Creating a Common Memory: An Evening with Mark Charles

I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into tonight. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Mark Charles or his work. I knew I wanted to support the Journey Center and my friend Mindy Braun, who organized this event. But as I sit in my car in the parking lot, I can’t even drive yet. My head is spinning.

Our nation has an evil history of white supremacy, genocide, sexism and ethnic cleansing all in the name of Christendom.

We have won our wars, so we have written our American mythology. And it is bullshit. The truth, the history is brutal. And we are as guilty of horrific atrocities as the totalitarian regimes we are taught to demonize. 

Something has to change. First we have to agree - all of us - that this is the truth. That this is our common history. 

“Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.” - Georges Erasmus, co-chair of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (Canada).

“The United States needs a national dialogue on race, gender and class, a conversation on par with the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, Rwanda and Canada.” - Mark Charles 

Grateful for this powerful, deeply troubling talk by an important Native American Christian prophet. Grateful for the (unlikely?) partnership between Journey CenterInterfaith Council of Sonoma County, and SRJC Intervarsity that brought it to us. And may God give us courage to stand for righteousness in these troubling times.

Follow Mark at instagram.com/wirelesshogan and twitter.com/wirelesshogan or on Facebook at facebook.com/markcharleswirelesshogan.

You're So Beautiful: Praying for Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett's "You're So Beautiful (White Party Version)" from the TV show Empire was one of the songs I listened to over and over and over in the months before I came out as gay in the summer of 2016. For me, the words were such a joyful burst of affirmation and self-love and gay-positivity. “You’re so beautiful, and I don’t care who knows...”

From the New York Times: "Jussie Smollett, one of the stars of the Fox television show “Empire,” was attacked in Chicago early Tuesday morning by two people who yelled racial and homophobic slurs and wrapped a rope around his neck, according to the police, who said they were investigating the incident as “a possible hate crime.”

"Smollett, who is black and publicly came out as gay in 2015, was walking on a downtown street when two people approached him and yelled the slurs, according to a statement from the Chicago Police Department. The attackers then began hitting Smollett in the face and poured an “unknown chemical substance” on him.

"One of the attackers also wrapped a rope around Smollett’s neck before the duo fled."

A rope. Around a Black, gay man's neck. My God. I thought this was 2019.

We've come a long way, but there's still so very far to go. How long, oh Lord? THIS is why I’m doing all I can to speak out against bigotry and ignorance and hatred and to live a life of love. THIS is why I live my gay Christian life out and proud. THIS is why we need our allies now more than ever to speak out against this kind of violence AND to affirm the value, dignity and goodness of LGBTQ+ people and our lives and loves. THIS is why we must unapologetically affirm that #BlackLivesMatter

Praying for Jussie Smollett tonight, and for all who are targets of hatred of violence, ESPECIALLY my Black LGBTQ loved ones. #BlackLivesMatter ❤️🧡💛💚💙

You Gotta Give 'Em Hope

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I watched Milk last night, and I can't stop thinking about the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. I'm a "new arrival" to this struggle, and for at least part of my life I was actively AGAINST everything this beautiful community stands for. But the more I experience this life, the more I know other LGBTQ+ people, the more I understand about God and human sexuality, the more I feel called to speak out, to let my life be an example.

Why do I keep talking about the gay thing all the time? Because visibility matters. Because there are LGBTQ+ kids reading my words who need to know that they are NOT accidents, that they are NOT broken or disgusting, that they do NOT need to try to change or hide. There are queer people in mixed-orientation marriages who need to know that they are not alone and that they don't have to spend the rest of their lives hiding. There are conservatives who have always believed one thing to be true but feel confused and maybe even intrigued when they see people like me loving God and being openly gay.

People are reading, people are watching. Sometimes people even interact in the comments or reach out in the DMs. And so I will keep speaking, writing and living my life out and proud. God is with me, and the arc of history is slowly but surely bending toward justice.

Read these powerful, prophetic words from Harvey Milk... He knew he was a target, and he spoke these words into a tape recorder mere weeks before he was murdered. 

