Category: Christian

Water Bottles, Plastic, Quakers and Me

The Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) maintains a long tradition of queries, thoughtful questions to help Friends think deeply about important issues. (I alway carry a copy of Britain Yearly Meeting’s Advices & Queries given to me by my Friend Esther, who replaced the plain Quaker red cover with a multi-colored one.)

Similarly Quakers have a tradition of testimonies, statements about issues that Friends have found vital for our faith and practice.

In August I will have the honor to attend and participate in the annual gathering of Baltimore Yearly Meeting to be held in the North West corner of Maryland at Frostburg State University. In filling out my registration form, I scanned the workshop offerings. The following workshop arrested me.

Bottled Water and the Quaker Testimonies: Can They be Compatible?

Americans spend $15,000,000,000 a year on bottled water. The world spends $15,000,000,000 a year to develop and to provide potable water to the developing world. The petroleum used to make the plastic bottles would fuel 100,000 US cars for a year and 80% of those bottles go to land fills. 3,000 children die each day from polluted water. We will use the Testimonies to examine our role and to set a new direction.

Leader: Byron Sandford is Executive Director of William Penn House, a Texan with roots in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas and southern New Mexico.

I have written before about bottled water and the trouble I have with it. (I don’t even think about all the plastic bottles we use for soda and other fizzy drinks since I think they are stupid products that my dad used to remove barnacles from his boat and forget people drink then. But hey, drink the carbonated stuff if you like it). I understand that we can be in situations where we have little choice but to buy and use bottled water unless of course we cannot afford to do so.

Recently Auntie Doris got her very own SIGG water bottle (she actually nicked her mom’s which sat in a cupboard in Gurensey). Why not use our own water bottles that we fill ourselves? In the US, the water industry goes unregulated. The water we buy in bottles comes untested by the government and often is no better than filtered tap water (which we already pay for through taxes and our water bill). Sometimes it is much worse.

One of the biggest issues around bottled water that has weighed on me recently is about plastic products. Plastic: What a wonderful and awful product! So versatile, and it’s in EVERYTHING (probably even Cool Whip!). And it is not going away for a very very long time. Like pretty much never.

I recently have pondered this query:

Can I live without plastic?

To which I have had to answer a resounding NO, at least not with my current lifestyle (no I do not refer to the gay lifestyle, whatever that may be, but to the American lifestyle of one who you will find constantly on-line, on the phone, or on a plane).

So then I asked the question,

Can I live one day without plastic?

Sure on the island of Iona on a retreat, but consider all the plastic required to get me there and and hold all my stuff.

Finally I have considered,

Can I live one hour without plastic?

Barely. But I could spend one hour, barefoot, lying on the grass in my back garden. (Hey, that sounds like a great idea to do right now!)

I will continue to hold this query up in my mind. As a Christian, I feel I need to be a good steward of the Earth’s limited resources. As a Christian living in the US, I feel that any effort I can do, I need to do since my country is one of the largest contributors of waste and the use of petroleum-based products in the world.

I realize that I am connected to people all over the world. I can never make the “perfect choice” that will not have any negative consequences. But I can be thoughtful. I can grapple with these things. I can listen to what the Spirit has to say to to help me do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God among me. (Micah 6:8)

Now if you do use plastic bottles, try to recycle, although I don’t see recycling as a real solution. It requires energy to transport these bottles and more energy and waste to “recycle” them. Most of these bottles do NOT get recycled anyway as creatively illustrated in the following video.

Marvin & Gay Pride

Ah, Marvin. Some of you may remember, Marvin Bloom, our favorite Jew-for-Jesus from Long Island, NY, is no longer ex-gay. See this post of his video announcement. Apparently Marvin has taken to the gay lifestyle with evangelistic zeal (gay lifestyle as in wearing tacky rainbow clothing and attending Pride Parades and bashing straights).

In this video he gives us an update and his very own pride message.

Of course this over the top embrace of all things gay commonly happens to those of us who crammed ourselves into closet, cupboards and wardrobes all those years. We burst out of those confined places, and suddenly we see the world through rainbow lenses.

