LGBTQ+ Oppression: Oh Let Me Count the Ways

I can’t believe I have to do this, but over the course of the past year (you know, while surviving a pandemic), I’ve had a number of straight friends/family ask, “How is the LGBTQ+ community oppressed in the United States?” And there’s always a tone with this question. It’s RARELY asked with genuine curiosity (because if there was genuine curiosity, they would do research and educate themselves and quickly learn there’s a lot of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the United States in spite of legislation). It’s ask with accusation.

The conversation has really come to a head in conversations around race. In fact, I recently saw a TikTok video where a black man said, “Being Gay Is A Choice. Being Black Isn’t. So Stop Comparing LGBTQ+ to BLM.”

Let’s put all the cards out on the table.

I was raised in a white, middle-class, conservative, Christian, evangelical family, which basically means I got all the privilege as a white man, minus the part about my sexuality and also means that my family likes to pretend white privilege doesn’t exist. So I spend a lot of time and energy trying to educate them about white supremacy because I do believe silence is violence.

But in these hard, needed, critical conversations about privilege and oppression, the topic always eventually comes up about my own identity, an identity that includes one place of oppression — me being gay.

I will own my privilege as a white cis man. I don’t have to worry about how me arguing with the police can result in me being shot at and killed. I don’t have to worry about gripping my keys in white knuckles as I walk to my car in the middle of the night. I don’t have to worry about meeting up with someone on a date, and that person reacting violently when I share my gender.

I carry a lot of privilege. This piece is not meant to say, “I’m hurting just as much as my BIPOC friends, my women friends, my trans friends. This isn’t a game of “who has the worst oppression.” My gaol is to simply explain that just because LGBTQ+ U.S. Americans got marriage rights in 2015, doesn’t mean oppression stops — the same way that desegregation of schools didn’t stop oppression of BIPOC people in the public school system.

Below you will first find stats, data, and stories from other people who have recently experienced oppression for being LGBTQ+. Then I will share elements of my own story and how I have experienced oppression as a gay man.

Oppression of LGBTQ+ people in the United States:

  1. LGB youth are five times as likely to commit suicide in comparison to their straight peers.
  2. Forty percent of trans people attempt suicide.
  3. If a person who is gay or lesbian comes from a religious background, they are more likely than their non-religious queer peers to attempt suicide.
  4. Twenty-six percent of LGBT youth are forced from their homes after coming out.
  5. LGBTQ+ people are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than their straight peers — of those that are homeless in the U.S. 40 percent are LGBTQ+.
  6. Thirty-six percent of LGBT people do not reveal who their partners are in the workplace for fear of people’s reactions.
  7. Sixty-six percent of trans individuals experience sexual assault in their life that is often coupled with physical violence.
  8. Trans individuals are banned from the U.S. military, a strategy that is labeled as not discriminatory because trans people are not “mentally stable” for service and cause an unnecessary “financial burden.”
  9. Hate crimes, murder, and violence against queer people continue to occur in spite of hate-crime legislation.
  10. Even though the FDA has recently changed its position on gay and bisexual men from giving blood, gay and bisexual are still banned from donating if they are sexually active, regardless of if they are monogamous or not.
  11. In spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2020, religious organizations can still fire someone for being LGBTQ+ due to protections under religious liberty.
  12. Depending on what state an LGBTQ+ person lives in, they can be discriminated against and barred from adoption.
  13. LGBTQ+ people are viewed as sexual deviants and child molesters when a recent study showed all offenders were either straight (the majority) or bisexual (severe minority).

The list could continue, but I think you get the point.

LGBTQ+ people are still marginalized and discriminated against for something they cannot change. But these are not just data points. Behind each percentage and case are real people — people experiencing oppression on a daily occurrence.

To get an understanding of how this may play out, here are some pieces of my story — pieces that if I were straight, I wouldn’t experience.

Moments of oppression I have experienced as a gay man:

  1. When I was outed by my parents, I seriously considered suicide and was threatened with being ousted out of my parent’s home at the age of 16.
  2. Before coming out, I knew I would lose a career I had been working on since I was 16 — ministry. I left youth pastoring and missions work and needed to start over at the age of 25. I’m now graduating college at the age of 31 because I had to find a new career and education that would support that.
  3. The majority of my support system was found in the evangelical world. I went to Bible school, worked with churches, did YWAM. After coming out, I had to rebuild my support system. I couldn’t go to my parents about my relationship problems — they would be silent. I couldn’t go to most of my old friends — they would say I would need to repent to be saved. I was alone.
  4. As a gay person, I always have to monitor my behavior. Growing up, I couldn’t “look gay” for fear of being bullied. When in a relationship, my boyfriend and I couldn’t kiss, hold hands or even sit to close to each other for fear of ridicule. One time, when walking down the street, not even holding hands, we were called “Faggots!” for walking too close to each other.
  5. I have to reconsider my entire wedding. My parents will likely not be attending. Most of my friends who I grew up with will not attend as well for fear of “endorsing my sin.” If they do come, I have to wonder if they ACTUALLY support me. For example: if I have a marriage problem down the road and I come to them for help, will they actually fight for my marriage? Or will they secretly be hoping I’ll divorce my partner to save my soul?
  6. I must monitor/research my travel. I love traveling, but there are certain countries I simply should not go to for fear of my life. There are even certain parts of the U.S. I wouldn’t travel to with a future partner for fear of my safety.
  7. I have to be mindful of where I receive health care because I’ve been shamed for being gay and I have been more knowledgable than my provider about resources for my wellbeing as a queer person.
  8. While working for a Christian software company (yes… they exist…), I had to hide my sexual identity for fear of how my boss would react or how people would interpret me. And while I can’t confirm this suspicion, straight peers were able to support their spouse and kids while working at this company, when my salary would not be able to do that. I couldn’t even buy a home on that salary, let alone provide for dependents. Even though I was the highest producer on my team, I was receiving one of the lowest salaries.
  9. As a future English teacher, I have to be mindful about which district I choose because I have friends who have faced discrimination for their sexual orientation. Most of my friends who are educators are forced back into the closet, whether explicitly or implicitly for fear of how parents or faculty would respond.
  10. Because I’m gay, I’m viewed as a sexual deviant. I have multiple friends who were serving in youth ministry or working with kids who were called pedophiles and told to die by parents (yes, you read that right) because there is a false misconception that LGBTQ+ people are all child rapists when most child molesters are actually rarely gay. In fact, in this study, none of the sexual offenders were gay.
  11. I have to hide my romantic life. Period. The other day I mentioned a cute boy to my parents. My dad left the room, and my mom deterred me, rather than getting excited with me (which I know she would with a girl because she had in the past). One time I got into an all-out screaming match with a friend because I made a comment about not being attracted to women.
  12. I will never be able to have my own kids. This one is kind of a given, but it’s something that people forget. I will never have a mini-Brandon running around that is also the DNA of my partner without a TON of money and nerve-wracking science. So the solution to having kids is adoption. But if I do decide to adopt, I have a sinking terror that my children will be bullied or that they will be broken in some way because they don’t have a mom and dad (compliments of the rhetoric of my parents and upbringing in the church), even though the data out there doesn’t support this belief.
  13. No matter how much work I do on myself — no matter how much therapy, no matter how much social advocacy, no matter how much theological research — people will always think my soul is tainted and that I’m going to hell. And this is probably the one that hurts the most because this transcends my physical experience — this touches my eternity, my inherent value. It touches the very substance of who I am am as a human, a substance God calls REALLY GOOD, and twists that narrative to call me evil, twisted, perverted, wrong. From the same voices that tearfully sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,” come the voices of “love the sinner; hate the sin;” voices that bar me from grace and love. That’s the one that stings the most. I could take the harassment, the barring from adoption and job opportunities, even the opportunity to marry, if I knew my spiritual family — a family who proclaims love — would love and support me in spite of what the world says. The shame here is that the “world” has been doing a better job of loving than the church has, and it’s pushing queer people and allies alike from her arms — arms that should be embracing and holding and proclaiming the Father’s eternal love over His beloved children, queer and straight alike. Those are the arms that I wish most would hold me close, but instead turn me away, and that is the greatest oppression I have ever felt.

Reneging on My Six… Maybe

A while back, I wrote I was a counter-phobic, sexual six. If you’re not an enneagram nerd like myself, no, I’m not having sex with six people.

In short, a sexual six is scared and presents courageous to prove to themself and others they’re able to beat anything.

I promise I’m getting to sappy, personal stuff like I normally do in a moment. But first I need a witty lead-in to reveal myself.

When I first heard of the enneagram, it was in passing by my friend, Taylor, like five years ago, before it was actually cool. He shared how a friend told him about it, and how it’s all about your deepest fears and wounds.

That got my attention, for reasons that’ll make more sense if you’re ARE an enneagram nerd like myself.

He shared how he was a two and how he loved to get love in return. He then shared how the test was a big deal for his friend because it revealed a deep secret: he believed he was inherently flawed and wanted to be rescued.

I was halfway paying attention, mainly because I can be selfish, and I didn’t really see how this was about me (sorry, Taylor). But when he talked about his friend, I remember thinking, “Other people feel like that too?”

His friend is a four.

Ever since I could remember, I’ve wanted to be rescued.

