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6 Decisions, Conclusions

I have been blogging about six key decisions I made in the weeks after things blew up in my life and at the church.  These six decisions were critical to me being able to make it through everything.

Those decisions allowed me to make other important decisions: go to culinary school, live in Manchester, get a job as a chef, connect with a Hartford church, develop new friends, etc, etc.

Life is very much about makin decisions and continually moving forward.  Again, I wasn’t perfect these last two years… I didn’t make all the right decisions… there were set-backs and trip-ups.  But overall, I feel like when it came to the core and fundamental decisions… those I got right and because of that I was able to keep moving forward in a healthy way.

While life is good for me now, there are still a number of unresolved relationships.  I am still not happy with how things ended with the church and with the Board. And I wish that there could be more positive closure with the congregant/friend involved.  But I feel like I have don everything I can — and everything Jesus asks of me — in those relationships and it is outside my power to see these things finish well.  While I have not given up hope, I also know that it is outside my control.

So what next?

Continue to make good decisions… move forward… and keep my eyes on Jesus.

[Click links below for each post in this series:]

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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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6 Decisions, #6: Keep my Eyes on Jesus as I Limp Through the Race

The single most important decision I made every day during this time was to Keep my Eyes on Jesus as I limped through the race.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

As much pain as I was in, as hopeless as the situation seemed, as depressed as I became, as paralyzed as I was… I never stopped praying, reading scripture, or crying out to God.

My faith never wavered.  And I kept my eyes on Jesus.

I know a lot of guys who after their world collapses, just walk away from faith.  And I know even more who when their sexuality clashes with what the institutional church is saying… just walk away too.

I know way too many gay refugees from the church… including those who left the church I was at.

That thought never even crossed my mind.

For me, I knew that whatever the answer was… whatever the future was going to look like… it was going to be found in Jesus.

I also knew that whatever Jesus said to me about this issue, I would do.  He is my Lord, and that trumps all else.

Luckily, through all of this, I learned to not just love God more — but to love God while also liking myself at the same time.  I learned, too, to freely and fully accept God’s love for me as his child… something I had preached 1000 times to others, but had a hard time believing for myself.

And Jesus was faithful to me in the midst of the darkness.

He spoke.

He listened.

He comforted.

He challenged.

He walked with me.

He sat with me.

He cried with me.

He was with me — and He was for me.

And I knew, that no matter what else I did, I had to keep my eyes on Him… or I would be lost.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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6 Decisions, #5: Move Forward with Integrity — Because Integrity Always Wins

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” — Proverbs 10:9 ESV

“Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” — 1 Peter 3:16 ESV

 I have a basic axiom for life: INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.

And I define integrity simply as Stephen Carter does in his book called “Integrity”.  Carter explains:

“As I define it, integrity involves three steps. The first is to discern what is right and wrong… The second step is to struggle to live according to the sense of right and wrong you have discerned, [no matter the consequence]. The third is to be willing to say what we are doing and why we are doing it.”

It was in leadership that I learned that INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.  Anyone in leadership who is getting anything significant done has been ruthlessly attacked, maligned and lied about.  It kind of goes with the territory.  I learned early that the best response was always to respond with integrity.  INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.

And the opposite is probably true too: when you act without integrity, you lose.

I learned that the hard way.  The circumstances that created my life explosion were because I failed to act with integrity, I failed to live up to my own standards, and I failed to live up to God’s standards.

But in the aftermath of what happened, I decided that as much as I could I would act and respond with integrity — because INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.

Here are some practical ways this played out:
  1. Once everything blew up, I confessed and revealed everything (probably more detail than they wanted) to the Board.
  2. I never blamed others for what happened to me.  I accepted full personal responsibility.
  3. When accused of something I was guilty of, I acknowledged it.  When I was accused of something I did not do, I answered the charge.
  4. I never bad-mouthed the church.  I was truthful about what happened on the blog, and was even open in criticizing the process and decisions that were made, but I never bad-mouthed the church or the board. (In fact, I still think it is a great church and I often refer people to it and I still financially support its missions when I can.)
  5. While the Board agreed to pay me three months salary when I left, I was aware of the financial stress the church was under and I voluntarily did not take the final month of pay (even though I had no income at the time).  This just seemed like the right thing to do.
  6. I expressed publicly that I would answer anyone’s questions and meet with anyone who wanted to talk to me about what happened.  Several members of the church took me up on this offer and it was helpful for both of us.
  7. As I wrote about yesterday, I embraced a philosophy of transparency.
I could go on… but I think you see the point.

