What’s It Like Being Back In The Gay Community?

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A friend who I first met when he was 16 (with his parents) at an ex-gay ministry has been in contact again since I came back out. He is 33 now and a well-adjusted gay man. It’s still shocking to think how it does seem like it was yesterday he was half his age when I first met him.

I am glad he made peace with himself and eventually grew beyond what I was teaching back then. Graciously, he said that he looks back on our interactions as positive because it helped him communicate his true feelings and what he was thinking. I am glad for that.

Also, in our last conversation he asked:

How’s your experience being back in the gay community for the last year or two?

It’s been a year and nine months since coming back out. Plenty has happened. At first, the responses I received from the gay community to coming back out was one of three things:

  • Condemnation – some will never accept or forgive me. I understand the feeling; it’s hard to forgive myself at times.
  • A ‘welcome out’ but still suspicious of my intentions. Some directly stated they were looking for “proof” of my change of heart.
  • But the vast majority (unscientific guess of 90%+) of LGBTQ people and pro-LGBTQ people I heard from were incredibly kind and gracious. Former opponents went out of their way to encourage me privately. A few even defended me to some of their peers.

Since then, I keep being astounded by the real world grace extended by the LGBTQ community. I shared my story at the beginning of June with the local HRC Orlando / Central Florida group. I talked too much but through a few tears and lots of hugs, many people were incredibly encouraging afterward. That night and since then, I have had five people share this one essential message:

Stop apologizing. We don’t need your apology. We understand because we have all had a hell of a time finding our way out of the closet. You are here now. You are home, so let’s do good for others and be good to one another.

No disclaimers. No hoops to jump through. Be who you are, do what you can.

You know what else I learned? All the good and bad of social dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and personalities are all the same from one community to the next. Human frailty isn’t bound to a particular belief system or community. Human frailty manifests in every belief system and community. Relationships from acquaintances to friendships, to dating relationships, to long term relationships are often complex and take time. All relationships, of any kind, are usually a mix of beauty and hardship the further the roots go down.

It feels like over the few years before closing down Exodus, to coming back out, the large number of friends I once had completely evaporated to only a few. Over the past year and nine months, the firm roots that have grown over the years have sustained my faith, a few cherished life-long friends, and allowed new growth to reach for the sun. Plus, it’s like I have moved from one neck of the woods to another full of wonderful new friendships.

It has also been the kindness and grace in the LGBTQ community that has brought about love and joy in a way I have not experienced to date. Hope for the present and future has replaced myopic fear and unnecessary burdens.

It’s good to be free.

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“Those Thomas Boys!” – Part 1

I don't mind being called "Wendy," and we kept Kinder-care on their toes.

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Jackie Collins once said, “Everyone has a book to write.” I heard that quote as a young teen and always believed her statement to be true. I honestly love hearing other’s stories and want to share mine. Whoever finds these posts and decides to read them, I hope they can relate, are encouraged, and entertained! Thank you for reading.

That Kid Is Awesome

Most of the fun memories growing up after moving to Tennessee from Texas involved my younger brother tagging along, or charging ahead, or doing death defying stunts. He was such a cute, rambunctious, mess of a kid. We were definitely “those Thomas boys!” to many of the adults in our lives. At home with Mom around, we did everything we could to be out of sight and mind. Any other time, we were kinda’ crazy.

We loved running around in the woods, swinging on vines, and wondering if Sasquatch was going to eat us. Other times in the cul-de-sac, Jimmy would be on his big wheel, and I was on my green machine. We excelled at crash up derbies with the other kids. We would hunt craw-daddies in the creeks. Run with the dogs through the yards. Borrow friend’s slingshots and shoot crabapples at each other, at cars, at birds, at everything. We were quite capable of being stereotypical destructive boys sometimes. We loved roller-skating too. He would race around like the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales while I would roller-dance to “La Freak, says Chic… Freakout!”

He had the power rock-em-sock-em attitude; I had the flair.  For whatever reason, “flair” came naturally to me.

