The “De-churched” – How to Talk to Us

Some people have found progressive communities of faith in which they feel comfortable, connected and cared for, while some of us have been so wounded by the leaders of organized Christianity, that we simply cannot and do not attend.

I’m a Bible College graduate. I was a youth minister for years and a pastor as well.

I know what they label us.

They call us the “de-churched.”

It’s always a hot topic really and the more a person surrenders their autonomy on their spiritual path, the more intense the discussion becomes! Those who have found comfort in remaining a part of Christianity or progressive faith communities celebrate that they feel comfortable in their congregations and they act as though they have stumbled upon a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

church_FireBut some of us have found that each effort to engage in Christianity ends with a slammed door, a crossed boundary or a judgmental word. I have found this each time I have attempted to rejoin Christianity and either I have really bad luck finding socially and emotionally intelligent Christian groups (or leaders) or I am just not destined to be a part of any organized Christian-based community. (Or a 3rd option I have yet to discover).

I share this not only because I think it’s hard for some of us to leave… but because what complicates our recovery is how some of those who “stay” treat those of us who left.

Sometimes they talk to us like we gave up.

Sometimes they try to recruit us to reform. (Does the analogy of a bad marriage help? Not everyone is called to stay with an abusive spouse and help them heal after every beating.)

Some of us leave because we don’t want to suffer anymore.

Some of us leave because it is well with our souls to do so.

Some of us have turned the cheek too many times and now have endless scars and can’t proceed with this form of faith.

Some of us still really dig Jesus, but have been shown over and over, that Christian does not = Christ-like.

It’s a sad reality, but it is our reality.

So, let us be.

Don’t tell us how awesome your church is – that’s your story.

Don’t tell us how to forgive – that’s your process.

Don’t tell us why it’s important to be in community – that’s your value.

Don’t tell us the church needs our unique voice – that’s your cause.

Tell us it doesn’t matter where we go Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights… because we are loved, just as we are and nothing about church membership or group-based spirituality will change that.

Tell us we matter.

And then walk with us…

walk_with_me_lhi_poster_1Like Jesus would.

And maybe that will lead some of us back to your churches…

Or maybe we will find that nature, the coffee shop, the movie theater and the community food bank feel more like church anyway…

So, in short, don’t talk to the de-churched…

Walk with the non-church goer.

Our stories are legitimate.

Our faith is real.

Our lives are whole.

We aren’t broken just because it doesn’t work for us to be in church.

And you aren’t whole because it works for you…

We become whole when we allow for differences, celebrate individuality and find cooperative ways to love mercy, do justly and walk… humbly.

Freedom from Religion

A quick story: A woman approaches me while I sit alone at my favy coffee shop. I am wearing headphones, reading some Shaman wisdom cards and writing in my journal about my need to pursue some form of spirituality without clinging to absolute truths. She sees the box of wisdom cards, interrupts my quiet time and asks me why I am seeking wisdom when “God is all I need.” It was “the Lord” who put this on her heart to say to me and it was “the Lord” who she has been following for 39 years. Unsolicited, she offers me Jesus, a Bible tract and her testimony. Somehow, my urge to mock her is silenced by the genuine look in her eyes, as she tears up, talking about her “master” who, mind you, “wants to be your master too.” I want to tell her I’m a lesbian pagan-ish homospiritual person with a Bible College degree and a school girl’s crush on Jesus. Instead, I smile and I nod. I ask her for her name because I want to look up its meaning. She says she “really hopes I’ll look for God because He is just waiting for me to accept Him,” I wish her well and I thank her kindly for following her heart.

I found out her name means “soft and tender” and it occurs to me… If only her religion was as soft and tender as her name and her face. 

But as my hands started to shake and my head started to spin after she walked out the door, I knew that what she was offering was toxic to me not because I don’t want Jesus but because I don’t want a “Lord” who speaks so intrusively and with such authority into someone else’s life.

When will people tire of questioning others about how they live their lives? When will “well-meaning Christians” accept me for who I am, just as I am? When will we truly coexist and cease needing to rescue one another with our spiritual choices?

Maybe I’ll ask my cards.

Until then, I celebrate that one thing is for sure: While I may not be able to forget the wounds from religious abuse at the hands of Christians, I do have freedom to pursue spirituality in whatever form I deem necessary, appropriate or supportive to me. And I do have the power of free thought, to question all that I have experienced. That, my friends, is freedom from religion… and it’s my unalienable right as a human on this beautiful Earth.

