Last Lecture

A chaplain I had in college every so often would bring in guest speakers to speak on the most peculiar of subject. They were to address the student body as if it were their last speaking engagement ever. What wisdom would they depart to the crowd? What advice did they have to share from their story? What pressing information finally needed to be told? I write this as an ode to my chaplain-emeritus, and in that style of last speeches. This will be Neal’s last post.

It dawn on me the other day that I never really explained why I started this. Granted I’m gay, and Nazarene, but beyond that why did I invest time and energy into a venture that has zero guarantee of return on my investment? Like any story worth telling it doesn’t fit easily into a nicely formed essays. Its full of back story and subplot, I will do my best to conform it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, I write so much now, I forget what I post and what I don’t. Feel free to ask questions, and as always pretend I am telling you this over dinner.

Neal’s Story

Neal was created because I was paranoid, scared, and so deep in the closet I as almost in Narnia. (No one ever seemed to laugh at his name. Neal A. Zachary…NAZ…get it?) Almost as soon as I started I felt like I was going to get caught. I was still working for the Church and the thought of losing my job scared me. As I transitioned each post from the old site to the new site, I hardly recognize the person who spent sleepless nights writing just to channel and calm his thoughts. Whom, on more than one occasion was on the verge of an anxiety attack. Xanga seemed to help take the edge of my teenaged angst, so I turned to its modern cousin the blog. But that is making it too simplistic.

There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have even dreamt to admitting publicly I was gay. I never needed to really. The problem was I fit in. I dated girls and I pass as straight. The truth is, even the most visibly gay person will pass as straight in Christian circles because people want to hold on to the lie they are straight instead of accepting the person for who they are. But stereotypes don’t fit me, so I’m not going to apply them to others. People will believe what they want. I never was bullied for being gay. In fact I don’t remember ever being bullied in my life. I got made fun of here and there, but nothing that you would consider bullying. I could have easily kept the charade up to my friends, and lived out a straight life with a wife, 3 kids, and shed in the back yard. And I almost did just that. How I started Nazarene Ally is the story of how that world collapsed.

My life was on a completely different track. I was headed towards marriage. “If you repeat a lie enough it becomes true.” I told myself at the very worst I was bisexual, and was choosing to be straight. After all, that’s what the Church was saying, gay is a choice, and so I blindly obeyed. A sweet girl came into my life and I believed the hype the people said about us. That we were the perfect match. We were the ‘it’ couple. I liked showing her off to my friends. I liked not being alone on the weekends. I liked putting both our names on wedding presents. I liked the attention.

Then out of the blue I was blindsided by a breakup in a Starbucks. The world that I had built, convincing myself I was straight, and that I could live a good, happy, little Nazarene life, and be a good, happy, little youth pastor came tumbling down. She said she “saw no future with me…” but I had my whole future wrapped up with her. A week that was supposed to be celebrating our anniversary sent me spiraling down into my darkest depression.

No one understood why I was taking this break up so hard. I told people she broke my heart, and that was partly true. I did have real feelings for her. Sexuality’s complex. I just couldn’t tell them the truth without revealing my darkest secret. I was so scared that I would lose my friends that I didn’t say anything. I bottled everything inside for four months.

Four dark months, I’ll never get back.

Moving to a new town, making new friends, and three rounds of antidepressants refills later, I was beginning to crawl my way out of the emotional hole I dug for myself. I began letting people back into my life. I knew writing would help. I didn’t want to journal without a purpose. Some one else would suffer through the same fate I did, if I didn’t speak up. In fact, people were suffering the same fate at that very moment. Except these kids didn’t see an end to their suffering. They took their own lives because they had lost hope. They had been bullied and picked on for being gay or different, and couldn’t stand it any more. Each news story that summer cut my heart; I helpless to stop it. Then one-day news broke of a teen that took his own life in my town. I didn’t know him, but suddenly it wasn’t this abstract problem; it was real, and affected my community. I went home that day sat at my computer and typed.

24 blogs later here we are. I have read every comment. I have read every email. There were many times when I wanted to give up; just let Neal fade into obscurity. Starting out I had no friends to turn to when some people said particularly painful things. Last year around this time I went home for Thanksgiving, and then Christmas and wondered if this would be the last time I was welcomed there? Which friends would stand by me? What family members would I never talk to again once they learn my secret? Was this blog something I wanted to risk loosing friends, and family and a career in the Church over?