I’d run away to the end of the street when I was spanked, wishing someone would drive by and take me away. I’d walk the fence at school, hoping someone would see me and come to me. In middle school, we’d craft foam swords and fight each other. I was always the captured prince needing to be rescued. One time my friends even put me in a dog kennel as my prison. It felt oddly safe and right, as fucked up as that sounds.

By high school, I learned that wanting to be rescued as a guy wasn’t cool or manly, at least, that’s what Eldridge said. “Every man desires a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

… uh… question: what if we want to be rescued? Never mind. I’m gonna sit back down.

Over the years, I stuffed down my desire to be rescued. I acted strong and independent. I’d sit on the side of the school, looking out at the other boys, hoping one would come talk to me and rescue me from my pain and loneliness. But if anyone asked if I was okay, I’d get angry and say I was fine. After all, boys don’t need to be rescued. I’m supposed to be doing the teaching. I’m supposed to be tough and strong, not needing anyone or caring about anything. An emotionless rock.

Or so I thought.

I’m not sure when I made the promise to myself or at what point I decided to go about this all differently, but somewhere along the way, I started moving towards things I feared to look like I could do more than handle myself. I could take on anything.

I signed up to do a missionary training program where you get kidnapped and have to kill a goat and get fake murdered. But that school got shut down (I wonder why), so I went to the next best thing: a Christian leadership academy built around the methodology of the military, equipped with its own hell week. We prided ourselves in “beating our body and making it our slave,” (yes, that’s a Bible verse) and “doing all things through Christ who strengthens me” (especially the hard stuff). After that, I ran a ministry by myself for three years, not having any clue what I was doing, but I was capable and the Lord would provide. Right? I flew across the world to Haiti and Germany and India with no friends or family, to show I could do the hard things. When that was done, I hitchhiked through Europe just because the idea terrified me.

Anything I could do to prove to myself that I didn’t need anyone to rescue me, I could save myself, I did.

But lying here with a fever, unable to sleep, feeling helpless, that yearning to be rescued crawls to the surface.

In spite of all my endeavors to look strong and independent and prove I didn’t need anyone, this thing in my chest, this thing latched to my bones, this thing to be saved by someone else screams to be heard.

Through all the years, the thing I wanted more than anything in the world was for someone to not be fooled by all the bullshit I hide behind, all the fake courage, and to see the scared little boy that just wanted to be rescued. The boy who believes he’s irreparably broken and unworthy of anything except standing in the mud as it rains, alone. And yet, in spite of the belief that they’re not good enough, a yearning for someone to see me, take me in, and keep me warm.

I know this doesn’t sound manly. I know this looks weak. And that’s what probably scares me the most: I don’t want to show this piece of me because it feels so scary, so vulnerable. So much so that even as I’m typing these words, I’m thinking of people reaching out to me or calling me on it, and me pretending like it was just some emotional, midnight blog post. They shouldn’t think anything of it. Because if they do, I’ll feel infinitely exposed, and in the past, when I’ve been exposed, I’ve been hurt. I’ve been called too much or too sensitive, and eventually pushed away.

Lying here with a fever, unable to sleep, feeling my helplessness and wanting someone to rescue me, I feel guilty. Guilty that I don’t turn to God and say, “You know what? You’ve saved me! You’ve rescued me from all my fears! Hallelujah!” (Insert hand wave and stopping foot.)

But lying here with a fever, unable to sleep, feeling my helplessness and wanting someone to rescue me, I hear God prompting me when I push down these truths. “Nope. Don’t hide that. Not from me. I see it. Say it. Say all of it. Every word that you’d rather me not know, every emotion that feels like betrayal, g it to me. Let me hear it.”

The fact is: He did save me. But that doesn’t change how I feel. That doesn’t change how much I’d rather a human rescue me, than Him. It doesn’t change the fact that it meant the world when I walked outside to “be alone” and a man came outside looking for me. It felt like a long-withheld inhale. It doesn’t change the fact that when I was in pain and reeling last week and yelling at a friend in a bar, trying to defend myself and stand my ground, that what I really wanted was someone to step between us and defend me.

That means so much. That matters so much.

When my friends know something was likely hard or they call me on my bullshit, I feel seen and known and like I matter. When my family says, “Oh! That makes sense!” in relation to my sexuality and the struggle I have as a gay Christian man, I feel known.

And that’s what I ultimately want: to be known, past my façade.

I try to be authentic, but I put it out there with this, “Yeah that’s me! Deal with it!” (as most fours do). I don’t present myself with a naked heart, laid bare and exposed to the world because that is risky. That’s scary as hell. Because what if someone attacks you and your vulnerability? Or worse, they don’t even see it and acknowledge it?

But how is someone supposed to be rescued if no one knows they need help?

I think what I’m learning, again and again, is that, in spite of me not feeling it, it’s in my vulnerability that God can prove Himself rescuer, and in doing so, make me genuinely strong.

That doesn’t change the fact that I desperately want a partner that can see past my bullshit, who can actually see me, who can be strong for me when I desperately yearn to be weak.

But even writing that here is vulnerability, and I’ve learned that that’s where God can work.

Final thing, and then I’ll shut up. I am CONVINCED that things would have been different if Adam and Eve would have stepped forward from their hiding when God called for them. But they hid. They covered their nakedness, their vulnerability.

God is the “I Am.” How is He supposed to step into communion, to show up as the “I Am” when we’re hiding.

He yearns for us to say, “Here I Am,” when He asks, “Where are you?”

Right here. In the wake of the consequences of my decisions. In the wake of me not trusting Your word. In the place where I believed a lie over Truth. This is where I am. Right here. Here I am.

It’s a millennia later, and He’s still asking the same question, and He’s looking for people who will remember we are made in His likeness.

The Great I Am asks us to align with who He is and say, “Here I Am.”

Here I am, God. All of me. Especially the icky, fucked up parts. The scared parts. The irreparably broken parts. The parts begging to be rescued.

Here I am. Save me.

Purpose and the Politician

I spent a few days in Texas. For those of you who don’t know, I went to a Christian leadership school called Teen Mania’s Honor Academy. Acquire the Fire and all that Jazz. In spite of the trauma that was our education, or rather because of it, I came out of there with some amazing friends and memories—one of whom was getting married. Thus the trip to Dallas, Texas.

But as I’m sitting there, watching my beautiful friend get married, surrounded by our old friends from school, I wonder, “Who will be at my wedding? Would any of these people come?”

The thought sent me to the car where I pounded back two hard ciders where a crazy man was walking the center of the street yelling at passerby’s, and I pretended to be talking to someone on my phone because the anxiety of friendless weddings was overshadowed the the anxiety of the stranger man coming at me for not giving him a cider. **Reads back over previous sentence, wondering if that’s actually a complete sentence, and pats back for one long-ass sentence.**

No one really talks about the cost of being gay these days. Which is great! Because there are happier things. There’s gay prom and lesbian marriages and trans-visibility day and surrogate mothers and adopted children.

We’ve come a long way… but it’s still hard.

It’s ended friendships; it’s parentless weddings; it’s no babies that you and your partner create; it’s reaching for your partner’s hand in public and wondering if people care, and it’s getting kicked out of churches and evangelical spaces, spaces you found a lot of purpose and belonging and passion…

I watched the Politician tonight. If you haven’t watched it, do it. It’s a stroke of genius. But as I’m watching, the main character, Payton Hobart, is depressed and hopeless while playing the piano in a local bar and it’s because he lost access to his passion. To deal with the loss, he killed any hope of returning to the very thing that gave him life: politics.

I’m not political. At least not like Payton. I’m not sure if anyone is as political as Payton. But to steal one of those annoying pages from those middle school grammar books: Payton is to politics as Brandon is to ministry.

Stressing to sell out an event. Staying up till four to set up a stadium. Kneeling in the snow as a fake Jesus in a skit you’ve done for the 200th time. Praying with a stranger. Holding a dying woman’s hand. Laughing and spooning friends you met three months ago, but you’d call them family. Talking with a kid over coffee about Jesus. Leading a congregation in worship.

All of it. I miss it.

When I came out, I felt as though I was disqualified from all of it. It was as though I was sacrificing all of these things related to ministry and family and friends for the sake of love, which is why I felt like my relationship needed to be perfect. If it wasn’t, why was I giving all of this up?

Watching Payton Hobart come alive while debating politics made me miss the things that make me come alive, the things I feel so disqualified from.

“My people perish for lack of vision.” It’s a verse… somewhere in the Bible. I could go look it up, but I’d rather keep writing.

I feel that. I feel a perishing or squandering in myself that yearns to wake up and feel and know it’s worth living, to know it’s doing something only it can do, a sense of purpose and destiny. I miss destiny. I miss believing every word and movement had intention, a kiss of the eternal, and not something passing and wasteful. I miss that.

I yearn for a kiss of destiny, to burn again.

How does one get fire back when life has thrown snow and rain on not only the embers but the wood and coal? How do we rekindle the flame?

I miss that Brandon. I want him back.

No Man’s Land

In Lady Montague’a “Turkish Embassy Letters” she describes a people group in South Eastern Europe, during the Ottoman Empire. They existed between Islamic nations and Christian nations. Out of fear, they kept both holy days, refusing to work on both Friday’s and Sunday’s.

