Asking Questions, Having Conversations

The following is a post I wrote for CenterPeace: providing safe spaces for men and women who experience same-sex attraction. For years, CenterPeace and their director, Sally Gary, have been striving to help create and increase conversations. I was honored to write this piece and am glad to share it here on my blog, as well. I would encourage you to check out CenterPeace’s website and blog.

(My post is one of series of posts written by fathers. Beginning today (Monday), Sally will also be sharing guest posts written by mothers.)

Continuing with our guest series from fathers of LGBTQ daughters and sons on Fridays, here’s a post from my friend, Paul Mathis.

Sometimes, I say the dumbest things. (According to my children, this only seems to be heightened as they grow older.)

I like to think I am a kind person; a thoughtful person; a caring person; a smart person. I know that I truly do want to be supportive and encouraging. But sometimes, in my quest to speak words of kindness, I mess up and say something that just sounds awful.

Have you ever read those posts on social media? Something like “Ten things never to say to a foster family,” or “Never say this to someone whose family member is deployed.” I read those and realize that I have said virtually all of them. Always with the best intentions. Always because I truly do care. But sometimes, I just don’t have the right vocabulary to speak into certain situations.

So when my son came to me several years ago and said he was bisexual (and later he would tell me he was gay), I did not know what to say. I came up with some non-committal response that ended with me telling him I loved him.

There is so much I wish I knew at that point. I had been raised in a traditional, conservative denomination that taught homosexuality was a sin. Although I never participated in any boycotts, I was quick to put down Disney and other media companies for their “liberal, homosexual agenda.”

Yet through all of that, I had several friends who were a part of the LGBTQ community. They welcomed me and I welcomed them. We spoke freely and openly. I can truly say I loved counting them among my friends.

But there were so many times that I would either say the wrong thing thinking I was being funny or supportive; or I would just not say anything at all because I was afraid anything would be the wrong thing.

One thing I never did: reach out to someone who could help me have these conversations. However, that was not just because of my fear; I did not know anyone with whom I could have those discussions.

My son approaching me made me so aware of my perceived inability to have these conversations. I did not know what to say. I was afraid to say anything wrong so I defaulted to saying nothing at all. I was woefully unprepared.

I wish I could go back and tell my past self that I was not unprepared. I loved my son. I still do. And it was okay for me to tell him that I was confused, uncertain, scared, and whatever else. It was okay for me to say that because I could also say without hesitation that I loved him. I loved his siblings, as well, unconditionally. I repeated that as often as I could.

I wish I could go back and tell myself that it is okay to question what I had been taught and to be okay with not having an answer. I wish I could tell myself to continue on the journey. I wish I could tell myself that I did not need to feel alone on the journey.

Here is what I cannot do: go back in time. Here is what I did do: reach out to Sally Gary and ask if I could have a conversation.

I remember well the day I texted Sally and asked if I could talk to her and say things that might make me sound ignorant and hateful. I just did not have the language I needed to have a conversation about sexual identity and orientation with my son.

Sally was welcoming. She was patient. She was kind. She was loving.

In the ensuing six years, my relationship with my son has grown closer. More than anything else, Sally taught me that I actually was prepared to have this conversation with my son because I loved him. Sally has taught countless people that conversations based in love are such a vital piece of building and maintaining relationships.

Here is what I continue to do: encourage every parent who has a question to make use of CenterPeace and all its resources. First and foremost, love your children. Second, know you are not alone. Third, continue engaging in conversation based in love and covered in prayer.

Sometimes, I say the dumbest things. But sometimes, my child hears me and knows he is loved.

I am grateful for CenterPeace and Sally and the conversations that have started because of this ministry. I am grateful for the visible support Sally has been to countless others. So when she lost her hair due to her chemo treatments I wanted to do something as a visible sign of support. My shaved head has inspired many questions. Each time I answer, I get to talk about Sally and CenterPeace!

Debating the Worth of My Existence

When news broke yesterday about the passing of Chris Cornell, I was saddened. Although I do not know him, I know his music. I love his voice, his poetry, his talent. I have spent many hours listening to his solo stuff, Soundgarden, Audio Slave, and Temple of the Dog. Knowing Soundgarden had reunited and was touring again brought a smile to my face.

I don’t really know why. Music does that to many of us, I guess.

But as more and more news began to spread, ultimately leading up to the report that it was suicide, the typical, and truly sad, predictable comments began to occur. The statements of “what a waste.” The jokes that are always in poor taste but pop up whenever something tragic happens.

I am used to this by now. In real life, tragedies happen and there is usually a manner of respect shown for the deceased and those left behind. But in social media and pop culture world, tragedies bring out the worst in people trying to bring attention to themselves.

His death is not occasion for a joke. His death is not the opportunity to decry all that is wrong with artists. His death is not the time to call it “a great waste.” His death is a tragedy. A wife is left widowed. Children are left without a father. Family members and friends will mourn his passing. And, in this instance, may even question if they played some role; if they should have done even more.

Chris Cornell’s death is no more tragic because he is a celebrity. But is no less tragic, either.

