Sloppy Wet…

John Mark McMillan rocked us all with his song, “Oh How He Loves” over a decade ago. Christian artists, whether rocked by the lyrics or hoping to capitalize on the popularity, all started producing their version, many dropping the controversial lines “sloppy wet kiss.”

“Jesus’ love isn’t sloppy,” some would claim, ripping the lyrics out like an explicit cologne commercial in a magazine at the doctor’s office, breathing more easily now that the offense had been executed and no children would stumble upon the horror.

As a gay Christian, the most accurate description of Jesus and I’s relationship is sloppy and wet. But it’s not just the homos he’s sloppy with — it was also Peter.

In the final chapter of John, we are confronted with a story that’s both intimate and odd — Jesus decides to visit his disciples one last time before heading back to Heaven, and instead of a display of power or a vision of wisdom, He decides to cook fish for the men (really boys) he had spent the last three years of his life with.

While this act is incredibly beautiful and reveals something really special about Jesus (that he’d rather eat with those he loved in an intimate setting rather than boasting of his resurrection), I want to focus on what this chapter reveals about Peter.

The chapter opens with Peter deciding he’s going to go fish.

This man had spent the last three years of his life following a man he believed to be the Messiah, only to have him murdered. The man of power hung powerless on a cross and Israel remained in the clutches of Rome. What was it all for? What was the point? Yes, he was raised from the dead, but what on earth was Peter supposed to do now? The salvation he was hoping for — Jesus coming in as King and Conquerer — didn’t happen. Instead, he’s been abandoned by the man he loves to figure out life alone. Yes, Jesus went to Heaven. But I could imagine, being Peter, on that early morning, staring off into the distance, wondering, “What in the world do I do now?”

So he did what he knew how to do, what he felt competent to do: fish.

And there, on the waters of Galilee, Peter threw out his nets, finding some solace in doing something he knew he was good at, only to find he couldn’t catch any fish.

“What was the point of these past three years?” Net thrown out. No fish. “What am I supposed to do next?” Net thrown out. No fish. “I thought I could do this disciple thing. But I fucked it up.” Net thrown out. No fish. “And now I can’t seem to get fishing right!” Net thrown out. No fish. “Why can’t I do anything right?” Net thrown out. No fish. “FUCK THIS!”

They did this all night, and in the darkness of the desert, Peter was confronted again with his own darkness when all he just wanted was to escape. Escape his failure. Escape his confusion. Escape his terror of not being enough and not knowing what to do next… if only for a moment.

His soul was given no solace on that peaceful sea.

But as the sun rose, a man calls out, “Throw the net out on the other side.”

It’s not like it’s that big of a boat. What the hell does this guy know? Peter’s the fisherman. Not this guy.

But exhausted and angry, he throws it on the other side, completely forgetting that these were the first words his friend and Messiah had said to him three long years ago. He missed his Jesus entirely. But out of exhaustion, Peter just tried something that seemed dumb and pointless. Not because of faith. But out of a lack of options and delirium.

And they caught fish! Too many fish.

As the nets began to break and tear, John points to the man on the shore. “Peter, it’s Him.”

Peter stops struggling with the ripping nets. He turns to the shore. Because ultimately, it wasn’t about fishing. It wasn’t about staying up all night not catching anything. He was there, trying to escape his pain and failure and uncertainty and failed miserably.

But his Messiah was back. And that’s what really mattered; that’s what he really wanted.

In spite of betraying Him. In spite of the plan not working out the way he hoped. In spite of his uncertainty and confusion and terror about life, deep down, he just wanted Him.

But then Peter does something so odd.

He puts on his cloak before jumping into the water. He had stripped to fish, and now, seeing Jesus, he puts it on.

What the Hell?

Why would someone put on clothes before jumping in the water?

Here’s my thought: maybe Peter was trying an act of faith, thinking, “Jesus, this time I’ll keep my eyes on you. This time I’ll walk on water. This time I’ll get it right. I’ll show you. I’ll put on my cloak and keep my eyes on you. I learned. I learned that if I keep my eyes on you, I won’t sink. I can’t get anything else right. I can’t even get fishing right. But with You, I catch fish. With You, my life makes sense. With you, I can walk on…

“Shit.

