I’m a cult leader. Unsaved. A sinner in desperate need of repentance. An unwise, immature good-for-nothing.
I’ve been called a lot of things since cofounding YOB; it’s been an eventful couple years. An eventful couple weeks especially.
Hate comments don’t affect me like they used to. And they used to tear me up. My heart used to plummet, and I wanted to respond to every vitriolic tweet and email and comment and convince anyone who didn’t get it — didn’t get me — that no, really, I’m a good guy too, just like you, regardless our theological or philosophical disagreements, and you need to understand this or I can’t have peace.
I just couldn’t go to bed knowing someone out there thought I was misguided or evil.
Now, I don’t care as much.
(I still care a little.)
These days, I look to my left and right and see people — brothers — intimately journeying alongside me beyond a blog, arms wrapped around me, prayers uttered with me and over me, over and over, with Jesus at our helm. They actually know me, and they remind me who I am; I’d be lost without them.
I take a breath. A couple deep ones. And I’m okay. The escalated heartbeats ease and sweaty palms cease.
What was meant to inflict or derail does not land, does not accomplish.
It’s taken me 31 years of getting here on this journey, though. Wherever “here” is.
~ ~ ~
My Jesus journey started as early as I can remember. I grew up in a Christian home and don’t remember a time not going to church, not going to VBS in the summer, not having family devotions in the living room.
Not praying, not reading my Bible, not inherently knowing I was made for a purpose and loved by God.
Jesus was everywhere, and at some point in my upbringing I invited him into my story. I don’t recall the initial moment, though I do remember all the other subsequent moments of paranoia. Asking him over and over to save me, not to forget me, to make sure I was in his Book of Life and not any other book.
All this before I even began to process, understand, and accept my sexuality. My fallenness. My hopeless propensity to lust and envy and worry and sin.
It’s fair to say that my Jesus journey started more as my culture’s than my own. My parents’. My Christian school’s. My church’s.
Day by day, week by week, I hopped on school buses and rode in the family minivan from Jesus-realm to Jesus-realm because that was my life, it was expected of me, and I had no reason to think or do otherwise.
Middle school saw my first and worst drifting away from Jesus. A thousand-mile move from the only home I’d ever known left me bitter and abandoned for a couple years. Everything that was once sure and lovely turned uncertain and rotten.
How do you still trust a God who can — and quite often does — sweep the rug out from under you?
High school sapped me of my strength and personality. Bullied for my acne and quietness, I didn’t want to be seen by others. Friendship eluded me, or maybe I eluded it. Especially among my fellow males. I sexualized my classmates from a distance and didn’t dare approach them as an equal. Another boy in their midst.
A lot changed from a Jesus-filled childhood to tarnished adolescence.
And yet Jesus survived. Took root in my heart. Started to grow. When I had no male friends and couldn’t tell my parents or anyone else about my daily struggles, sexual and otherwise, I had him. I read my Bible and prayed and journaled and clawed and climbed back to him as high school turned to college and as college turned to the great unknown of adulthood.
I moved three thousand miles away to live with someone I met off the Internet, and I learned what it was to live with men and make my Jesus journey mine and mine alone. Not my parents’. Not my Christian school’s. Not my church’s or my upbringing’s.
I found my own church, joined a small group, got baptized at 25, worked at several Christian camps, and put better into practice a faith instilled from childhood. Talked about Jesus with kids and served alongside them in nursing homes and soup kitchens.
I started writing more unabashedly about my journey with faith and sexuality, and I realized I was far from alone amid an often disconnected Church.
Over the ensuing years, I experienced a disconnect between White American Republican Jesus and one who often looked more like a Democrat. Someone intensely focused on the poor and orphaned and widowed and outcast.
I certainly experienced a disconnect between the American church that I felt ignored me and this Jesus who relentlessly followed me from coast to coast and chapter to chapter.
I gave up on church for a while. Social anxieties aside, I couldn’t find my belonging place.
I hit the road for a year. I experienced Jesus in the mega-churches of Hillsong New York and the mini-churches of Scum of the Earth Denver. Saw him so clearly evidenced in people’s homes and coffee shops. In prayer and story.
This Jesus, I realized — he was everywhere. Whether we chose to take off our blinders and see him in the least likely of places or not.
Finding community in church has been a lifelong struggle. The church isn’t perfect. The church is actually quite awful in many ways, and I understand why folks — especially the LGBT+ community — give up on the church.
But instead of growing deeper jaded and spiteful, I want to do something.
I used to think church and community needed to be served for me on a silver platter. Now I realize I am the Church. I am the Body.