…Yes…

After three months of painful mental gymnastics I said yes. Maybe it was a selfish prayer, but it was the only thing I knew I could pray… “God if this isn’t where I should be going, I’ll stop right away.” My relationship with God was still mending. Gone was the Christianity I knew growing up. Gone was the God that would make everything better with a quick prayer at the altar. This was a new God was more interesting and more complex and yet more intimate and real then I had ever known before. This was a new Christianity looked nothing like what I was taught growing up. Prayer, going to Church, praise & worship songs, and the Bible all had to be re-learned. I had been Christian since I was 9, but only now I was a Christian.

I wanted to give the whole thing up, but something told me not to. If I were to continue this, I would need to come out and confront the issue face to face. I needed to be my own advocate for change. I needed to come out. I set for myself a date, by 11:59:59 on December 31st, 2012; I would have to tell someone I was gay. I made it my new year’s resolution, one I am proud to say I actual kept. Maybe in the future, I’ll share with you how it came about, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen in February. That week was the best week of my life! I gained confidence immediately, and my roommate noticed a change in me so dynamic he called me out on it, which led me to tell him. Coming out made me a new person.

The high of that week in February would be played against the emotional foil of a week in August. I hate goodbyes. I never knew the pain of losing my best friend like when on Monday the 6th, my boyfriend of two years moved away to start graduate school, by that Friday I was driving to Kansas City to tell my mom I am gay. Two highly charged emotional events surely would be setting me up for another round of depression. But this time I was ready. Unlike the previous break-up I had the support of my friends, (this one wasn’t a blind side, we knew the day he would leave… it didn’t stop the emotions. I cried so hard I gave myself a nose bleed.) I could now share and vent my emotions with my friends. I had people around me that knew exactly what I meant when I compared my life to a Doctor Who episode. You know the sad ones when The Doctor says goodbye to a companion. I knew the pain of being Donna Noble, a story I will share with you at a later, but now I was feeling like Rose Tyler, torn away from The Doctor after only two seasons. (I’m also proud to say that is my very first Doctor Who reference, I’ve resisted the urge to use Doctor Who metaphors every blog. If you need a show to watch, watch it!)

Suddenly I realized how wrong I had been. Instead of turning away from me, coming out has actually improved my relationships with my friends! A complete 180 from what I had expected! I cannot thank my friends enough for supporting me, for letting me talk their leg off about everything I had kept hidden for so long, and being patience with me as I slowly told more and more people. Thanks! Being on the other side of the roller coaster is amazing!

I look back and see a blur of memories. Sometimes it feels like ages ago, other times it is like yesterday. As I shared bits and pieces of my story with you, you gave me your stories. Stories that let me know that I wasn’t alone. Stories that brightened my day. Stories that told me I’m making a small impact. Stories that made me cry and unsure of how to reply. Stories that really made me realize how important this is after all. I’m really no one special, so I hope there isn’t much built up to my coming out. I’m just a guy who decided to type.

This is Neal’s last opportunity to address you. Two years after this adventure began, a new chapter begins. I started with lofty goals and high ambitions because I believe in our Church. I believe we can do Church better. I believe we can treat people better. I believe that the greatest days for our Church are ahead of us. And I want to be a part of that making that future happen today! I know I sound painfully naïve and optimistic, but I am just raising the standard of excellence for the next generation.

I want there to be space in the Church of the Nazarene for people like me. At the end of the day I invite you listen to my story, because that’s who I am, and I know without a doubt I can bring that to the table. I know there are others like me out there that just want to belong to this unique group of people called Nazarenes.

If anything, be kind to one another. You never know the struggles that people are silently going through because they think they might be ridiculed. Like I said, I fit into straight life. But I was well aware of the jokes, put-downs, teasing and anti-gay statements my church friends used. Would they still have said those things if they knew I am gay? Or would they have waited until I left and said it behind my back. I’m not sure which one hurts worst. But at the same time, you never know when you’ll be a light to someone in need. People who think they are strangers to Neal, but in reality know me, have given me hope without even realizing what they were doing.

I do this so that no one else has to go through what I went through. I do this so that the next generation of Nazarenes will be better equipped and ready to handle this issue. I hope you know that I love the Church, and specifically the Church of the Nazarene. I hope that somewhere in my ramblings you caught a glimpse of what is growing off my vine (John 15). And most importantly, I hope you know that I am His because of the way I’ve loved (John 13). I’m not perfect, I’m probably not a role model either, but I know someone who is, I mess up a bunch, and please forgive me when I do. I try to live my life by this phrase: “Loving the edges is the way forward. Keep moving forward.”

Soon I stop being Neal, and I start being real.

