Turning Away

I post this knowing that it’s incomplete, something I would never normally do. But I just feel like I have to get it out into the world, you know? So please forgive my typos and semi-complete thoughts. English majors should probably just stop reading here. – TORY

I’ve come to the conclusion that the greatest lie ever told by Christians is that “God loves you right where you are.” We see it time and time again, on website and marquees. We hear it constantly, on the radio and in the context of liturgical celebration. It is imprinted on our minds from infancy. And it is wrong.

God doesn’t love us as we are, rather he loves us in spite of it. Growing up, I confessed every Sunday that “I am by nature sinful and unclean”. If we really believe this to be true, then living as a Christian is to live a life of repentance – turning away from sin. God desperately desires us to change our lives, all the way around, even if it means abandoning our deepest feelings and happiest experiences. Thus the true meaning of self-denial: turning our back on everything we are outside of God’s truth.

For most Christians, this isn’t a novel concept, but it gets us into pretty big trouble when we talk about homosexuality. What most Christians don’t get is that the way of thinking for a gay person is totally turned on its head by this concept.

Homosexuality is a problem that we have to treat equally with other sins. As the alcoholic and the thief and the adulterer, we have an inherent problem. We have feelings, we have temptations, and we have failures. When people think of gays, they tend to focus on the physical nature, but a great deal of pain exists when confronting the emotional. When we feel love for another person, that feeling is totally legitimate – we love that person with the full force of our being, and would do anything to hold on to it. Is that feeling justified? In our hearts it is, just as it is between a heterosexual couple. Is is justified in God’s eyes? Of course not.

And that’s where things get difficult. For a gay person, self denial means shunning every deep feeling we have. It means rethinking every relationship, reworking every thought. It is painful, and neverending. Just as the drunk struggles to avoid the bottle and even feels tempted when he has been years removed from it, homosexuals are seldom released from their bonds. It is the struggle of a lifetime.

It has been over three years since I last touched another man, but it is a DAILY challenge to live in submission. Lately, I’ve had moments of spiritual and emotional weakness, and that struggle has intensified. But although I have been living in pain and heartache, I am called by Jesus to rise and walk. Although I am afraid, he bids me come. Although I sin, he forgives me and gives me hope.

By sharing my past over the course of the past 18 months, I have been contacted by many who fight the same demons. Be assured that although I write in first person, I speak for many.

So what can be done to fight this scourge of our fallen nature? It’s simple yet painful: total reliance on God’s love. It’s relying on his holy word to give encouragement, and relying on the Eucharist to give strength. It’s relying on the love of God through his saints in heaven and on earth to give intercession on our behalf, and to support us as learn to walk in freedom.

I have denied myself, but in doing so have been replaced – for as I decrease, HE increases within me.

May He make it ever so.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Missouri, to Canterbury, and home to Rome

The question is simple – why exactly did I become Catholic? In brief, I become Catholic because of the Pope! I’m sure most folks would appreciate a bit more substantive of an answer, though, so here goes that attempt.

In my early college years, I left the church of my childhood, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, over issues regarding the nature of sin and absolution. I quickly found an Episcopal church in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, with a very conservative priest. For me, it was home. The preaching was sound, the liturgy was high and done well, and the sacraments were administered in accordance with the teachings of the Church Catholic. My priest, a member of the conservative Society of the Holy Cross, refused to let the abject teachings of the Episcopal Church hierarchy corrupt his congregation. He was and continues to be a pillar of righteousness in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. I eventually moved back home to Lubbock, and became a member of the conservative Anglican Church of North America.

In October of 2009, though, a milestone occurred that couldn’t be ignored. In his wisdom, Pope Benedict opened the doors to Anglicans through the publishing of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coebitus (hereafter referred to as AC). Where Anglicans had for years swum the Tiber in droves, His Holiness built a bridge for them, allowing them to convert as congregations while retaining their priests and certain elements of their Anglican heritage. His generosity overwhelmed me – it struck me that that was true reason for ecumenism – not just getting along, but total communion, while still allowing the last 450 years of heritage to shine through. After AC was published, I ran to my local bookstore to buy a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Over the next year, I poured over it, reading it front to back (and several sections twice). I found that I agreed with it! Although I knew that one day I would convert, I wouldn’t budge. You see, I have always wanted to enter the priesthood, and the celibacy requirement of the Roman Church scared me away from the church as a whole. Additionally, when I left the LC-MS, I did so alone and was alienated by many friends and pastors along the way, something I was not fond to repeat. For a year, I would hear time and time again “if you believe what Rome teaches (which I did), then why are you still a protestant?” It took an incredible movement of God (and of the CDF, a central agency of the Vatican) for me to budge. You see, the implementation of AC in Great Britain began in January – and it took its establishment for me to wake up. The timeline is remarkable: in November of 2010, three Bishops in the Church of England resigned their ministries. On January 1, they were received as Roman Catholics. On January 13, they were ordained to the diaconate, and on January 15 they were ordained priests. Such an elevation is unheard of in the history of the modern Catholic Church. They have since been elevated to Monsignor, and led the way for 60+ priests and over 1,000 parishioners in Great Britain to be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, with those men being ordained to the priesthood at Pentecost of this year.