(P.S. Maybe some day I’ll share what I read in the cards… oddly enough, it had something to do with Father Sky and following the Great Spirit towards all things good. “Christian Tarot card readings,” next on For Gail So Loved the World ;0)  JUST KIDDING! )

Heal at your Own Rate

When an ex-gay leader comes out of the closet, looking for the light, I want to be a person who welcomes him into the beautiful truth that he cannot and should not crucify himself any longer at the Altar of Heterosexuality. No longer will he pretend he is someone he is not. No longer will he wish he were dead. No longer will he wonder why God is so hateful as to create such a flawed sexual identity. When an ex-gay leader comes out of the closet, I want to be a person who does not judge their history but has benevolence that comes out of abundant grace, flowing from a fount of forgiveness.

That’s a tall order.

I get it.

But it’s what I desire for myself.

When John Smid, a former ex-gay leader, announced his return to sanity this month (a.k.a. that he is a big homo after all), I know it stirred up a storm of reflection among all of us who identify as ex-gay survivors and definitely for those who still identify as “ex-gay.”

The thing about Smid though is that he wasn’t just another guy who led groups at Exodus International (or some over-bearing, manipulative woman at Prodigal Ministries in Cincinnati Ohio). He wasn’t merely facilitating conversations where people come to meetings and get their identities molested. He was a ring-leader at the ex-gay residential facility, Love in Action (which was shut down last month due to low funding and oh yeah, it doesn’t work). Now, I’ve never been to the Love in Action facility but what I imagine is that it magnifies the soul-raping that I attended in therapy sessions and “support” group meetings. Basically, they gathered in a location where no one was around to monitor all of this self-hate and heterosexuality worship, for months on end. They made promises to set you free, taught you that what you felt is wrong and swore that God loves you anyway…

It sounds like gang soul-rape…

So when it comes to healing from the wounds that were inflicted under this guy’s leadership, I can literally only imagine what kind of things went on, the faces he made, the words he used, the hugs he offered, the intentions he twisted, the stories he told, the prayers he prayed. It grosses me out to even try to imagine it.

Rather than going too far in empathizing with the survivors of Smid’s smut version of “healing,” I wanted to share a private encounter that I had with the spirit of my father yesterday and how it relates.

Okay, I didn’t really run into his spirit or anything, but he just died a month ago and I spend a lot of time thinking about him, missing him, trying to access the better parts of who he was and in doing that, I’ve been celebrating one of his quirky habits in conversation. (You may have to read this part aloud to fully come into the journey but come along… it will be enlightening and entertaining.)

My dad liked to speak by inverting letters in words or phrases, which weren’t always appropriate but were silly and sometimes very funny. For example, my name was Dale Gickert or he would call and say, “Hey honey, dow’s your hay?”

In fact, he would have full conversations like this sometimes and it would drive me bonkers. He would be explaining how the V.A. were nucking futs or how the guy hown the dall forgot to meet him at Kentucky Chied Fricken and I would finally exclaim, “Dad, please stop waying seird things to me!

Annoying, funny but well, that was my dad. He thought he was hysterical and only now when he doesn’t call and talk like a goof, do I realize how much I miss it.

So, I’ve been seeing and hearing things in those “inverted” ways since he died and today when I came home, I saw a card on the table that a friend got for me yesterday since I’ve been sick.

It said, “Heal at your own Rate.”

But I read…

Real at your own Hate.

Reel at your own Hate?

Be Real about your own Hate?

In that moment, I thought about healing from the ex-gay movement and Christian Fundamentalism. This healing is something that we do at our own rates but how true it is that part of healing is recognizing when to reel about the hateful things they did and reel because it is still being done!

To be even more honest, are we real about the hate that we have, towards them, not as people, but towards their deplorable actions? (or anyone who has hurt us, intentionally or not)

Personally, I can say that I’ve forgiven the ex-gay leaders of my past and all previous wounds to this date from the fundies. (I’m sure there are more to come.) I can also say, personally, that if John Smid wants to hit up a club with me, I will buy him a lap dance from the most beautiful drag queens in DC but this is me, healing at my own rate.

And that is all that matters.

We have that in common. We all have healing to let in and hate to let out.

This is the homospiritual journey, as I see it.

I’m thankful that I get to share it with all of you, regardless of the stages of our healing or the type of wounds people of “faith” have put upon us. We must forgive ourselves for letting it happen and forgive them but not without proper and full acknowledgment of what it means.

Thanks for being a part of this journey. I’m sending blany messings to you all!

Exodus International, I Forgive You

When you see the end of an era coming upon your soul, resistance is futile… wholeness is the only option.Forgiveness

Exodus International, I forgive you for teaching me that there is a God who is intolerant of me.