"This is Harvey Milk speaking from the camera store on the evening of Friday, November 18. This is to be played only in the event of my death by assassination. I fully realize that a person who stands for what I stand for, an activist, a gay activist, becomes a target or the potential target for somebody who is insecure, terrified, afraid, or very disturbed themselves. Knowing that I could be assassinated at any moment, any time, I feel it's important that some people know my thoughts. And so the following are my thoughts, my wishes, and my desires, whatever, and I'd like to pass them on and have them played for the appropriate people. ...

I cannot prevent some people from getting angry and frustrated and mad in response to my death, but I hope they will take the frustration and madness and instead of demonstrating or anything of that type, I would hope that they would take the power and I would hope that five, ten, a hundred, a thousand would rise. I'd love to see every gay doctor come out, I'd love to see every gay lawyer, every gay judge, every gay bureaucrat, every gay architect come out, stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody could ever imagine. Urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights. ...

Until the churches break out and say the Anita Bryants have been playing gymnastics with the Bible and the churches which remain so quiet have the guts to get out and speak out in the name of Christianity or Judaism or whatever they profess...

And so, I ask for our movement to continue, for our movement to grow, because last week I got that phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person hope. ...

It's not about personal gain and about ego and about power. It's about giving those young people out there in Altoona Pennsylvania hope. You gotta give 'em hope."

Fear Not

Luke 2:10-11 - "But the angel reassured them. 'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!'" (NLT)

I realized last night that I've been leading Christmas Eve services every year for 21 years now. And SO MANY things have changed in those 21 years. My life today looks nothing like it did even three years ago. But here I am. And one thing hasn't changed: The wonder of the birth of Jesus, and the beautiful words that announced his coming... What did the angels say, again and again? "Fear not."

The birth of Jesus reminds us who God is. Love and redemption and salvation and healing and freedom and life and light and acceptance. Genuinely good news - not just to those who are Christians like us. No, this "good news that will bring great joy" is for ALL people.

God is not angry. God is not against us. God is WITH US. Jesus gives God a human face. Jesus models for us the radical love and inclusion the lies at the very heart of the Universe.

Jesus, whom Christians believe and teach IS ACTUALLY GOD, is not afraid of the sinfulness of human beings. Jesus isn't some cold, distant "holy" God who CAN'T EVEN BE IN THE PRESENCE of sin, like we evangelicals have always been taught about God.

Jesus, whom the writer of Hebrews calls "the radiance of God's glory, and the EXACT REPRESENTATION of God's being" (Hebrews 1:3), isn't somehow offended or harmed by sin. He doesn't shrink back from it. It doesn't cause him to "turn his face away." No, Jesus looks our sinfulness, our brokenness, our dysfunction RIGHT IN THE EYE. He takes it in. He embraces it. He... heals it.

All will be well. All is well. Merry Christmas. ❤️

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Favorite Music of 2018

Favorite music of 2018. Hard to pick a favorite, but the four in the center are equally important to me. I listened to each of the singles as they became available, and the full albums just knocked me out. Yes, I know “thank u, next,” is a single, but it was exactly what I needed at that moment. Old favorites Sam Phillips, Indigo Girls and the innocence mission again delivered (of course) beautiful music. Kwaye wins “Best New Artist” for me for his beautiful, expressive voice and gorgeous songs.

I love how many LGBTQ+ artists are infiltrating the mainstream these days… So glad that queer kids today have artists like Janelle Monae, Christine and the Queens, MNEK, Troye Sivan and Olly Alexander (Years & Years) who are so beautifully OUT and so beautifully gifted. 

And maybe my favorite worship music came from William Matthews. So much great music. 2018 will be hard to beat. What were your favorites?

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Still Standing

Throwback to 2005 and my photoshoot for “Still Standing.” Yes, I recorded a full-length album project back in the day. It’s actually still out there, available wherever you stream your music. Some of it is a little bit embarrassing, I suppose. I’m certainly not the person I was in 2005. But I’m still proud of many of the tracks. Check out “God of All Light,” “New Every Morning,” “Oh My Child” and “Back to You.” And the album opens with a cover of Vineyard worship leader Terry Butler’s “Psalm 19.” 

The album was produced by one of my musical heroes, Michael Roe, and features his band, The 77s, as the rhythm section on all the songs. I even got Mike to sing harmonies on “Satisfied Forever” along with my former wife, Luanne.