As a classic Casting Crowns song goes:
If we are the Body,
why aren’t his arms reaching?
Why aren’t his hands healing?
Why aren’t his words teaching?
I have a role to play in this story. As do you. If something is broken, I can fix it. You can fix it. We can aim toward restoration. We can join forces and recruit other body parts to help, too.
We need not wait around for millennia and complain and complain and complain. We need not play the victim any longer.
We need not bury our talent in the sand as a searching world hungers for our stories.
~ ~ ~
Your Other Brothers was born in 2015, and I’ve seen a lot of restoration already occur in this community. Previously broken relationships with the church and family and Jesus himself have found new life.
The struggle doesn’t disappear with Jesus. But his presence moves mountains. Shadows turn to the light, and lepers find arms wrapped around them.
Impossible things have already been done in YOB and will continue to be done in Jesus’ name. Hope and humility and brotherhood and courage and vulnerability are spreading.
YOB hasn’t been a perfect venture. Mistakes have happened. Miscommunication and unmatched expectations and people leaving the boat to swim another direction for various reasons.
Mistakes will continue to be made.
I am not an infallible leader. The critics are correct; I am indeed a sinner in desperate need of redemption. I recognize this daily.
I’ve never seen myself as much a leader; I still can’t accept it some days. That quiet isolated kid with acne and secret fantasies, a leader? A leader for dozens and hundreds of people — men — around the world, no less?
It’s been a long learning process, leading this community and ministry. The larger YOB grows, the louder it gets in here.
You’re not conservative enough.
You’re not progressive enough.
You shouldn’t call ourselves “gay.”
You shouldn’t use “SSA” anymore.
Just accept your sexuality.
Just ignore the culture.
I liked things here better before.
I’ve heard that if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing nobody. I’ve never experienced that truer than the last few weeks.
I can honestly say I’m doing my best. I quit an excellent paying full-time job last summer to pursue YOB full(ish)-time, and I have no higher work priority thanks to our faithful Patreon supporters. Of posting blogs and recording podcasts and shooting videos and otherwise telling stories in diverse, dynamic mediums to reach even more searching people.
Sculpting a community in the process.
I communicate often with our other authors, and we’re always talking about how to improve YOB, amplify our Patreon’s Facebook community, and otherwise grow in the healthiest way possible.
We’re shoring things up behind the scenes, establishing a leadership team with a more cohesive spiritual foundation and defined outlook on sexuality. Over the coming months, this will hopefully translate to a stronger blog, podcast, video channel, and whatever other storytelling ventures we pursue moving forward.
We won’t please everybody. We’ll certainly offend many. And I’m totally fine with that. I’ll be called “cult leader” every single day if it helps just one person find Jesus through the rubble.
At the end of the day, there’s room at this Table for quite a number of folks: liberals and conservatives and singles and marrieds and “gay” and “SSA” and queer and bi and straight and men and women and genderqueer and believers and would-be believers of all stripes.
If someone wants even a hint of Jesus, I want him to find our community and an open chair at the Table just for him. I want her to realize she’s not alone in her messy pursuit of this same Jesus we’ve discovered. This Jesus who calms the chaos and loves the loveless.
I need this Jesus now more than ever, need him to provide just what I need. Not a surplus, not a drought.
I’m realizing now more than ever has given me just the right amount.
The right brothers.
The right church.
The right pastor.
The right city.
The right home.
The right ministry.
I’m thankful for all who have joined me — us — on this wild and winding Jesus journey. It will continue to be a work-in-progress. It will never “arrive.”
Ultimately, YOB will be whatever we all make of it
For as long as YOB exists and I remain its editor, I will aim to place the name of Jesus at our center. The point on the horizon this ship is constantly sailing toward.
Not our sexuality.
Not our friendships.
But our Savior.
This Jesus. His name is above all names. He guides my steps and days. He leads this community like a north star in the night. He brings purpose to the void, and He is all I have to live for; without him, I have — indeed, am — nothing.
Call it a “new direction” or a clearer translation of how I’ve seen YOB since the start: a community desperate for Jesus. For more of him in our lives. For the world to know him, too.
My 31-year Jesus journey leads me here. Wherever “here” is. Broken on the floor. Echoes of the past ringing in my ears. Doubts for the future always shadowing my vision no matter how many tears I blink away.
And yet his helping hand reaches me. Lifts me to my feet. Beckons me to pick up my cross once more — like before, like always — and follow him.
Because if we are the Body, why aren’t his feet going?
Where has your Jesus journey led you? Have you struggled with integration in the church? When have you felt Jesus help you or let you down?