The most empowering thing I have done for myself has been telling and owning my story. It is why I am a writer, why I consider writer not just something I do, but a part of who I am in this world.
I claim writer because writing has enabled me to hold myself accountable to my truth, and that truth is equally heartbreaking, hilarious and healing. Sitting down with my thoughts in my private spaces of writing creates the refuge where I can face my truth, seek clarity and journey towards myself.
Because I value storytelling, I yearned to create a space where others — especially those who shared space and interacted with my book — could tell their stories, speak truth to power and declare themselves.
I hope I AM #RedefiningRealness becomes one such space, a platform for storysharing, where folks can reflect on their experiences with the themes of my book (authenticity, self-actualization and claiming our stories), and proclaim how they are #RedefiningRealness.
I AM #RedefiningRealness is about owning your truth, your experiences and your identities, and with that in mind, I invite you to share and declare your truth by visiting our submissions page.
I can’t wait to read your stories!
PLEASE NOTE: This is written from my perspective. This is based off of my lived-experience. It is all simply my opinion :-)
I have always been strongly convicted in my beliefs. As a self-identified Pro-Black Gay Man who aligns himself with marginalized and oppressed groups, I have always been critical of the institutions that cooperate in oppression and the doctrines which they use to justify their oppression.
As a newly “born again” christian I have found myself having to explain to my close friends how and why I am a Christian… and how my beliefs do not conflict with my identity.
As a child, I was “spoon-fed God” from the Baptist church of which my family and I were members. Always very self-aware, I knew that I was gay. I found myself attending church in hopes of being healed of my sinful homosexual thoughts. When listening to sermons I found myself being condemned weekly by my pastor who always managed to fit a demeaning, anti-gay joke in his sermon. I would pray in fear, sadness, and frustration as I begged God to heal me of this sin…. My “relationship” with God centered solely around shame and a struggle to not be gay.
Graduating high school, turning 18, going away to college and living as an “openly gay” black man was a pivotal moment in my life; I distanced myself from God. While I always held the belief that there was a God, I never subscribed to any particular faith nor did I communicate with God.
My journey through college and growing into an adult was met with many challenges. Alone, I struggled with multiple demons that I was too ashamed to family or friends. I felt hopeless and became a pessimist as I always expected the worst.
At the age of 24 I attended church for the first time since the age of 17. The first church service I attended was solely to see a friend of mine dance with her praise team. The service itself was not bad, however I did not feel any connection.
In the beginning of 2013 my friends and I decided to visit Faithful Central Bible Church in LA. It was during that service that I felt something that I had never felt before in church.
The sermon was uplifting and at the same time realistic, it cited the bible and made it relevant to today’s world, and did not scapegoat any one sin. Most importantly, the people were nice. The congregation on Sunday consisted of many people from all different walks of life. Some people were dressed-up, many were dressed down. I could feel that people were there to fellowship with one another and receive an uplifting experience to make it through the week and encourage them to keep building a personal relationship with God. No one was turned away or alienated as the churches goal was to build the kingdom of God.
I began to read and study the Bible for myself. I began to understand that the Christianity, like all religions, had been co-opted and used as a tool for domination. Understanding and learning it for myself I began to understand that the themes of the Bible are:
a. Unconditional Love
I found that the purpose of life was not perfection but instead to communicate with God. I found that role of the church was not to condemn, but to bring people to God (thereby building the kingdom of God). I found that being saved was not being lawful and free of sin, but instead was a confession of belief in God and a continued relationship.
My experience at the church was very positive as I begun my own spiritual journey. Having a relationship with God helped my to beat a sex addiction, stop smoking weed, and quit drinking (these are things that the spirit led ME to do. Everyone’s journey is different). Many of these demons I had tried to beat many times in the past with help of professionals and other accountability groups but had never been successful.
Most importantly, I received peace. Whether the worst happened or the best, my peace endured. I am ready for anything because I know that I am more than this body and this life on earth.
I recently relocated to Atlanta, GA to be closer to my sister. Coming to Atlanta I had the task of continuing on the sober, Christian path that I had begun. My first order of business was to find a church.
Upon my move in January I began “church-hopping.” I visited a different church every Sunday in January hoping to find the one that fit me.