On that note, some of you may find “Still Standing” to be a fascinating snapshot of 34-year-old me, absolutely doing my best to figure out what was true about life and God and sexuality. Still trying so hard to fit into the life that I had always believed was the only acceptable way to live. I loved God, I loved my wife and kids, I loved my church and my ministry. I was in the thick of my “ex-gay” years, trying to rid my body and mind of the “same-sex attraction” I had lived with for my entire life.

So I look back on “Still Standing” with a complicated mixture of thoughts and emotions. And I am still so grateful for the chance to pour out my heart into music, both then and now, and I’m more convinced than ever that God is with me, and with all of us, in the complicated reality of our beautiful lives.

And I can still sing - authentically, with my whole heart - the words of Lamentations 3:22-23 that I turned into the song “New Every Morning”: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. #tbt #throwbackthursday

God Is

I discovered this beautiful song a few days ago. Countless listens later, I am still getting emotional when I hear it. I think for Christians like me who are in the process of deconstructing our faith and discovering what we actually believe, worship music can be a source of pain, a trigger. I can no longer sing with any integrity many of the worship songs that I myself led in churches for all those years. I simply don't believe in a god like that anymore.

So it's a rare and precious thing to find a worship song like this. I can sing these words with my whole heart. I can't wait to introduce it to The Quest.

I shared this song on my Instagram story on Saturday, and so many people responded, deeply moved by the hopeful, loving God presented in these lyrics. The world needs this beautiful vision of a God of love. I'm more convinced than ever. ❤️

"God was never angry
God was not against me
God was never far away
God's not disappointed
God's not keeping score, and
God's not judging my mistakes

God is light, God is love
Do not fear, for God's with us
God is good, God is grace
God will never hide her face
'Cause God is... God is...

I see so clearly now
God is in the mystery
God is always with me
I was lost, now I'm found
Everything I once thought
Blinded by the love..."

An Advent Invitation for Bay Area Folks

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If you need a little breathing space before Christmas gets too intense...

Sometimes it feels like hope is in short supply. The world seems to be enveloped in darkness, and everywhere you look, people are frustrated, disappointed, angry and hopeless. But throughout the centuries, even through difficult times, followers of Jesus have observed the season of Advent, straining through the darkness for a glimpse of the light.

Join us, Saturday, December 1, for a day of naming the darkness and seeking the light and hope that has been promised. Through the arts, conversation, guided spiritual practices, times of peaceful solitude, optional spiritual direction sessions and a shared meal, we will explore the hope-filled Christian tradition of Advent together.

Click here for information and to register.

The Journey Center is not a church or an institution, but a group of people who have encountered the Living Christ and are being transformed by Love into who we were created to be! If you are becoming aware that the Spirit is inviting you to move closer to your own true heart and the heart of your loving Creator, it is our desire to offer you encouragement and resources, whatever your spiritual path may be. Because we serve such a spiritually diverse community of folks, the resources we offer are designed so that there is something for everyone. This means all are truly welcome, no matter your faith tradition, your sexual orientation or gender identity, your relationship with Christianity or the Church, your racial/ethnic identity, your socio-economic status, your ability or (dis)ability, your personality, your life experiences or your level of education... Join us. You are loved and wanted. ❤️

Grateful for the chance to lead this retreat with my Journey Center colleagues Randy Cadwell and Ann Marie Wendt Hall. There are still a few spots open. We hope you can join us!

Jackie Hill-Perry and "Gay Girl, Good God"

This afternoon a friend asked me a question about Jackie Hill Perry. She said someone at her church had recommended Hill-Perry's book "Gay Girl, Good God" as proof that God "can cure homosexuality." I had some thoughts. Might as well share them with everyone, right? Here's what I wrote:

"I have so many thoughts. First, I will say that everyone’s experience is their own. I won’t try to tell Jackie Hill-Perry what is true for her or that her experience is invalid. Also, I have not read her book, although I’ve seen a lot of the promo material for it, and I’ve interacted with her on Twitter specifically around what I’m going to say...

Having said all that, my biggest reaction to your question is sadness over the church person trying to offer her story up as some sort of “proof” of anything. Jackie herself will admit openly that her attraction to women has not changed. She has just chosen to deny her attractions and behave in a way that is congruent with her beliefs about human sexuality. I repeat: Jackie Hill-Perry is still a lesbian. She is simply a lesbian in a mixed-orientation marriage to a straight man. Can that be fulfilling? Sure. I have no doubt. My own experience is that a mixed-orientation marriage can be fulfilling and good in many ways. But was I always gay, even when married to my wife? Absolutely. That never changed at all. Behavior can be managed. Orientation, at least for most of us (again, I’m not going to call someone a liar), cannot be changed.