I resonate with that—binding yourself to fear so intimately you live in two worlds instead of one, two realities instead of one, caught at a crossroad, committed to nothing, becoming a citizen to this space between countries: no man’s land.

———————

I’ve been depressed lately. About four weeks to be exact.

I’m not positive of the catalyst. What I do know is that I’ve been paralyzed by fear, watching as much Netflix as possible, so I can just not feel for the next x amount of episodes. (I’ve nearly watched all of Grace and Frankie, and finding a new show is really hard!)

The amount of nights committed to ice cream and television is abhorrent. I need to get homework done.

But it’s hard to live. If I’m being honest. It’s hard to live when it feels like an elephant is stepping on your chest. Makes it hard to breathe.

I came out 3.5 years ago, and if I’m honest, it hasn’t “gotten easier.” It’s gotten harder.

Being gay isn’t easy. There are some days I wish I never came out. Not because I want to hide the truth but because it doesn’t feel true most days.

Most days I deal with imposter syndrome, like someone gave me a script I’m not familiar with and I’m fumbling through the lines. I don’t get being gay. It doesn’t fit, like an oversized, hand-me-down sweater.

I can’t do the drag shows or the hyper sexuality or the open relationships or the club scene or the death after thirty or the gym-ing or the kinks or the sex on the first date or the need to be fashionable and interesting.

I don’t like any of it. It doesn’t fit.

But then I attend an old church and they feel like clothes that shrunk in the wash.

The with-every-head-bowed-and-every-eye-closed faith that doesn’t amount to anything, the come-Lord-Jesus-come’s when He said He’ll never leave us nor forsake us, the mini-money sermon before the plate passes, the every-one-is-welcome-but-not-really, the bless-you’s and shake-the-hand-of-the-person-next-to-you. I can’t take any more of it.

It’s like when I came out of the closet I looked behind the curtain of church and all the churches feel fake, the Bible feels like a weapon, and Christians feel like vacuum salesmen who are selling a product they don’t believe in but they’re terrified of not making their quota.

But I get it.

I’m terrified of Hell. I’m terrified of wasting my life. I’m terrified of being gay. I’m terrified of marrying a woman. I’m terrified of marrying a man. I’m terrified of being a father. I’m terrified of doing anything or believing anything.

I’m paralyzed.

So what do I do? I honor both days. I don’t do anything on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

I’m exhausted. Like feel-it-in-my-bones exhausted. Like God-please-take-me-home exhausted.

In my cult school down in Texas, we did an activity where staff members pretended to be a hostile government while we students were persecuted Christians. The role-playing led to my friends being thrown in jail (a camp shower house). I was supposed to rush the door, but a man with an automatic paint-ball gun stood between me and the door. Instead of rushing him, smacking his gun away, and freeing my friends like some Christian McGiver, I slunk away.

That moment haunts me. It haunts me because it reminds me of what’s happening again and again: I’m to scared to throw myself at either country: gay or Christian, and you best believe people will tell you can’t have dual citizenship. Both countries are separated by a big Trump wall and missiles pointed at each other, just waiting for any excuse to jump on the other.

The two identities i carry within me are at war with each other, not just externally in the world around me, but inside me as well, and I don’t fit into either of them anymore, and I’m scared as hell in this no-man’s land.

I just want to be comfortable in my own skin, to know and believe who I am, who God is, and be unapologetic about it. But I can’t find a mirror or God, so I’m a bit fucked at the moment. So I’ll watch this really cool movie where a nerd falls in love with Arya with cancer, because I would rather feel that than feel this unresolved mess of confusion that is my life.

Netflix: your next episode starts in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Bubbling Anxieties

Heads up: this post is gonna be a ton of rambling about my anxieties and what I do with them as a Six. Yup. I said it. Six. I’ve begrudgingly identified as a Four in the infamous Enneagram for about a six months, but I’ve never felt settled on it. Then a friend who loves the Enneagram said, “If you’re still not settled, you’re probably a Six.”

I think he’s right.

A Six is identified by their anxieties. They are always scheming what could go wrong. They are literally creating and emotionally living out endless possible outcomes, so they can prepare for the worst. I one time created a map of my brain to a friend she felt anxiety just looking at it. Yeah! Try living it! But the absolute worst part about being a Six is that a Six believes their anxieties are necessary. They hold them closely, refusing to let go because they believe they keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Fear actually keeps them holding their fears.

The fear bubbles up as a result of not trusting their inner guidance. At some point, a Six began to believe that they don’t have the internal resources to make it in life. The result? They believe failure is around every corner. To compensate, they look for support outside of themselves. But here’s the punch line: fears keep them from fully trusting those they look to for support. They both long and are skeptical of support, creating a push-pull relationship with their close friends, mentors, and confidants.

Anxious yet? I am! But that’s typical, since I’m a Six.

This whole mindset has recently shown it’s flagrant colors, specifically in that lovely thing we call “higher education”.

I’ve been doing school since 2008. It’s been a decade, and I still don’t have my degree. Why? Because:

  1. Life. I’d end up doing ministry or living abroad and put school on the backburner. The fact that I’m this old and I still don’t have a degree, and the one I’m pursuing will take another two years weighs really heavy on me.
  2. Choice. I am terrified that I’ll choose the wrong major, and my life trajectory will be forever off course. This has caused me to switch majors like twelve times. I’m so unsure, lacking confidence in any choice I make, determined that if I choose wrong, I’ll ruin my life.

Choice. It’s not just in school that this concept overwhelms me. Choice has a way of paralyzing me in every arena.

What if it’s the wrong choice? What if this hurts people? What if it hurts me? What if I’m screwed? How can I know this is the best choice to make? What if I ruin my life? What if I waste away my life?

The overwhelming amount of question marks that assault me on a daily basis make me want to turn on Netflix and bing another season of The Originals. While watching television shows I don’t have to make choices. Choices are made for me. I just get to enjoy the ride.

Life would be a whole lot easier if choice was just removed and some magical board of wisdom gurus made those choices for me. Why can’t I just have a Gandalf that tells me exactly what to do? Sounds great! The idea of arranged marriages and work assignments based upon test results sounds pretty fantastic to me!

As a Christian, don’t I have Someone I can trust to help me decide? Isn’t there this thing called the Holy Spirit that is called “The Counselor”, “The Prince of Peace”? Sure. In theory. Until you try to listen to that “still small voice” and those anxieties we talked about earlier whisper louder (and by whisper louder, I mean scream), “Are you sure that’s the Holy Spirit? What if that’s you? Could it be mmmm Satan!?”

To be very frank, my still-small-voice confidence has taken a beating over the years.

I used to trust that voice even in the clothing I’d wear (like I said, I hate choice). What happened?

Life.

I hitchhiked through Europe and felt so lost when all I did was pray for God to lead me.

I came home to a wrecked family and had no idea what to do or where God was amidst the chaos.

I dated a man and shut off anything I was hearing because I was scared God was going to ruin the one thing that I felt like I loved in life.

I don’t know how to trust that still small voice anymore because sometimes, it feels like it’s out to destroy me. And I would love to trust my own inner guidance, but I haven’t worked with that muscle in a hot second. From 2006 to 2013, I’ve disregarded my own will and obeyed this tug in my chest. I have no clue what I actually want, or I’m too afraid of what I want, or I believe what I want is wrong.

Why would I believe what I want is wrong? It’s kinda hard not to when a core longing inside of you has been told to be depraved since you were little. At a young age, I remember hearing my dad blow up at a movie for having two men kiss each other, yelling, “Why did they have to put that shit in there? It’s a mockery to God!” I’d agree when inside I think, “I feel the same way. Don’t let them see. Hide it. Kill your desires.”

If you can’t even trust your attractions, believing they’re broken and cursed, how are you supposed to trust anything else you want?

Distrust has crept into everything I love. I wander between desires or sabotage the very thing I want.

I can’t go for a degree in writing or performing arts! It’s called “starving artist” for a reason.

I can’t write a novel! I don’t have enough information or experience to write anything of value.

I can’t produce my own show! I have no clue how to go about doing it, school is too expensive, and I’m too old.

I can’t date this man! I will lose everyone; I won’t know how to raise a girl since we’ll both be guys; I’ll have a panic attack every time we move towards sexual intimacy, and I’ll live in terror of going to Hell every day.

Every desire is a bad choice.

In response, I get jobs I don’t care about; I have hookups instead of relationships; I get a degree that I believe is safe; dreaming becomes impossible; authoring my own life becomes so taxing that I just end up doing what I don’t want to do. Why not? If God doesn’t want me to date a man, and that’s a core longing in my being, He must want me to do the very thing I hate.

This thought process has actually led me to move away from the very thing I want on multiple occasions. It’s even defined key elements of my life and has caused me to resent God.

Leaving a community house.

Not going on tour with Aquire the Fire.

Abandoning an enrollment at UNC in theatre.

It all was loaded with a belief that I shouldn’t go after that which I love, and now I’m left unsure what I actually want.

Does what I want even matter? If the things I desperately want are corrupt, where is the line to trust what I want? We say go after what you love, but where is that in the Bible? In fact, I see the opposite. I see God demanding we take what we love and burn it. Abraham. Hannah. David. Jesus. Paul. While Jesus promised to give us life and life abundant, they’re lives just seem impossibly hard, and then we’re told to “Follow me.”