Heh… 🙂

If I Had A Drag Name, It Would be “Wendy” Because I Already Answered To It

When we were young, my brother’s name for me was “Wendy.” Not because he was trying to dig at me, but only because he was a little kid and couldn’t pronounce the R in my name for a while. One of my favorite memories of him is when we were in Kinder-care together. Every weekday, I would get in the van, and they would take me to my elementary school. Jimmy was in pre-k, so he didn’t leave the child-wrangling facility. Every day he would run from wherever he was on the big playground screaming “WENNNNDY!!!! WENNNNDDYYYY!!! DON”T LEAVE YET WENNNNDDDY!!!” He didn’t care what obstacles were in the way, or whatever playground play thing he was on, he always got to me. He’d run up with those huge brown eyes, chubby cheeks, and button-nose and give me a hug, “I love you, Wendy!” and every time he would send me off with a kiss on the cheek. Of course, I reciprocated the brotherly affection. Then he would watch me ride off. One time, it must have been one of the first times, he was crying his eyes out not wanting me to go. That day he had a little girlfriend in tow (always a ladies man), and she was crying, too! In unison with him, she was just as loud in her flowing curled brown hair, little white flowered print dress, begging me not to go. She called me Wendy as well because that’s what she heard. Even though I had never noticed her before that moment, I didn’t correct her.

Such a great memory.

Jimmy and I also got in plenty of trouble together. Plllllenty of trouble.

“Those Thomas Boys Are Terrible!” We Kept Kinder-care On Their Toes

We had a great talent for flipping peas up on the arched ceilings with enough power to make them stick.

It was an impressive accomplishment. The act had to be timed perfectly when none of the adults were looking, stifling giggles; poker faces when adults to catch wind that something was up. It took them a long time to look upward to find our attempts to make peas fly.

We were also great at sneaking out of our Kinder-care classrooms and groups, especially on days I didn’t have to go to school. The goal was to sneak out, find each other and then sneak back before anyone knew any different. We didn’t do it all the time, but when we did, our escapades were usually successful. I remember one naptime he snuck up to my classroom on the second floor and we just played with blocks or something silently and then he snuck back down. One time I didn’t sneak, I just went downstairs and told the teacher I wanted to nap with my brother, and she let me. I think that time we did nap.

Another time, for whatever reason, we were in the principal’s office. I am not sure if she was called the “principal” but we were alone on the floor of her office reading/looking at comic books. Then I had the bright idea to hide behind her bookcase. We did.

At first, we thought it was amusing when they were talking, “Where are those damn boys?” But then, when the cops came, and there was total panic, we were scared to get out from our hiding place.

Of course, we did eventually. We sheepishly came out of our hiding place at one point, right there in her office. In modern reality show vernacular, it was a BIG reveal. Those blasted kids causing the staff to panic for almost an hour were 10 feet away! I remember crying. I was terrified. I also remember the principal’s face turning red from embarrassment and relief. The police left, and we weren’t punished, just told to stop hiding and sneaking around because it is very serious we stay safe. They told my Mom, and I don’t remember her punishing us, but I do remember walking to her car with my head bowed and saying, “yes ma’am” a lot.

And this is nothing compared to some of the other stuff we did.

I have quite a few more adventurous stories about The Brother’s Thomas. Among other things, they include our gay babysitter David, befuddling Baptists elders for the six months we actually went to church as kids, being entranced by Alice Cooper, literally bouncing off the furniture to see what Mom’s first dates would do, and then there was that time I nearly shot my last babysitter’s boyfriend. Brenda was evil. So was her boyfriend…

Stay tuned :).

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Responding to a Conflicted Christian Friend, Be At Peace

A Christian leader struggles with his faith, experience and desire to marry a man

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In today’s post, I am answering a private message from a deeply conflicted Christian that broke my heart. It is a man I initially met in my Exodus days. I have permission to share the post without using the person’s name or identifiable information. His message is slightly edited for grammar and flow.

Randy, I’m so confused and feeling guilt [about] my sexuality. I’m a :::Christian leader in an international ministry:::. I love Jesus more than anything! But I feel alone and prevented from having a relationship with another man.

I can SO relate to that feeling! The net results I have seen in my “ex-gay” experience, and those in that world, is not the fruit of the Spirit, but emotional despair and relational loneliness. On one hand, we received public affirmation for repeating an ingrained cultural bias against LGBTQ people. Then, on the other hand, we received personal empathy and compassion for dealing with “such a complicated ‘sin’ issue.” Even though we believed what we were hearing and saying, it is an inauthentic affirmation because it isn’t based in reality or honoring the truth of how we are created. It can be incredibly powerful and compelling for hurting gay people who have lived a life filled with condemning messages, rejection, abandonment, and abuse to be drawn into this war against ourselves in the name of “healing.”