Now all of this (and this blog series) may make it seem like I always got it right and that I was saint through the whole process. That is not the case.  I made a lot of mistakes — especially early in the process.  And in each case, it was a failure to adhere to the basic principle of INTEGRITY WINS.

For example, when I was first confronted by the congregant I had been involved with — and he told me that he thought we should disclose to the Board what had happened between us — I responded defensively, out of anger and fear.  In the process, I hurt the congregant (who was also a very close and valued friend) and also made the process more complicated.  But at other times — and many times throughout the process — I do think I acted with integrity and was able to respond in a Christ-like way, not out of fear or anger.

Of all the decisions I made, this was the one that I had to make again and again every day — and sometimes several times throughout the day.

And to be honest, this is true for all people — not just those coming out of crisis.  All of us face decisions every day — and we choose whether to respond with integrity or not.  So let me encourage you: INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.
 
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Posted by on May 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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6 Decisions, #2: Find Mentors & Listen to Them

Yesterday I posted about the first major decision I made in the aftermath of what happened two years ago.  You can read about it here. (and here).  Today, I want to talk about the second key decision: finding mentors and listening to them.

In the immediate aftermath, I desperately needed friends, support and community.  I found that in my family, by reaching back to some long time friends, online and in a great small group.  these folks were great in terms of standing with me, loving me unconditionally and encouraging me.  But what I also desperately needed were some people who could direct me, challenge me, walk with me and help me put together a plan for moving forward.  I needed mentors who had wisdom, would be blatantly honest with me, and knew enough about the issues to help me navigate forward.

In an ideal situation, the church would have called together an outside restoration team to help facilitate the process of church discipline and restoration.  For a variety of reasons, the church chose not to do that.

So my second key decision was essentially to build a restoration team for myself.

Here was the team: JR, Bart, Joe, Kit and Paul.

Each of these guys brought something different to the table — and were essential to the process.  They also represent a varied and diverse life and theological perspective, that too was helpful.  Some of the people I had a longterm previous relationship with, some I had met once or twice, others I sought out even though I had never met them.