It is not unlike the born-again experience, especially if one converts as a young adult. I remember dashing to the Salt Shaker, the local Christian bookstore, where I bought all manner of Jesus products. Not just books and music, I purchased Jesus pencils, Jesus t-shirts, Jesus glue sticks, etc. We see this same expression of new identity pride with impulse purchases during Pride events with those stalls that sell all that rainbow schlock. “No, thank you, I do not need a rainbow dream catcher with the rainbow candle holder attachment.”

In the Stages of Coming Out, in Stage V we may exhibit lots of pride in our new-found identity. Marvin seems very much in Stage V Identity Pride,

Feel arrogance/pride in new identity and deep rage toward majority culture. May adopt/heighten stereotypical behaviors or characteristics (i.e. “I’m different and proud of it!”. May isolate self from mainstream values and activities.

Question: Do Straight Allies goes through these same stages?

Jesus in the Backseat (a poem)

For the past few days I´ve been thinking about a funny moment in my childhood that I am trying to capture in words. In my poem I reference Necco wafers. This particular candy we ate a lot when we were little. According to Necco´s website, Necco Assorted Wafers come in

eight pastel colors and flavors–Chocolate, lemon, lime, orange, clove, wintergreen, cinnamon, licorice

I never actually knew what the falvors were until today. You can learn more here.

Now that you know a little about Necco Wafers, I can share my poem.

Jesus in the Backseat

The noxious incense from her cigarette,
Mixed with the sweet smoky puffs from his pipe,
Envelops us inside the
Airtight car.

We return from pilgrimage,
From the
Hawaiian Fountain,
Where we celebrated mass
Consumption around the flaming
Pu Pu Platter.

We three kids
Sit in the backseat,
Cautiously placing Necco Wafers
On each other´s tongue,
As one intones–
The body of Christ.
The body of Christ.

We feel the chalky disc dissolve.

With our tongues extended,
Cradling the candied Christ,
We stammer back,

Doin’ Time in Belfast

After spending very special days with Alie and Jo in Wakefield and Leeds, I arrived in Belfast yesterday. I have dreamed for a long time to come to this city. It has felt like a leading and a longing, and I am not sure why. I know that my friend Ruth Ann has said many times that she sees the need for work around LGBT issues in Northern Ireland where she had lived most of her life.

Last summer at Greenbelt when I met some people from the Belfast-based Ikon group (community?), I felt even more drawn to Northern Ireland. From their own wiki page, they provide a picture of who they are and what they seek to do.

Inhabiting a space on the outer edges of religious life, we are a Belfast-based collective who offer anarchic experiments in transformance art. Challenging the distinction between theist and atheist, faith and no faith our main gathering employs a cocktail of live music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual and reflection in an attempt to open up the possibility of a theodramatic event.

“transformance art” “theodramatic event” You can see what draws me to this artistic, eclectic and deeply spiritual group.

Last night I got to see them in action at their monthly Sunday night gathering. On each cafe table they piled up stacks of Legos along with a one word prompt. The residents at each table collectively created something to go along with the word (our table had the word sight).

As we did this gentle building, various members of Ikon approached the mic to read excerpts from books, short stories, and devotionals–some published but much original. Their theme revolved around faith unfinished, or as they presented it UNFINISHE… As we listened to the speakers and to each other, the organizers encouraged us to write down a phrase that struck us. We then added all of these together to form a liturgy of sorts that they read out at the very end.

In the midst of all this people could go to a laptop to help complete a virtual jigsaw puzzle that they projected up on a big screen. To round off the evening the cafe remained open throughout so you could go up to buy a coffee or beer.

This is what I always envision when I dream of a church I would like to attend. Inventive, playful, profound, hands-on and validating of everyone’s contribution. That last one got tested when a woman in the audience (who I think drank a few too many before the event even started) shouted out funny and seemingly inappropriate things like orgasm. Ikon has maintained a culture where they don’t applaud for people much after they speak. But this woman enthusiastically clapped every time someone finished presenting, usually clapping alone until a brave few joined in.