We know this is wrong in our hearts even when we do not comprehend, and reject, it with our minds. This incongruence is why we feel alone and hurt.

I’ve come to believe that being gay is not a sin. Pursuing to love God and to love others the way we are created to do so is not sin. Jesus’ Atonement on the cross is not confusing or based in your effort to attain or maintain salvation. You can do neither; He already did both. When He said “it is finished,” it is. You are not guilty in the first place because of the finished work of Christ. Secondly, being gay is nothing to be found “guilty” of. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead for you to feel unworthy or only for those who decide to act in agreement with legalistic behavioral modification. His love for you, us all, brought Him back to life.

He wants relationships, not robots.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Loving Jesus and being an LGBTQ person is not mutually exclusive. I believe, and live out, that you can be both. You are a gay man who Jesus loves. Your core sense of relational being as a gay man “glorifies” Him when you serve Him out of your authentic self and honest testimony. You honor Him when you pursue Him and potential partners out of the naturally arising fruit of the Spirit and not in the dark shadow of religious fear and stigma.

People know that I came from gay life. I have witnessed a few times. But I feel a great desire to date, marry a [man].

I shared my testimony of “overcoming” or finding “freedom from” homosexuality for almost 23 years. The feelings to be with another man would ebb and flow, but they never went away. They never went away because they are not supposed to. I believe we, everyone including gay men, are meant to be whole and complete individuals on our own through growth and maturity. I also believe that we are not entirely who we are without being in relationship with others. It’s how God created humankind to work. We are not fully ourselves without our family, friends, and community.

I also believe that God created many to become more of who they truly are in loving and romantic relationships. Some are heterosexual; some are of the same gender. Both types of relationships can be healthy, safe, and complementary. Ideally, both will come to the union as healthy individuals who only become stronger and healthier as a result of their union. The two together will grow and mature to become something they cannot be alone. It doesn’t supplant or replace their individuality but gives them the opportunity to engage a relationship with God, each other, and the world around them in a unique way, an important way.

All I see are promiscuous homosexuals, it scares me. Gay relationships never give some, even Christian. I’ve dated a reverend, he was so promiscuous and a liar. I need help to understanding myself. I also have a big ministerial calling.

I am not sure what your world is like, but from my experience, religious stigma might be unfairly focusing attention only on specific experiences/elements within the LGBTQ community. Yes, there are plenty of promiscuous gay men… but promiscuity reigns in every culture, tribe, nation, sexual orientation, … religion… everywhere. It’s not a gay thing, it’s a human thing. Fact: we live in a promiscuous world. Another Fact: that has absolutely nothing to do with how you, as a gay man, choose to steward your sexuality. You do what you feel is best and don’t judge others. Plus, you are among a myriad of gay men who desire sexual fidelity and long term relationships.

I am very sorry to hear that the Reverend you dated was a cheating liar. That’s terrible, and I hate that happened to you. But, he is one of about 3.5 billion men on the planet. Do not let him have power over you by amplifying fear and culturally ingrained stigma. Let the experience with him inform and teach you as you move forward toward your next relationship. Take personal responsibility for what you need to own and turn what was hurtful and damaging for good by learning from it and becoming more healthy and mature.

Remember, the scriptures say that only God knows the secrets of a man’s heart. That said, I can’t understand you for you, but I can understand your struggles and perspective. I hope, after all of this, that you know that loving Jesus and being gay is not mutually exclusive. Your love for and faith in Jesus is unchanged. His love for and commitment to you, all of who you are, is even stronger than you realize or any of us could imagine.

Jesus is truly enough. You have nothing to fear. Please be at peace, my friend. Your path continues with the Good Shepherd leading you every step of the way.

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P.S. I love hearing from those who read my posts. Let’s connect on social media, in the comments, or feel free to message me privately by clicking here.

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Recognizing “First Love” At 48

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My heart ached as I hung up the phone last Thursday. My ex, Mr. Boyfriend for my social media friends who may remember posts about him last year, and I had a conversation. Our conversation follows our breaking-up before Christmas, and in March I truly let go of him and have been open to dating other guys since. I will admit, there was a part of me that was hoping he would surprise me with flowers and show up in Orlando for a surprise visit. After our conversation Thursday, he definitely won’t be doing that, and I won’t be doing the same for him.