“I’m sinking.”

But this is where I think there was a turn for Peter.

Instead of getting back in the boat, instead of throwing off his cloak to swim more easily, he just tried to get to Jesus.

It didn’t matter that he wasn’t walking on water. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t catch fish. What mattered was moving towards His Messiah.

And as he heaved himself and his sloppy, wet, heavy cloak onto the shore, there was fresh, warm fish.

In that act, I think Jesus was saying, “I know you were scrambling to find something to do, to curve your anxiety, to find some normalcy, to just escape for a little bit from this chaos. I know this ultimately wasn’t about the fish, but here it is. This is ultimately about Us, it’s about moving towards connection with me, towards the kingdom. Regardless of if it’s a sloppy pursuit or pleasant journey, whether you’re walking on water or nearly drowning in your tunic, whether your faith is weak and you betray me three times or you passionately cut off a guard’s ear in zeal and devotion to me. What matters is not the ‘quality’ of the pursuit, but the pursuit, moving towards me, period. That’s what matters. And I promise if you do that, I’ll take care of the fish.”

Seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be added to you…

This idea is affirmed yet again when Jesus asks Peter, after eating fish, “Do you love me perfectly?”

Peter replies, “I love you. But not perfectly.”

Jesus smiles. “That’s okay Peter. That’s all I need. Lead the others in this messy, fucked-up, sopping-wet pursuit. Show them the way. Lead them with your imperfect love. It’s not about the quality of the pursuit. It’s about continuing to keep me in your sights rather than staring at the waves, claiming you’re failing. You’re not failing. You’re learning. And this near-drowning is just as important as the passionate claim that you’ll call down fire. In fact, it matters more. Because this isn’t about your pursuit of me.

“I. Picked. You.

“Here, have more fish.”

Prayer House

Prayer House

Her

Colors of Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka dance on her olive skin, sunlight filtering through their flags. We sit with coffee between us at the local prayer house in the bookstore, while further in the building, diligent worshipers pace, kneel, cry.

But we are not pacing. We are not kneeling. We will be crying.

We’ve been laughing about nothing and everything for at least an hour. The coffee is now lukewarm, and as the exchange dies down, the only thing that drowns out the silence is screeching milk and cherished memories…

…Kidnapping my best friend on his birthday to watch one of the most disappointing sunrises in history.

…Napping on a mini-golf bridge after watching the elderly powerwalk through the mall.

…Dancing besides a pond under the moonlight after bailing out on Homecoming — the silence and discarded Chik-fil-A wrappers far better company than the beating music and throbbing bodies.

I smile as the memories return. Every moment meaning so much…

…meant so much.

“This has to end. We’re going in separate directions.” I don’t look up from my not-hot coffee.

I coach myself with the wisdom of an adult as the painful words exit my mouth, unable to be redacted.

But I’m not an adult. I’m sixteen.

You don’t think about mature things like marriage and kids and careers and all those heavy but lovely things at sixteen. You’re barely thinking about college. Instead, you should be thinking about the latest video game that just came out, the acne that refuses to go away after you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on skin care, the cliques at school that you both hate and want to be a part of, what homework you forgot about over the weekend, and, most importantly, cute, annoying, immature love.

But not for me. It’s always been heavy.

Love. It’s no joking matter. It’s for keeps. It’s for a future together. For marriage. It’s for propagating the world with more of your acne-ridden spawn.

So this had to end.

I take a deep breath. I muster courage. I act mature.  

“We’re going in different directions. You want to move to Africa and be a missionary, and I want to move to the city. I love you, but we’re eventually going to have to part ways, and that’s not fair for either of us. We need to stop now before this hurts worse than it already will. I can’t be your boyfriend, but the man who gets to be your boyfriend down the road will be so lucky to have you. You’re amazing! We’re just not going in the same direction. We need to end this.”

Silence floats between us. Then comes the foreshadowed crying.

Through soggy eyes and a weak smile, she looks at me and says, “Thank you… of all the things you’ve done, this is the moment I have felt most loved and cared for by you because you fought for my heart.”

