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Archive for April, 2012

Proclaim!: What I’ve learned so far

Hey everyone!

I am truly grateful for the great feedback that I received from my last post. I’m still waiting, but as of the moment, I haven’t heard any negative comments. That being said, I have to say that I wish everyone in the LGBT community had it as easy as me. While at the Proclaim! retreat, I heard some pretty scary things that others experienced. My life has been great, and I realize that it is because of those who have come before me. There were others who were beaten, ridiculed, put down, what have you.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some of my experiences at the retreat and what I’ve learned/recognized since then. First things first,

  1. Marginalization is everywhere! -There are so many ways that people get marginalized in society, and many people don’t see it. Take the Wartburg Community, for instance. We’re a pretty tight group, and we do a lot to invite others into our personal circle of friends. But, even in my class, there are people who don’t always get included. Take facebook, for instance. Our class has a Facebook group that was set up for those of us that have facebook so we could get to know one another before coming to seminary. Since getting on campus, we have continued to use that group. It’s really easy to share the ups and downs of life, plan events, and learn about one another. The only problem with that is that not everyone in our class is on facebook. It’s really easy to post something on there and forget these individuals. The gay community isn’t the only marginalized group. In fact, during our retreat we spoke quite a bit about other marginialized groups an what we could do. Bishop Gene Robinson and others at the retreat emphasized the fact that the reason ethnic minorities weren’t attending “gay” events is that we aren’t attending theirs and helping their causes.
  2. Stereotypes abound! -I am amazed at how many people, including those who are totally cool with the LGBT community, believe all or some of the stereotypes associated with being LGBT. I think of my neighbor from back home, who is a very sweet, christian, hard-working woman. I think she first heard me talking about being gay at work at Festival. She didn’t believe me then, and she still refuses to believe it. One day I just came out an asked her why she would believe that I was gay. I totally wasn’t expecting what came next. She ticked off more than twenty reasons for why I couldn’t be gay: I didn’t have a lisp, I didn’t sing all the time, I wasn’t in theatre, I wasn’t an artist, I didn’t do drugs, I was christian, I was fat (that one hurt), I was in college, I had a steady job, I didn’t wear pink, I didn’t dye my hair funky colors, I didn’t talk with my hands all the time, I didn’t flip my wrist, I didn’t use phrases like “oh honey,” I wasn’t promiscuous, I was nice to my family… The list kept going on… Now, I realize that most people aren’t that close-minded, but I’ve heard some comments from people that have surprised me. In fact my mother, who I’ve always considered to be a pretty down to earth person, confessed to me shortly after I came out to her (for the second time) that she was just afraid that I would get AIDS and die. Bless her heart, I realize that every parent probably worries about their children dying from a multitude of different reasons, but there’s still the stereotype that everyone with HIV/AIDS is gay and vice-versa.
  3. Hiding who I am was preventing me from being/doing more -Whenever the pastors asked me to share my call story, I felt an internal cringe. being gay has influenced my relationship with God more than anyone could know. For one, I told everyone that I fell away from the church, but I never shared why. I can still remember it to this day. I had been invited to be a part of a bible study group at the church. An Adult Bible Study. The first couple of groups were great. But then during one day a member made the comment that “gay people are living lives of sin, and if we permit them to continue living such sinful lives, we are taking that sin upon ourselves.”  There were a lot of head nods and affirming comments. I disagreed with her and used the old “some of my friends are gay and say…” way to express my feelings. It felt like my comments were immediately dismissed. I looked at my parents (who knew my orientation) and they looked back at me, looked at one another, and then looked away. I felt completely alone in that moment. So I left. I left the church, my faith, and my belief in a God that would love me no matter what. It took me a long time to come to terms with who I was. I realized that God wouldn’t have made me this way just to torment me. There must be a reason behind it. I knew in my heart God still loved me and always had. It wasn’t God, but some people who rejected me. And they didn’t even realize it. Being able to tell that story to others has helped me to strengthen my faith as well as help others. After the retreat, I felt more comfortable sharing that story with others, or even just sharing the fact that I’m gay. And you know what? People that spoke to me were so happy! They thought it was amazing that there were gay pastors, seminarians and others in different ministerial roles. Even more so, they were overjoyed at the fact that we were able to be honest about who we were.
  4. People from all walks of life need to hear the Gospel Message -This fits in well with the previous point. I think all too often the message is given in such a way that it either does one of two extremes. Either it is portrayed as so specific that only a few people qualify to be included, or it’s generalized so much that it loses it’s ability to hold any major influence in our lives. I have heard it both ways. The first makes it seem like a special society–and either I’m not invited, or my friends, family, co-workers, etc. would be excluded. The latter view ends up seeming like Christianity is a sort of hobby. Something you do when it suits you, that you can put on and take off. The truth is, God isn’t a necklace. It’s finding that place in the middle that is difficult. Making people realize that Jesus died for them and for others is much harder, but essential.

