Updated: Feb 8, 2019
I grew up in the small town of Comanche, Texas which is considered home to about 4000 people. The culture was religious and conservative with a focus on hard work and family. My family’s home was a little outside of the city limits down a long dirt road passed miles of cattle pasture.
I was raised Southern Baptist and my family were church regulars attending services on both Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, as well as on Wednesdays on occasion when my church held services those nights. Basically, if folks were meeting at the church house, we were there! We also had a bit of Primitive Baptist upbringing as well due to my Nana’s (mother’s mom) membership at a small church in Lamkin, TX (pop. 88 in the 2000 census and was labeled an unincorporated community in the 2010 census) about 36 miles outside of Comanche.
The Primitive Baptist church only met about once a month due to low attendance, but when they did they made a day of it. Everyone dressed up nice and sat through a full morning of services (10:30 am-12pm) with a great big lunch afterwards. Primitive Baptists did not believe that musical instruments were appropriate so all songs were sung a cappella (like Pitch Perfect without the sound editing), and it was expected to wear your 'Sunday Best' each morning. With this as my reference point, I felt like my church as pretty ‘normal,’ but I did wish our lunch parties were as fun as the Primitive Baptist ones! They also threw one hell of a yearly revival, but that will need to be covered in a future blog post.
I think it is safe to say that we were your classic Southern Baptist conservative family. My dad was (and still is) very active in our home church. He worked hard as the Children’s Church Director for years and then later took over as Music Director leading the singing each Sunday morning as well. Additionally, he was a Gideon - the folks responsible for the Bible’s in Motel 6's across this great country, or the guys that kept handing out those little bibles on your college campus. This was a pretty solid time commitment for my dad on a weekly basis, and he would also regularly go to other local churches in the surrounding area to ask for donations. We would sometimes accompany my dad on these Sunday morning trips which created some comedic moments.
There’s nothing better than seeing a good Southern Baptist family committed to not dancing (you know it is a sin!) in the middle of a Pentecostal service with folks dancing in the aisle, raising hands, and hooping in hollering like it is a Friday night party!
While not as tough as being a preacher’s kid, there was a certain expectation that a Gideon’s kid would know about the Bible. I remember getting the random curveball questions while visiting some of these church’s Sunday school classes. I mainly tried to keep things general and vague…”Sure, Jonah was known as a bit of a pill…”
In all seriousness though, I did do a lot of Bible studying. I had an amazing Sunday school Teacher named Pat Dickey who helped me create a binder that became a wealth of information. She helped me understand the locations of major stories in the old testament, chronology of all the books in the Bible, and genealogy of major figures as well. I remember winning a morning radio trivia contest by knowing the name of one of the the few women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy who also had a book named after them in the Bible. Ruth - duh silly. I would have never been able to answer that question without working with Pat for so many years in Sunday School.
One of my favorite things about church would be when someone - preferably a guest of the church because it shook up that consistent 15-20 person attendance am I right?! - would share their Testimony. For those not versed in typical Church lingo - pun INTENDED on that one! - Testimony is a fancy Church term for sharing your story. I would perch up and sit forward eagerly listening to folks share some pretty tough stuff. Stories of criminal past, addiction, and one particular one on hell where the gentleman believed he had died, gone to hell, and was revived (yeah - this service got a PG-13 rating) were some of my favorites. I would regularly pray to God and ask to get to have a great testimony that I could share one day.
Unfortunately, I have spent many years not liking the one that I got.
It has been extremely rough to get to the place where I accept my testimony, but that is where I am at right now.
I first realized that I was attracted to men in about the third grade. I was not too focused on it though and didn’t really think much about it at all. I just kind of thought that everyone had attractions for the same sex, but we were supposed to like the opposite sex. You know, ‘Because we had to have babies and stuff', I thought. It wasn’t until I was in middle school - that time when you are just swelling with confidence - that I truly realized the implications of my feelings for men.
This is when I discovered what I have now learned to be the “Clobber Verses” in the Bible. The ones that told me I was an abomination. That I was wrong. That I was less than, or at best, other.
I became admittedly obsessive about these verses and would regularly flip through my bible a few times each Sunday morning (while always keeping my place with the sermon as well, of course) to read those verses over and over. To say that I took it to heart would be an understatement. I remember being crushed that I was an abomination, and still get choked up to this day when I go back to that mental space. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and feeling so ashamed and unworthy. Really set up a good foundation for the normal teenage self worth issues - 'I hate my face, I hate my skin, I hate this and that about myself, etc' - because at the end of it all, these were just small extensions from the worthless peace of hell trash the Bible told me I was.
After ruminating in how hated, loathed and wrong I truly was, I begin to fear something even worse than the ultimate fate of my soul: being exposed for what I truly was. Now I want to be clear that I was rarely called ‘Fag’ and never experienced physical abuse, but there was a significant amount of mental trauma caused by living in a culture that accepted that homosexuality was an abomination because the Bible told them so. I ultimately did not know what would happen to me, and I assumed the worst. So I hid.
I made sure to wear baggy pants to try to hide my hips that tended to pop out, and wore oversized long sleeve shirts to hide my limp wrists. I quickly realized the less I spoke, the less attention I would receive so I became an introvert at school while trying to fade into the walls as much as possible.
I also learned at a young age that achievement was highly praised and valued. As someone who was receiving zero self validation due to my ‘condition,’ I quickly warmed to validation through external praise. I worked hard in school and ultimately graduated Valedictorian of my class. I learned that I was a decent runner after years of failing at hand eye coordinated sports, and focused my energies on getting to the point where I placed or won a majority of the races I was in during track season. I worked hard at band to be Drum Major and receive perfect ratings on my bassoon (nerd alert ladies!) performances in UIL.