How do we rectify this with our cliche maxim of “follow your heart”? Is it truly Biblical?

I feel desperately torn, torn between obligation and want, between wanting to want and wanting to be obliged. Drawn and quartered.

Being a Six sucks. Being gay also sucks. Being a Christian sucks the most.

And yet I can’t shake any of them. I’ve tried. For years of my life, I’ve tried. And yet here I am, panicking about my future and completely unsure what to do about it. I feel completely lacking in support or support I can trust. Everyone seems to want me to be gay or Christian, and very few honor both, making trust incredibly hard.

But deep down I want to trust. I want to breathe the fresh air of comradery and belief. Belief in myself. Belief in my support. Belief in humanity. Belief in God. But it all feels like sand in my hands—I can old grab hold of it for a fleeting moment, but never forever.

I normally get all Psalmy, like David, and say something like, “But I will trust blah, blah, blah…” I don’t want to today. I just want what I say to exist and be out there. Not pretty. Not fixed. Just exist. So there you go, my bubbling Six mess. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading.

Gluten and Genocide

Fact: gluten sensitivity has been on the rise in recent years.

Fact: scientists still are unsure of the cause of this.

Fact: bacterial DNA has been injected into the majority of our plants. This genetic modification creates pores, resulting in the stomach exploding.

Fact: one of the number one issues related to gluten sensitivity is “leaky gut” or porous intestines, allowing food to leave the digestive tract and enter the bloodstream.

Coincidence? I think not! But what do I know? I’m just a 28-year old who is incredibly paranoid. I don’t know science, but I can definitely create the worst case scenario. I’m that person who interprets the period in a text message as, “This person is angry with me!” I’m also the guy that gets a sore throat, pulls out their phone, checks WebMD and concludes I have some rare lymphatic cancer. It’s rare people. Not impossible. Meaning, I could have it!

So if your brain works even a little bit like mine, you’re probably thinking, “Huh! I should probably buy more organic food.” But it’s in organic vegetables too. So good luck not getting leaky gut! You’re better off with thinking like me and deciding you should just stop eating altogether. Better to starve until I move to another country where GMO’s are illegal.

The facts above came up in a conversation with a number of my hippy friends that grow their own vegetables, have their own chickens, and milk their own goats. They are phenomenal in every way and way better at being true to their values than I am.

They went on to talk about large corporations that sue smaller farms because their patented seed started growing in their field (because they also modify the seed to spread everywhere). As the seeds spread, they sue smaller farmers, knocking out competition.

Why am I talking about farms and GMO’s and massive corporations on a blog devoted to sexuality, spirituality, and the personal life of a guy who likes guys and this guy named Jesus? Well, one, because it’s my blog and I want to. But two, because a simple conversation of leaky gut led me to existential questions (typical of my brain).

How can large corporations get away with this? How could someone make a decision to make more money that is potentially affecting an entire nation? How could people like this sleep at night?

From there my brain spiraled out into blood diamonds, battery harvesting, child starvation, and the Holocaust. GMO’s to genocide. Yay brain! But the real reason I ended up at human depravity is because I always ask the question “why?”

Why genocide? Why starving children? Why exploding guts?

That then leads to the biggest question: Why would God let this happen?

Pain and destruction have a way of pulling out the most potent question that every human will eventually come into contact with: where is God in all of this?

I’m going to expose my theology here a bit. I don’t think God allows it. I’m not a believer in the divine orchestration of everything. I don’t understand how people can believe in that and believe that God is loving. If God orchestrates horrific things like children in Africa dying of AIDS, then God is cruel and not worthy of any type of worship.

And here’s the part where all the evangelical Christians pumped the breaks, thinking they should stop reading. But I think my thoughts actually have more than logic, but biblical evidence.

In truth, I see God releasing control to man way more often than not in the Bible.

God yielding to Israel and giving them a king.

God yielding to Moses and not massacring all of Israel.

God yielding to Abraham and saving Lot.

The Bible is full of stories of God bending a knee to man, not because He’s weak. Not because He’s a people pleaser and needs our favor. But because love yields.

The Trinity is this gorgeous depiction of God yielding to God in a cyclical union that He invites us into.

God literally gave dominion of the earth to us. It’s like He created this gorgeous car and gave us the keys. Then we get mad when we drive recklessly and crash the thing. And I’m not talking about just man on man violence. Yes, our reckless decisions directly affect those around us. But the act of raising our own will above other’s literally curses the planet. It caused plants and animals to riot against us and each other. It commissioned death and pain into the world. Sickness, pain, disease. It all bleeds from the same wound that we inflicted.

When we look around the world at all the destruction, it’s not God orchestrating it. It’s a world that is in the hands of an adrenaline-junky, hormonal teenager.

So as I sat in my car with a mind that spun out from leaky guts to the depravity of man, my heart broke. I literally started crying in my car because of GMO’s. And as I cried, there was a prayer that rose above it all: “Come, Lord Jesus, come. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Come reign. Come make the wrong things right. Come redeem the pain and the suffering. Come. Come, Lord Jesus, come… and start with me.”

It’s really easy to look at the world on a macro level and say, “God, please come rule. We screwed this up. Time after time we mess this up. Your hands are stronger. Your hands are wiser. Come reign. Bring Your peace. Bring Your life.”

And yet, when we bring it to a micro level, we squirm. Especially me. It’s like I can trust Him with the world but I can’t trust Him with myself.

If I let God rule in my life, will He look out for me? Will He satisfy the yearnings of my heart? Will He hold me close like a lover when I feel desperately alone and lost? Will He show up? Is He actually good? Does He even care? Does He truly love me?”

When we choose to say, “I’ve got this,” in our hearts, we are calling God a liar. We are like our ancestors in that garden millennia ago, and we believe the same lie of the serpent.

“Did God really say that? He’s holding out on you. He doesn’t have your best interest in mind. You decide what’s right. You decide what’s wrong. You don’t need Him. You decide what’s right. You decide what’s wrong. Eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

We eat the fruit. Every day. And we wonder why the world is spinning out of control.

We expect God to “come on the clouds with fire”. We expect Him to smite the faithless, establish dominion, and “rule with a mighty hand”. We expect him to “put all His enemies under His feet.”

So did the Jews.

They expected the Messiah to ride in on a white horse and free Israel from the might of Rome with a mighty hand. But He came in on a donkey and His hands were pierced to a tree. He physically couldn’t lift a finger to help anyone as His body was wrenched from Him.

The more and more I look at Jesus, the more and more I think we may have it all wrong.

Jesus doesn’t establish dominion on land or sea. His kingdom is in hearts. Jesus doesn’t win by rising up and destroying the oppressor. He rules through dying by their hands.

He yields… to man… to His Father. And by yielding, He brings about life for the world.

In one garden, the first Adam said, “I don’t trust you.” In another garden, the second Adam wept, praying, “Not my will but yours.” By yielding, Jesus brought about life for us all, and that promise is extended to us.

“The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But I come to bring life, and life abundant.”

Do we believe Him? I know I don’t a lot. I know that I think, “God if I yield to you, you will steal from me, you will kill me, you will destroy me.”

What am I saying about God? I’m calling Jesus Satan and Satan my Messiah. That sounds strong, but can you see it any other way? I perpetuate the very pain I hate in the world. God isn’t going to win by smiting all in His path. He’s going to win the earth one heart at a time as each heart chooses to yield. It’s an invitation. Not a conquest. And it starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with the smallest and most precious world of all–our own. And as we choose to trust Him, one moment at a time, He will be faithful to fulfill His promise–”I will bring about abundant life. Not just to you, but to everyone around you.”

He wants to plant the tree of life in us all, producing a fruit that will rescue everyone that tastes its nectar.

Will we soften our hearts to Him to plant that seed? Will we yield? He yields to us every day. Can we till the soil of our hearts and open up to His faithfulness? Can we trust Him?

A quick aside before I depart. It’s easy to see that living in the knowledge of evil produces death. But it wasn’t called the tree of the knowledge of evil. It was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

I have seen so many Christians focus on what is right and what is wrong, that they kill the hearts of everyone they meet. We all want to know we’re in the right so badly, we’ll go to any length to ensure we’re safe.

We’ll cross the road on the way to church as a bloodied man asks for help. After all, we have to be there on time and we don’t want to get our robes dirty.

But it’s not just the evangelical Christian that does this. Every single human is guilty.

“Well, at least I don’t kill people.” “It’s not like I go around raping children.” “I’m not that bad.”

We justify ourselves rather than Christ justifying us and in doing so eat of the fruit of our ancestors, perpetuating the pain.

Probably one of the biggest vindications I’ve seen lately is in the gay Christian community. And I get it. We’ve been told we’re wrong for so long; we’re desperate to prove that we’re right. We invest hours to studying scripture; we analyze the culture and the language; we exegesis the shit out of context and in doing so vindicate ourselves. We are right. They are wrong.

If you dig deep enough, anyone can find scripture to support their cause. Even slaveholders found justification in scripture prior to the Civil War.

Am I saying that having a same-sex marriage is wrong? I’m not, actually. What I am saying is that if we simply dig into the Bible, declaring this is right, we’re no better than the people that clobber us with the same passages. We cannot keep living in the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It’s time to turn to the tree of life.