Visiting churches I began to remember why I had such a negative experience in church as a child. No matter what the message of the sermon was, it ended in a reminder: Don’t be gay! It is a sin!
I have come to understand that nearly everything is a sin. All sins are equal. Everyone sins. Everyone is a sinner. It’s about cultivating a personal relationship with God, letting the spirit lead me, and not being led by others interpretation of the Bible. I must understand it for myself.
Which brings me to the title: “Take off your hat… Or you can’t have God today.”
I visited Elizabeth Baptist Church three times since I moved to ATL in January 2014 (it is now 2/23/14). The first time I visited, I knew that this would not be the church for me. The second time I visited, it was with one of my best friends who attends the church.
After the second visit, I knew that I needed to resume actively hunting. Before I knew it, Sunday had come back around and I had not prepared to visit a new church. I really was tempted to stay home and not go, but I’d been feeling myself drifting from God and some old habits were starting to creep back in.
So I decided to go back to EBC because it was convenient and I figured it was better to go to church than to not go at all. I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, covered my fro with a knit hat, and grabbed my bible & notebook. My sister and our friend wanted to come so we all made our way to the afternoon service.
Once we got to the church I was relieved to find that they still had seats on the ground level. When we got to the door of the sanctuary, an usher said “take off your hat.”
Surprised, I responded “I have to take off my hat to go inside?” The usher told me that hats were not allowed. I told him I was not taking off my hat. With that, my sister, our friend, and I walked out of the church.
While I walked out of the church, I felt as if I had just been turned away from a nightclub. The usher, with his cold demeanor, was the bouncer. The bystanders, who said nothing, were the eager club goers who were fortunate to be in dress code and preserve the atmosphere of the club. I did not feel the presence of God in that space at all. It felt as empty and cold as a secular night club on a Saturday night.
This incident reminded me why I distanced myself from Christianity. Often, people pick and choose scriptures from the bible and create there own narrative.
The bible does say that man dishonors his head if he prays with it covered (Corinthians 11:4). It also says that woman dishonors her head if she prays with hers uncovered (Corinthians 11:5); it also tells women to dress modestly and remain quiet and submissive (1 Timothy 2:9-15).
I have no problem respecting the rules of a space, which is why I left. However, the rules should be consistent. If I was turned away for choosing not to take off my hat, all of the women not wearing hats should have also been turned away. The very few women wearing hats (who were let in with no problem) should be allowed to stay.
The bible also teaches that we may “come as we are” when seeking God. The words “come as you are” are not explicitly stated in scripture, but instead it is a collection of scriptures throughout the Bible that teach this. (John 6:37, Luke 5:32, and more)
Being that the mission of the church is to build the kingdom of God, turning people away for how they dress (or ostracizing/alienating them for who they are) seems to be the anti-thesis of a church of God. If a person comes to the church naked without clothes, the churches charge is to lend them a choir robe to wear and welcome them in. Make it possible for people to build a relationship with God and allowing the spirit to lead them. God does not turn away anyone who seeks a relationship.
I am not upset with the ushers or the church’s policy; that is that church and they have a right to their policy. I have a choice to go… or not to go.
However, I realize that when I tell someone I am Christian I am grouped in with this culture of alienation. By saying I am Christian, I am equated with the ushers and bystanders that were okay with watching three people walk out of church.
One can only wonder: How many people have they turned away from the house of God? How many people has the church been okay with watching walk out of their doors?
Everything happens for a reason and God’s will is perfect; with that being said, it is clear to me that God is letting me know that I must be actively look for a church home and not simply go with convenience. I knew on the first visit that the aforementioned church was not for me, but I continued to go because it was at a convenient time and place. A lesson in obedience.
In terms of following up with EBC. I think it is important to let the pastor know what happened, I would like to believe that the leader of this church would not like the idea of turning people away. I will write him a simple letter stating that myself, along with two guests, were turned away because I was wearing a hat.
If that is their policy then that’s fine. I have no plans to go back anyways… I am going to be searching for a church that does everything in their power to bring people to God… and not turn them away.
Cool & Corny Cousins in San Francisco (Part 1)
AJ Byrds just bought a pair of white patent leather heels. The shoes are four-inch stilettos with metal platforms; she jokingly describes the heels as “the kind hookers wear.”