Cornell has spoken in the past about his struggle with drugs and alcohol. I do not know what his journey was like; if he was drunk or high that night or if he had been clean and sober for years. But that doesn’t matter.

But I do remember. I remember the places my addiction took me. I remember the nights when I was alone with my thoughts and it was not a great place to be. I remember the (mostly self-imposed) isolation. The days when my guilt beat me up for all the poor choices I was making and the nights when justification said “one more” couldn’t possibly make a difference. I remember receiving praise and compliments for my work yet believing in my self-talk which said I was not as good as the next person.

I was never suicidal. For that I am grateful. But there were many nights that I sat by myself and thought this world would be a better place if I was not in it. I loved my wife and my children. I loved the rest of my family. But really, would anyone miss me? Wasn’t I causing more trouble than I was worth? I was losing the will to fight to ever get well and I was hating the path that I was on.

Let me repeat: I was never suicidal. But there were a lot of days that I thought the only way I would overcome my addiction would be to die.

I don’t know Chris Cornell. He was a celebrity whose art I admired. However, maybe we can use the occasion of his reported suicide to ask people around us how they are doing—and actually want an answer. Maybe we can keep our eyes open for those who are isolating themselves. Maybe we can make sure to actually nurture relationships and not take them for granted.

Maybe we can reach out to families who are suffering loss. Maybe we can consider the power of our words and not speak them so carelessly.

Maybe we need to speak up for ourselves. Maybe you are the one who is hurting and you need to reach out for help.

I know the pain of being isolated. I know the uncertainty of wondering if my life is worth it. I know the difficulty of asking for help.

If you are hurting, please speak up. If you know someone who is hurting, please be kind.

When a tragedy occurs, avoid the temptation to “tsk” or to joke. Remember the pain that exists. Reach out and take care of those around you. Take care of yourself and speak up when necessary.

Remember that your life is worth it.

 

*The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK

Who Is Welcome At Your Table?

I want to love as God has called me to love: those on the margins, those who are victimized, those with whom I disagree. Lent Week 6, Day 38

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Who sits at your table? With whom do you share meals?

Yesterday was Maundy Thursday. It marks the day Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples. I think it is interesting to consider who was at the table that night. Judas, the betrayer. Peter, the denier. Thomas, the doubter. John, the one given charge to care for Mary. And the rest, who deserted and hid.

So who do you invite to sit at your table?

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Who do I make room for at my table?

People like John, who are always present. It is easy to eat with those we love and agree with. There may be moments of disagreement or moments of frustration, but those are easier to overlook when we are in close, loving relationship with someone. I like to get together with like-minded people. It is comfortable. It is reassuring. It is encouraging.

And I think it is necessary, at times.

However, it is also necessary that I invite people to the table who challenge me.

People like Thomas, who doubt. People who are filled with despair because they look at the world around them and they feel they can no longer trust in anyone or anything. Lately, I have been finding myself to be like Thomas. And I hope people will invite me to their tables because I need to be with those who can see what I cannot see. I long for the day that what I am searching for will appear right before my eyes, but Jesus says, “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen.” I hope my table has room for Thomas.

People like Peter, who deny. There are some who have grown up their entire lives with a different faith than mine. They do not believe Jesus is Lord. They may accept him as a good teacher or a historical figure, but not divine in any way. Likewise, there are those who have shared a similar faith with me but have turned their backs on it. When faced with pressures from society, they deny ever knowing him. Their words and their behaviors become something entirely different. That saddens me. To be honest, it frustrates and, at times, even angers me. And I need to invite those people to my table. I need to hear from them. I need to know their journey; their struggle. I hope my table has room for Peter.

People like the “other disciples.” We are often tempted to be quiet. We are often tempted to keep our ideas to ourselves. We are often tempted to not rock the boat. We are often tempted to hide our faith, or at least the parts of our faith that would make us stand out in the world. We run. We hide. We don’t speak up. We are afraid. I keep using the pronoun “we” because when I say “you” or “they” I sit in judgment and pretend I am better than. I forget that I am, at times, guilty of the same behavior. I am angry with Christians who are not speaking up. But I am one of the Christians. I hope my table has room for all of us.

People like Judas, who betrayed. This is the hard one. This isn’t about someone who did something minor. This is about someone who just made a mistake. This is about inviting someone to the table who intentionally handed Jesus over to be arrested. Whether it was from purely selfish motives or he was trying to incite a violent revolt, he still did the deed that led to Jesus’ persecution and death. He betrayed everything Jesus stood for. He betrayed Jesus himself. And let’s wake up and be honest: many people in the world feel betrayed by Christians right now. There are some who have said and done some atrocious things. There are some who have aligned themselves with the power structures of this world and placed allegiance to the Kingdom to a secondary importance. They have betrayed Jesus. I hope my table has room for Judas.

I struggle with this. I need to make room for the people I disagree with; for the people I am angry with; for the people who disappoint me. I need to learn how to speak my mind in such a way that I am bold yet gracious. I need to stand up for people on the margins without pushing others out there to replace them. I need to be like Jesus in my words and deeds.

I need to make room for the people I do not want to invite: for the doubter, the denier, the deserter, and the traitor. Jesus had room for all of them. Jesus even washed their feet.