Is there life in your life (yes I just wrote that…) as a result of the choices you make? Are you yielding to Jesus?

A while back, when trying to vindicate myself and give myself permission to have a gay relationship, I reached out to a married gay couple who write a blog called Modern Kinship. They inspire me with their trust and love of Jesus. Yes, believe it or not, there are homos out there that love Jesus and do a better job than a lot of straight people.

When I emailed them, sharing my story and asking questions about marrying a man or a woman, He gave me an answer I didn’t expect.

“I don’t believe there’s a single God-honoring path to take. Maybe God has a woman in mind for you; maybe He doesn’t.” He went on to say that the number one evidence that he knows that God has called him and his spouse to this marriage is the life they see as a result of it. “My marriage serves to strengthen my faith. We serve God together and help to deepen each other’s understanding of God. Our relationship has had outward benefits in the way it has prompted people to think about God and his love in a larger, more radical way. People ruined on the church are giving God a second look. All of that, for me, has been the best evidence.”

“You will judge a tree by their fruit.”

What fruit do you have that shows you’re producing life? Not right or wrong. This isn’t about vindication. The world has had plenty of that and we’re all still bleeding. Being right doesn’t heal. It still kills. Where is life blossoming? Not only yourself but for those around you? Is there healing in your open hands? Is there a simple childlike trust breathing hope into the people around you? Are we agreeing with our Messiah’s prayer, “Not my will, but Yours”?

I want to start praying that prayer again.

Thanks for reading.

Epilogue – Colorado Springs, CO

And now is the part where I say, “I returned home! My journies enlightened me. I’ve been changed.”

If only…

Life has been rough since coming back. I would love to say that all the travels and people transformed me. In the moment, it did. Hope was birthed. Love re-kindled. It was as though life was emerging from the ashes. But then I came back to Colorado to stare at the charred mess I made. A mess of lives, mine and those I love. It choked the hope out of me like the weeds in Jesus’s parable.

Upon returning home, it took me less than two hours to find a bathhouse. It took less than a week to find a man on Grindr. It took less than a month to forget I even traveled.

It’s true that traveling gave me hope. It’s true that my heart softened. But now that soft heart could feel. And it was feeling a lot.

Loneliness. Hopelessness. Aimlessness. All the nesses covered in remorse. Where was God in all this?

My life revolved around my ex for so long, it’s like my life is now revolving around a black hole. The absence of him carries an immeasurable weight that makes it unbearable most days.

The only way of explaining how I felt was like treading water. I’m not sure where to go. Where’s land? But this feeling wasn’t new. I felt like this before my ex.

In 2012, I left for Berlin to join a missions organization. I was eager to be discipled. I had been in leadership since the age of fourteen. I was ready to have someone teach me, to see God move, to be a part of something important. Instead, I was asked to produce a show while suffering emotional abuse at the hands of a leader committing an affair with one of the students. And on top of that, I was paying to be there. It’s like I’m a masochist!

If that wasn’t enough, I felt so alone. Not only was I not being led by someone, I had a peer completely abandon me for no reason whatsoever. But the abandonment was greater than people. I felt abandoned by God.

One day, while in Mumbai, I prayed for a woman missing a led. I helplessly watched as the woman wept. “Why won’t God give me my leg back?” I didn’t have answers. Maybe God wasn’t there. But I needed him, and so did my family. My brother was hospitalized from a major car accident. We all needed God. Where was He? Was He even there? Was He ever there?

As a kid, I prayed that someone would find me when I was molested for five straight years by an older boy. I was never discovered.

As a teenager, I prayed that God would make me straight. That he would change me. I’m still attracted to men.

As an adult man, I prayed I would have other men show me the way. I have yet to find a mentor, though I’ve joined two discipleship schools.

Disappointment after disappointment overshadowed me, communicating one message: I was on my own. I needed to figure out life for myself. No one was coming to save me.

And on that plane home, I began the treading.

Find a career. Figure out a future. Find love. Don’t be alone.

I downloaded Grindr; I met a man who came to my rescue, and I began the first relationship I ever had with a man… and I was petrified.

It was a late night in March. We had reconnected after three months. I had broken up with him due to fear of hell, but we had eventually navigated friendship. He had started dating another guy, and I really wanted him to see that someone was going to stick around no matter what, even if he would never date me. I wanted him to see he was worth it.

But then we’re sitting in the car and he kisses me. I pull back. “I can’t do this. I don’t know where I’ve landed on sexuality and God. I don’t want to hurt you again.”

But then a promise was given. “If you were to tell me tomorrow we need to be friends, I’m okay with that. I love how you wrestle things out with God. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m attracted to you. I just want to be as close to you as I can.”

My heart soared. The invitation for someone to walk this journey out with me was everything. For so long, I had been walking this road alone. Now someone wanted to walk with me? Take a risk on me? How could I say no?

But I should have.

The result was a relationship that hurt people, and a fallout that wrecked us both.

If I could go back in time and yell at my younger self to say, “No! Stay friends. Don’t date. Stay strong. It’ll cost you everything and you’ll lose the person you love,” I would. At least then I would still have this person I care about in my life. Instead, my friends get to keep him. They get to benefit from my investment. And that hurts. I sacrificed so much but came up empty.

Moving out of my parents. Coming out to the world. Losing friends and ministry opportunities. Getting into a house I couldn’t afford. Changing my behavior to match my partners.

It was all for nothing.

That feeling of bankruptcy rings fiercely most days. I feel like a stepping stool. Everyone else benefited from this relationship but me. Everyone else got a meal while I got the bill. And that’s really hard to live with at times.

And the treading continues. I know I should trust God, but it’s hard.

The truth is, I tried to invite God back into my life. To trust Him again. I wanted Him to be a part of my life, especially the part that mattered the most–my romantic life.

So I invited God into my relationship. I analyzed verses, went to conferences, emailed all the experts. I was realizing that maybe a gay relationship was okay. That God could be at the center. The result was wanting to set boundaries around sex.

My boyfriend and I met on Grindr. Grindr isn’t really a good platform to set expectations of showing restraint regarding sex. And why show restraint? When you believe you’ve crossed the worst line, what were the lines before? What’s a small line like pre-marital sex in comparison to being a damned abomination?

You no longer have boundaries. They’ve all been broken already.

But here I was learning that maybe I can have a relationship with a man and have God at the center. And if I wanted to invite God into my relationship, it means He gets to speak into my sex life. It means He gets to say, “Wait.”

In hopes of ending this struggle between God and my relationship, I invited Him in, and I believe God told me to stop having sex. After all, we weren’t married. We weren’t even engaged. We had no commitment to one another. But our bodies were binding to each other. Don’t believe me? Try sleeping without the person you love for a few nights. Your body literally aches.

So with terror, I dared to trust. I held my breath and told my boyfriend that we couldn’t have sex. I held my breath, hoping everything would be okay. But it wasn’t.

He said wondered if our relationship was worth it. That I had hurt him too much. That this was too much. In the end, he wanted to break up. He wanted to salvage a friendship.

I was broken. I was hurt. Here I was trying to trust, and I was hurting the person that I loved. The last thing I wanted was to hurt this man. In that moment of pain, I was reminded of that premonition. “You will hurt this man.” I couldn’t afford to hurt him more.

I ended up agreeing with him. We should try and salvage a friendship. And when he changed his mind (as we had both done our two-year relationship), I said no. I refused to hurt him again. And since that day, I’ve worn this badge of martyrdom, as if I’d done something noble.

“Brandon,” my friend yelled at me. “Quit playing the victim card. You chose this.”

I chose this.

And when my day-to-day consists of hooking up with strangers, of weeping because of an HIV scare, of losing friends, of inflicting more pain, I think to myself, “Why the fuck did I do this? Why did I choose this?”

I doubt myself often and carry remorse and regret everywhere I go. I was selfish, and it hurt a lot of people. When I see their faces, I wish I could take back so much.

How did I become this selfish? I didn’t use to be. But if I didn’t have hope in a God taking care of me, who would? I had to take care of myself.

Pain gives birth to cynicism. Cynicism gives birth to loneliness. Loneliness gives birth to selfishness. Selfishness gives birth to pain.

And the cycle continues. A cycle every human has been trapped in since the dawn of time.

“Eye for an eye!” till the whole world is blind. That has been the truth for my world.

So what do we do with all of this? What do we do with selfishness and cynicism? Better question: what do I do with my selfishness and cynicism? I can’t fix the world. It’s not my job. But I can fix myself. And I knew that the root was my cynicism. But where did this root come from? The answer came at a place I never wanted to be–a men’s retreat. As a circle of middle-aged men stared at me, I was reminded of where this all began.

I was six. I was in the church attic. I was being molested by an older boy.

Where was God? Why didn’t He stop it? Why did this happen?

The men surrounding me dared me to answer that question for myself.

I stammered over words, trying to appease them.

“Why did Jesus have to die? He was always with me. He’ll redeem this.”

I stopped myself with a thought. How could You possibly redeem this?

“Because now you see people.”

I broke down. I wept in front of complete strangers. Male complete strangers! The worst kind! But I couldn’t help it. God really had redeemed my pain. They weren’t just trite words.

