Memory Suitcase (My Narrative of Faith)

Owning our personal narrative is really important.
Our lifescapes are the environs by which our soul emerges into and impacts the world around us.

Every now and then I try and go back and reflect on my journey, especially when it comes to my faith.

This blog post will be a bit long- I’ll be opening up my memory suitcase and pulling out all those items that pertain to my faith and how it has evolved and been shaped in the past, leading up to the present.

I did an interview recently with Regent University; they were doing research on Christian African Americans who were LGBTQ. One of the questions they asked me was how my faith impacted both my ethnicity and status as a an LGBTQ person.

I explained to them that my faith was not something that I held- as though it was something that was apart from me.

My faith is thoroughly integrated into my personhood.
My thoughts; how my heart orients to people and the world around me all hinge on this floor of my being grasp on something greater than myself- an ethic of love of humanity and love of who I understand God to be.
My faith also rests in how I strive to live and be in the world viewing myself as an Image Bearer of God.
God’s created desire: fully loved and received into the One who is Love.

At present my faith journey has led me to a place where I claim a diverse array of titles:
Jesus Student (aiming to hold to the Jesus tradition along with His teachings), Compassion Chaser (desiring always to engage others in compassion in the day to day which in some cases may translate into various forms of social service and advocacy) , Mystic (I literally believe God permeates and subsumes everyone and everything. Contemplation and prayer for me are as constant as the thoughts that stream through my mind) , Humanist (this kind of goes along with the Mystic in me in that I believe truly loving my neighbor/humanity means loving the full personhood and humanity of myself as well as another because they too are God’s created desire and they too bear God’s Image)

I grew up Pentecostal Holiness, from there I spent time in NonDenominational churches and even famed Black Mega-Churches of the South. In my teenage years into adulthood, I was a Black Hebrew Israelite. I embraced Messianic Judaism for a time after that and most recently I have been part of a Protestant- Reformed Leaning Evangelical expression of the Christian Tradition.

Here is my recap on how all of those things came into being…

Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, all spread themselves throughout every room and hallway of my grandmother’s home. Some were laid out on couches, others on the living room floor. Others on the steps leading to the upstairs bedrooms.

I was upstairs in the room above the living room. Sitting near an old dresser with a few of my many cousins. That’s when I heard my cousin scream from downstairs.

The moment my cousin screamed, there was a deafening silence that immediately followed.

The silence was broken by an eruption of wails coming from all over the house.

We all knew what happened.
We had been expecting it.
My grandmother, the matriarch, and bedrock of our family had given her last breath.

My cousin had been by her side when she passed on.
My Grandmother Mary had been battling cancer for a while and the doctors  let us know that her time was near and to be expecting. She was allowed to leave the hospital and be on bed rest at home with a visiting nurse.

When I think of faith, my Grandmother Mary is who comes to mind.
When I think of a woman of God, of a human being who embodies strength, and dignity I think of her.

I was 13.

My father had recently been released from incarceration after spending a short time there due to false accusations from a woman who was part of the dismantling of our household – a dismantling that was disruptive enough to cause my mother to lose her peace and begin the process of divorcing my father.

My father had come out of jail a new man.
Prior to being locked up, he had lost everything – his status at the Fire Department, my mother’s trust, and me as well – at least for a time.

He committed his life to God while in jail. He had met a group of men in there who were Black Hebrew Israelites.

Once released, my dad tried to convince my mother and I of the veracity of the BHI way of life.
Everything he told us sounded strange to our Protestant Christian ears.

Christmas was wrong
Worshipping on Sunday was wrong.
Heck, the vast majority of the church was wrong
Pork could no longer be consumed
Prayer was only proper when facing the East
Women had to cover their heads when they prayed and men the exact opposite.
And the bombshell of them all: Black people, all of the black people in America – were the actual descendants of the people of the bible, thus the name – Black Hebrew Israelite.

I left my mother’s church after many conversations with my dad and much wrestling. In my attempt to draw closer to God I became BHI and moved in with my father who remarried a few years later.

The remaining of my teen years into early adulthood was spent immersed in the worldview and school of thought that branched from BHI teachings. It is how I saw myself both ethnically and spiritually. I was part of two BHI faith communities over the span of a decade.

In hindsight I remember believing there was always more, believing God was bigger and more expensive than what I currently knew. I believed these things in spite of the cult like exclusivity of the BHI movement. Yet the BHI communities that I belonged to were home and so for a time- for a decade to be exact -I stayed.

That all changed when I crossed paths and became friends with a Jewish guy.
This Jewish guy and I became friends.
This Jewish guy unknowingly challenged my BHI worldview by his very existence.
This Jewish guy would become a doorway into a whole new world.

In time, I would renounce both the way of life and the thinking of BHI and I began to reimagine my identity in the world.

I came to terms with what it meant to be a Gentile through much wrestling.
I had a number of spiritual experiences that shook my mind, body, and heart as well (but perhaps I’ll save the description of that experience for another post ) Suffice to say that there came a point in time where the Person of Christ became very real to me and I remember distinctly committing myself to Him for life no matter what ideology or expression I’d belong to.

My BHI pastors saw the changes in me and gave me an ultimatum in their insistence that I renounce the ridiculous heresy that the-the Jewish people were in fact who they said they were.

I couldn’t though.
Deep down I knew that the Jewish people collectively shared a historical, communal, and global memory that was consistent not only with history and scripture but also anthropologically.

I could no longer hold to a teaching that denied that reality, so I left. The decision was sorrowful for me because it had been my world for so long and I had no idea what I would do or where I’d go and it took a bit of time to figure out a way forward.

