Humble Beginnings, Big Questions.
Growing up in a smaller west Michigan town, there were plenty of things to enjoy. Sun-soaked, and burnt, summer days, cool lake breezes, long bike rides along the lake shore with friends, and low brass in the high school band (yeah, I was the coolest kid in school) were just a few of the privileges I had growing up. I enjoyed nearby family, and we often met on holidays or birthdays to celebrate and lovingly harass one another. Neighbors, friends, and family were taken for granted. No matter the immature joke, awkward crush, high school dilemma, or more serious issue I encountered, I had people to stand with me. I took social support for granted. As I have grown older, I have begun to realize that my reality has been a privilege many do not have.
Some cracks in that picture started to show themselves in high school, especially junior year when I was plainly exposed to a different reality. A friend of mine dropped a bomb shell:
“My parents kicked me out.”
While I knew of family difficulties such as divorce, infidelity, and others, this was new to me. At first I thought I may have heard incorrectly. As a friend, I was worried. As a new Christian, I was appalled. As someone who had the family I did, I was at a loss. They were kicked out because of a transition from one gender to another. Having one’s own parents kick you out during such a critical time, in such a difficult situation caused me to take a serious look at myself and my community. I didn't know exactly what I thought about the moral or political aspects of LGBTQ+ issues at the time, but I knew one thing: what had happened to my friend was unacceptable.
Flash forward a couple of years. College beginning, old roots being pulled out, and a new stage of life taking place all had me in a bit of a spin. From my exploits on the dance floor, marathon Table Tennis (yeah, it was that serious) games, to making new friends, I was becoming adjusted to a whole new environment. As the year advanced, many issues previously obscured from my vision became more clear. Issues surrounding race (which I can go into later), socioeconomic status, and gender made me start to ask questions. I considered what my statuses in society meant in a larger context. Another new reality, my roommate’s coming out, changed my view of the world. As a gay Christian, which I hadn't heard of to that point, he brought not only a new viewpoint to my growing faith, but a challenge to many old ways of thinking I’d been immersed in before.
Through him, I slowly started to gain more understanding. I knew that I would never know fully what it was like, but I resolved to get as close as I could. Through him I have started to connect to a community that is largely hidden from the larger campus view. When invited, I go to events, I humbly listen to people’s testimonies, I read books, and strive to learn.
Taking the role of a learner, listening with humility, reading books, and being a brother to my dear friends in the LGBTQ+ community has been an important journey. Through it all I have been able to see life through a new lens, to honestly challenge my presuppositions, and learn to better empathize with those different from me. I can’t speak for those with whom I have allied, but I know that these experiences have created a paradigm shift in me.
Upon reflection over these few years, this journey has caused me discomfort. Yet I recognize that the discomfort and questioning have been constructing and affirming. Besides, in a place where youths are kicked out of their home, are bullied, and are assaulted for their identity or sexual orientation; I can’t afford to live in a world of comfort until these injustices are addressed. To ignore these things would mean ignoring the suffering of people who don’t deserve such suffering. It would mean ignoring my friends, my brothers and sisters, in a hostile environment. It would even mean ignoring what my faith calls me to do, to commune with and love all whom God loves, which includes LGBTQ+ people (shocking, I know). The questions may not be easy, and many have become politically charged, yet, they cannot afford to be ignored.
“My parents kicked me out”
Those words still challenge me. They challenge my sense of comfort that is so easy to fall into. They challenge my views of a community, while immersed the Bible, that parents reject their own children. They challenge my own faith and make me question the traditional notions of sexuality. They call me think what it means to live a Christian to the LGBTQ+ community. They challenge the deafening silence that often surrounds the LGBTQ+ “issue,” and make me wonder where I have been silent in such acts.
It makes me wonder where I, as a white cisgender heterosexual Christian male, fit into this puzzle.
The journey is far from over, and I know that there is more to learn than I will ever know. Yet I am not deterred. I am committed to the process and to an idea that this world can leave better than when I entered into it. I encourage anyone who would be willing journey through this (LGBTQ+, Straight, Christian, Non-Christian, People of Color, White folk, etc) to walk along side one another.
What have I learned so far? Be humble, do your homework, and don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable or make mistakes. I know I have said some damn foolish things as I have progressed, but mistakes have served to bring better understanding. The journey forward is not simple, nor is it always comfortable, but it is needed. I will leave with a quote by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that exhorts to us the need for tension.
But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
This is Colton Clark, and his journey of figuring out what it means to be a citizen in a growing and changing world. Hoping, when the topic allows, to mix constructive thought with humor (or at least sarcasm). I am up to learn, grow, and journey with a wide array of people to partner with. Thanks for reading, any response, feedback, chance to converse is welcome.