A lot of what Hill-Perry (and others in her conservative theological camp) believe and teach has to do with IDENTITY. They talk a lot about how wrong it is to claim a gay identity. They would say my calling myself a “gay Christian” is like someone calling themselves a “stealing Christian” or a “murdering Christian.” They make absurd comparisons and talk about how if we have gay pride parades, then surely we should also have theft pride parades or murder pride parades. They say that our identity should be found only in Jesus and that to add a word like “gay” to the front of “Christian” somehow invalidates the centrality of our relationship with God. But this is honestly just a question of semantics.

“Gay” is not about my behavior. There are celibate gay people. Gay is simply a descriptor. It’s something true about me. And yes, I claim it. I had to fight hard to get to the place where I could claim this identity, and I’m not about to shy away from it now. And to be honest, it does have an impact on the way I live my Christianity. I am also, by the way, a White Christian and an American Christian. These are simple facts about reality. Saying I’m an American Christian is a true statement, and it impacts the way in which I experience and practice my Christian faith.

The non-affirming Christian crowd, of whom Jackie Hill-Perry is a vocal member, cannot let go of their belief that to act on gay sexuality is sinful. I understand this perspective, as it was mine for many years. In fact, for many years I would not call myself a gay man. I would say I was a straight man who “struggled with same-sex attraction.” This is a common thread among “ex-gay” ministries and therapeutic approaches. They teach that to claim the “gay identity” is to somehow give in to sinful temptation. Or at least to make resistance to temptation more difficult... But my testimony is this: When I finally allowed myself to acknowledge that I was gay - even before I changed my views on the sinfulness of same-sex intimacy - I found such sweet relief. I was no longer fighting something that felt so built-in, so immutable. No, I was simply embracing reality. So much changed in me, even back then. Anxiety lessened. Self-hatred began to slip away. Compulsivity decreased.

One final thought. I said that Hill-Perry is still a lesbian. I suspect she would not appreciate that and would argue that she *used* to be a lesbian. I suppose I should honor people’s perspectives on their own identities. But I hope you can see that it’s really just word games. Do lesbians have to have sex with woman to be lesbians? She would probably say yes. I say no.

Boy Erased

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Last night I went to see the new movie Boy Erased, based on the memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley. Many of you know that I share a similar story of attempted “conversion therapy” and have asked for my thoughts. I highly recommend the movie, and I hope many people will see it. I think it has the real potential to change hearts and minds. As the stats at the end of the movie remind us, 700,000 Americans have been subjected to conversion therapy and over 20,000 Americans are currently affected by this abusive practice.

I thought one of the strongest things about the movie was its compassionate portrayal of Conley’s parents and their church community. As I often remind my liberal/progressive friends, not all conservatives are evil or stupid. I honestly believe that 99% of people are simply doing the best they can given their understanding of reality. While I really do believe that non-affirming theology and practice is wrong and harmful, I also really believe that most people holding these beliefs genuinely love people and want the best for everyone. 

I loved the portrayal of prayer and worship. The scenes where people were fervently praying for each other or singing in college worship services felt very authentic, not just caricatures of prayer and worship as we so often see in movies. I have prayed words just like that, sung songs in settings just like that. These scenes will ring true to church people or former church people. They reflect reality. They are respectful. I really appreciated that.

The filmmakers obviously took liberties with Conley’s story. In all my personal experiences with “ex-gay” ministry, I never saw the extreme behavior displayed in the movie. No one was ever physically restrained. No one was ever hit with a bible. No one was ever submerged in a bathtub. And there was a scene where the leader of the group tells a boy that if he doesn’t surrender his sexuality to God, God will not love him. That idea - that conservative Christians believe God doesn’t love gay people - is, to be honest, a straw man. I have never actually met anyone who believes that. Most conservatives believe that God loves gay people SO MUCH that he wants us to live free from the “bondage” of homosexuality. And I believe that if we are to win hearts and minds in this debate, we have to be committed to telling the truth about the people on the “other” side.