God does not cause pain. That’s the result of the world we’ve fucked up and the selfishness we carry out of pain. God doesn’t need our help with making the world blind. We’re capable of doing that all on our own. But we do need His help to believe that we can have an eye gouged out and “turn the other cheek”. Not because we’re weak, and we simply yield to adversity. But because we believe we have a God that will take care of us, break the cycle, and take horror and turn it into beauty. After all, isn’t that the cross? In the wounds that Jesus forever carries, he carries hope forever. Life came from his death. Maybe life could come from the pain I endured. Maybe God could redeem all the pain I caused.

So now I tell you, the reader, that since my travels and since that retreat I’m all better. All is well. I trust God, and I’m on a new path.

Nope! Still treading.

Just a few days after the retreat, I slept with complete strangers! The pain continues. The cynicism continues. The selfishness continues. And I continue to hurt people, perpetuating the cycle. How do I escape this?

I’m really scared God won’t look after the desires of my heart. Especially when my heart still desires a man’s strength, pursuit, and love. What if he doesn’t satisfy my heart? What if I’m fucked, destined to try and figure this out on my own? Destined to tread water forever? I panic. But then a calm voice speaks. The same calm voice that showed me I see people because of my pain.

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart?”

Honestly, that verse scares me. Will He? Will He actually? But then I’m reminded of years before being a missionary, years where I put God first, and He did satisfy my heart. And what I’m doing now sure isn’t working. What do I have to lose?

In spite of my pain, I’ve seen too much of His faithfulness, regardless of the pain. So as scary as it sounds, I dare to trust, as intrepid as it may be. That trust may break tomorrow. But so did all the cool people in the Bible.

Abraham ran to Egypt and knocked up a slave girl. David killed a man and took his wife. Israel made deals with the devil.

And yet God calls them all His.

I don’t think God is asking for perfection, just a little bit of trust. And it may break. But here in this moment, if only for a few minutes, can I trust?

“Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel! Again you will take up your tambourines and go forth in dancing.”

With everything that is in me, I desperately hope that God can make something of this rubble. That He’ll restore. That He’ll fix what I broke. That’ll He’ll heal myself and others.

Redeem this God. You redeemed so much already. Redeem this too.

Part 8. Phoenix, AZ

Arizona. How many times have I mentioned I hate deserts on this blog? And yet, I keep ending up in them. I will say this, there is something actually magical about a desert (can’t believe I said that). It strips you of any self-resilience. Strength doesn’t matter. Money can’t buy you anything. You’re stripped to nothing but you. Laid bare.

Maybe that’s why I keep ending up in deserts in spite of my complete disdain for them.

I think Jesus knew how apprehensive I was about this leg of the trip (I mean, He is God and all that) because the week I picked to come out to Phoenix, Dura had to work a lot. And that isn’t a stab a Dura. You’ll see where this ends up. It’s a stab at me. I think Jesus knew I was in a delicate space. Shit. I’m still in a delicate space. But needless to say, I think God created some space for me to just exist in Phoenix, to calm my nerves. And that calm came from a man I had yet to meet.

Because Dura was working three 24-hour shifts, her husband Josh picked me up. I had never met the guy. But we would be spending a large amount of time together, and I’m really thankful for it.

Josh is like the Yin to Dura’s Yang (or vice versa, I’m not going to pretend to be a master of Taoism; I’m having a hard enough time with my own faith at the moment). While Dura is this ball of bright fiery passion, Josh is like water. He’s soothing and calm. He can still be passionate, but it manifests differently. Like a powerful river. But he moves and bends with the people he’s with. He’s definitely a peacemaker at heart, and I was really grateful for it.

Since I barely knew the guy, and he’s now married to one of my good friends, I asked all the questions.

How did you guys meet? What are your passions? Where do you see yourself and Dura in five years? You know, all the superficial, easygoing questions you ask when you first meet someone. Didn’t want to overwhelm the guy…

But it literally didn’t phase him. He answered every question with such an assured calmness.

“We met through mutual friends.” “We both did the World Race.” “We want to help people in crisis, so we’re both becoming EMT’s.”

There is an ease that Josh produces to those around him. The result was calm mornings over coffee, relaxed evenings watching fireworks, and easygoing afternoons climbing rock walls.

Through the fury of questions, I can’t help but see God in Josh and Dura’s love story. They truly are perfect for each other. Like a dynamic duo. They have shared passion and vision, but go about it in such different ways because of their personalities. They yield to each other because they’re yielded to God and have purpose in everything they do. And it’s not just in their marriage, but how they live that you can see God active and moving.

Dura and Josh shared stories where God told them to do something, and they just went for it. You know those people that talk of their dreams and what they want to do and it stops there? That’s not Josh and Dura. They dream and go. It’s so inspiring.

One time Dura felt like God was saying to go to Jordan. She didn’t have money or contacts, but she trusted. Once there, she met people and started hitchhiking into Israel. Why? Because, again, she felt like that was what God was calling her to do. She simply trusted a voice within.

This inner voice has led them around the world three times between the two them, a nine-month Europe backpacking trip on their honeymoon, management of an island resort, and back to the desert to become EMT’s. There’s so much adventure and purpose in this trust.

While being with them, I was reminded of my past. A past where I did the same thing, and I missed it.

When I lived in Berlin, I would walk the streets, asking God, “Where next?” With a calm trust, I would end up in the coolest cafés. Like, hidden-in-a-canal-surrounded-by-water-gardens cool cafés. I’d talk to strangers on the streets, asking God what to say. Next thing I know, the stranger is crying, asking how I knew those secret places of their heart. Or when a girl was dying of leukemia, I heard a scripture reference. Turns out it’s about bones. I read it to the girl, prayed, and she was miraculously healed.

There was this faith and reckless trust I had with Jesus that led me to crazy places, meeting amazing people.

But something happened. Well, actually a lot happened.

  • My head pastor caught in adultery
  • A Bible school closed down due to embezzlement
  • A mission school wringing me dry for ego
  • The mission leader having an affair with a student

And this is the part where all the Christians say, “But Brandon, those are people. They’re not perfect. God didn’t do those things.” True. But I got beef with Jesus too.

When I served as a missionary, I prayed for a woman with a missing leg. I was believing for a miracle. I asked her to stand up out of her chair, thinking of the stories of Jesus. Instead of a miracle, I got a sobbing woman, begging God for her leg. “Why won’t He give me my leg back?”

I didn’t know.

The questions came, “Does God care or hear me? Hear her? Why didn’t that work? Jesus said it would work. Did I do something wrong? Is He even there?”

Remember those cool walks I went on? Well, there was this one time I listened to that small voice and ended up in the middle of nowhere.

The questions came, “Is this made up in my head? Does God really speak? Is He even real? Or is this just my imagination?”

At the end of my mission school, I hitchhiked, hoping to see God provide for me. The result was sleeping on the streets of Geneva. My friend and I had asked a church to take us in for the event. They said they couldn’t do that. I got drunk that night, screaming to my friend, “Some hands and feet of Jesus they are!”

I was not in a good place. But wait! There’s more!

“Brandon, we didn’t want to tell you because we didn’t want to ruin your trip. But you’ll eventually see it on social media. Nathan (my brother) had a seizure and crashed into a car. It was bad. A piece of his bone was in the street. But we’re praying and believing God for a miracle. We don’t want you to worry. Everything is going to be okay.”

But everything wasn’t okay, and I was worried. Nathan didn’t get a miracle. And to top it off, the next leg of my journey was to Lyon, where a friend from Bible college awaited me. She had de-converted, becoming an agnostic. The time was spent drinking and talking about how my faith was all in my head and most “healings” are just due to the power of belief.

Maybe this was all in my head. Maybe this is all fake.

By the time I boarded a plane to help my family with my brother, I was having an existential crisis. I didn’t know what I believed, what was true, who I could trust, and what I was supposed to do. I was breaking inside. But my family was falling apart too.

So what did I do? I buried my fears, hurts, and pain, taking on the responsibility of saving my family. I thought it was a burden I was putting on myself when my mom pulled me aside with tears in her eyes and said, “Brandon, save this family. You’re the only one that can.”

Since that moment, I haven’t been the same. I’ve felt like I was completely alone, fighting to make it through life. I wanted to believe I wasn’t alone, that God was for me, but everything said the contrary.

There’s a moment that describes my internal world perfectly.

We were standing in Nathan’s hospital room. People from the church had come to anoint him with oil and pray over him. As they began to pray, I stepped out of the room. Not because I thought it was garbage, but because all the verses on unbelief inhibiting healing blared in my head. I was believing and unbelieving all at once.

“Most cynics are really crushed romantics: they’ve been hurt, they’re sensitive, and their cynicism is a shell that’s protecting this tiny, dear part in them that’s still alive.” – Jeff Bridges.

Who I am today is incredibly cynical. I criticize worship songs, showing how they don’t exhibit true theology. I revolt flashy churches, calling them hypocritical, money-making business. I hide from prophets, fearing to be seen.

But underneath it all is a hopeless romantic wanting to believe again, to tear down the walls of cynicism to trust again.

And here I was, trapped in a desert, once again, with two people who were daring to trust God, to take a risk with that quiet voice, and I missed it. I missed the adventure, the life, the love, and destiny these two people displayed with such humility and grace. They weren’t pompous. They weren’t assuming. They were living the life they felt led to live, and it stained everything they touched with divinity.