I smile back at her, matching her tears. Of all the moments, of all those unforgettable moments, this is the one that she felt the most cared for — the moment we say goodbye.

Dad

We get out of the car. Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka are nowhere to be seen. Tonight, there is only one flag: the United States stands at half-mast. Someone has died.

There’s barely any wind. Just enough to have the cleats knock against the pole, clanging as we walk towards the prayer house doors.

My dad leads me forward. His pace is quick and determined.

“Pick it up.” He calls but doesn’t look back. His gaze is fixed on the door.

I quicken my pace but don’t look up. My eyes gaze at the ground, and my hands fidget in my pockets.

I don’t want to be here.

The two of us enter the main prayer room where he points to a chair, telling me to take a seat.

Still no eye contact.

He exits the room, leaving me alone with nothing but a massive globe slowly rotating for company… well… that and a pungent smell.

It’s hard to describe. But anyone that’s been to the prayer house knows it well. I grasp for the source of it. Clean sweat or sweaty cleaner. Makes sense.

Thousands of men and women have laid prostrate in this room, sobbing into that dated carpet. For years, desperate teens have paced and rocked and jumped till sweat danced down their bodies, joining the tears. They both find a final resting place in that rug.

Faithful custodians have attempted to remove it, day after day, but it hasn’t worked. The smell refuses to leave, only now the salty musk is accompanied with a hint of freshness.

The mingled scents produce a comforting affect; it’s as if hard labor will bring about cleanliness, as if simple tears and sweat will produce purification.

That’s why my dad had brought me here — to purify me with sweat and tears, to make me clean, to make me straight.

That’s right. My dad brought me here, to the house of prayer, to “pray the gay away.”

It was the only thing he could think to do after catching me looking at gay porn just moments prior.

 “What are you looking at, Brandon?!” The screen had frozen while my heart did nothing of the sort. It threatened to burst out of my chest, just like my secret, a secret so dark and shameful, I had been hiding it for five years.

But here it was. Frozen. In the open. For my dad to see. And I was terrified.

“Brandon. What. Is. That?!” His finger pointed to the screen, shaking in rage. He kept asking the same question over and over and over again, as if asking it enough would change the answer: his son was looking at gay porn.

But the relentless questions didn’t resolve the problem. He had to find a different solution.

The prayer house.

My dad returns, looking directly at me. He finally looked at me. But he didn’t meet my eyes. It’s as if my sin were his. He doesn’t say a word. He touches me on the shoulder and motions me to follow, leading me out of the main room into a side corridor.

He opens a closet and closes it behind us. The irony is palpable, stronger than the clean musk.

And there he prays. But he never says the word “gay,” as if saying it would make it real.

Instead, he closes his eyes, and looks with his soul to a reality he wants to see — a straight son, and maybe if he prayed hard enough, sweated long enough, and squeezed those eyes so tight, tight enough to form tears then maybe the reality in his mind would become real. Maybe his son would be made clean.

But just like that clean musk, the smell refused to go away. The gay refused to go away. And as the father prays, his son stands in shock. Frozen. Exposed. Like the men on the screen. But now it’s him. Sitting in a closet. Again.

Him

Outside my windshield, hundreds of American flags flap violently in the wind, just like my stomach.

It’s as if I had swallowed an entire hive of bumblebees — they refuse to be still as questions knock in my chest.

What will it be like?

What do I do?

Who pays?

Should I be wearing something less nice?

Were skinny jeans too much?

Am I caring too much about what I wear?

Should I care less?

Does he care?

Should I pretend like I don’t care?

What’s that smell?

We had been talking via text for weeks, never hearing each other’s voice. Then, we mustered the courage for a phone call, never seeing each other’s face. Then, we FaceTimed, never letting our bodies touch.

But now it was time. Now he was on his way to meet me. Now I was panicking.

At the prayer house.

The prayer house where I broke up with my girlfriend.

The prayer house where my dad tried to pray me straight in a closet.

And now, the prayer house where I was going to meet up with a man for my first gay date.

The bumblebees refused to be silent.

Is this what it’s supposed to feel like?