  • JR. I had met JR once before when he spoke at the church I was at for the national Starving Jesus tour.  I had spoken to him a few times on the phone when we were part of the first National Porn Sunday a few years earlier. He is also the brainchild behind Hollywood Pastor. I sent JR a facebook message about what was happening and he called me back pretty quickly.  His advice? Get in the car and drive to Cleveland.  So I did.  I knew at that point that I need someone to direct me, lead me, pastor me and guide me.  I got in the car, drove to Cleveland, and spent time with JR and his family — Diane (his wife) and three adopted kids Mia, Angel and Zian.  Those three days were the beginning of my healing, the start of my restoration, and the turning point for me from complete despair to moving forward… if very slowly.  As much as my long conversations with JR (& Di) were helpful and challenging, it is as much the time hanging out with the three kids that started to heal me.  They showed me love, grace and acceptance.  Over the next several weeks and months, I pretty much talked to JR almost daily.  He, more than anyone, has helped me navigate through the last two years.  While I don’t talk to him nearly as often anymore, he is still one of the most important mentors and truth-tellers in my life, and will be a life-long friend.
  • BART. I had also met Bart when he came and spoke at the church.  I am not sure why I contacted him, but I believe it was a prompting by the Holy Spirit.  I emailed Bart and he called me back almost immediately — as JR had done.  His advice?  Get in the car and drive to Cincinnati. So I did.  Apparently Ohio was going to be central to my healing.  I spent two days with Bart and his family in urban inner-city Cincinnati, where they live and minister.   Bart is one of the busiest people I have ever met and a lot of our time was spent talking as we went from one place to another.  Where JR focused on my own healing/recovery/health/relationship with God, Bart and I talked theology.  Bart was able to help me think theologically about what had happened and also about sexuality, the Bible, sin, redemption, forgiveness, calling, restoration, etc.  This was invaluable to me.  Bart was also great two other key areas: first, in diagnosing the problem; and second, in helping me think through really practical and necessary next steps.  In terms of diagnosis, while lots of other people were hypothesizing and explaining, he hit it on the head: hiddenness kills.  In short, keeping my sexuality hidden and shameful for 17 years was a really bad idea.  It caused me to be emotionally adolescent even as an adult, it taught me to hide and ignore my feelings and emotions, and ultimately it was inevitable that something like what happened would happen.  So the answer moving forward could not include the same kind of shame or hiddenness.  In terms of practical next steps, Bart put me in contact with people to just talk to — other pastors, gay Christians, etc.  He told me not to worry about career — just get a job and be a normal person.  He challenged me to find a strong church community, to not rush into any kind of ministry, to take time and space to grow and heal and become comfortable with who I was.  Bart’s wisdom was invaluable — and it continues to be.  We keep in contact by email and he has continued to give me great encouragement, advice and challenge.
  • JOE. I knew Joe through his books and writings.  He is a well-known and well-respected counselor and therapist who has done a lot of work with fallen pastors.  So I contacted him and we started  counseling together (via the phone… Joe is located in California).  This was less a mentor relationship than a formal counselor-counselee relationship.  Joe was great and very helpful for me.  We worked together for almost a year — not cheap, but very helpful and effective.  In addition to general counseling issues, Joe helped me integrate a lot of the input I was getting from other mentors, etc.  He also helped me interact with the church, the Board, the congregant, etc.  He helped me write letters, etc.  His experience, compassion, personal story and wisdom were just as invaluable as Bart and JR.  I worked through a 30-Day plan with him (daily homework, journaling, etc), processed a lot of the material I was working on in my small group, strategizing next steps, etc.  He was also able to screen for things like depression. Working with a professional like Joe reminded me why professional counselors can be so helpful.
  • KIT. Kit is a counselor and also focuses on spiritual direction.  In fact, I had been seeing him for spiritual direction prior to everything blowing up. Kit has also become a good friend.  Because Kit was (almost) local and knew me before — as well as knew many of the “players” at the church — he was able to offer some unique perspective and insight.  He was also just really great when i would sit in his office and just cry.  He is among the most compassionate and grace-filled people I know.  He also has lots of experience working with pastors and understands the dynamics of ministry.  Kit also has a heart for restoration and inner healing — and a heart of prayer.  I am very thankful for Kit and his ministry to me.
  • PAUL. Paul is a Jesuit priest whom I have known for over a decade.  My focus with him was primarily pastoral. He heard my confession, prayed for me, sat with me, listened to me and simply affirmed theological truth for me: God’s holiness, God’s forgiven
    ess, God’s unfailing and unwavering love.  I now continue to see Paul regularly for spiritual direction.  This has been a great blessing to me as I have continued to learn deeper ways of connecting with God, praying, listening and simply being in His presence.  Because I knew him so long, he also had insights into the situation, also knew many of the “players”, and had an ability to get past the superficial answers (and questions).

 

So this was my team.

Without them, I would not have made it this far.

I learned so much from each of them — and am deeply thankful for them.

Pulling together this team was critical to my healing and restoration.  While I think a process coordinated through — and including — the church would have been more effective and helpful (to me and the church), I knew that when the church decided to be part of no process, I still needed a restoration team.  

Simply put, when in crisis, sometimes you need the big guns.  I was blessed to have access to a great team of Godly men to help me navigate forward.

One last note… as the time progressed, my needs changed.  I see Paul regularly and keep in touch with both JR and Bart (especially as I face major decisions).  I consider Kit a good friend and pray for his ministry often (he is now church planting!) Joe and I formally ended our counseling, but I can call him if I need to.  But now I have others who walk with me.  Friends at my new church, for example.  And I have new mentors… like my pastor Nancy and others.

I am a big believer in mentoring and that everyone should both have mentors and be mentors.  One of the reasons I was able to connect with these folks was because I had relationships with some of them and deeply believed in the importance of mentoring — and was willing to listen to them when they spoke.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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6 Decisions, #1: Prioritize & Seek Community

The first key world-saving decision I made in the midst of my own personal world exploding was to 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.
 