The yearning was so fierce, I was at risk of burning. Shit, I was burning. Burning with a desire to see what was lost be found, to recover the broken and missing places in my shattered heart.

But how? How do I relinquish my cynicism when I’m so scared those tiny pieces of me could be swept away? Like doubting to protect what little belief I had left.

By the time Dura and I got time together, the apprehension had given way to desperation. I couldn’t keep living the way I was.

But instead of coming in like a passionate flame, Dura showed me patience. She asked questions. We rode bikes together in the late cool hours (cool meaning 90 degrees instead of 115). She invited me into her life and shared intimate secrets, as you would with a dear friend.

When the strike came, I was open and vulnerable. She’d jumped over my walls. Or maybe, I opened the gate, hoping someone would sneak in.

“Brandon,” Dura was sitting across the breakfast table from me. “While you were cooking in the kitchen, I saw a vision of you standing with your wife. She was petite and had dark brown hair. She was laughing at all your jokes. She understood you completely and cherished you.”

If I had not spent time with Dallas and Ariel, experiencing an unconditional love, if I had not spent time with Leah and Zay, witnessing a miracle, if I had not ridden on a boat with Becca and Jordan, exposed by direct questions, if I had not crashed on Emily and Christopher’s couch, delighting in their love, if I had not written this run-on sentence, I think I would have lashed out at Dura. I would have asked, “Why not a husband?! Why not a dear friend?! Why does it have to be a wife?!”

But something had happened to me. Something had changed by the time I came back to the desert.

A hopeful desperation.

And when Dura said those words, I didn’t get angry. I yearned for what she saw.

When you tune an instrument to other instruments, you play the notes together, adjusting till a wobble in the notes subsides. When the instruments are in tune, there’s a reverberation that lets you know, “this is right.”

I felt that when Dura shared her vision, and I was reminded of another time someone’s words rang true. It came from the least likely of places–my last boyfriend.

“Brandon,” We were lying next to each other. It was one of our final nights before he moved to Arizona. We decided from the beginning that we would break up once he left. Feeling a lot, neither of us talked much. We both knew what was ahead and knew how much this would hurt us. But he broke the silence. “We’re going to be okay. We both need this. I need to figure some things with Jesus, and you need to figure out if you’re gay or not convinced.”

Of all the people in the world to say those words, it was him. And when he did, my heart reverberated.

Now am I saying I’m straight. Yeah, no. I’m attracted to guys and dating a man offered a lot of things I’ve never experienced with a woman. I don’t think a straight person would say that.

But am I gay? If my own boyfriend was doubting, maybe there was something there. And maybe there was something in what Dura was seeing. Maybe there was something in me that had been clawing in desperation to survive on its own when there was something more beautiful on the other side of cynicism. Something that required trust.

I’m not saying that my story is right. I’m not saying that others are wrong. And I’m not saying that another narrative doesn’t require trust.

I think each of us with the burden of belonging to the LGBTQ rainbow all have our own journey to walk, navigating these queer questions, finding personal answers. But regardless of answers, I think all of our journies start with trust. Trust that God sees you and has a unique story for you. But I think mine looks a bit like Abraham.

The guy was old. His wife was old. They shouldn’t be producing kids. But they had a promise that they would. But when Abraham took things into his own hands, when he believed he was alone and had to figure this out on his own, he knocked up a slave girl.

Maybe this was the promise God spoke about! Maybe he messed up! It wasn’t meant to be Sarah! It was meant to be Hagar!

But God sent off Hagar and the child into the desert. He would not share the glory with Abraham. This was His miracle to conjure up. He didn’t want it to be manmade.

I think for a long time now, I’ve been trying to survive with things manmade of my own making. And in the process, I’ve hurt a lot of people, specifically those I love most. I wish I trusted. I wish I didn’t hide behind my walls of cynicism to preserve a broken faith. And for all the pain I’ve caused you, I’m so sorry. I wish I could take it back. I wish I could have loved you better. I’m sorry.

For my sake and those my life touches, I desperately hope I will learn to trust again, to invite God back into my life, to obey what He says. Not because I’m a slave like Hagar. God called Abraham a friend. Not a servant. And in Christ, I’m called a son who He cares about infinitely. I don’t know what the future holds. But I can’t keep treading water, drowning in my own strength. If only for pure desperation, something needs to change, something needs to give, and I think that something is faith.

To all those I who opened their house and hearts to me over the last few weeks, thank you. The little faith I have is due to you, due to your trust, and I’m eternally thankful.

Part. 6 – Redding, CA

Redding is special to me… and the why doesn’t really make sense.

When I lived there a few years back, people would ask me, “How do you like Redding?” My answer would always be a dodge. “Bethel is great!” (the church I was attending at the time). But somehow, this place that I had no affection for and continually visit when it’s triple digit heat, seems to recenter me. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s as if the skies clear, and I’m able to find my North Star after long years of fog.

When Janell and I got back, we crashed into bed as quickly as possible. The trip wrecked us. We had been in the car for well over 24 hours, and Janell had just made a drive from the East Coast.

In the morning, some old friends texted me, asking if I wanted to go with them to church. The service was in 20 minutes and I had just woken up (Like I said, I was tired!), and I had no car. The wife raced out of her way to pick me up so we could meet her husband at church.

Becca and Jordan have a literal going-out-of-the-way hospitality, and their friendship means a whole lot more than I give them credit for.

Becca is one of the few people that has remained in my life from my youth pastoring days. In fact, she was one of my volunteers. Whether due to fear or simply not knowing how to interact with me, most of the people from my church days faded away after I came out. But not Becca. Which is weird, because she probably has the most reason to. She lives in another state.

But right around the time I came out, she made a trek home. She just had a baby and wanted to be with family. In spite of the busy-ness, she asked me out for coffee.

Let’s pump the breaks here a second. For all you non-gay christians out there, you’re like, “Oh yay! Coffee! I love coffee! It’s the best just talking over coffee about Jesus and books and church and coffee! Yay coffee!”

When a gay-Christian hears, “Let’s get coffee”, we panic.

What are they gonna say? What questions are they gonna ask? Is this a surprise attack? Are they going to ask about my life and then, without transition, abruptly segue into talking about how God doesn’t approve of me? Or are they going to act like nothing has changed? Are they going to dodge the topic like the plague? Or worse yet, are they going to passive-aggressively talking about it, asking “Haven’t seen you at church in a while”?

We are always skeptical when someone asks us to coffee. It’s like there’s something in that black liquid that’s going to jump out at us. Instead, ask us out for rosé. We’ll think you wanna talk wedding plans. Plus, rosé is transparent. You can’t hide something in it.

All that said, I was a bit apprehensive. I hadn’t seen any of my volunteers or kids since coming out. Although the slow fade (as I mentioned in a previous post) was hard, it was also a relief–I didn’t have to deal with what those people thought. But not Becca. She reached out, and I’m so glad she did.

Right after sitting down, she went straight for the jugular. “How are you? How’s your boyfriend? How are you guys? How are people responding? How are you and Jesus?”

Note to reader: she did it good. She didn’t pretend I wasn’t in a relationship with a man. She honored it. She made space for it and treated it like a straight relationship. And she also wanted to genuinely know how I was doing. Not trying to fix me. Not hoping to point at pain as if to prove a point. She genuinely cared for my heart, and it meant the world.

Over the next hour (like I said, her schedule was full, so we packed in as much as we could), I gave up everything, crossing my fingers that she wouldn’t blow up on me. I shared how amazing my boyfriend’s love felt. I shared how scared I was about what God thought. I shared that a lot of people left me.

I. Spewed. It. All.

It’s like I needed to share with someone everything–not just the pretty side. Not just the ugly side. Both. And it felt so good, but also terrifying.

I put it all out there, and instead of redirecting with questions like I normally do to not wait in awkward and painful anticipation, I decided to sit in it. I let the anxiety of how she would respond sit in the air.

And then she spoke.

“Brandon, when you wrestle with someone, it’s an intimate act. It’s body on body. Sweat on sweat. Yes, it’s a struggle, and yes there is conflict. But you come away from the wrestling closer to the person than when you started. It just happens. You can’t be in that proximity and not become closer. Yes, you and God are wrestling, but it’s an intimate act, and He’s not leaving you. You’ll be closer after all this.”

To this day, I cherish those words. When life got shitty, and I had no clue what was up or down, I remembered Becca’s words. It gave me hope. And it was with those words in mind, that I went to church that morning. I could trust these people.

When we arrived at the Stirring, Jason Upton was leading. That was a mixture of emotions.

One–Jason Upton was one of the first worship leaders I ever listened to after I chose to trust Jesus back when I was 17. His lyrics were part of the birthing process of a new life.

Two–Jason Upton’s words are hella intense. Church can be hard enough, but he’s super prophetic, which is scary for a homo. Everything in me was saying, “Please don’t see me. Please don’t call me out. Please don’t hurt me.”

Three–Please see me, but please don’t hurt me.

To be honest, I don’t remember a ton of that sermon, but I do remember what happened in me.

A desperation was born. Apprehensions were thrown to the side. I wanted to be seen by God. I wanted to be heard by God. I didn’t want to be alone.