Am I supposed to feel this much?

Care this much?

Ask this many questions?

Did I put on deodorant?

Do gay guys care if you wear deodorant?

Do they want you to smell nice like girls do? Or do they want you to “smell like a man”?

I sit in my Jeep in silence. My mind, nothing but silent. The flags whip.

Then his Jeep appears in the distance.

My stomach lurches as the bees swarm louder.

Am I really doing this?

What will everyone think?

Do I even want this?

What happens if it goes poorly?

What happens if it goes well?

WHAT HAPPENS IF IT GOES WELL?

I really can’t remember if I put on deodorant!

He pulls up adjacent to me.

He smiles.

We roll down our windows together.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

The bees stop.

The questions stop.

And all that can be heard is the thunder of the flags as they violently thrash as two men hold each other’s gaze.

A Letter to My Younger Self

A quick intro…

Being gay, you don’t have a “gay dad.” Well… you have daddies, but that’s something totally different. What I mean is, there isn’t like some magic mentor you just automatically get after you come out. I wish gay fairy godparents were a thing. But this Cinderella is just sitting in a mushy pumpkin.

Here’s what I mean: as a guy, you have your dad who can help you figure out how to date women. But what about when you’re trying to date a dude? As a woman, you have a mom that can help you figure out how to put on makeup but teach you that you’re more than you appearance and stand up for yourself in patriarchal society. But what about trans men? As a person of color, you have Black parents or a Black parent that can tell you what it means to be Black in the United States and what you do when you get pulled over to make sure you’re gonna be okay.

But what about LGBTQ+ persons? Who do we “inherit” as parents to show us the way we should go (to quote a Bible verse)? Who shepherds us in the night and tells us how to date and transition and have sex and come out and how to navigate our faith when there are versus that look like they’re saying we’re going to hell?

The sheer lack of parental figures (whether by ignorance or complete absence) is pretty troubling. We’re left trying to figure out how to live with our sexual and gender identities alone in the dark, unsure of how to proceed. And that’s hard. Really hard, sometimes.

So I decided to write my younger self a letter, in an attempt to process some parenting I wish I had, and maybe, just maybe, allow it to be a signpost to younger LGBTQ+ persons who are trying to figure this out, stumbling through that dark forest called life.

With that in mind, this post will be very personal, direct, and sometimes explicit. It’s gonna talk about things I wish I knew about, like coming out and sex and my body, mind and spirit and who the heck pays when you go on a first date. Some of it may not be helpful for you, especially if you’re a straight person. But if you choose to keep reading, my hope is that it will empower you to be a little breadcrumb when you encounter a lost queer child on their journey.

And with that, we begin…

———————–

My dear Brandon,

I know you’re scared. I know you think no one understands. But I do. I see you. I see you scared and confused on what to do with all these feelings inside you. It’s okay. You’re okay. You’re more than okay. You’re perfect and safe. Just where you are. But more than you being okay, you’re liked. I like you. A lot. I think you’re pretty great.

I want to take some time and tell you a few things that I wish other people had told me when I was your age. It would have meant the world, and I don’t want the same thing that happened to me to happen to you. Okay?

First and foremost. You are not broken. Your sexuality isn’t because of some trauma in your past or because you didn’t like sports or because you ate lettuce sandwiches as a kid and there wasn’t enough protein in your diet. It just is. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s really beautiful. It may be really hard to handle some days. I get that. And you are right, a lot of people you currently know are not going to respond well. But it DOES get better. With this in mind, I want to take some time to give you some practical help on how to navigate this whole thing. I know it’s not easy. Maybe, with these words, your journey won’t be as hard to navigate. With that said, I want you to do a few things:

  1. Learn to love and accept all of who you are, especially your sexual identity. It’s not a sin to do it. God sees and loves all of you. Be His hands and feet and love yourself. But I don’t want you to take my word for it.
  2. Go read some books on progressive theology. A great place to start is The Reformation Project. They have a ton of resources, and they exist to educate people on how your theology can be affirming of homosexuality. But regardless of resources, take some time (And don’t get impatient. I know how you are. I promise you it’s worth doing the work.) to REALLY think about how you feel theologically about your sexuality. It’s not enough for me to believe it for you. You have to believe it in the depths of your being. Because if you don’t, the opinions of people are going to wreck you. You don’t need to prove this to anyone else. Just you.
  3. Don’t fall in love or give your heart to anyone till you come out to yourself first. If you do, you’ll end up coming out for them. It’s not for them. It’s for you and God. Then, once you’re out to yourself, you can bring another person into the equation. Why? Because you may come out for the wrong reasons. You may come out for a boy. And if he doesn’t measure up to the pain you’re experiencing as a result of coming out, you’re going to resent him. You’ll want him to be perfect so that your relationship with him will compensate for all the loss in your life. On top of that if he’s not out, you’ll think it’s not fair. Come out for you and only you. It’s a beautiful act of love that you can bestow on yourself and a brilliant act of trust with God.
  4. Don’t come out all at once. Do it with a few people that you’re pretty sure are going to respond well. And I know what you’re thinking: “Who in my life will be okay with this?” They’re there. I promise. You’ll be surprised by who ends up being the ones that stick around, and they’re going to become some of your best friends. But more than that, they’re going to be the ones you turn to when everyone else responds poorly. Which brings me to my next point…
  5. Don’t waste your time where you’re tolerated; go where you’re celebrated. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. And if you feel like you have to, you’re in the wrong place. Christ has already approved of you. Don’t spit on his sacrifice by seeking the approval of others. Just be true to you and lean into all that you are. If you don’t, the world is missing out on something very beautiful and bright. As the good book says, “Don’t hide your light under a rock,” and don’t place yourself near hot bags of air that are just trying to blow you out. You’re worth more, and the world needs to see that light. With that in mind…
  6. Some of your friends may not theologically line up exactly where you want them to. That’s okay. As long as they can:
    1. Celebrate you and get excited with you when you’re dating someone
    2. Stand with you on your wedding day
    3. Fight for your marriage when it’s going down the tubes

Honestly, if they can do all those things, then it doesn’t really matter where they land theologically. They’re loving you well, and they’re worth keeping around. But if they think you’re going to hell, you’ll see that nasty weed pop up everywhere. It’s an undercurrent that bleeds into every interaction, and you’ll smell it.

Now for some nitty gritty things that may seem like TMI. But one, you’ll thank me for it, and two, you and I both know that there’s never too much information. You love it all. Especially the weird stuff. Quit pretending.