I have come to believe that the reasoning for all these achievements was the ultimate fear that if I was found out to be ‘a gay,’ I would be ostracized or worse: disappointing. My hope was that they would look at all my achievements and think “Well at least he is still a valuable member of society, even if he is going to hell.”
It is important to point out that while I had all these strong beliefs about myself through the Bible, I never shared any of it with anyone due to this fear of being found out. I began to ‘split’ my life. ‘Splitting’ is a word for what gay men do when they create completely different lives for themselves depending on who they are around. It is the process of creating two realities that are both independent of each other and 100% true at the same time even if they are contradictory. The only similarity is that you are in both. Well, at least a version of you is in both.
I continued going to church, and would attend Wednesday night youth services at the slightly larger church in town as well. I served as a camp counselor at a couple of Christian camps, and was an officer in our FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) club. I did have to walk that delicate line of participating in Christian based activities without getting too chummy with folks to ensure they didn’t pick up on my glaring effeminate characteristics, but I did it for the most part.
One of my favorite verses or lessons to ‘discuss’ in leadership roles was:
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 (NLT).
I thought it was important to point out to folks - especially younger folks - that they are beautiful and perfect because they are God’s masterpiece. His workmanship. All the while, still believing that I was a piece of hell trash. Like he had forgot about me with that line. The splitting powers were real, America!
What I can remember the most during this time was how. much. I. smiled.
I always smiled - no matter how I felt. I also became very skilled at ‘reading a room’ and made it my goal to make most interactions congenial and comfortable for the other parties involved first. I was able to suppress my authentic self to nothing during this time. “Oh wait, this is going to inconvenience you in some way? Don’t worry about it, we just won’t talk/think about that.” Didn’t matter if it was important or pressing for me, if it was going to rub someone else the wrong way, it was a nonstarter. I was the kind of person who would turn down an ambulance ride to the hospital because I didn’t want to “cause that much trouble for you,” or “put one more thing on your plate.” Etc etc.
Due to the manic smiling, I became very good at “being fake” as you can probably imagine. So I coasted on auto-pilot on the faith front, until I ultimately had to take what I have started to call my ‘sabbatical from Jesus.’ During this time, I stopped going to church and stopped considering myself a Christian. I was tired of attending a country club that would not have let me in should they have found out who I truly was.
Many amazing things happened during this time. I rode a bicycle from Texas to Alaska, interned at the White House, and became the first member of my family to graduate college (Hook’em!). I also started to date men after coming to terms with my homosexuality internally - could be a a future blog post - and began slowly coming out to the world as a gay man.
Fast forward about 8 years and I felt like I was a proud and successfully out gay man, but something still seemed to be missing. I honesty still yearned to be able to validate my worldview which was formed by faith through a spiritual practice.
It’s funny to think of God trying to get your attention. The easy analogy would be for you to be a child with an electric device of some kind when their parent is trying to play with them with a home-made puppet show set, but I like to flip it and think of Jesus as the child. Excited and beaming, he is trying to get the attention of us. His passion for what our lives could be with him exuding out into the space around us, but for whatever reason we don’t break focus.
I like to think that Jesus got through when my friend Courtney invited me to attend a Sunday church service at a small church in the Clarksville area of Austin called St. Luke. We were on a drive up to Dallas for a mutual friend’s wedding and were unfortunately unable to stay the night. So we basically slayed a 6 hour drive like it was nbd. Court and I have many a car riding story which might be the subject of future blogs! During this endless, but also joyful, 1:1 time we talked about faith and how I had tried a couple services at a church. Courtney shared that she and her husband Bradley had been attending at St. Luke and were really impressed by the community and the pastor. She shared specific thoughts the church had on homosexuality that weren’t condemning outright which also intrigued me.
Cut to me attending a Sunday service shortly thereafter, and I started going regularly for about 2 years. I joined the church’s mission trip to Guatemala in 2017 and participated in multiple small groups, committee meetings and Pastor’s Pub gatherings while connecting with this new community. It wasn’t until December of last year that I officially joined the church in order to serve on a committee that required all participants be members of the church.
All this entailed was standing in front of the small congregation of about 20 folks and affirming a couple statements that Jay, my pastor, read to me. It was so simple. We even joked a bit about needing to ‘phone a friend’ for a couple of the questions which were easily answered with a 'Yes'. It wasn’t until I sat down, and the emotions started to swell, that I truly realized what had just happened.
Back to getting our attention, I believe that nothing works as well as when God knocks the tears from my eyes, and he was knocking those tears out big time that Sunday morning that I joined St. Luke. I realized that I would have easily considered what just happened impossible for a majority of my christian life. I had stood in front of a group of Christians as my full and authentic self - my strengths, my flaws, and the fact that I was a gay man - and they accepted me into their community.
I don’t know where I stand on mountain moving miracles, but I still believe in miracles. I think a miracle can be described as something that previously was thought to be impossible.
I never believed that I could be fully accepted as a gay man by a Christian community, and ultimately serve as a Christian while also being gay. But that’s exactly what I’m doing now that I have joined St. Luke.
I am so thankful to my fellow members of St. Luke who have created space for me to live authentically as a gay male of faith. They love and support me and my life, and I love and support theirs as well. I believe that I’m truly experiencing God and Heaven in my life because of their presence.
My goal of this blog is to create space for individuals to be their authentic selves while I continue to strive to live authentically as well. I believe that through community support and personal work, we can make the world around us a better place.
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