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10 thoughts on “Last Lecture

  1. I am so glad I found your site. Although I wish I had found it long ago.

    I am a 4th generation Nazarene, my great grandfather was an early Nazarene Missionary. I was dedicated, baptized and spent many hours at the alter especially as a teen praying that God would “take this cup from me” or remove my “thorn in the flesh.”

    As a teen I was elected to the NYI council, was on the district IMPACT team, and had more than one Manual “autographed” by Dr. Stowe, Dr D. I. Vanderpool, and other “generals”. I attended camp every summer and even was a councillor at Jr camp and jr high camp when I was in Sr High. I even attended a Nazarene College and I am still a member of the Church of the Nazarene.

    But I was also hospitalized as an early teen. The pshrink knew there was “something” deep down I was suppressing. But I never let on what it was.

    There was more than one time that I ended up in the arms (and bed) with another guy about my age from church. And then shortly after there I would be, kneeling and crying and trying to “pray through”.

    At 19 something let things slip… I was found out and did the only thing I knew I could do- head down to the alter and beg for God to change me– and then I returned to attending a Nazarene College (I had dropped out) and was determined to follow the “straight” (pun intended) and narrow.

    I lasted probably a couple weeks until I saw my dorm neighbor in the shower in the dorm– and unfortunately my Gaydar works to well.

    It didn’t last of course. Two Nazarene college boys skipping chapel to be with each other and then racked with guilt moments after.

    I eventually met a person- a woman actually– who I could confide in. I never came out. I just admitted to “bi” tendencies. We became the best of friends.

    Perhaps from being under pressure and perhaps from fearing being alone, I asked her to marry me. We have been married over 15 years now. I am Step father to her two children from a prevoius marriage. And yes I still attend the Church of the Nazarene. No our marriage has not been perfect. I love my wife but there has a time or two when I would befriend a younger man and my “true self” would raise to the surface….no matter how hard I have tried to suppress that person.

    This week I ran across a book on Amazon called Something Like Winter by Jay Bell. I gasped when in read the dialog from a young gay character when the character stated [paraphrasing] if he didn’t get away from his homophobic family he would be forced to go to the “Nazarene college his father attended.”.

    I can not say how long I stared at the page. Never before had I seen a Nazarene College as part of fictional literature- at least not in a GAY Love story!

    So I decided to type the words Gay Nazarene into google. And I arrived here. I am SO THANKFUL you are here!!!

    I don’t know what is next in my life, and I have NEVER shared this story before, but I thought I should tell you why I am here and express my extreme gratitude that I am not alone

    1. Thanks Alex! It’s been quite the journey to get to this point. I had no idea what exactly I was doing when I first began to type in 2010. But it appears to have been worth it.

      Thank you for your nice note! I hope you’ll continue to follow us, and pray for us in the up coming year!

  2. I admire your courage. I have read your entire blog today with my heart breaking for you. If you can, send me an email, I’d like to talk. I am not gay, but believe the way the church treats the LGBT community is wrong. I am Nazarene. Anonymous is fine.

  3. I have nothing but respect for your bravery, for the steps forward you are taking and as I look at the Nazarene Church I grew up in I can only think back to one phrase on this subject, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” The weight carried in this phrase is nothing but judgement, nothing but an oxymoron, and yet it was at one point my view on homosexuality.As I have come to the realization that my place is not to judge but to love each person, love them for who they are, love them where they are, and to ultimately walk along side each believer, no matter their theological conviction or sexual orientation. I am not the one who determines what actions are sins nor can I comprehend the cultural connotations of scripture for or against homosexuality, the only thing I can do is love. I can love my uncle and thank him for his bravery, I can love my neighbor just as Jesus called me to do, and I can love each person with the care, compassion, and fervor with which God loves us, a love without restriction and a love without qualification requirements. I have come to understand this love and though I am not homosexual myself but I feel compelled to say, I love you as Christ has and does, and the church should continue to.

    1. Brandon, thanks man. I don’t really feel very brave. I’m just typing. I just hope that my story connects with the right people at the right time, and that linking people to people our denomination will notice the faces that are affected by the Manual policy.
      And you’re path is certainly a good one to follow. Let’s love one another the way Jesus loved us, and let God sort the wheat from the weeds, because that is God’s job not ours. Thanks again. It really means a lot when I get a comment like this because it does let me know that I am connecting to others and not just shouting to the interwebs.

  4. So glad you found this page, Alex. And Brandon — good words, very good words.
    Keep telling your story, Neal — your courage and honesty are saving lives (including your own, I would think!).

  5. Hey Alex I have a question:

    I too was raised in Church of the Nazarene but for the life of me I don’t see what you and others call “homophobia”, is this a new term being used just to paint a denomination as being bigoted?

    I don’t see this so called “fear” people are speaking of. Nobody fears turning into a homosexual. In fact, I have never even seen anyone act rude or unkind to anyone even suspected of being a homosexual. One time in Sunday school class a young man asked why gay people were not welcomed in our church and the overwhelming response from all who were there was that all are welcome; however, that could in no way supersede what the scriptures teach on ALL FORMS of sexual sin.

    When the rich man asked Jesus how to get into heaven Jesus answered by telling him to give away all of his money, for Jesus saw that which was the man’s ‘idolatry’ which was his wealth and position in life. The same way that the Pharisees refused to accept the messiah for whom all of their prophets affirmed this man Jesus who stood before them was. You see, when one creates an “idol” for themselves in their own life; it is that idol which becomes more important to them than being in the will of God. Homosexuality is idolatry, and for those who continue to argue that it should be accepted as something which is in the will of God for any Christian, is done so at great peril.

    When Nazarenes stand FIRM on the teachings of the scriptures they are NOT being “homophobic” or any other slur conjured up by those with an agenda to paint them as being bigoted or closed minded.

    1. Brad,
      I’m glad that you as a straight person never experience, or participated in any homophobic activities, actions, or statements, by yourself, or with friends or with fellow church members.

      The fear is based on change. People fear the unknown. And when people call for the Church to further study an issue and are met with being ignored, or a firm ‘No!’ That is being bigoted. That is, holding to the correctness of one’s own position without regard to another’s. I’ll let you decide if the Church of the Nazarene’s leadership and members are bigots.

      And again, the scriptures aren’t are clear as you think. I feel like they may have been lost in translation. I am happy to speak with you over the phone about this but you may find watching Matthew Vines’ video on YouTube helpful. And because there is some confusion over what exactly Paul is talking about, it isn’t fair to say it is homosexuality. That is what we call homosexuality today. So in that regards the Church of the Nazarene’s policy are homophobic.

      Because if they still take the Side B, to borrow Gay Christian Network’s language, where all the celibate gays in preaching and teaching positions? There is a disconnect from our policy and our practice. Which Nazarene Ally has called on the Church to correct but is being met with deaf ears.

      Again, thanks for commenting, and I hope you contact us soon so we can chat over the phone or Skype.

      1. Ty thank you for your response.

        When you say change is cause for fear you assume that all change is progress, it is not. Our faith has stood against all manner of “change” in the form of heretical teaching for centuries, but not because of some “phobia”. The apostle Paul wrote about the constant attack on truth. The apostolic fathers rejected false teaching and other mystic cults in protection of our faith. I disagree with your contention that Romans 1 is wrong, or that we have it wrong. At some point you as a Nazarene must accept the scriptures or you are not a Nazarene. The scriptures are perfectly clear in Romans 1; this was not an admonition from sexual sins with male prostitutes, it was clearly a rebuke on homosexuality. The argument that says it was not a rebuke against the unnatural attraction of same sex relationships doesn’t even stand up to logic.

        The bible is not wrong Ty. I as a heterosexual have had desires for women which are outside of the will of God. I do not claim that my flesh is any less sinful than your flesh or anyone else’s for that matter. But I am not looking for loopholes to justify that which is against the clear teachings of the scripture. Romans 1 says it all. We are ALL in our natural condition against God until we are born again in Christ. But to hold onto one sin and deny that it is against the clear teachings of the scripture is a fatal error. It cannot be justified or explained away.

        “If he is a Christian, he betrays his own cause by averring that “all Scripture is not given by inspiration of God, but the writers were sometimes left to themselves, and consequently made some mistakes.” Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of the truth.” – John Wesley

        Ty, you need to make a few decisions. You need to decide if you are going to remain a Nazarene and submit to teaching of our faith, or go off on your own. Our denomination is not local city politics were you are going to change policies you feel are discriminating against gays. Our denomination is grounded in Orthodox Evangelical Wesleyan/Arminian beliefs, and we do not need to bend to satisfy the “feelings” of those who are searching for a “new” understanding. Sometimes a “firm NO” is a loving answer. God’s sovereignty requires a NO where it is his will, and I believe the scriptures, and our position on homosexuality, is in the will of God.

        My response is not intended to sound unloving. I am a sinner, I have no excuse. But straight talk (no pun intended) is actually love. It may not feel like it, but that is for the Holy Spirit to work out in yours or any of our lives.

        May the Peace of our Lord be with you.

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