Going into this year’s YOBBERS retreat, I had a feeling which tribe (small group) I’d be placed on. Both years, we’ve held a random draw for all attendees — splitting into five tribes, named for our five values.
Tribe placement at the YOBBERS retreat may be a trivial detail to some or most, but not to me.
With me, everything has meaning. What I eat for breakfast has meaning, and which tribe I call home for the next 48 hours certainly has meaning.
Of our five values, I felt a lot of vibes for “courage” going into the YOBBERS retreat this year. I just had a feeling I’d be on the Courage Tribe, because boy have I needed courage this year. Boy, do I need courage still.
Sure enough, I did wind up on Courage this year. Turns out I wasn’t the only one with courageous inclinations.
“Courage is my one-word theme for the year,” another tribemate told us that first night. “I knew I’d be on Courage.”
Our tribe talked about what courage means to us, and we listed some courageous characters from film and literature. I brought up Frodo’s name.
“Why is Frodo courageous to you?” someone asked me.
I thought about it for a couple seconds. “Because he keeps going forward,” I responded. “No matter what.”
In recent years, I’ve encountered folks who have stopped going forward. Changed their beliefs or abandoned them altogether.
I have, at times, stopped going forward. I’ve returned to unhealthy habits, destructive habits, forsaking my first Love, only to have enough, time and time again.
It takes courage to believe something and move forward, living it out despite a culture that beckons you to choose another path. More courage than I often give our community credit.
We’re a courageous bunch. Those guys at the YOBBERS retreat, these guys in our community — they’re becoming some of my heroes. Frodos of this faith.
We here at YOB courageously move forward with the belief that God designed marriage and sex for one man and one woman. It’s becoming a less popular belief, outside the Church and in, and I’ve felt the sting of shifting realities more than ever in the last year.
Looking to the future, I need continued courage to walk this path set before me. And that includes courage for a road beyond sexuality.
I guess I’m blessed in this regard: choosing a single, celibate life isn’t really a hard one for me. I don’t feel much inclination to partner myself with someone, male or female. I like my singleness. I like my independence. I like being more available than most — for friends, for traveling, for this work with YOB.
My struggle falls more on masculinity than sexuality, and this is the road where I need to take courage upon courage. I need to step out with other men and keep stepping out with other men, because otherwise I slide backward.
Backward toward isolation.
At last year’s YOBBERS retreat, I got placed on the Brotherhood Tribe, a tribe for which I felt no “vibes” at the time. Truthfully, I’d set up a wall with most of our YOBBERS because, well, I can’t be friends with 150 people. Boundaries. Right?
And then one of my Brotherhood tribemates hugged me during a lull in our group discussion, and that moment broke the wall. Changed the rest of the retreat for me. Changed the rest of my year, honestly.
I started stepping out in brotherhood with this particular friend-in-the-making, along with several others in our community. I traveled to see them over the last year. I kept in touch between YOBBERS retreats.
Returning to our YOBBERS retreat this year, yes, I was still Tom the Leader who needs boundaries. But I’m also Tom the Friend. Tom the Brother.
Tom the Courageous?
This may sound stupid to a lot of people, and I feel self-conscious admitting this, but keeping in touch exhausts me. I feel limited with my social energy, and I often feel like such a bother. One or two texts here and there is generally fine. Anything more, though, is a self-imposed burden.
To admit something even more personal, I feel prone to idolization with certain male friendships. If I text someone too often, if I think about him too much, if I invest too much energy into the friendship, he may become an idol who needs eventual chopping down.
It makes me wonder: why even invest with another man to begin with?
I feel this idolization factor most heavily with my straight friends, actually. Tremors of anxiety over every text, second-guessing each word and wondering if it’s worth expecting a timely response, if any response at all.
It’s the worst. Why do I feel this shame so inherently? How did I acquire this low sense of masculine self-worth?
And so, growing in courage means stepping out with my straight friends. Texting, meeting, praying, encouraging, confessing, laughing, crying, and being. Simply being.
Moving forward. Because if I’m not moving forward, I’m sliding back.
And after years of sliding back, I just refuse to do it anymore. I refuse to be a coward. I refuse to be known for my retreating and isolating. Isolation sucks.
I want to be known as a man who steps out with other men. A man who leads with other men. A man who sits side-by-side with other men, an equal, a man worthy of his seat because the man next to me says I am and God does, too.
I really enjoyed my Courage Tribe at this year’s YOBBERS retreat. We had a great mix of younger and older men, new and returning attendees. We shared our stories the second night, and I learned a lot from our diversity.
Gratitude was expressed for our older members, for the stepping out they’ve done after years — decades — of being culturally forced to live in secrecy. I treasure our older members’ stories and perspectives more and more with every passing year.
The last day of our YOBBERS retreat, the attendees — my faithful supporters — surprised me with a “most outstanding leader” award and some personal letters. I wept in front of them as I accepted their award.
They blessed me with affirmations all weekend long, just as they’ve blessed me with affirmations all year long.
My fellow men looked me in the eyes that weekend and told me I have courage. An older version of me may have resisted their affirmations, if not rejecting them entirely.
Now? Well, it’s still hard. I still feel a “natural” inclination to say, “I’m not a man. I’m not courageous. I’m not worthy of your love.”
But I’m learning to accept those affirmations. And believe them. Actually believe them.
I am courageous. I am a man.
And I am moving forward with my fellow Frodos.
What does “courage” mean to you in your faith journey? Do you struggle more with sexuality or masculinity?