It’s a funny thing, when God speaks to a man. Because when He has a message for us, He doesn’t just tell us once and go away – He keeps pounding it in until He’s sure we’ve gotten it. For me, that happened in very early January of this year. On a Monday, I was sitting in my kitchen, and I had a remarkable realization about trusting in God’s providence. I realized that if it is His will to make me a priest, He will make me content to be celibate; likewise, if He wills me to marry, He will make me content to be a member of the laity. This realization freed my spirit, releasing me from my deepest fear. The very next day, I was having a beer with a trusted friend. He let slip that he and his wife were no longer attending the Anglican Church, that in his words, they had “a bout of Roman Fever”. Once again, God freed me from my fears, assuring me now that I wouldn’t be walking alone (that friend and his family are now on track to be received into the Roman Catholic Church at Pentecost). The day after that I attended my usual Wednesday evening bible study with my Anglican priest. The text we were studying was John 1: 35-50. I was deeply struck by the first verses of that lesson: 35The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” On day one, God freed me from my fears of celibacy. On day two, God gave me companions along the way. On day three, God totally released me, telling me to GO! I saw the Lamb of God in the light of Catholic teaching, and knew that it would be sin not to follow.

So I did. On the Great Vigil of Easter on April 23 of this year, I was received and Confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church by the Bishop of Lubbock, The Most Rev. Placido Rodriguez. It was a remarkable ceremony, filled with joy and triumph, not least because of the baptisms of two adults. How fitting that on the night Christ conquered death and opened the gates of heaven, they died to self and became heirs to the kingdom! All ten of us were welcomed home that night, and the Church has poured out her riches upon us in the time since.

Here I kneel, a broken, scarred, bruised sinner who sought sanctuary on the Rock that is the Roman Catholic Church. So, why again did I become a Catholic? Because I searched the scriptures, I searched the catechism, I searched my soul, and I found the truth of the Petrine Ministry, at the heart of which is Jesus Christ himself.

Soli Deo Gloria, indeed.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Some Words on Friendship

From the Deuterocanonical works.

5 Pleasant speech multiplies friends,
and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies.
6 Let those who are friendly with you be many,
but let your advisers be one in a thousand.
7 When you gain friends, gain them through testing,
and do not trust them hastily.
8 For there are friends who are such when it suits them,
but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.
9 And there are friends who change into enemies,
and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace.
10 And there are friends who sit at your table,
but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.
11 When you are prosperous, they become your second self,
and lord it over your servants;
12 but if you are brought low, they turn against you,
and hide themselves from you.
13 Keep away from your enemies,
and be on guard with your friends.
14 Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
whoever finds one has found a treasure.
15 Faithful friends are beyond price;
no amount can balance their worth.
16 Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
and those who fear the Lord will find them.
17 Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright,
for as they are, so are their neighbors also.

- Ecclesiasticus (Syrach)6:5-17

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Praises for the Saints

Approximately 13 months ago, my good friend Chris started facebook chatting with me after a several-year silence. We had become close at Christ Academy 2007, but hadn’t really kept in touch.

He started talking to me about his personal struggles with the flesh, and his emerging ministry of reconciliation through the Something Beautiful Tour. It opened me up – for the first time – to talk about my past sins, and how I’d never really gotten over them. He encouraged me to write an anonymous post, which I entitled “Finding the Light”. It can be found here, near the bottom of the page. Immediately after writing it, I sent a copy to my current pastor. He immediately suggested we start meeting to work through the issues I presented, of getting of the shame of my sin and walking (to borrow a phrase from a mediocre hymn) “as a child of the light.” We started meeting weekly for sessions 2-3 hours long, and towards the end of the 3rd session, I finally started to feel free.

Which is when the storm hit.

By this point in my life, I had become pretty active politically, and was running for a prominent statewide office within my organization. A former friend who knew of my past sins (one of precious few that did) started spreading it around in an effort to derail my campaign. What he didn’t know is in the process, he derailed my life – and almost sent it over the cliff.