Exodus International, I forgive you for pulling me away from my body.

Exodus International, I forgive you for pulling me away from my family.

Exodus International, I forgive you for dividing me from my own mind.

Exodus International, I forgive you for dividing me from my own spirit.

Exodus International, I forgive you for raping my soul.

Exodus International, I forgive you for molesting my identity.

Exodus International, I forgive you…

Not because you have stopped hurting others with your cult tactics.

Not because you aren’t guilty of attempting to control others with ideas about heterosexual supremacy.

But because you taught me how to hate…

And it’s time I surrender that tactic entirely.

Forgiveness is my act of self-love and an act of refusing to hold any space for hate, even hatred for your ways.

I will not have space for hate anymore.

I will not hate myself for being human.

I will not hate God for making me homosexual.

I will not hate people for not understanding how spirituality and sexuality beautifully converge.

I will not hate churches for refusing to honor my commitment to love.

I will not hate this world for being a place where choices are taken away from us.

I will be a person of love.

So, in short…

Exodus International, love really did win out for me.

Because I forgive you for teaching me to hate.

~~

For anyone who has been damaged by the ex-gay movement’s attempt at genocide, know that there is hope and you will move BEYOND being “ex-gay.” www.beyondexgay.com And for anyone who has ever held on too long to an injury to your soul, know that in just wanting to let go, a change will come, the earth will tremble and eventually, forgiveness will find you…

In the News: Exodus shuts down its residential soul-raping facility. http://www.exgaywatch.com/wp/2011/09/love-in-action-suspends-residential-program/

To read more about my most recent transformation regarding ex-gay survival, follow the “ex-gay lie” category on my blog or view this category from my old site.

Waving the Freak Flag: Part 2

(Here comes part two in my “Wave your Freak Flag” series which is aimed at celebrating my wacky homospirituality and my gay pride at the same time… because I can. Happy Pride Month!)

I was scribbling a poem about love (and how it disappoints if intimacy isn’t in its proper place) and the sentence that tripped me is, “She teases me with virtue and pleases me with purity.” How much of a burden do I feel now knowing that I shared such a cheesy line with my readers?

Cheesy, first because I’m writing love poems and it’s not even February.

Cheesy… mainly because I used the word “virtue.”

Virtue? Who uses that word? It sounds like a religious buzz word, some kind of gunk in your teeth or at best, an accusation. (Virtue? Why, I never!)

I can’t think of a more sexless word than virtue and I was immediately frustrated to see it pop up in a love poem. I thought, “Am I trapped in a medieval poetry contest… and losing?”

Much to my chagrin, it turns out that the word virtue isn’t nearly as obscure as I originally thought. I sat with it for a while and decided that if I said it over and over again, it would start to fill in its own blanks about its value.

I wrote “Virtue is…” on a piece of paper and waited for the words to flow. As the thoughts came, I discovered something revealing about myself, my understanding of a feminine god and my spirituality. As I wrote, I recalled the only place in the Bible where I remember the word “virtue” and it was in relations to Proverbs 31, which is grossly overused by Christians as the description of the perfect woman.

Turns out, I can do one better than the writer of the 31st chapter of Proverbs. Go figure. (What did Solomon know about virtuous women? Let a lesbian take a stab at this topic…)

~~

Virtue is exploring sexuality with a rose in one hand and your integrity in the other.

Virtue is working hard when no one is watching and hardly watching when nothing is working.

Virtue is running out of ink and deciding to dance.

Virtue is knowing when to read between the lines and when to blur them.

Virtue is a willingness to be wrong but compassionate when you’re so very right.

Virtue is having a clue and a cause and the means to not only take a stand but take a knee.

Virtue is not a word fit for a poem, but a trait fit for a queen…

Ahh, to my beloved Queen, the goddess, the one from whom all blessings flow. This creature here, down below, is deepening her connection to the beautiful world she has been given but learning boundaries that one could never have attained were it not through loss and pain. And so I bow to your wisdom and say, “You tease me with virtue and you please me with purity.”

~~

Whoa, all that said and suddenly the writer of Proverbs 31 sounds like he is rattling off a task list while my words come out rushing out from the soul of a love-sick feminist hippie.

Yes! Taking a little red pen to the Bible is much more enjoyable than I ever thought possible.

But here’s the thing that is tripping me up and I’ll share briefly then leave you to ponder it. If this is virtue, in all its esoteric glory, what say ye on the matter of purity?

And pray tell, what does love got to do with it anyway?