Now, to be clear, there was no yelling, throwing of phones, smashing wine glasses, or packing up all reminders and setting them on fire. Nope, none of that. No bad feelings toward each other. For a while after December, I kept trying to get angry at him but have no real reason to be. I believe we have both been honest with each other along the way, and we both shared that neither of us had any regrets. Our relationship was what it was and prepared us both for what we face, and the relationships we have, next.

My “next” will involve Daniel Craig I am sure… I know he will love the 12 mylar Hello Kitty balloons I sent him this morning…

I don’t have an extensive dating history. There were relationships with a few guys in the ’80’s, but those were rife with immaturity and bad decisions. Then, while in the church closet in the ’90’s and ’00’s I dated two women, both relationships were idealized and inhibited. I felt awkward with them most of the time. Great women, just not being true to who I am as a gay man.

“Mr. Boyfriend” was so different than anyone I had dated before. He, for all intents and purposes, was my first “true love.” I loved him from a safe and healthy place. I believe what we had was a life-giving relationship. I had not ever felt that mutuality, to that depth and expression, before. Our season together is closed but the beautiful memories of him, us, will always remain and brings a smile to my face.

One lesson I am pondering is that this was the first time since I have been “out” that I have not been afraid to be in love with another man. While in the church closet, I hid my fear of healthy intimacy with another man behind a “call” to celibacy and trying to mask my core relational sense of being by dating a couple of women. Instead of going through the various “rites of passage” with dating and the knowledge and wisdom that comes from those experiences. Fear and religious teaching caused me to check out of the whole process.

What I might have learned as a young man, I am now learning as a middle-aged man.

I’ve said before on social media that I feel like a teenager when it comes to dating and the thought of dating. I retract that; I am not an emotional teenager when it comes to that aspect of my life. I am a 48-year-old man in every aspect and love being my age. I bring plenty of experience, strength, and knowledge to the table. I am simply experiencing some relational life lessons, of the romantic variety, at what is the right time for my journey.

So, I have experienced my first love. Thank you, Mr. Boyfriend for loving me and allowing me to love you. You are a great man with a golden heart. I want nothing but the best for you.

Now I look to the horizon again, to see who makes me catch my breath; to find the man who when I look into his eyes we will both know we are home.

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Send Me An Angel… Right Now…

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Back when I was seventeen, I used to sneak out of the house and/or call in sick to work to go hang out at the gay bars. Initially, the euphoria and my naiveté made a powerful mix. As any traumatized slightly neurotic 17-year-old looking for any semblance of escape would be prone to do, I made a lot of bad decisions.

It wasn’t legal for me to be in the bars, even way back then. They had raised the drinking age a couple of years before I turned 18. Yes, it used to be lower than 21. Back then I think people had to have a strong drink handy in order to put up with all the dinosaurs and lack of electricity. ::: grin :::

Over time I would go to many … and I mean *many* gay bars across the south. Went to them all the way from Dallas on up the eastern seaboard to New York City/Long Island.

I was so obsessed with bar and party life I burned out on it before I was ever legal to drink. I look back on those crazy years and praise God I didn’t die. I should have died several times because of:

  • Nearly over-dosing on prescription meds (Kentucky was a dangerous place for me), and substance abuse in general.
  • Being the victim of violent crime (more than once and held at gunpoint twice.)
  • And a really angry freebasing drag queen decided he really really didn’t care for me. There are very few things in this world more dangerous than a really angry freebasing drag queen.

There were other cringe-worthy OMGoodness! “issues” but … you get the point.

The other day an old song, Send Me An Angel, popped up on my iPhone playlist. It was a reminder of something that happened every time I “went out.” This was a vivid gay nightclub ritual to always spend time getting lost in the music. Every bar I went to there was always a point in the evening where I would hit the dance floor and literally get swept up in the music. No matter who I was with, I would just disappear. My friends could join me if they wanted to but their presence was not required.