What made being BHI compelling was it took a group of people (African Americans) who for the most part knew very little of their history on the Western Hemis- side of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and coopted a narrative from the Jewish people because it falsely ascribed a sense of dignity and glorification to our people. Instead of finding our dignity and worth as black people in being Image Bearers of God, or at the very least embracing our actual complex history of being a mix of multiple African ethnic groups, (Temne, Ashanti, Yoruba, etc) we looked to the Bible, reinterpreted a few passages and then accused Jewish people of not being who they said they were for the sake of claiming their identity as our own.

For the next half decade, I embraced life at my Jewish friend’s congregation. A congregation of Jews who lived and worshiped as Jews but held firmly to the belief that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel and the world. This Messianic Jewish congregation was my home.

I learned prayers, immersed myself in a deeper study of scripture (for the first time becoming an enthusiast of history and context). I went through varying stages of keeping Kosher. I observed Shabbat and the High Holy Days – but most of all I developed a multitude of relationships with Jews and non-Jews all over the world who embraced this way of life. It was a definite privilege and hallmark of my journey and to this day, there are many Jewish loved ones in my life from around the world who are truly family.

I left my Jewish friend’s congregation because I felt a stirring in my heart from God to return to a church. I felt it is where I most belonged as a follower of Christ who wasn’t Jewish.
One day one of my other Jewish friends invited me to a bible study at his friends home. At that bible study, I met people who in time would become some of my best friends over the next few years. They were part of this young, urban- missional church.
Protestant,
Evangelical,
Reformed ,
Transcultural,
Multi -Generational.
Jesus Centered.
Socially Conscious.
Amazing, life-giving community.

It was been my home for the past three years, until recently.

 

In all of this time – in all of my 31 years; I lived through varying stages in relation to my sexual orientation.
When I was younger- maybe first grade- all I knew was that I preferred to play and be with other boys. I’d have this strong affinity for one particular guy friend and would be super disappointed if I didn’t get to play over their house or see them as often as I liked.
These preferences morphed shortly before and during puberty. My guy peers were noticing and falling for girls. I was developing crushes on other guys.

During my training and traveling for competitions in Tae Kwon Do up until I received my black belt at 13 – I went through a series of such ‘crushes’.

I remember being aware of all these things and also being keenly aware that this wasn’t the norm and that what was happening inside me was to be kept private. Only I knew what was going on inside. No family knew, no friends.

I remember in my early teens feeling doubly ashamed around porn. One because it was porn, and two because it was gay porn.

I remember in one of my many tear-filled prayers that God would take being gay away was a rushed and earnest vow to never look at another naked man again.
Years later I went through a period where I thought my gayness was gone.
The promptings and inclinations were so far spaced that the idea of being “gay” (a name I wouldn’t use for myself for years to come) was distant and seemingly nonexistent.

Then one night a close friend called me to hang out because he was depressed about a girl he was love sick over, (a girl he would later marry). We went for a long walk in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, and I listened as he poured his heart out about his concerns. We got back to my apartment, ate, talked for a bit and I arranged the sofa for him to sleep on. I made my way to my bedroom in the back and went to sleep. I was awoken a few hours later by my friend. He said he couldn’t sleep and ask could he share the bed with me. That night – as my straight friend slept sound asleep beside me I became shamefully aware that my gayness wasn’t gone.

Over the next few years, the stages of how I understood and lived with my sexual orientation continued to change.

Because of my faith, and because of my belief that it was sin, I would do different things.

Some seasons I would live in denial.
Other seasons I would not name ‘it’ as a thing- holding to the thought that if I would simply fully identify with Jesus Christ and the new creation that my faith in him afforded that I could live fully in that reality now to the exclusion of what was actually going on inside me.

This worked for a time, So much so that I entered into another season in which I felt my gayness was dormant/ nonexistent. I even met and fell for a young woman who I began to court. I had the blessing of her family and both our Rabbi’s (she lived in another state and went to a different Messianic Jewish Congregation). We both were courting with the goal of marriage in mind. After a short amount of time though she broke it off- citing a prompting from God and uneasiness in her spirit.

I was devastated, I took it really hard. All of my hopes of building a family in the new condo I had just gotten a mortgage on only a few years prior were dashed. I threw myself into work and moved to another city to try and escape my pain.

In time, I began to reconcile with the fact that I was gay and shared with close friends and even my Pastoral leadership.

I read a book that helped me with my understanding of what it meant to be gay and Christian and it helped me cultivate the responsibility that I had to commit to celibacy.

I found an online support group of other gay Christians who were committed to the traditional sexual ethic. Many in this group were either celibate, in mixed orientation marriages (gay marrying straight or gay marrying lesbian, etc ) or they were in celibate partnerships.

I found a lot of support there. These gay Christians from almost every stripe of the Christian tradition from all over the world were my extended family.

Whew- I’m looking at the word count now and it’s at 2,331 words. Thanks so much for sticking with me so far!!
I continued to try and pray the gay away.
I sought (though I never went through with it) the help of a clergyman who said that he would be able to ‘possibly” exorcise the gayness out of me.
I went to biblical counseling and tried that for a few months.

In time, (within the past few months to be exact ) my journey of faith has included a changing in stance and perspective on how I view my sexual orientation.

My memory suitcase is now emptied out before you.

There was a lot in there right? Thanks for reading.
My journey of faith continues.
I have no idea what’s ahead.
At present, I do not have a faith community. I’ve been in one consistently since I was fourteen, shoot even before that if you count being raised in the church.

Part of me just wants to take a break because the thought of investing in an entire group of new people at this time can be overwhelming.
I do miss community though and the most valuable part of my faith journey aside from my expanding view of God, are the relationships that I have acquired along the way.

Time will tell with what may be ahead.

One of previous mentors once called me a Spiritual Wanderer, a Nomad of sorts.

So it is it seems. My journey continues.

 

 

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