This post, and maybe one follow up, is inspired by the familiar writings of growing up evangelical on Addie Zierman’s blog. It was also inspired by Rachel Held Evans’ latest: The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart
There I am, alone in my study, with a shoe box of days gone by. In my hands I hold that old Polaroid picture. Its faded and still tinted with orange. Me in my cut off jeans and Jesus Freak tee. My arms around friends, with WWJD dangling and bouncing off our wrists. I was brace-faced and brave, standing before a crowd of freaks like me. This was my pilgrimage to my Mecca- this was… the Sonshine Music festival.
Keeping eye contact with that thirteen year old kid, I bring it close to my face and softly whisper, “Oh buddy… so much I have to tell you, so much to… warn you, but yet… (sigh) I cannot.” The picture slips through my fingertips, cleansing my hands and conscience as it floats down to its shoe box burial. And back into the blanket I fall, shamelessly sipping from a glass of Cabernet. The dimly lit room by the fire, making this my oasis and refuge. Oh, the memoirs of a Billy Graham groupie.
When I take trips down memory lane, I don’t stop and linger here. I tend to cover my eyes and pretend I don’t hear myself reciting old clichés. Those mementos along the trail from where we were to where we are today are both comical and wretched. Like your naked baby albums and your mom’s pride and your brand new friends over.
We can all look back now and mock our tween selves with our Jesus Freak cut offs and our wrist acronyms. We can blush and snicker and say, wow! Weren’t we brave? And split-our-sides when we remember the excitement of a celeb wearing a cross. When Heaven became so Hip and we’d think, You and me, Kirk Cameron… we… we are going to be best friends after this apocalypse thing is over with. (which we always thought was one bad president away).
I was the quintessential evangelical boy.
On the frontlines of faith, I was your sword-wielding soldier. I was the saint leading your prayer circle on See You At The Pole Day. I was that witness with flyers for your next Young Life gathering. I was the small forward for your Church Basketball team. I was your Republican. I was your Wednesday night regular. I was in two Bible studies at once. I was there every Sunday.
And I was a fraud
and I was afraid.
But I tried to be brave, because If God is for me, who can be against me?
I regretfully reply to that boy in the Polaroid,
“Honestly, a lot.”
The term “evangelical” is rooted in the word “gospel” which means “good news”, but this “good news” had bad news for me. I wasn’t invited. I was an interloper. A refugee behind enemy lines. A wannabe. Too much of a freak for the Jesus Freaks. I was a lackey and they were sons and daughters. I was gay and I was Christian and they said it wasn’t possible, because Christ didn’t die for people like that.
But I tried to convince Him anyway.
With every bracelet, baptism, church revival, witness, and prayer… I wished to crawl under their rope lines unseen. I just thought, if I looked the part, if I stood at the very front of the altar calls, sang loud enough at Sonshine and spread the good news to as many as would hear, maybe the gospel would make an exception for an outcast like me. Maybe I could earn it. Maybe this God graded more on effort.
But as the chorus of my peers grew louder against gays, my courage crashed and burned. Bravery bent before such steep odds. Somewhere between James Dobson radio and Youth Pastor bullying- It became crystal clear that God wanted nothing to do with me. Message Received.
And after a lot of years of being brave.
Courage didn’t cut it anymore…
For me, being an evangelical meant masking. Impressing. Playing dress up. Putting on a show. Showing up on Sunday. It felt sharp. I was Hiding. Hurting all over. Ashamed. Paranoid. Hating myself for a choice I must’ve made, but for the life of me couldn’t remember. It was a social step ladder that was actually a treadmill. It was a promise of rewards for good deeds always dangling in front of me. It was a guarantee that I would be a “new creation” and my life would be better and I would be accepted. It was James Dobson in my ear and Youth Pastors in my face, and the smile and nod I had to force all the time.
Evangelicalism was exhausting.
That’s why I ran.
I ran away from the waiting room and the stage. I hopped fences and broke through borders to find a place where I could just catch my breath. I outran their politics and prejudices. I ran until my feet felt grass and not gravel. I ran until I was safe from the saints.
I ran until I was finished.
And He met me there. It took an escape from the city walls and the stained glass God to touch the beating heart of a Christ in love. The one that wrapped me in His arms and hushed my cries, all while whispering,
“I’m not like them, I’m not like them, I’m not like them.”
And he wasn’t like them- he wasn’t anything like I thought he was. He was kind and his hands were warm. He didn’t ask anything of me but my love. He told me to keep running, but to let him come with. Toward things I didn’t know I wanted, but someday I would.
Leaving evangelicalism led me to Love. I spent so much time trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, so much time trying to be instead of just being. And I never found him there because I couldn’t see past the pain. I couldn’t see past the wrath and the madness. I couldn’t see past my pastor or past James Dobson. There was too much shadow. But maybe that’s why I see him so clearly now.
Like going from darkness to brilliant sunlight, I had to see all the bad and the wrong and the cracks before I was could fully receive the earth shattering news that I was made on purpose and loved to no end. Eyes are still adjusting and I’m still learning, but my heart beats with a new pulse of promise.
A new kind of Bravery.
And I’m running with it,