…But overcome evil with good; my recap of Chicago Pride 2014/I’m Sorry Campaign 2014

Since 2010 I have volunteered with The Marin Foundation and friends in the I’m Sorry Campaign, and earlier this year I spearheaded the first ever I’m Sorry Campaign in Los Angeles, and last year I was a part of the I’m Sorry Campaign in Memphis. But this year was a first for me, as I went to the Chicago Pride Parade to be a part of the I’m Sorry Campaign in front of the protestors.

Reuben, and other guys with bullhorns, and galls with signs, took their anger and fury and crafted for themselves a god and spewed it on anyone and everyone. They had police protection and were guarded, and it was definitely a “great” display in demonstrating the effectiveness of USA’s Freedom Of Speech, but their speech…and conduct within their pin…Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.


While it angered me and frustrated me, more than anything else I felt fear being in their presence. These “street preachers” seemed to pick apart everyone and anything that crossed their hairs. I was still fearful when I started dwelling and meditating on Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (bold and underlines are mine.)
It really cleared my fear up very quickly, it also helped me be present; to those in the parade, to those around us, to the other I’m Sorry Campaigners, to the protestors, but also unto God and what I was led to do by the Holy Spirit on the day as well as when I first went in 2010.

We received the usual stuff they hand/throw out at Pride Parades, but we also gave and received hugs and embraces from others, I held shaking, quivering, guys and gals who saw us after seeing the protestors and were incredibly moved by us being present in front of them proclaiming that God is love not hate, we allowed others to cry tears of happiness and relief that not all Christians come across as being unloving, we received we-forgive-you’s for our I’m-sorry’s, but ultimately I believe we embraced humanity but we also embraced divinity as well.

It was a blessing to be a part of the I’m Sorry Campaign for the second time this year. I am glad to play my part in restoration and reconciliation because while ultimately God, I believe with every cell of my body that we can help usher in perfect shalom. I never have the feeling that I am going to bring God to the Pride Parades I attend by way of the I’m Sorry Campaign, because God is already present and moving through those who gather. Being the hands and feet of Christ are important, but being his arms to hug, his shoulders to lean on, and his ears to hear the stories of others, that too is very important. I am proud to be a follower of Christ and I am thankful for the faithfulness of The Marin Foundation and friends who live intentional and incarnational lives, lives invested in the lives of others, lives invested to build bridges between the Christian Community and the LGBTQ Community. Not that they are islands unto themselves, but there needs to be more overlap and dialogue.

Happy Pride everyone, to God be the glory!

~Nathanael~

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My recap of the Los Angeles Pride Parade/I’m Sorry Campaign LA

I was greatly encouraged that by word of mouth, a Facebook group page, 12 of us came together to be a part of the very first I’m Sorry Campaign in Los Angeles. While I am used to interacting with those around at Chicago Pride, our interactions with those with whom we offered I’m-Sorry’s were mostly with those directly in the parade. And yet it was received very well.

I can’t even begin to count the hugs, kisses, the weeping in my shoulder blade and thank-you’s and I-forgive-you’s I personally received. I saw some people within the parade who were moved and blew kisses, but thankfully a good deal of those I met and interacted with were on the street level. This is encouraging to me because it meant there was a connection made, a symbiotic relationship briefly established…this occurred after the majority of the people in the parade as well as those who came to watch passed up a group of protestors, a group of people waving their filthy flag under the guise of God, essentially a turn-or-burn message.

But still, my fellow I’m Sorry Campaigners received hugs and kisses, heard stories, engaged with those in the parade as well as those around them. Since I led this up and only met 1 individual for this event, I was slightly nervous as to how they’d engage with those in the parade and those around. They did a splendid job and I know that if they get together next year they will do fine on their own.