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Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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6 Decisions that Helped Save My World

We are at the two year anniversary of when my world shattered.  I have written extensively about all of this on the blog, but to summarize…

If you had asked me in April 2009 about my life I would have told you that I had never been happier, more engaged in my ministry, excited about the future, etc.  The church was healthy, growing, baptizing people, celebrating new believers and pursuing exciting plans to grow and impact the larger community.  We were intentionally becoming more missional, deeper in terms of spiritual formation, and more diverse.  All incredibly exciting stuff.  In fact, I remember telling someone that I wouldn’t have traded my life for anyone in the world.

Then it blew up.

Within 24 hours I lost pretty much everything: my closest friends, faith community, home, church, job, income, ministry, and sense of calling.  I was also thrown out of the closet, and all of this was played out pretty publicly.

For the first 2 weeks, I was literally paralyzed — with fear, anger, despair, guilt, sadness, loneliness.  All of it.  I pretty much didn’t leave the couch during those first two weeks.  Despite just having recently preached a sermon called “Jesus Is Greater Than Our Greatest Failures”, I wasn’t sure that was true for me.

Today, two years later, I can honestly say again that I am happy, healthy, growing in my love of Jesus and of people, experiencing deeper intimacy with God, re-discovering community and in a church I love. I have a job a like, a degree from culinary school, am comfortable for the first time in my life with who I am, by choice out of the closet, and have a deep and abiding sense of gratitude for the gracefulness of Jesus.  I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone.
I wish I had gotten hear without all the loss, pain and damage inflicted on others, and hardship — but you can’t go back, you can’t rewind, you can’t live in regret.  Jesus is truly greater than my greatest failure — and greater than my fears, my doubts,  my regrets, and my mistakes.

Reflecting back on the past two years, I have wondered how I made it to where I am — and realize that it was not inevitable or guaranteed.  The script could have been different, far more tragic.

Here are three things I realized: (1) God never left me and I never left him; (2) at every turn, even as many people abandoned or attacked me, loving and faithful people stood by me, walked with me and supported me; and (3) during the first three months of the crisis (Summer 2009), I made six critical decisions that I am convinced saved my world.

I don’t think I knew at the time that I was making them, but in retrospect I can see them — and the Holy Spirit’s role in them — and can also see that they actually helped create a map and a pathway from despair and hopelessness to new life and full hope.  I hope by sharing them, they may be helpful to others.

I will blog in detail about each of these decisions in the coming days… here are the six decision I made that saved my world:

1. Prioritize & Seek Community

2. Find Mentors & Listen to Them

3. Embrace 100% Transparency

4. Take Full Responsibility — No If’s, And’s or But’s

5. Move Forward with Integrity — Because Integrity Always Wins

6. Keep my Eyes on Jesus as I Limp Through the Race

These six things were critical. I don’t think they are magic or a formula. But each one, in a different way, is essential.

As I reflect on each this week, I would love to hear your thoughts, insights and your own personal stories…

Thanks for being in the journey with me.
 
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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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2 Years

It has almost been exactly two years since my life blew up.

In an instant I lost almost everything: my closest friends, my job, my income, my purpose, my ministry, my home, my church and my faith community. I also lost my reputation, respect and any status I might have had.  All of it.  In an instant.

If you have never experienced that, imagine holding your face in front of a fire hydrant and then just letting the water go… it feels something like that.

You can’t breath, you can’t think, you can’t do anything.

It sucks. No other way to say it.  No way to pretend otherwise.

It is now two years later. This weekend, I am graduating from culinary school.

There is a lot to reflect upon from these last two years.

I have to say that as things settled a few weeks after the life-explosion, culinary school wasn’t on my radar at all.

I thought about going back to seminary. Getting another ministry job in a more progressive church. I thought about law school and even bought a bunch of LSAT books. I thought about professional retail/sales.  Full time development work for non-profits.  Driving off a cliff.

Those were all options.  

I honestly didn’t even think about culinary school until my younger sister said, “why don’t you go to culinary school?”  And instantly, that made sense.  Nothing else was clicking.  But culinary school… that I could do.

So it has been a long two years… finding a job, a new church home, a new place to live, developing new friendships.  A long and hard two years.

Next week, I am going to post some reflections and lessons from these past two years.  As well as some thoughts about what the next stage of life might be like for me.

But for now, I am just going to get ready for work, clean my apartment for my folks and sister/bro-in-law who are coming for graduation, and enjoy Sunday’s festivities.

More reflections next week…

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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