Well, I’ll leave you Tina Turner fans on that happy note and close by giving a shout out to a peculiarly sexually progressive yet purity-driven lil’ group called Les Be Pure (www.lesbepure.com) Their work on the Facebook site www.facebook.com/GayChristians is interesting and promotes healthy sexual purity and while I’m not 100% sure what that means as defined by the Church, I’m diggin’ their approach. This isn’t an official endorsement of their theology because I’m way too liberal for that but it is a place to go if you’re looking for some purity in your life and you think you can’t access it because Christianity has the market cornered on it. (Which we all know it doesn’t…)

Namaste and Happy Pride!

-gail

The Gayest Story Ever Told: Part 3

In private and in public, it’s become clear to me that the statements that I make and the process that I am engaged in has an offensive tone, which is why I warned you earlier this week that this would be a little extreme. I mean, referring to Jesus’ death and resurrection as the “gayest story ever told” could be viewed as inflammatory…

Unless of course, you’re gay! (or sympathetic to what LGBTQ people experience)

If you’re gay, reframing the story of Jesus Christ as similar to coming out of the closet or being gay allows you to get an extra dose of redemption. (Taking what has harmed you and reframing it is essential to healing!) And if you haven’t noticed, dosing out redemption is exactly what this blog is about so in the end, if it’s a little hard to stomach the way I process my recovery from Fundamentalist Christianity, you have 3 options:

  1. Make room for a new brand of sacred journey.
  2. Grow a pair.
  3. Don’t read.

That said, I’ll take one more stab at the Jesus story before it all gets blown out of proportion by the missing body tomorrow morning.

Wait? What happens tomorrow morning? Oh nothing… just that Jesus’ body is gone and all of the posturing begins about Jesus being the best and his followers, being the only ones who can know “Truth.” No body? Well then, our god is cooler and our god can kick any other god’s ass. Ours rose from the dead! Beat that!

Am I calling the resurrection story nothing more than folklore? A metaphor? A lie? (Oh no she didn’t! Snap, snap and finger wave)

No, I’m actually refusing to say whether or not I believe in the resurrection because for me, getting tangled up in the conversation of what is behind the stone that was rolled away ignores the fact that Jesus’ body could be laid out on the lawn of the White House on Monday with all the Easter Eggs and the truth about his life would still be enough to establish a following.

Whether he was a human who could heal the blind or a god who could walk on water doesn’t determine whether or not he deserves our attention.

Whether he was a god who could drive away demons or a human who could rise from the dead doesn’t determine whether or not he deserves our admiration.

He deserves our attention and our admiration because more than anything, Jesus lived a selfless life of wisdom, had authentic relationships, engaged in community action, worked to overcome religious oppression and loved in a way that clearly surpasses all of our understanding. We’ve been arguing about him for over 2000 years because of our theologies when we should be following him because of his spirituality. His life is to be examined and our lives would be better if we examined them in light of his. That’s the bottom line for me, about Jesus. The dude has the market cornered on exemplary love and yet in his name, the church has the market cornered on hate.

Unacceptable.

Furthermore, I don’t need magic tricks from god to believe in god… and I don’t need a savior from hell to believe in heaven. And you know what else? I don’t need a resurrected body to believe that suffering is worth it. It’s not like Jesus wrote the book on suffering. Long before him, it was the teachings of Buddha that showed us that suffering is a valuable tool to attaining self-awareness, empathy and for ingraining us with a sense of gratitude.

So for me, what makes the story of Jesus’ life and resurrection the “gayest story ever told” is that just like coming out, people get caught up in all of the details about what is true and they miss the importance of the love that motivated the man.

That is what is true of homosexuality and the comparison is striking. In the end, if we focus on love, who can argue with that and why would anyone argue with love?

This Easter, I’m going to do something a little different to reclaim the season. I’m going to go to a sunrise service, which I haven’t done in over a decade and I’m going to there looking not for a reason to end suffering… not for a reason to start a religion… not for a reason to be awe-struck by god’s way of defying nature…

I’m going to go and look for a reason to love.

Because nothing is more important to the gay community than love. Don’t be mislead… it’s the reason we fight for equality. It’s the right to love and be loved.

And I think Jesus would die for a similar cause… and maybe he did…

~~

Thank you again to the Christians who are speaking out for equality. I’ve spent a majority of the week humbled by the fact that some Christians see equality as a cause Jesus would take up and I confess, you are the people who make it hard for me to discount Christianity altogether! Through Facebook and this blog, I’ve been meeting the people who make Jesus look like the guy I first fell in love with… you’ve made this a holy week.