***

Usually one Kingdom of God moment sticks out to me after the fact of Pride parades, be it someone I interacted within the parade directly or someone in nearby proximity who saw what we were about. None specifically sticks out because there was an abundance of love and reconciliation and restoration! 🙂 I enjoyed that people were receptive to our cards, read it, got it and looked back to smile/wave/blown kisses/mouthed thank-you’s. That’s how it sometimes plays out in the Kingdom Of God, it takes a bit of time to process what’s really going on and receive it completely and fully.
God delights in our “getting it” and even our extending it to others. Love, grace, mercy, peace, reconciliation and restoration point to what God is doing and even what God has invited us along to do and participate in. God’s presence is already there, but God invites us and coaxes us to be a part of Kingdom work.

Thanks be to God for inviting me to be a part of adventures like this one. I’m not running on a “spiritual high” right now but rather a relaxed state of being and dwelling and thinking over what God has done, a posture of thankfulness to do events like this one. I have seen the hands of God in all of this, and I am grateful to have played a part in it.

~Nathanael~

Why I stopped being a Christian jerk

A couple of weeks ago one of my coworkers and I were talking and…religion (gasp!) became the topic for a while. She shared with me part of her story, where she came from and where she is now. I brought up how that when I aligned myself as an Evangelical it was very limiting, and at times I was downright legalistic on many a topic. She, at this point seeing how I work with my clients, grasped that I’ve changed and she brought up what caused me to start changing, to start loving more and legalizing less…and…well, here’s some of my story in that regard.

I stopped being a Christian jerk when…

I realized how much my faith is mine, but ultimately God through God’s grace and love, how much isn’t me. I have a work ethic that sometimes is off-putting and an amalgamation of cockiness and independence, the “trust me, I’ve got this” shtick is how I sometimes play (thankfully not all the time, I am very much a team player). Yet this is how I at times have conducted my faith, that “hey God, sit down, I’ve got this” and it…it ate me alive to be perfectly honest. I made it all about me, and in doing so I removed God from the equation and I sat down and called myself God. I didn’t do this verbally, but certainly my actions seemed as such, and with being a self-imposed God I made a list of do’s and don’ts of personal morality but I also tried to some extent to hold people to MY standards, and it bound me and blinded me, never once was I free.

But grace somehow made its way in. In my flaws and in my cracks, grace pierced my heart. Grace was followed by unconditional love, which was followed by acceptance and affirmation; that despite all the hell I caused others, despite all the hell I heaped on my head, God still loved me for me, not because…

I bring up the parable of The Prodigal Son frequently because I have been all 3 characters- the father, the older brother, and the younger brother at some time in my life. It was my self-imposed legalism that made me in my own way exclaim that “it’s not fair!” when people seem to get ahead despite me thinking they didn’t deserve it. It was the doing my own thing on my own terms and wanting to find my way back, if just to be back to occupy the lowest position. It was the seeing someone I love hurt and running to them and embracing them instead of letting them endure the long road back with a heavy burden of thoughts weighing them down.

Having been all 3, I want to say nowadays I aim to be like the father; to extend grace and unconditional love to others because this was extended to me, this is what set me free.

***

Because of grace and unconditional love I am at odds with the Christian community sometimes because of my outspokenness about the LGBTQ Community. For me it comes from a place of realizing what followers of Christ have said or done that have marginalized them, that have stripped them of their humanity and ultimately their Imago Dei-ness- that they are indeed made in the image of God. While the LGBTQ Community are not the only individuals who are being marginalized, it’s personal to me and something I am very vocal about, because I too had a hand in the marginalization by way of using the word “Gay” as an adjective for stupid and dumb.
It was while I was in college that a floor-mate of mine changed my thinking about so much about what I thought despite at that time my views were based on ‘well my father thinks/my mother thinks/my pastor thinks’, my floor-mate was what I needed in my life to jar me from my complacency and parroted views that were never mine to begin with, but I hid behind them nonetheless.

It was a 5-6 year journey of wrestling it all out. But I made it! 🙂

***

If you are a follower of Christ if the Holy Spirit moves you and beckons you to new places that are outside of your comfort zone (she’s prone to doing that in my life) I encourage you to go and be not only the hands and feet of Jesus, but to be the ears and eyes as well. It was unnerving the first time I went to the Pride Parade in Chicago to be a part of the I’m Sorry Campaign, but God was already there, God just happened to invite my friends and I to be a part of something bigger, something better. God is already *insert place here* and with the grace and unconditional love he lavishes on us constantly, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same?