The one song I do remember that Jason sung was Not Alone. It’s about Martin Luther King Jr. while in his cell. In this dark and lonely place, God saw him, and God was with him. He never left him, in the midst of pain and struggle and heartbreak, God called out his name.

I felt a whisper to my heart.

“I never left. I’m right here. I’ll never leave you.”

Another thing about Jason is his heart of a father. He sees the heart of God for him in relationship to his kids. If his heart is overwhelmed by his kids, God’s must be bursting. If Jason would do anything for his kids, God would too.

Feeling that so deeply, I cried, “God, father me. It’s been a long time since I’ve asked for this. Humans keep fucking this up, but I’m asking you to father me again.” (Yes, I curse with God in my prayers. He hears it in my head anyway. Might as well put it out there.)

Leaving the service, I felt vulnerable, but renewed, like getting out of a hot tub in nothing but your birthday suit. You breathe cold air. It feels refreshing on your skin. You’re relaxed, but you’re also naked, and that can be scary. But I chose to stay present and still, sitting in the refreshing vulnerability.

I wanted to soak up as much Jesus juice as I could while in Redding, so I was planning on going to Bethel’s evening service. But something in my chest told me I’d miss the service.

“Wanna go out on Lake Shasta with us on our boat?” Becca asked.

I smiled. I guess I was gonna miss church.

There is something about Lake Shasta. Every time I go to Redding, Jordan and Becca take me out on their boat, and I miss church, and every time, it’s better than any worship song or sermon.

The last time I was on the lake, a peace just came over me in the water. God held me. It was so clear and so evident. But this time, he’d be like an arrow, shooting straight at my heart.

Jordan. Jordan is everything that Becca is not. Becca is this calming, gentle breeze that says, “I hear you. I’m hear. No pressure to be anything. I’ll just refresh you.” Jordan is like a fire. Or a rock. Or something not air.

While on the boat, Jordan asked some questions about where I was at. He said he was restraining, and I could feel it. He was seeking to understand and listen when his normal MO is to talk with passion (I’m thinking fire).

After listening and sitting with each other, he spoke with a zeal for my life that I hadn’t seen in a while, and to be frank, zeal scares me. The last time I saw zeal, two missionary friends spoke of the fires of hell for my soul. But Jordan didn’t speak of hell. He didn’t speak of “get back after Jesus”. He spoke of a living death. Instantly I was reminded of that sermon on the road from Arizona.

Jesus was after something.

“If I’m dead, I don’t have rights to demand things from my wife. I’m not looking for her to complete me. I’m dead. Jesus is alive, and Jesus doesn’t need anything from anyone. Dead people don’t get offended, either. As weird as it sounds, being dead insulates me from getting hurt. And there’s life there. Cause after all, if you lose you’re life, you find it. Right?”

Being really frank here, I still didn’t get it. It was as though God was knocking on a door, but I couldn’t find the handle. I had heard of life and death before, but it had become trite–words one says when they want you to stop behaving a certain way or guilt trip you for being bad. But I knew something was there for me, I just didn’t know what. It was scary and confusing. But my heart was in a different space now.

Before this conversation, I would have shut down. Something had happened over the past few weeks where I was now open. I wanted to hope again, wanted to trust again, wanted to live again, regardless of what that took. For so long, I had been living life as if I were trying to survive it, treading water in a raging sea. I was exhausted. But it hadn’t always been this way. I used to thrive in life. I used to carry a peace. Not this anxiety.

What happened? Was the key to stepping back into this life death? What did that even mean?

Something told me I would need to wait. It would come to me in time, and I didn’t need to force this. If God was truly after this for me, He would open up my heart when the time was right. Eventually I would find the handle. For now, I needed to trust, especially when a message came from an old Bible school friend.

Part. 5 – Portland, OR

“How do you feel about driving up the coast from San Francisco to Portland this week?”

You can’t ask that question to a lot of people. But I can ask it of Janell.

Janell and I met when I was a part of a community house–a special season of life that brought hope and life to my very cynical heart.

We’d read Narnia together. Janell would squeal in discomfort as I texted boys on her behalf. I’d obnoxiously barge into her room, flop on her bed, and beg for details from work. She and I worked at a detention center for youth. The stories were always full of blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. Every. Time. It’s pretty horrible and lovely all at once. But it’s not surprising that Janell took this job. It’s what she does.

To this day, Janell steps out into the world the way I long to–with joy, abandon, faith, and love. She’s always in the midst of chaos. Burning Man. The Syrian Refuge Crisis. The Carr Fire. She’s been at them all, hoping to be an agent of hope, a calm in the storm.

It is this person I can ask to drive up the coast on a bohemian adventure with a yellow lab, all the blankets, and no money. And it was worth it! The trip was so gorgeous! Red woods towering above us. Jagged sea cliffs foaming to our left. Cute fishing towns scattered up the coast. It was just simple beauty, and it was so refreshing.

The other thing I love about Janell is that she’s a feeler like me. We can literally say, “Let’s turn left because my heart wants to. Let’s go into that fresh fish market by the bay because something speaks to me about it. Let’s not go all the way up to Astoria. Let’s cut over to Portland. There’s some uneasiness in my stomach.”

And yet, every adventure has it’s moments of discomfort or pain or risk. Otherwise, it’s not an adventure. It’s vacation.

One such moment was a lack of housing in Portland. I had messaged a ton of people, some of which I barely knew. Nothing. And did I mention we didn’t have money? Oh, and did I mention Janell had just spent days traveling in her car from the East Coast?

The culmination of all those factors led Janell and I to a Home Depot. We were searching for campsites, but Janell needed to use the bathroom.

“Brandon. I’m not going into Home Depot to use the bathroom.”

“Why not? They have one, and we’re here. No one will care.”

“Are you kidding me right now? No. It’s Home Depot. They’re not public bathrooms. Brandon, go find us a gas station.”

While I found us a gas station, Janell searched the internet for “safe rest stop Portland Oregon”. We had finally given up due to pure exhaustion and lack of options.

In the end, Janell, her puppy named Gypsy (very applicable), and I sprawled out in the back of Janell’s Jeep Compass, parked next to a few homeless. And here’s the weird part–I felt… at home… and a cramp, but that’s besides the point. The point was that something from my past was reaching out to me.

My life is filled with many moments trying to “prove” something for Jesus. Do something hard for Jesus. Something you don’t like for Jesus. That though process always led me to do things that I believed were uncomfortable or straight up hated.

Sleeping on a tile floor for two months in Mumbai, India. Spooning with roommates in a school bus across country to keep warm. Inching as close to the fire in the Colorado mountains with nothing but a jogging outfit.

All of these moments were some of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve ever had, and yet I felt the most alive. Not because of the pain, although pain does have a way of saying, “Hey, you’re awake!” But because of the beauty surrounding you in those moments.

You’re going after something that’s worth more than what you lose. Cause what you’re giving up is cheap. You’re living for something beyond yourself. Whether that’s loving people or living an adventure or hopefully both, it’s worth the lack of comfort. And as weird as it sounds, I was missing the discomfort. I was nostalgia for purpose and adventure, but I had insulated myself from experiencing both.

Comfort has a way of robbing us of the very thing we actually want, and yet we cling to it so fiercely. I don’t understand why we do it, and yet understand it completely, as I do it every day. It’s as though fear causes us to cling to cheap and easy things. But that night sleeping with Gypsy, Janell, and all the other vagrants I was reminded that there’s more to life than a house, a bed, a decent job… security. I wanted more.

But all those thoughts and feelings will have to wait. I had a friend to meet.

The following morning, Janell and I were pleasantly surprised. An old friend named Sophie met us up for coffee. And let me just tell you, Sophie embodies some of the most beautiful things this world has to offer.

Hours passed as we laughed with complete authenticity. We hadn’t seen each other in years, but the years we missed poured forth with abandon. I could be fully me, nothing hidden. It was like my soul was drinking fresh mountain water. I couldn’t get enough, and apparently, neither could she, because we spent the entire day together. Which is huge. Normally, after an hour or two, I’m thinking about how many more fake poops I have to take to make it through the rest of the time with someone. It’s not that I hate people. In fact, I really deeply care. But that care exhausts me and I get tired of presenting to meet someone where they’re at.

But not Sophie. It was so naturally easy, and I loved it.

We talked about sex. We talked about church. We talked about exes.

We went not thrift shopping. Why? Because we all love grungy, trendy, cheap clothing. But the thrift stores in Portland aren’t cheap. So we bought nothing. We went to Powell’s to not purchase books. Instead, we walked around just looking at books. Maybe it’s the smell. But again, we bought nothing. We just gave ourselves points for being in a bookstore. But then again, maybe we didn’t buy books or thrift clothing because we were just straight up broke. But trendy vegan food. You always have money for trendy vegan food. So we got some.

By the time our time was up, I didn’t want to leave. We had crammed Oregon cliffs, California redwoods, and Portland coffee all into a 36-hour trip. It wasn’t enough time. Too much good stuff! Especially the good people, because ultimately, that was the highlight of this trip, and that has always been the case for me. I can be in the middle of the desert and be as happy as a clam (Why do we say that, and why are clams happy?). I know for sure, because I did it. But regardless of feeling like I didn’t get enough time, time was up. We had to get to Redding.