I danced by myself, with strangers, on top of boxes, in the DJ booth, with groups of strangers, in front of speakers, around the bar, on a bar, on a car in the parking lot once, not a nervous bone in my body … Yep, #WhirlyRandy

Of course, that was around 30 years ago and the younger me knew I would draw attention and enjoyed it. Even so, at some point I wouldn’t care who was watching, I just wanted to get “lost.” That’s what I called it too. In those moments I felt blissful and inseparable from the music. I always took my friend Meredeth’s advice, “Don’t dance to music, let the music dance you.”

One club I went to would always play Send Me An Angel if I happened to be there when the bar closed. The club wasn’t known for that style of music but they would play it as the closing song because, I was told, that the Dj and some of the staff liked to watch me dance to it.

I very much doubt that 48-year-old Randy would get the same attention. That’s quite ok with me.

Flash forward around 30 years to a couple of weeks ago on a Friday night. I stopped by Southern Nights here in Orlando because I knew some of my friends would be there. Had a good time but I was also aware that while the young(er) guys were polite and treated me with respect, I couldn’t help but feel like an old man. I smiled as I sipped my beverage while they sucked down their drinks. They were just starting to get revved up at the same time I was sober and planning my escape. Their goals? I dunno, doing young people things. My goal was to be home at least by midnight, in my PJ’s and asleep by 12:30am.

It’s fun thinking about how things are so different gay bar whirly Randy of the ’80’s is compated to who I am today. Now, I am the older dude who gets there before they start charging cover and keeps saying, “What?” because he can’t hear for snot because of the “just a little too loud” music. But, I also realize that the difference this time around is a bit more profound than just getting older.

The younger me went to the gay clubs as a haven, a sanctuary. I went to escape because I needed to numb the pain and desperately craved attention. Plus, in Nashville, it was the only semi-safe place for LGBTQ people to hang out. Not every, not even most, young gay men visiting the clubs go for similar reasons as the younger me.  I didn’t know then what they probably know now, that you can be happy, healthy, whole as a gay man. I didn’t appreciate (because I didn’t know what to look for or how to recognize) healthy relationship and community back then.

Now, I rarely go to gay nightclubs unless it is to visit with friends. I certainly don’t dance like the little Janet Jackson backup dancer wannabee I used to be.

We are glad for that; yes, we are.

The gay clubs are still a sanctuary but instead of needing attention and a place to numb the pain, I go in to socialize with my community, people I love. Instead of looking around for a party or distraction, today I look around and see beautiful brothers and sisters wanting to belong, to be in relationship, to enjoy the music, and have fun.

Back then, I was hurt and lost. Today, I am healthy, at peace, and at home.

:::the following is said in a cranky old man voice:::

Now, if those youngins would just play some reeeeallll music like Miami Sound Machine, Teena Marie, George Michael AFTER Wham but BEFORE his ’90’s weirdness, and Chaka Khan… I might stay longer! Just kidding, I love today’s music, too.

I have a feeling my ’80’s playlist will be fueling my next run…

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Three Years After Exodus

From a flood of disparate feelings to peace ...

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On August 23rd I drove out of the parking lot of the Exodus International office with my stomach all in knots. Overwhelming emotions ranged from deep-seated fear to an indescribable sense of relief.

It was over.

It took a while to get “past” closing down Exodus, and I knew that there would be “life” beyond Exodus. But, I was not aware of who I truly was outside of Exodus. That was the fear part. The overwhelming sense of relief was that even though I was still very conservative at the time (but questioning), I knew that Exodus needed to shut down. My leaving was a necessary part of that. The only option was to move on. It felt like a huge mountain fell off my shoulders.

However, without the weight of oppressive expectations, the maelstrom of criticism, and false idealizations, I felt adrift. Who was I outside of the Exodus shadow?

The Blinders Came Off, The Unnecessary Burdens fell away

That day, August 23rd, 2013, I was very insecure in every way. A year later I was coming out of a deep depression and on August 23rd, 2014, I was pretty sure I was going to come back out of the closet. I still didn’t know what to say or if anyone would care.

I came back out of the closet on January 12, 2015, with confidence (a little fear) and knowing two issues I am passionate about; ending stigmatization of LGBTQ people and suicide intervention/prevention. Then, just last year, on this very date August 23rd, 2015 I had been out of the church closet for a little over eight months and (no lie) I was having a romantic weekend (yes, lots of love-making) with the guy I was dating at the time. I do believe, and still, believe, he is my “first” love.