~Nathanael~

I finally know what I want to do with my [work] life

Lately in my church we’ve been doing a series called “Trusting God with…” and one thing I’ve started wrestling with in regards to this series is work.
I love what I do, and yet I have 3 things on my plate as to what I want to with my work life:
1) Youth ministry
2) Social services, working with those who live with mental illness
3) I’m not sure what the job title would be, but I like what The Marin Foundation does, so something along the lines of building bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community.

But I have made peace and I’m reading to move forward into…*drum roll* 🙂

I’m going to continue on in Social Services, working with individuals who have mental illnesses.
I’ve crossed the threshold of 2 years doing just that, and I like it, but the issue I have is that Illinois is ranked near the bottom (48 out of 51) when it comes to supporting those who need Social Services and funding (pay-wise) those who work jobs in Social Services, but still I am going to give IL a little more time and here’s why.

My annual review will be coming up soon and I’m putting together a proposal as to how my agency can return to a more client-centric approach in how they do things. I’m also putting together a book, a self-help book on mental illness and yet I realize that the general population will benefit from learning what I have learned, that (hopefully) the stigma of individuals living with mental illness will be decreased.

But despite all that, if I’m not able to prove my worth in this manner among other things, I’m starting to look elsewhere. I’m looking back to Memphis TN and see what’s available in this field that has proven to be the most stressful, most tiring, most emotionally jarring job I’ve ever had…but it is also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done job-wise. People are people, and this is how I want to invest my work life.

Part of my game plan does include going back to school, Masters in Psychology with an emphasis in Counseling. So maybe Illinois is where I’ll be, but then again Memphis appeals to me as well for many a reason. I fell in love with the people and that city when I was on vacation, good old “southern hospitality” is what I experienced wherever I went. Plus now that there’s a branch of The Marin Foundation being run by Jimmy Cornfoot I’ll still be able to build bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

O Holy Night revised; personal contextualization to this Christmas carol

For the last 3 years when Christmas comes around and when the Christmas carol O Holy Night is sung, I alter a part of it a little bit:

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I am fully aware that slavery still exists in our world, but if I recall the song was written outside of United States, but when it did come to the United States it was in the time of slavery. With that being said, I get why it was written with slave added to it, but where do I find such conflict within the church today?
Certainly in the churches across America there isn’t a master-and-slave paradigm that exists. However there is a straight-vs-Gay paradigm at times; while there are churches that are accepting, affirming, and loving of members of the LGBT Community there are some churches that practice (whether they acknowledge it or not) exclusiveness not inclusiveness, judgment over love.

So I changed the words knowing this all too well as a straight ally, it is for my brothers and sisters in the LGBT Community whose voices are not heard within Christian circles, who are silenced intentionally as well as unintentionally. I sing for those who cannot sing, who have been kicked out of church because some Christians have not extended Christ-like love to them, I have met some individuals who have gone through this and it breaks my heart but I also know it breaks God’s heart as well.

***

Now this isn’t a post where I’m urging you to “do what I’m doing”, I’m writing this as a wake up call to Christians everywhere! End the marginalization of those who are the “other”; and it very well could mean that it is  someone who is like you more than it means someone not like you.

I recognize in my own life the “other” are Evangelical Calvinists who have a strong sense of believe rather than faith, who have hammered down their personal theology in a controlled and precise matter. Why do those who align themselves like this bother the hell out of me? …I once was like this myself.
In realizing this after the fact (to which it served as a building block not a stepping stone) I dislike who I was, but it is part of my story and I am believing that nothing is wasted, even in those years of creating and perpetuating us-vs-them paradigms.

Yet it is these individuals I need to put more time, more patience, and certainly more love into. It is these people I want to avoid at all costs, but as my pastor wisely put it “you can’t be inclusive to all if you’re exclusive to some”, dammit! Why do you have to be so…right? He is right, and I’m getting that it is like putting a puzzle together; I need all the pieces and not just the ones that strike my attention or are easy to assemble, because any exclusion of puzzle pieces makes for an incomplete puzzle.

