I did something a couple of days ago I hadn’t done in quite some time. I opened up my Bible. Now I know this probably comes as a huge shock to many of you, especially if you knew my previous vocation. But honestly, the last couple of years have been filled with a lot of hurt and anger and it even found it’s way into my relationship with my faith and God. But then a few days ago I found myself in the gospels and feeling the comfort of The Spirit once again. You may ask, what brought about this return to faith? Well, it was a foul mouthed Americana lesbian rock and roll singer named Brandi Carlile through her own stories in her book Broken Horses. But even more so, it revealed to me that Lesbians have been leading me back to Christ for a lot longer than just recently.
I realize this may sound like a strange thing to say. Especially because I am no longer a minister because of my affirmation and love for the LGBTQ community. But the story is bigger than the last couple of years.
I grew up like many of my generation. Not really understanding what it meant to be gay but knowing I wasn’t, that it was a sin and that I wanted nothing to do with it. Sure I would encounter folks who I presumed to be gay, but I never really had any gay friends. That was until I met Nicole and Sarah. I first met Nicole in 2009 while we were both waiting to pick up our sons from the local elementary school. Me, a Nazarene pastor, and her an agnostic mother who has seen more suffering than many in her life already. Although my wife was oblivious (she says she has no gaydar), I picked up on clues and eventually we got to meet Nicole’s girlfriend (soon to be fiancé and wife) Sarah. To say we hit it off would be an understatement. After a couple of years of friendship blooming, they even invited us to their annual St Patrick’s Day party (I even blogged about it here). But this wasn’t the most impactful moment for me from these two amazing women.
I’m hazy about the exact timing, but I’m pretty sure it was 2013. My wife had just had a pretty complicated hysterectomy and was going to be in the hospital for a few days. I was stuck in our apartment in Flushing with a toddler and a very energetic Jonas when I hear a knock on the door. Sarah is standing there and all she says is, “I’ve got these guys for tonight. You go be with your wife.” In that moment, I experienced the single most Christ-like action I’d ever experienced in my entire tenure of ministry. Yes, people would often do nice things for us, but this was next level. She knew what it was like to be separated from a loved one in the hospital (she is an amazing nurse) and she knew what it meant to me to not be able to care for my wife and my kids at the same time. And she became Christ to me in that moment.
But that’s not where the story ends with the LGBTQ community. A few years later we found ourselves in Odessa, TX and surrounded by a loving community once again. There were those in our church that were more traditional Saints and I am so thankful for them and the love they showed us, but those of the LGBTQ community challenged my faith stance the most. Here were people who had been hurt, abused, slandered and broken by the very church that I pastored asking to be a part of it once more. If that ain’t Jesus, I don’t know what is. Our lives were forever transformed by Alisha and Karri, Melissa and Kendra, Jeremy, Millie and Lindsay and even my wife’s hair dresser Shandy and her wife Lori (who I swear is my soul mate from another life). Here were people who had been so beat up by the church but still testifying to God’s grace in their lives. All of a sudden I was having my Acts 10 encounter and hearing the voice of God say, “Do not call anything unclean that I have made clean”. And all they wanted was to be part of a community that Loved God, Loved others and sought to spread and preach the gospel.
Flash forward a few years and I find myself in a different place in terms of the church and the LGBTQ. Because of our stance with the community and our love for these folks I was asked to file my credentials in the church that raised me; effectively saying I am no longer fit to minister within their tribe. I also found myself without a job and trying to redefine my entire self and find a new way to provide for my family. Luckily I had been bi-vocational in Texas and had my teaching license (did I mention how thankful I was for those folks in Texas?!?) and was able to acquire a teaching position in order to provide for my family. But where did this leave me…?
To be honest, it’s been a struggle. Yes, I know my love for the LGBTQ is guided by the Spirit through their testimony and the testimony of Gods ongoing revelation through the Biblical story. And I also know that because of this journey I am no longer teaching and preaching weekly. And that’s been hard. So much of my identity was wrapped up in my “performing” for God and for His people. So who am I now? How do I reconcile this journey…? Enter Brandi Carlile (I know, right?!?)
No, I haven’t met her personally (although I’m sure we’d be fast friends). But the journey goes a bit like this. Right before the pandemic hit Brandi performed a few shows here in Nashville at the Ryman. Our previously mentioned friends Sarah and Nicole took us to the show as well and I was hooked. I was gobbling up everything that Brandi put out from that day forward. Then, when my birthday rolled around this year, Sarah bought me a virtual show ticket and Brandi’s new book, Broken Horses…what a name. A few weeks ago it arrived just in time for me to get into a car accident and need an activity to replace my morning runs. Through those pages I read about Brandi’s complicated relationship with a church that didn’t want her but a Savior who never let her go…and I wept. Because that was me. Not for the same reasons exactly, but I felt a similar anger and I also sensed the same grace. Calling me home again. Stirring my soul again.
So what does this new calling look like? I have no idea. But I know once again, by forgiving the hurt I’ve felt, that I’m seeing the face of Jesus smiling once more. And I’m so thankful for all of those who continued to show me God’s face even when the church struggled to see Him in you. May you one day understand the magnitude of your witness for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.