Imagine – you have a nasty secret that less than 5 people know about. You’ve managed to keep it hidden for years, so you’ve just sort of shoved it to the back of your mind. Imagine that secret becoming known by hundreds of people in a very short time, forcing you to come clean about it to your family, your best friends, and your church body all within a period of about 4 days. It was a heart-wrenching time, and I was emotionally and spiritually bankrupted by the end of day one.

But the story today is not about my past. It’s about the people who saved me.

I think about Taylor and Jessica, my best friends. After a long day of confronting my sins with the world, I went to their house. They read my story, and while Jess came and hugged me and held me, Taylor fixed me a strong drink – and for the first time all day, I cried. Not because I was empty, but because they were filling me back up.

If Chris hadn’t ever contacted me, I don’t know if I would have made it through that forced coming out. If my pastor hadn’t reacted with grace and mercy, I would have gone back in to my shell never to return. If my parents and sisters and friends hadn’t shown me the love shown them on Calvary, I would have cut myself off from everything. And most of all, if Christ Jesus had not given me the mercy he gave to the thief on the cross, I would have perished. BUT THEY DID. And they are not the only ones – then and in the time since, people of all walks of life have come to me thanking me for my honesty and openness and seeking me out for help with their own similar struggles.

That’s the beauty of healing, of reconciliation – when God to heals your wounds, they don’t disappear; rather, they change purpose, wounds of torture becoming holes from which the Glory of God shines through.

One year ago, my life changed forever. I learned to stand on the Rock that is the Church Catholic – and in the name of Christ, be lifted up by Saints of God. I will never be the same again.

So Church – RISE UP! Go forth into the World, proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ, reaching out in His name and with His power to heal the hurting, comfort the afflicted, and help the lost be found once more. BE THE CHURCH MILITANT – and be so without fear, for great will your reward be when the master comes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“My God, your Glory”

In light of the previous posts on the shards of glass that make up the stained glass window that is the church Catholic (broken, yet beautiful and loved), I can’t help but recall these words from Sister Maria Gabriella Sagheddu. The Trappist nun was a profound believer in the Unity of all Believers, calling us to put first things first – namely, Jesus Christ and Him crucified for us. She offered herself unto Christ during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1938, and was taken Home 15 months later. She was beatified in 1983 by Pope John Paul II.

In simplicity of heart I gladly offer everything, O Lord.

The Lord put me on this path, He will remember to sustain me in battle.

To His mercy I entrust my frailty.

I saw in front of me a big cross…, I thought that my sacrifice was nothing in comparison to His.

I offered myself entirely and I do not withdraw the given word.

God’s will whatever it may be, this is my joy, my happiness, my peace.

I will never be able to thank enough.

I cannot say but these words: “My God, your Glory.”

- Bl. Maria Gabriella of Christian Unity

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Crew … and a Challenge to the Church

Written May 2010

 

I’ve been blessed with an incredible group of friends. A tight, close knit group (so tight one of our members has affectionately termed us “the Crew”). The few of us have come to know one another individually over the course of years – some I’ve known for as long as five years, others as little as 7 or 8 months. But it’s only been since late December/early January that the Crew was formed. That is, although we may have known each other a long while, the mutual bond has only been in place for a little while. The way I see it, somehow, is that five to eight individuals became one collective body.
How it happened, though, is a story that could only be written by God. We’re radically different people, with differing upbringings, ethnicities, and coming from very different socioeconomic backgrounds. What is shared is pretty sparse – perhaps the only unifying factor is our age, 20-22 (and its associated collegiate poverty). Religiously, I’m the odd man out (liturgical/sacramental), as most came from the Baptist/ nondenominational churches typical with being raised in West Texas.
In terms of life experiences, the Crew is what Brendan Manning would call ragamuffin – we’re a rather interesting hodgepodge of sin, failure, and hurt: heavy doses of sexual promiscuity (both gay and straight), drug addiction, domestic violence, scarred childhoods, depression and suicidal thoughts, the list could go on for pages.
But the part of the Crew that’s so important to me is the level of intimacy that’s shared. A failure by one is felt by all, and the joy of one is reverberated throughout. And when that failure inevitably hits, the crew is there to provide comfort, counsel, and (occasionally) a stiff drink. Whenever we’re together, there are no pretenses; we act our true selves, totally transparent and honest. All of us can connect with one another on a wonderful personal level; it doesn’t matter how many there are in the conversation or which members take part. And if one of us is erring in our lives, the Crew provides gentle instruction and advice – always loving, but never judging.
A great example of this is E, the “other member” of the Crew. He’s the 18-month old son of one of our members, and we’ve adopted him as our own. He’s always welcome when we’re together, no matter what the occasion. Wednesday nights the Crew does babysitting so his mom can work at a local church, and I try hard to be there every week – in fact, I truly missed hanging out with him when I was out of town recently. We joke often that he’s got more aunts and uncles than anyone in town, because we are all a part of his life, and couldn’t imagine our lives without him.
Recently, I invited one of my ‘other’ friends to join the Crew for an evening meal and conversation. Driving home that night, she confessed to me how loved and welcomed she felt among us, even after only a few hours. She desperately desired a group like ours, a place she could go to find acceptance and peace. She is now one of us, the third new member in the six months since we began.
What if . . . what if the Church could be a place like that?
Seriously. Look at what I described and see if it makes sense – what if the church could emulate that? What would we look like?
We just might look like Jesus.
And the Crew does. I was talking with my pastor recently, describing our group, and he was quick to point out that the Crew doesn’t just look like the Church – it IS the Church. No, it doesn’t have liturgies or music or ordained clergy. But it does offer the heart of the Gospel: loving one another as Christ loved us. And we’re trying to share that love, embarking on service missions to reach a community in need.
The Church ought to be about radical transformation through the act of community – using our gifts to help others on their journey to Christ-likeness. Being a place of welcome and solace; a place where God’s peace can bring healing and restoration to a society of rejects; a place where God works through the transformed in order to bring transformation to others.
What would happen if we all did this? If we change the way we’ve done church for the past 1800 years and join in this mighty movement of the Holy Spirit?
We could truly be walking into our calling as the body and bride of Christ – serving the world in His name, through the power of His Spirit, in order to reach those who are perishing.
Soli Deo Gloria, indeed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