Altering “O Holy Night” by saying Gay Man instead of Slave is something that I have no qualms about. Yet I realize that maybe I need to broaden it, because the Evangelical Calvinist is my brother and sister too. That! That is a line I need to sing, because I need to sing for them too. So maybe if I sing it fast enough I can sing Gay-man-and-Evangelical-Calvinist at the same time 😉 I will do my best to do so, because it’s more than a song to me, it’s a posture of  living as God would have me to, it’s living in a more Christ-like way.

~Nathanael~

Prone to wander Lord I feel it; getting community apart from community

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above” ~ Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing


I am a wandering meandering thinking feeling soul. I am 29, but life and what it has presented to me, I have felt old in my younger years and finally the number of my age has caught up to that feeling. 29 years old, which isn’t that old I’m assured, but that’s kindness mingled with something else to suggest that I am not old but in fact still young. What ever it is, it’s not all that reassuring at times.

Anyway, apart from the diatribe of wandering which got me off wandering on my post about wandering… There are times in community that I do not function well; I don’t run to the church when I have problems, I don’t run to people who I know and love who know and love me, I keep to myself and do it myself…to some avail, but total successes, but still, I don’t go to the church as much as I’d like. I guess it stems from growing up in a church where I lived in one town and the church was in another town, and social-economics be damned! I didn’t “fit” into my church and so I was a loner for most of my early church experience.

I didn’t run to the church when my relationship collapsed upon itself and I was left with emotional shrapnel which (until recently) afflicted my body and soul. I didn’t run to the church when I found out my mother had breast cancer and she’d have to go through chemo treatments and her hair would fall out, I didn’t go to the church in the thick of my issues with my father in my younger years and no one ever probed into bruises on my body that weren’t mere “spanking” bruises…

***

In my life I considered nailing down a denomination that I’d align myself with, and that came from some help from a guy I met online who aligns himself with the Greek Orthodox denomination. One of the things I learned from studying Greek Orthodoxy under him was those who were the desert father and mothers; individuals who intentionally left for monastic life with God, and community with God alone. There is much to be learned from the desert fathers and mothers, and I kind of was jealous and slightly zealous to partake in leaving for “out there” apart from community, just God and myself.

But I realized in the 12 days I was camping, I not only need community but I was made for community. I didn’t keep to myself when I was camping, but there were times it was just like the desert fathers and mothers, God and myself in community together albeit in the woods (now if they were forest fathers and mothers…I may have to reconsider what I’m saying here ;-)). I did hang out with friends and new acquaintances while I was in Memphis as well as in Nashville, yet it was in my getting away from community in particular my community in Illinois that I got my needing of it and even desiring it.

The church is a construct of flawed people, and I think that is why I don’t run to the church. I also have a history where the church hasn’t helped me where I would like them to, despite it being tangible and reasonable. I also don’t want someone who’s in a worse place to come along and help me, but sometimes I forget that God is still among people and works through people despite their flawed ways. The Bible is chockful of examples of individuals God used despite their flaws, some of it happened prior to God using them but some of it happened during as well as after. A guy I admire for his writing and what he shared with my church community a few months ago made a very poignant and resounding statement to me, he told me “nothing is wasted” and despite where I’ve come from and where I’m at now, I believe it to the core of who I am.

I recognize that despite how flawed the church is and how badly followers of Christ don’t seem to get it sometimes, but then I genuflect and realize Hey! That’s myself included! I cannot rip on the church and followers of Christ because I am a part of that lot, not apart from it, and until I do what I can to make myself a better person…with God’s help, and certainly, life in community…I cannot degrade it as much as I sometimes do.

So I’m back in Illinois, all fired up and ready to go and be a part of community within my church but also going out from there and doing what I can to impact my roomies, my community, my state, and hopefully the world. I might not always be the best candidate to represent Christ, but I will do what I can to be the change I want to see and usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth. Perfect Shalom is on the horizon, and I know that so much of it begins with community.