The woman left about a third of the way into the evening, but we saw and felt her contributions throughout, especially when we got to the joint liturgy we composed. Orgasm made it to the list including the statement, “We don’t clap enough”. By the end of the evening we clapped a lot, evidence to the change this one woman made.

What struck me about the liturgy as two Ikoners read it from the front was how much of it I had not heard throughout the evening. These were “found” statements said at our tables and from the front, but most of it I had not heard before. I walked away with the thought, So much gets said that I don’t hear.

Heaven on Earth

I arrived in Portland, Oregon yesterday (with my bag containing my costumes trailing behind me but eventually showing up). I adore being in Portland, and it is not just the coffee. I arrived at the airport and Jim, from the Anawim community picked me up. This is a group of gay Christian men who have met together every Thursday night for years so that they can share a meal, discuss the scripture and then spend time in silent prayer holding up each others concerns and joys.

I made it just in time for their once every month gathering where all three of the Anawim groups that normally meet separately around the city get together for a big meal, prayer and communion. They even provided me vegan fare!

What I appreciate about this group is seeing the genuine love in action among them. One of the brothers, after three years of sobriety, slipped back into a drug habit. After an intervention, the brother elected to go into treatment. In the meantime he had lost his job and is in about to get evicted from his home. One of the men in the group explained the situation and that they needed to find a place to store the brother’s things and needed a group to help move all his stuff. Hands shot up immediately. The moving party will gather first thing Saturday morning. Then they went into prayer for the brother and his recovery. Such a solid loving community that does the work.

Whenever I stay in Portland my hosts are Doug and Bruce, a delightful gay couple who take it upon themselves to “release me for ministry” as we sometimes say in Quaker circles. They make it so that when I am here, I do not have to worry about anything. They give me bus passes, access to the Internet, and all my favorite foods. A big pot of sweet brown rice with all the fixings for my favorite sauce stood waiting to greet me. They even get me vegan junk food!

Today I head off to the Transforming Faith conference where I will meet loads of awesome people and learn tons of stuff. I wish I could blog more, but I have to dash. So far this spring tour has been so much fun and an opportunity to meet some amazing people and reconnect with friends (and Friends). I am still glowing from my recent trips to James Madison University and the University of IL in Champaign Urbana. (a special hello to my stealth blog reader who is mixing up a potion in the lab even as we speak 🙂

A Christian Response to a Christian Critic

Christine and I receive many e-mails and messages via Beyond Ex-Gay. Most of them are from fellow ex-gay survivors sharing some of their story, giving a word of affirmation and support, or offering to help in some way. We also get a handful of letters from people who believe our work is misguided. Recently I received such a message from a visitor to the site, a woman who used to live as a lesbian but now is ex-gay. In her message she shared some of her story and concluded with the exhortation, “Please don’t give up!! Pursue Jesus and He will heal you!!”

Below is my response. As with all such responses, I copied Christine, who after reading it, asked me to post it at bXg. I am a Christian, but bXg is not a Christian site. We seek to be faith-friendly, and we realize that ex-gay survivors represent a wide diversity of backgrounds.

My response is written by a Christian to a Christian.

Thank you for taking the time to write to us. From your writing I do not sense that you wish to be disrespectful or abusive. Sadly some people writing us take that approach. Although you do not mean to be disrespectful or abusive, some of what you say is filled with false assumptions.

I hear in your words the assumption that some of us are not Christians, and that we have not spent many years seeking with much sincerity to understand God’s will for our lives. You assume that since you do not see yourself being a Christian and lesbian, that this is the only way to approach the situation. The scriptures are not that clear, especially when it comes to lesbianism.

Romans One is usually misinterpreted by people who take one or two verses out of context and overlook Paul’s other possible purpose in writing his letter to the Jewish Christians in Rome. Some fail to read Romans 2:1 which is the concluding verse for the several verses that proceed it. Some also overlook the fact that early Church teaching NEVER considered Romans One a passage about homosexuality. That interpretation came later.

But you did not write to discuss scripture. You wrote to lead us to Jesus. You wrote to tell us how wonderful life is with Jesus and the joy we will find in being in relationship with him. I know this joy and live it daily. My “gay lifestyle” includes worshiping with other believers every week as well as sweet times of fellowship on my own with God. My “gay lifestyle” includes listening to God and following God’s leading, which has affected nearly every part of my life including my diet, my friendships, my career, my sexuality and how I view and use my body.

At bXg we do not in any way seek to invalidate people like you who say they are happy as ex-lesbians (or whichever term you prefer to use). The reality is that such a life is not possible for the vast majority of people who have earnestly sought after it. Alan Chambers himself admits that Exodus has at least a 70% failure rate. For most of us, not only was it not possible, but we did great harm to ourselves and the people we love.

We don’t blame the ex-gay programs for all the hurt we suffered. Much of it was self-induced, spurred on by a society, an ungodly world, that along with some portions of the Church, believes that one must be heterosexual to be acceptable. In this belief the “unsaved” world and the Church live in unison, much like the church and the world both supported slavery for centuries. There is too much of worldly values in the Church of Jesus, and it is time that the church no longer conform to the pattern of this world but experience a renewing of the mind.

I understand that you cannot see yourself living as a Christian and a lesbian. Some early Christians felt it was sinful to eat certain meats. In fact major conflicts arose over that issue. But others felt peace and clarity in eating those very meats. I believe when it comes to many issues of sexuality, it is like this too. Looking at the scriptures, we see many patterns, not all in accordance to our comfort or calling. But we need to be careful not to judge; this is the very message of Romans 1 and 2. We need to trust each other that we have done the work and continue to listen closely to God.

Blessings on your journey,

Day of the Demons

Well that is the sort of way we used to refer to Halloween during my Pentecostal Christian days. (Although growing up and gorging on candy, I felt like hurling demons.)

In Memphis lots of the conservative family churches held “Harvest Parties” on Halloween for fear of giving the devil a foothold if the kids got too ghoulish. And I am sure some of you have heard of the Hell House craze blazing across the US scaring the snot out of kids in hopes of bringing them to Christ.

But my FAVORITE Halloween story comes from fellow ex-gay survivor, Christine Bakke as it appeared in Glamour Magazine.

She recalls the church group her parents joined in Oregon, where instead of Halloween celebrations they held an annual Hallelujah Party with kids dressing as their favorite Bible characters. (Even at 11 she had a nonconformist streak: “All the girls wanted to be Mary,” she says, laughing. “I went as a leper!”)

I just e-mailed her to see if she had any of those torn and dirty rags to lend me this year.She replied,

we would be such an awesome halloween couple – you as lazarus me as a leper, both removing our rags….

perhaps we could do some kind of interpretive dance around this? 😉

(photo from Kung Fu Mike)

Spiritual Aids

Monday at Greenbelt, Trevor, James, James, Bill and I ate at Nuts Cafe and chatted with a nice Christian couple who joined us at our table. Not sure how the conversation got on the topic, but somehow we began to talk about Adult Bookstores, well, not so much about their contents of porn and sex toys, but about the irony of calling these places “bookstores” for “adults”. It all seems rather adolescent.

Similarly misnamed are items sold under the heading Marital Aids. Although there must be testimonies of married couples who have been aided by the use of whips, chains, porn videos and sex toys, I have a feeling that many (most?) consumers of marital aids are not looking to deepen their relationship with their spouse. (Of course I may be wrong about all this, and I am sure some of you will sort me out 🙂

Over the weekend I witnessed Matt Redman perform Greenbelt’s Main Stage. Technically Redman doesn’t perform; he leads worship. His sweet and upbeat songs encourage people to open up and draw near to God.

He possesses a warm, friendly voice–emotive, not afraid to show his intimacy towards God, his passionate desire to worship Jesus. I own two or three of his albums and through the years have enjoyed his voice, melodies and most of his lyrics. Seeing him listed as a Greenbelt presenter, I jumped at the chance to experience his worship leading.

I sat in a shaded spot as the music began. Redman called us to worship. Clap your hands! Shout to the Lord! Dance! He gave lots of instructions and pushed the audience to respond enthusiastically. Like many pop and rock singers do, at one point he called out to the crowd, How is everyone doing? He received a tepid response, so he repeated the question with emphasis. I said, HOW IS EVERYONE DOING? And on cue, the crowd went wild.

As the “worship” continued, a large group of audience members in the center, up towards the front lifted their hands, jumped up and down, and shouted along with the songs (much like I had done for years in the charismatic church services I attended).

But as the crowd cheered, I grew quiet. The more Redman sang and rallied for us to join in the worship, the more I withdrew. I suddenly felt like a stranger speaking a different language. Instead of warming, my insides felt still and cool and distant.

I questioned myself,

Has my heart grown cold to God? Is this because I am gay and I am bold enough I accept this fact? Have I lost my “first love”?

The answers came quickly and confidently. No, I still love to be in God’s presence. I still love to worship. But I no longer need to be ushered to the throne of God like in the past. I no longer need a cheerleader pointing me to Jesus. These past six years, as I sat in silent worship in Quaker meetings, in that stillness, I have found that “hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the Sun above.”

It is not that I think that Matt Redman-style worship is worthless or bad. But I have outgrown it. I don’t need it like I once did. Instead of a call to worship it sounded more like clanging cymbals to me right now. It serves as an outmoded prop to help me worship or aid, a spiritual aid. Today I don’t need all those bells and whistles and exhortations. I just need a quiet room, silence among Friends, and then I find I can usually enter into a place of openness and listening and surrender.

Here is a crude analogy for those of you who remember tests like the SAT.
Right now, for me, a porn film is to marriage as Matt Redman is to worship. It serves as a distraction, a pleasant but unnecessary stimulation that I have outgrown.

Change Was NOT Possible–part 3 of 3

This is the third in a three part series.
Part One: What Was I After and Why?
Part Two: What Happens When Change is not Possible?

Part Three: Living on the Outside

After I exited LIA, I lived for a short time as an ex-gay apart from being in the program. I kept accountable, denying myself daily, being careful where I went and what I thought. I took up the struggle as my daily cross to bear, believing that God would give me the strength to bear it each day, one day at a time. It was pretty much everything I did for the past 17 years, but this time with more therapy and tools at my disposal.

During his talk at the recent Love Won Out Conference in Phoenix (hat tip to Jim Burroway) Alan Chambers spoke about denial.

I think you can expect a life of obedience. Matthew 16:24 talks about those who take up their cross and follow the Lord. They have to live a life of denial. And in the early days of when I started speaking and debating and doing all sorts of things related to the issue of homosexuality, and took my position with Exodus, people used to say, “Oh Alan, you’re just in denial.” I used to get so mad when they’d say, “You’re just in denial. You’re just denying who you’re really are.” And I’d say, “No I’m not. I’m not in denial. I’m not in denial.” And then I came to the place where I realized, you know what? God calls us as Christians to a life of denial.

I love that today, I realize that I do live a life of denial. Not denial of who I used to be, not denial of who I could be today, but I deny what comes naturally to me.

I too denied what came natural to me. My same-sex desires existed in me from the earliest time. I tried casting them out, handing them over to God, therapizing them away, containing them and ultimately denying them and nailing them to the cross. I crucified myself with Christ and died daily. The problem was I was not dying to “sin”. No what I thought was sinful in my life, my same-sex desires, only grew stronger with a natural energy that I could not destroy. No but I did died daily, by inches, my personality and my well being suffered.

Then one day I woke up and surveyed my life. I took stock of the depression, the stress, the feelings of self-loathing, and the exhaustion. I considered Jesus’ promise when he declared

Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

I stayed in bed feeling the weight of the burdens piled on top of me. That yoke was not easy and the burden was not light. It crushed the life out of me. The letter of the law kills but the Spirit gives life. No matter how much I trusted in the Spirit’s power, I had insisted that the Spirit enable me to follow the law of man and not the word of God, and the law was killing me.

Then I said to myself, “What are you doing? This is insane!” And at that moment I woke up as if out of a coma and for the first time in nearly two decades I understood that my pursuit to change and suppress my sexuality was unnecessary and unhealthy. Sure I experienced change, but not what I had hoped for. The ex-gay process transformed me into a joyless, uptight, frustrated drone of a man, growing more and more distant from God despite the many hours of daily prayer and Bible study.

In my journey I began to realize that I needed help with specific issues. I objectified people and their bodies as sexual objects. I had the tendency to be compulsive and addictive in my sexual life and not see sex as a means of loving and building a relationship but as a means to quench an unmet need. I also realized how much I wished to fit in and please the straight men around me and live in such a way as to gain their approval and acceptance. But none of these issues had to do with my natural orientation towards men. In fact, mine was a very human struggle that many more straight men face than do gay men.

But in demonizing all same-sex desire, branding it evil, demonic, unhealthy and abnormal, I sought to destroy it. First I tried to magically alter it into heterosexuality and when I understood the implausibility of such a miracle, I then tried to silence and suppress my desires looking to God to enable me to destroy myself.

I sought the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the simple message of Jesus—love your neighbor as yourself—I coveted my straight neighbor and tried to become just like him. In the end I hated myself. I felt ashamed of myself and as a result I acted shamefully.

I accepted that I could not rid myself of my same-sex desires. I grew to understand that my desires were not abnormal or wrong. I accepted and affirmed myself. I then began to see real change in my life—the ability to address the sexual compulsion, the moral will to stop objectifying people as mere sexual objects.

I also found a new honesty with God and others, a transparency that eluded me for years. Friends and family noticed the difference over the past eight years and remark how I am much more alive, solid and emotionally available than ever before.

Some suggest that since we never can actually change our sexuality that we should still strive to cage it in, silence it and nail it to the cross. For me I realize that such a life does come not from a following God but from following man.

Change from being gay to straight was NOT possible for me, neither was it necessary. Trying to NOT be gay didn’t work either, even when I viewed it as my sacrifice to God. Pursuing to change and suppress my sexuality came at a great cost. Sure I learned some good lessons, but ultimately the process caused me more harm than good.

Change Was Not Possible–part 1 of 3

In the tradition of Disputed Mutability, I have a three part series that I will present over the next week or two.

Part One—What I was After and Why?

Like many ex-gay survivors, for years I sought a miraculous transformation. I wanted to change from gay to straight—be it instantaneous or as a long-term process (but instantaneous would have been nice). At the time it seemed a reasonable and necessary step. Steeped in a world that insisted heterosexuality was normal, expected and ideal, I also learned that most folks believed that homosexuals were sick, dangerous, immoral, ungodly and abnormal. They even had Bible verses to support their claims (even if most of the people saying so didn’t actually follow the rest of the Bible).

I received this message universally—on the playground, in the media and at church (first at the Roman Catholic Church of my early youth and then at string of other faith communities including Fundamentalist, Evangelical and ultimately Charismatic churches I attended over the next 17 years.)

No question about the message—gays are wrong—sinful, evil, ungodly, counter-Christian.

In my teens I also learned about Jesus and his “wonder working power,” and how “if any man (or woman) be in Christ Jesus he (or she) is a new creation. The old is gone behold all things are made new.”

If it were so unnatural and abnormal to have a homosexual orientation, and the power of Jesus through his death and resurrection was so supreme, surely the most logical prayer to cry out would be, “Jesus transform me by your power into a man of God, a non-gay man of God, a straight man of God.”

I heard slogans and testimonies that proclaimed, “Change is Possible!” and testimonies of how people found freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ. I did not read the fine print, Actual change in orientation not actually promised or guaranteed, since no such disclaimers existed at the time.

If I met people who suggested that God couldn’t change me thoroughly, I judged them to be a weak and questionable Christian. I made sure I never attended their church again, and moved on. I always found ministers—straight and ex-gay—who inferred or outright declared that I would experience a genuine inner transformation from my same-sex attractions.

I believed it so much that in faith, after a few years of celibacy, (although I didn’t call it that—I was just being faithful), I married a woman and lived heterosexually. My identity was as a Christian and a married man.

Next Part Two–What Happens When Change is Not Possible?
Part Three–Living on the Outside