 

When You Fail At Lent

Doesn’t it suck to fail?

And I am not necessarily talking about the big, dramatic failures of life. I just mean those times when you had your sights set on an attainable goal and something happened to prevent you from achieving it.

Lent does this to me a lot. I enter into a 40 day period of fasting. I struggle for the first few days but then get into a new rhythm and find that my life does indeed go on without whatever it is I am giving up.

But then something happens: a bad day, an uncomfortable interaction with another person, a tragedy. Or sometimes, my coffee is cold or I slept poorly the night before. Whatever it is, something happens that knocks me down from the new routine I am living and I find myself back to where I was before Lent began.

And that happened this year. I have been discouraged for a long time now. Primarily, the root of my discouragement has been the ways Christians have allowed politics to determine our rhetoric and behavior. In a church that is called to be above the fray of the contemporary worldly systems, too many of us allow our lives to be directed by whomever is in power.

And this happens if we voted for the winners or losers.

So I entered Lent this year with two purposes: to replace my focus where it needs to and to write about my journey every day (except Sundays).

Regarding focus: I struggled at first. I wanted so badly to convince people that I was right and they needed to agree with me. I wanted other people to have the same realizations and revelations I have had. But I slowly became cognizant of the fact that my desire came from within me; not from within my relationship with Jesus.

And I started to calm down. I was viewing people and opinions differently. I still believed firmly in what I thought was right. I was still calling and emailing and advocating for positions and policies that I believe are beneficial to all people. But my relationships became more important. I didn’t figure out how all of that worked, but there was definitely a shift.

Regarding writing every day: I was doing all right. I had a schedule for each of the 40 days. I had, if not an outline, at least an idea for what each post would address. There were a few difficult days at first, but I quickly got into a routine. I was ready for each day’s post. I was looking forward to writing more.

And then something happened. Actually two things: we took a trip over Spring Break and that broke my new routine. Once I missed one day of writing, I struggled to get back into the groove.

And the constant, daily barrage of partisan politics and dishonest rhetoric overwhelmed me. “What is even the point?” is a question I began asking multiple times a day.

And now, I have missed an entire week of posts. By number, this one should be 31 and it should have been posted yesterday. The last one I wrote was number 25 and it was posted 5 days late. An entire week’s worth of posts have not been written. I feel as discouraged today as I did on March 1, Ash Wednesday.

I have failed on my Lenten journey. And yet….

The season is not over. There is still time to journey. And the culmination of this particular part of the journey is Resurrection Sunday—the day we celebrate the victory over all our failures; not because we win, but because the battle was won for us!

And that is never where the journey was supposed to end. Even the glory of the resurrection was only a marker point in the continuing journey until Jesus returns and this earth is made right. My “failure” at writing 40 posts in 47 days is not the end of my journey. It is just a reminder that the journey I am on is tough and long and hard and I cannot make it on my own.

Perhaps you have struggled in your Lenten fast this season. Maybe the food you intended to put down you picked back up. Maybe the behavior you were taking a break from snuck up on you and you have been giving up. Maybe the lure of social media was too strong to actually stay off of it for six weeks.

I am not here to tell you that all that is okay, but I am going to tell you that all of that is a reminder of why we are on this journey in the first place: we need a Savior and we are not it.

So what will I do? I will add post 31 on day 32. I will allow the post-less days from last week remain post-less. I will jump back into my journey and into my writing and I will share it with whoever wants to read it. This week, I am going to focus my posts on loving all people: those on the margins and those I disagree with. We are called to love God and love others. Let’s focus on how we can love others.

And I will encourage you to either continue or to re-start. Because the journey is not over yet.

To See. And Then To Move

This post should have come last Wednesday. But it didn’t.

In part because I am weary. I am tired. I am at a loss.

I recognize problems in the world and I want to fix them. I want to step in and do something. Yet I am so overwhelmed that I often freeze. I often feel burnt out, even though I have never really done anything.

I can easily name the problems in the world. I can point to the racism that is prevalent in many systems and structures. I can talk about the poverty and the negative implications of wealth disparity. I can see the effects of homelessness in the communities around where I live. And I want to work to fight against all of that…and more.

But there is just so much. And I am just one person. And all these things are going to continue long after I am gone, right? So what, really, can I do?

This next block of posts will deal with the continuation of my Lenten journey. As I continue learning how to break away from putting my faith and focus on power structures of this world and placing it where it needs to be—on God—I need to examine the practical applications.

I am called to open my eyes to the people right in front of me. Especially the people right in front of me who do not have the voice and privilege that I have. I need to open my eyes to the people who are hurting. I need to open my eyes to the people who are different.

I have learned through the course of my journey that my weariness due to being overwhelmed with the problems of the world does not compare with the pain of the people are actually experiencing the problems of the world.

Having a heart of compassion is necessary in order to live in this world. We must see and be moved by the pain and suffering around us. But we need to take steps beyond just feeling. We need to move and act.

Lord, open my eyes that I might see. Give me compassion. Give my courage. Give me endurance.

Give me a good, swift kick in the pants.