~Nathanael~

Hope renewed for my alma mater (part 1)

In (what I thought) was a publication put out by my alma mater Judson University I put together a bit of a statement about my defining moment at Judson. I proceeded to write the following:

My defining moment at Judson started in the first semester I attended; I befriended and got to know several Gay and Lesbian Christians. Up to that point I thought that the two weren’t compatible, that being a part of the Christian community was mutually exclusive from the LGBT Community. I was wrong, dead wrong. It was in my learning through life with these fine men & women that God started working on my heart and mind on the issue, to where it is no longer an issue for me; I accept, I affirm, and I love the LGBT Community.

It came to a culmination while I was praying on my drive to Judson one day. God pointed out that love requires proximity, and that I was to go to the Chicago Pride Parade to demonstrate that love, so I did. I had my ideas of what I was going to do, but by providence I found out about The Marin Foundation, in which some friends and I met up and accompanied them for the first ever “I’m Sorry Campaign”; a time to confess & own up individually as well as collectively for the damage that has done by the Christian Community against the LGBT Community. I have been attending and inviting family and friends for the last 4 years to partake in this wonderful event. God is already present in Boys Town; I go because I am called to be a part of restoration & reconciliation.

Since the Chicago Pride Parade is only once a year, I do what I can to be involved in my local chapter of PFLAG; to build bridges with the Gay and Lesbians who attend that group, both during the meeting and apart from it.

God freed me from my homophobic bonds, and it all started at Judson

Since the Chicago Pride Parade is only once a year, I do what I can to be involved in my local chapter of PFLAG; to build bridges with the Gay and Lesbians who attend that group, both during the meeting and apart from it.

God freed me from my homophobic bonds, and it all started at Judson.

It received some likes and I received some feedback, but since everything pings back to the commenter or writing on Facebook, I was slightly surprised when it dropped off…turns out my post on the alumni page was removed and I was booted from the group!

My friend Justin noticed both things and brought it to everyone’s attention, and since alumni can reinstate members he added me. It was shortly after my reinstatement the Director of Alumni Relations made a public apology for her actions per some flack she received from some alumni who was wondering if Judson was revising it’s views on the LGBT Community and related. Because she wanted to “avoid division, unclarity and hurt feelings” she booted me from the group and deleted my post.

It was shortly thereafter that statement that a revision of the page was put out, that the views of the alumnus don’t necessarily reflect the views of the school. I reposted my defining moment…and then it took off like wildfire going uphill! A lot of alumni started talking, started actual dialoguing with one another, stories were shared with me and my fellow alumnus openly and some privately! A dream came true to be honest!

I also put forward the why I put my story out there:

All I ever wanted was to share part of my story & create room for dialogue. Yes this issue may be an uncomfortable subject to some, but it needs to be addressed because it isn’t going away.

The current appearance of the church collectively appears to be a place of judgmental homophobic heteronormative individuals, but guess what? That’s the church, not God. God is bigger than that!

God has the first word, but also the last, something to consider during this time that my generation will resolve this issue. It takes a generation to resolve it, but future ones to sustain it.

So come one and all to dialogue and discuss this with me and others. Come, I promise not to bite. be a part of much needed change, come and be, come and listen, come and love.

That statement led to even more dialogue albeit with some debate, some battening down of hatches, some defensive and choice words…but dialogue is still happening, at this point it’s at 220 comments!

My hope is greatly renewed at what this could mean. It wasn’t that long ago when I was a student that I tried to start up a Gay-Straight Alliance on campus. It was shut down, and from what I was told the board members who shut it down were upset that their meeting lasted longer than they wanted it to. Then there were those who represented the student body who were afraid that students would turn gay or lesbian simply by being a part of the group, or that it would become a group where students would hookup…all sorts of lack of knowing nonsense.

Yet maybe, just maybe, this dialogue will help to aid in allies winning the war where I once lost the battle. Maybe, just maybe, this discussion will break down the walls of bigotry and heteronormative mind-think that at times is prevalent at my alma mater.

*to be continued*

~Nathanael~