When you’ve been set free, you want to shout it out!

Written early January 2010

 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

The first chapter of John’s Gospel is gold to anyone who is learning biblical languages. As opposed to the drudgery and complications and difficult language of the first 3 Gospels, John writes in language clear and concise — easy to understand, but not so easy to believe. I have a hard time comprehending the fact that the darkness cannot overcome the light — it goes against everything I experience in my own life.

But my story is not about belief, rather, something far more carnal. I tell this story only now, knowing that I have been set free.

For a couple of years now, I’ve struggled with sexual temptations, but not the type usually perceived for a 20 year old kid from out in the country. At the end of my freshman year of college, I drunkenly gave in to those temptations — twice sleeping with a guy friend of mine, who was more than willing to educate me in the ways of the world. Did I know it was wrong when I did it? Of course! But we’ve all been there; we all know how easy it is to give in.

Shame is a nasty beast — once you start to experience it, it starts to consume you. And I let it. I ignored the advice of my pastor to go see a counselor about dealing with my guilt, too afraid to let anyone else in on my secret. And I knew that although one day I would have to confront my shame, I thought it would be far enough in the future that I could ignore it for a while.

Boy was I wrong.

8 months later, I went to a weekend retreat at the seminary I was planning on attending. There my sin confronted me, right on the Admissions Application under the section of questions that would disqualify a man for ministry: “Have you ever had sexual relations with another man?” I remember falling to the floor, weeping, praying that God would not hold my sins against me. I eventually lied on the application, continued lying to myself.

The darkness kept winning, waging war with my soul. So I found a church body that asked no such questions; whose mission is to preach the transformative love of God that forgives all sins, heals all wounds, and restores all souls. I’m now in the discernment process for seminary, with the promise that I will not be turned away for struggling with sin.

A few months ago, a friend of mine contacted me about a project he’s spearheading about bringing openness and transparency to the Body of Christ. He offered me his blog to put to put some thoughts down, and out came a version of what you’re reading now. It was the first time I’d ever acknowledged my brokenness on paper, and it put me on the path towards healing. I started meeting with my priest about overcoming my shame and self-deprecation, and was strengthened through the prayers of righteous men.

As proof that God’s timing is impeccable, during that time of healing, my past came to light through my political activities. And although I’d been playing the game for a while, the dirty politics still tore me apart – forcing me to be honest about my past with my family, friends, and people I’d never met (a major challenge, since I’d only told 4 people before that). But thanks be to God – because if the Spirit hadn’t led me to healing, if the timing had changed just one bit, I couldn’t have handled it. The pain and heartache and shame would have returned stronger, and I would have fallen away.

I’m here today because I cannot keep it to myself anymore – I must proclaim the greatness of Him who conquered my sins and the sins of the whole world. God, out of love, chooses to take me — a wannabe priest who suffers from homosexual temptations — and grant me restoration and peace. He has given us the gift of brotherhood (a gift we’d be foolish not to use), and has promised us that to those who endure, He will give the crown of life.

We cannot do it alone, so we put our trust in Christ, who IS the light — and he, in his mercy, will conquer the darkness on our behalf.

(Title quote from my father, a former drug addict and alcoholic)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized