The first key world-saving decision I made in the midst of my own personal world exploding was to PRIORITIZE & SEEK COMMUNITY.
6 Decisions, #1: Prioritize & Seek Community
This was not easy.
I had been someone who for over ten years had a very tight-knit and strong faith community. Even more, I had close, deep friendships within that community. These were people I thought I would “do life with” for pretty much my life. These were people I would have done anything for and been there for no matter what; and assumed the same for me… that they would be there no matter what. I knew who to call at 2 AM. I knew who had my back. I knew who would extend grace. I knew who was an unconditional brother or sister in Christ. Or at least I thought I knew.
The truth is that 95% of the those people were gone as soon as the news was out.
I think it breaks down into four categories: (1) some people stood with me; (2) some abandoned me out of anger; (3) some abandoned me out of awkwardness; and (4) some were never really there. I was merely a useful entity in their lives (as chaplain/pastor), but the relationship did not go beyond utility for them. Many of the angry ones just went silent. Others sent me nasty emails and letters. Several became part of a chorus spreading accusations and untruths, in many ways poisoning the waters even more than they were. The ones who stayed with me… who called, emailed, stayed in contact — you all have no idea how much your small gestures meant to me. It was like water to a panting deer in the desert, like bread to a starving soul.
But I pretty much lost my community, but also knew that the only way forward would be with community.
So what did I do?
I made a priority out of finding and creating a new community around me.
The first thing was to LEAN ON MY FAMILY. I have a big family and they have been nothing but a blessing to me these last two years (and more than that). I always thought of the church as my second family, but that turned out not to be true at all. My real family was gracious, loving, supportive and understanding. None of them are Christians (I grew up in a Jewish family and consider myself a Jewish follower of Jesus) and all very liberal/progressive. So for them, the gay issue was really not an issue at all. And I suspect the whole situation probably just confirmed for them their negative view of evangelical Christians. But they never let that issue cloud their love and support for me. They respected that these issues were more complicated for me than it might be for them; they modeled unconditional love and grace.
The second thing I did was reach back in time to RECONNECT WITH OLD FRIENDS. For me, this mostly meant seeking out old from friends from when I was involved with campus ministry at Clark University. Some folks I had kept up with over the years; others I hadn’t talked to in years. But they were there for me! They loved me. They spoke into my life. They helped me gain perspective. They were true brothers and sisters in Christ to me. Sarah, Himesh, Jean Luc, Omar, Larainne, Melanie… together and individually they became like the friends who carried the paralytic to Jesus (Mark 2). They carried me and I was able to experience forgiveness, restoration and learn to walk again. A couple of nights on Sarah’s couch… a good day eating Indian food with Himesh and Jean Luc… these things sustained me, reminded me who I was, reminded me who God was.
And get this: they didn’t have much profound to say. No sage advice or deep theological insight. Most admitted they didn’t really know what to say or suggest. They also all hold a varied and diverse theological view of the issues involved. But they were there for me. They were friends. Even more so, they were brothers and sisters — they were my community.
The third thing I did was SEEK ONLINE COMMUNITY. I knew that if I was going to make it through this I needed to talk to some folks who had a story that could relate to my own. I connected with some folks on the Gay Christian Network and connected with at least one guy, named Josh. Josh and I emailed a lot that summer. I told him my story, he shared his own. We prayed for each other, he held me accountable, yelled at me when I started talking too negatively, sent me scriptures to read. I never met him (or others on GCN) in person, but they were part of my community.
The fourth thing I did was COMMIT TO SMALL GROUP. I knew that this was critical. I needed a place to connect with other Christians in real fellowship and accountability, focused on the Bible and Jesus. It wasn’t as easy to find as you might think. I hunted around the state for a good group to connect with. Some were just secular groups — no good. Some were crazy fundamentalist groups — really no good. I tried to connect with a Celebrate Recovery group at a church in Meriden and was told by the pastor I wasn’t welcomed there. But then I found a men’s small group at a good church in Manchester. I started going in July 2009 and went for over a year. This formed the basis for my ongoing fellowship and community during my healing and restoration. In addition to our weekly Monday night meetings, we talked on the phone, texted, etc. This group was totally non-judgmental and totally committed at the same to Biblical accountability. These guys were great — what the church should be. I will always be thankful (and praying for) these guys… Bryan, Brian, Eric, Rich, Bob, other Bob, and the others.
Those first three months I had a lot of dark days — more dark days than light days. At first, I was literally paralyzed; then I became part of the walking wounded, unsure if I would survive it. Equally unsure if I wanted to.
But these folks — this quickly assembled community of family and family — were there for me. They saw me through those critical early days. And they are with me know. And I will ever be grateful for them.