.  The phrase, “what fellowship hath light with darkness” was thrown around a lot.  Protecting your salvation and keeping on the straight and narrow meant isolating yourself from those who might pull you down.  At the core of the “church family” was a machine, a handful of central cogs that drove the workings of the rest of the collective community that gathered within the walls of the church at least three times a week.

            The church did not have an official membership.  The pastor did not believe in church membership.  He wanted a church based on relationships, not numbers.  In the defense of the pastor, his family, and the others at the heart of the church’s inner workings, I believe that they are completely unaware of the nature of their role in the integration and inclusion of some while excluding and relegating to second-class status of others.  I am sickened now as I look back and see my own collusion in this.

            What was spoken was that faith was about relationship with God.  In reality it wasn’t about that.  It was really about what was exhibited outwardly and who saw it.  Even mainline denominations speak of the fruits of the Spirit, but, in this environment, it didn’t matter what you did or how you did things if the pastor or someone else within the inner circle didn’t see it.  Also, there was a significant political element.  When it came to church matters, there was no Church Council or Staff Parrish Relations Committee.  There was the will of those in leadership, which ultimately came down to the will of one man, the pastor, and your will and your words needed to align with his.

            At the time, I did it without thinking.  It was more of a survival reaction than anything.  As someone who was socially awkward growing up, and still is in many situations, I feared losing my connection with the community of the church.  I could not have articulated what it was that I feared at the time, but, in retrospect, it’s very clear.  Time and reflection have allowed me to see those years of my life in far more objective ways.  I did not have the confidence in myself at the time to assert my own thoughts.  Any time that my thoughts were not in alignment with those at the core, I believed that it must be mine that were out of alignment.

            That time was, and continues to be, so complex for me.  There is a part of me that still craves their approval.  The more rational voice in my brain tells me that I would have never been able to fully achieve that goal.  Plus, it would have required me to be someone that I wouldn’t like very much from my current point of view.  The human mind can be a strange and complex thing.  Ultimately, of course, I am thankful for the life that I am able to lead today as an openly gay man and a person of faith, having found peace with who I am.  Check back for more of my story next week.

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