One of the most powerful and sad scenes for me was when Jared (Conley’s character in the film) has an intimate moment with an art student named Xavier. They don’t kiss. In fact they barely touch as they lie on Xavier’s bed together. But the romantic yearning between them is palpable and beautiful. This longing for love and connection - even if it is not consummated - is considered so ugly and damaging that Jared has to confess it in his “moral inventory.” I remember being taught that my sexual desires for men were broken, sure, but they were no worse than a straight man’s lustful desires. What was REALLY dangerous was that desire for tenderness, for love, for relationship. That’s what I was made to feel most ashamed of. Now, of course, I understand that my desires for tenderness and love are so natural and good. Most people have a built-in, beautiful desire for connectedness and intimacy. It’s something to encourage, not to shame.

I loved the scene where Nicole Kidman, as Garrard’s mom, basically chooses him over her husband’s theology. For me, that’s where the tears really flowed. It was beautiful. Something about a mother’s love is so powerful. And when LGBTQ+ people are our siblings, our friends, our moms, our sons… Somehow that has an amazing effect. We become people to be loved rather than issues to be solved. Representation matters so much, and that’s one of the reasons I have chosen to be so vocal with my own story.

When I first came out, in 2002, I acknowledged “same-sex attraction” and confessed to a long-ago, one-time sexual encounter with a male friend. But I didn’t come out to live openly and authentically as a gay man. No, that wouldn’t come for another fourteen years. At the time, I had far too much to lose. I had been married - to my best friend, a really wonderful woman - for eight years. I was father to four precious children who I loved with all my heart. I was 30 years old and the full-time worship pastor at a large, influential Evangelical church on the San Francisco Peninsula. So I came out - to my wife, to some close friends, to my church leadership. I came out to be healed. I came out to be forgiven and free. I came out to become straight, or at least straight enough.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. Conversion therapy is pseudoscientific nonsense. It does irreparable damage to the souls of LGBTQ+ people as it tries to literally erase a central part of our identity. So many of us are still trying, years later, to find ourselves, to heal from the lies we were told, to find our places in the queer community which was so misrepresented to us by leaders in whom we placed our hope and trust.

My own attempts to cure my homosexuality included lots of one-on-one counseling with Christian MFTs and years of twelve-step work in sex addiction recovery groups. (I’m not a sex addict. I’m a normal gay man. But at the time I really thought I was.) My former wife and I did couples therapy together, including two separate week-long therapeutic retreats. And of course there was a ton of prayer and talking and reading and journaling on my own. The most intense conversion therapy I did was through a group called Living Waters. It was a program from a ministry called Desert Stream Ministries/Living Waters, founded by Andrew Comiskey, who - to this day - continues to identify as “ex-gay” and is a leader in the post-Exodus Restored Hope Network along with other convinced ex-gays like Stephen Black and Anne Paulk.

Living Waters was, for me, a beacon of hope. For the first time, I was being honest about my attraction to men. I was telling the truth about my thoughts and behaviors, and I was not finding condemnation. Quite the opposite. I was finding unconditional love. I was finding camaraderie. We were a group of 20 women and men who struggled with all kinds of “sexual and relational brokenness.” Gay and straight, men and women, older and younger. What brought us together was our shared conviction that we could be healed by surrendering to Jesus. And I have to be honest. Those 9 months were mostly profoundly meaningful to me, and I will always value the actual good that I found there. But of course now I know now that the foundation was rotten. The lie that LGBTQ+ people were broken and in need of healing. The relentless pursuit of something that could never actually happen.

Someday I’ll tell my stories. Someday I’ll write about breaking my “soul ties” to Brad Pitt. (That's a good one!) Someday I’ll write about how I was taught to blame my sweet parents for “making me gay.” Someday I’ll write about my pilgrimages to meet “ex-gay” legends like Frank Worthen and Andy Comiskey himself. Someday I’ll dive back into my Living Waters notebook and reveal the earnest journal entries of 30-year-old, wide-eyed and hopeful me. But that’s for another time.

I hope you see Boy Erased. I hope millions of people see it. And I hope that you will join me in speaking out against this harmful practice that has affected so many of us over the years. I’m grateful that it’s 2018 and that the world is finally waking up. Thanks so much for reading. As always, I welcome your comments - from all perspectives.