No regrets and I treasure the experience.

And here it is August 23rd, 2016. Over the past three years I have settled into a new career, talked with a lot of gay leaders, prayed, listened to God and others, evaluated and for the first time in my life… my feet are solid underneath me. I am clearly expressing my voice, heart, passions and doing my level best to live a life of honesty, integrity, and love.

After the Pulse tragedy here in Orlando, while we grieved the loss of our brother’s and sister’s, our community’s vision gained crystal clarity. It also was a catalyst in that it reinforced the passions of my heart to combat stigmatization and cultural ills that harm our community. No more living in shadows trying to force fit an idealized narrative and legalistic behavioral modification. No more playing theological whack-a-mole. No more shame and condemnation.

No more.

A Little bit of a side note: yeah, so about that whole sex thing …

For the folks who might have gotten caught off guard earlier with my admitting to having sex, I didn’t write that to offend you. Honestly, I am not terribly worried if you are offended, but I never want to offend for the sake of offending. This experience was incredibly important to me and I am a better person for having had that relationship. I don’t regret it because we had mutuality, love, and healthy perspectives on every level. I mean, I felt like a teenager at times. And while that is almost embarrassing to admit at my age (after 25 years of celibacy), I felt safe to laugh (plenty of that happened), I felt incredibly blessed to be loved, to love, to enjoy each other. Lot’s of beautiful memories.

I am a better man for having loved and been loved by him.

Now, a year later I haven’t gone all sex-crazed higgildy piggildy. I haven’t done any sexy stuff since being with that wonderful man. Obviously, I am not wearing an iron chastity belt with armored underwear, but I am also not interested in having sex that isn’t mutually loving, and life-giving. It’s just how I do :).  Ok, let’s get this post back on track …

So what kind of gay dude am I today?

Back in the Exodus days, we would separate “homosexuals” by three categories; Repentant (code for ex-gay), Moderate and Militant. I even wrote a chapter about those categories in Alan Chambers’ first book. :::shaking my head::: I bet his publisher doesn’t like me now.

I don’t fit any of those categories. Interesting how reality does its own thing. That said, there are a lot of beloved and accurate labels. I am a Christian, uncle, funny loudmouth (sometimes fun, always loud), artist, Daniel Craig groupie, writer, Social Media Manager, not very fast at all runner, brother, son, nephew, and endearing square, Apple products addict… see, lots of labels.

I also know that I love Jesus, He loves me. We both are irrevocably in love with the LGBTQ and LGBTQ affirming communities. Three years ago I was terrified they wouldn’t accept me, but instead, these communities have extended more grace, empathy, understanding, respect and care than I have experienced before. Three years ago my tears fell out of fear and uncertainty, today I shed tears of joy and relief.

Unlike three years ago, today there is no overwhelming flood of disparate feelings. The void of uncertainty has been filled with light, friendship and laughter. The vast flood of confusion has been replaced with a strong undercurrent of peace, confidence, and love.

Being free is good.

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The Unorganized Church?

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It’s been a little over a year ago that I stopped going to a traditional church. I’ve visited a few (three) since then. I thought I would miss it more than I do. But, I don’t miss it all that much. I miss seeing some of the folks on Sunday, but while some relationships have run their course, other friendships remain strong. I am grateful.

Now, I don’t say the following as a negative against the traditional church. It’s just my experience. But, my worship life has been better outside the literal four walls of the church. My love for God and people has expanded as a result. Jesus truly is enough.

The first draft of this post included a huge ol’ honkin’ section of the failures and strengths of organized religion. Honestly, as I read it to edit it, it was SO annoying. So, let’s just skip that part and get to the part that’s from my heart.

What if we didn’t try to organize “church”? What if we just showed up and allowed whatever happens to happen? No leaders, no lesson plans, no agendas except ones made on the fly, no hidden agendas…ever. What if we just met for coffee/drinks/meal (whatever) and allowed relationships to grow organically, not confined to the formulaic Sunday School + Worship + Sermon + Chit Chat = Going to church. What if, instead of giving money to the church, we just give money to whoever needs it as we can when the moment makes itself known?

How cool would it be to simply be present to whoever shows up with whatever is on their mind?

I like the idea of an unorganized church. Is it possible?

randy_sig

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