  1. After you’ve figured out your theology around sexuality, figure out your sexual ethic. News flash, guys are horny. And now, you’ve got a group of guys all dating each other. So things go from “Sup?” to sex real quick. Crazy, right? But the Christians are just as crazy because they don’t believe in dating. And I know you also don’t think dating should be a thing, but it’s because you’re gay. Relationships don’t actually work that way. But not dating is convenient for you because you’re closeted, and to everyone else you look like a good Christian boy. Well you ain’t fooling me. And if you don’t believe me that you need to date, remember that “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” guy? Yeah. He’s divorced, an atheist, and apologizing to the millions of people who are now in therapy because they can’t experience pleasure in bed even after they’re married. Figure out what makes sense to you — something that honors yourself, the other person, and your faith in Jesus.
  2. Date a lot. Do not fall for the first guy that gives you attention. And this won’t be a problem if you are doing the hard work of loving and accepting yourself. I’m trying right now, but we’ve got a lot of baggage to take to the dump in the future. We didn’t make the best choices and we’ve got some trauma to unpack. In the meantime, set up lots of dates with lots of different guys so that you can decide what you like in a partner. You only get this time once. Enjoy it and figure out who you are before you jump into a long-term relationship with someone.
  3. Find a progressive church… STAT! You may have to move. You may have to travel. But it is worth it, and they are some of the kindest, warmest, honest humans you will ever meet. And I know what you’re thinking: “But if they don’t go to my mega church, they probably aren’t even Christian.” Wrong! They’re actually wrestling with the oddity that is the Bible. And yes, it is odd. There’s a God who is love at the back of the book that commands genocide at the beginning of the book… that includes women and children. It’s complicated. Own that and just TRY going to a progressive church. You’ll thank me for it later and your faith and mental health will thank you in return.
  4. DO NOT GO HAVING SEX WITH SOME RANDO ON CRAIGSLIST OR GRINDR!!! In fact, never go on that site or download that app. EVER. Because sex is like Pringles — once you pop, you just can’t stop, and you will not stop. Listen. Sex is GREAT. But you want to do it with someone that you love. If you don’t, you’re going to interpret sex as something that is NOT love. You’ll view it as something cheap, as something that’s more of a commodity to trade than an expression of intimacy. How do I know? Because I’m your future self and that’s me now. Save us both some money on therapy and STI tests and trust me on this one. It is NOT worth it. Plus, your first time is not that great anyway. Might as well share that awkward, humiliating moment with someone you actually trust. Speaking of awkward moments… we’re about to have one…
  5. Have penetrative sex with yourself first. Yup. I went there. Listen, being the receiving participant in sex is tricky. And if you don’t trust the person you’re with or if you’re scared, it shows up in your body. In other words, your booty hole gets tight and sex does not feel good. Do some research. Get some toys. Get a douche. Find out what you like. Yes, all the Christians say that masturbation is from Satan. We know. We’ve spent many a youth group talking about it and coming up with code words for it. But there’s actually not a single verse on masturbation. Just lust. So think of bridges or something while you’re doing it, and you’re in the clear.
  6. Find LGBTQ+ Christian friends and JUST be friends. You’ll need them and a cocktail every so often because there will be times that no one understands you, but those people will. You’ll go from not being able to articulate yourself well with anyone to simply saying, “guuurl,” and they’ll know exactly what you’re going through. On that note, I have another one that you’ll have to do…
  7. Kill the homophobia inside you. You have been taught to look manly (whatever that means) and perform gender roles that aren’t event Biblical. It’s as if you act feminine, you’re less than. Newsflash: women are strong as hell, giving life to the world while fighting to have a place of significance in this misogynistic world that continually stacks the cards against them. They’re powerful. Who cares if you have some feminine qualities. The world could use a bit more femininity. After all, 96% of all murders are perpetrated by men… just saying. And regarding the gays. LGBTQ+ people are some of the most resilient humans you will ever meet. Yes, some of them are mad as hell and bitchy. But you would be too (and will be for a bit) because of the pain they’ve had to endure. You try not being pissy after seeing all your friends die during a pandemic that sweeps throughout the nation while everyone ignores you or jeers at you with signs that say, “God hates fags.” It’s not easy. Which brings me to my next point…
  8. Learn your history. You don’t have a dad or a mom that was gay, and the United States likes to think that gay people don’t exist, so it’s tricky to find your history. But it’s there, and it’s important to understand where you come from. It doesn’t mean it defines you, but you’re inheriting that history, whether you want to or not. So do some research. There’s actually a ton out there, but a great place to start is The Deviant’s War. Speaking of books…
  9. Read The Velvet Rage. It helps you understand shame and how that plays out in an LGBTQ+ person’s life, not to mention this terrible thing called second adolescence. In short, people call it the gay Bible. No, that’s not blasphemous. Calm down.

Alright, I need to wrap this up fast since I know you hate reading (even though you love writing… what the hell???).

Above all, Brandon, know that there is no height, no length, no depth; there’s no angel or demon or demented pastor that can separate you from the love of God. Believe that. If you can’t trust a single thing I say, trust this: you’re God is big enough. If you’re in the wrong, He’s big enough to speak up, to intervene, to rescue you. If He can’t, why are we worshiping Him? But the truth is He is that big. And even if you are horribly wrong, He’s faithful to save. So trust and start this journey. It’s worth it. Even when it’s really hard and painful, it’s worth it.

I love you. So much. I’m so sorry for the times I haven’t. I’m so sorry that I joined in the voices of everyone else when I should have been your biggest cheerleader. You’re fantastic, and I am so proud of you. Knock ‘em dead tiger. You’ve got this. Because we both know you’re one stubborn SOB.

With sincerity,

Your 30-year old self (yeah… we made it to 30… I know, I’m surprised too)