I’m sure there are a million other things that I could add here, but I really need to get back to that Sermon due Monday and Systematics paper that’s due Tuesday. I hope you all have a great weekend, and don’t be afraid to comment. I don’t bite!

God Bless!

Proclaim-2012. What an amazing bunch!

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Proclaim 2012!

Proclaim's 2012 theme is Vamos Tod@s! (We are all going!/We are on the move!)

Hello All! Greetings from New York!

Now I’m sure some of you are wondering “what in blazes is Paul doing in new York? Doesn’t he have school and work to focus on?” You’re absolutely right, there is a lot, no make that A LOT of assignments to complete before the end of the semester, and I’m going to be swamped. However this Proclaim retreat, “Vamos Tod@s!” is incredibly important because it is helping me to find my voice in ministry, find out ways to better my chances of getting a first call, and learn how I can minister to all those I meet in a kind, compassionate, and inviting way.

Now, I’m sure some of you are also wondering “What the heck is Proclaim, and why is Paul a member?” well see this is the hard part to answer. I know a lot of people (like my Wartburg classmates and family) already knows about this retreat and organization. For those of you that don’t know, here’s a link to info about Proclaim. To quote the webpage, “The Proclaim retreat is a gathering of publicly identified LGBTQ rostered leaders and seminarians for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development.” For those of you not into the whole acronym thing, LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer. That’s right, I am a child of God who is gay.

For some of you, this is already well known (again, like my Wartburg classmates and family). Others are probably saying “well DUH!” and still others may never have known. Despite what category you may fit in, I want you to know that I am the same person you have always known. You may have known me for my whole life, several years, a couple years, several months, several weeks, several days, or whatever. I am still the same Paul Andrew Johnson, child of God, who has been called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ a (hopefully) be an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I understand that for some of you, this may be very confusing. For that I am sorry. And I encourage you to comment on here, talk to me in person, or e-mail me at xavierpaul101@new.rr.com with any questions, concerns or whatever. I know that some people feel this doesn’t have anything to do with my ministry, or should that “private things should be kept private.” However as being a member of an amazing organization like Proclaim clearly demonstrates, this is still a major issue, and therefore needs to be addressed in the church, in the community, and in the world. I can’t keep silent for fear that others may not find the support they are looking for. I can’t risk being silent and have someone else see that and think that that is how things are supposed to be. I am a child of God, and I am gay. Nothing anyone thinks or does is going to change that.

As always, my Brothers and Sisters, God Bless!

Happy Holy Week!

I’m back  in De Pere! It feels so great to be back again, enjoying time with the family, going on walks with the puppy (she’s a full grown dog, but she’ll always be my puppy) and enjoying worship during this Holy Week! I got back into town Wednesday afternoon and enjoyed a delightful evening with the family, got a bit of reading in, and eventually crashed on the cot (much more comfortable than the couch. I love that thing!)

Yesterday I started the day with an adventurous morning of geocaching with my amazing brother Jim. We found four or five caches. The last one didn’t pan out, but it was a great time, nonetheless.  I had never gone geocaching before, and I must say it was a great experience! I am amazed at how tricky, sneaky, and ingenious people can be in hiding these treasure troves! It felt great to breathe in the crisp air, feel nature underfoot. During the last search, I spent a good bit of time barefoot, enjoying the feel of nature firsthand. It was truly spiritual to be able to feel the freezing water rushing around my legs, squish slimy mud between my toes,  feel the dry grass under my tread, even experience the sharp sting of prickly raspberry plants across my legs.

After a morning of fun exploration it was time to head home for a delicious lunch and then a well-deserved nap. When I got back up, I decided I should get some reading done, and battled a headache that was just present enough to be irksome. Then if was time to go to the first of many church services this week back home. I must admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was definitely looking forward to being able to say hello to the wonderful people of St. John’s and De Pere, but I was worried the assignment I have coming up on these services would hinder my experience.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how great the service went. Once I got into that sanctuary, it didn’t matter that I had an assignment coming up. This was God’s time, not mine. I had plenty of other time to worry about assignments. This wasn’t that time. I loved the songs we sang, the readings and the sermon seemed like they were speaking directly to me, and the choir was absolutely astounding!

Once again, I was able to feel the power of the Holy Spirit working inside me. Filling me with God’s healing love and guidance. It was like my skin was freezing and on fire all at once. little pricks of energy coursed along my skin, up and down my spine and scalp and all over my body. My senses seemed to burst into activity, and my emotions boiled over inside of me. As the tears once again streamed down my cheeks and my breath caught in my chest, I managed to whisper thanks to God for letting me know this presence.  I’ve tried to explain the experience to others, and it always seems to fall woefully short of the actual experience.

And so, it got me to thinking. How do others experience God’s activity in their lives? How would you describe what you feel? Is it a physical experience, emotional, does a calming voice resonate from within you? from outside? Let me know. I’d love to hear how you experience God. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel the same things I or other people feel. I’ve spoken with others who have experiences unlike anything I’ve ever felt, and it just amazes me even more that the Holy Spirit can be so unique to each person.

Have a Happy Holy Week, and God Bless!