Coming Out

It’s time for me to “come out of the closet.” Not that closet. I’m not gay. And I would never pretend that I was even slightly as brave as the men and women that I know who are and are out.  No matter if I’m “in” or “out,” I’m still a white male in the South – and that’s a pretty privileged place to be. So, don’t for a minute think I am putting myself on their level.  

I’m coming out of a closet of fear. I’m sick of being afraid to tell you who I really am and what I really think. While I still care about your feelings, I’m through hiding mine to avoid hurting yours. I think you’ll survive. I think we’ll all survive.  

I know a lot about hiding. I’ve hidden a lot over the course my life. I grew up hiding. My father was an alcoholic; a high-functioning, successful business man, good provider for his family, but still an alcoholic. We had a code – TELL NO ONE. Its where I get my well-developed ability to catastrophize anything. “We can’t tell anybody,” my mother would say, “because they won’t buy groceries from us anymore.” Then, the end of the world would arrive – losing everything because PEOPLE WOULD KNOW.  

Looking back, people knew. They had to! Didn’t you have friends whose mom or dad drank? I did. Didn’t you know something was “a little off” about them sometimes? Sure. Did you stop hanging out with that friend? No.  

I’m sure people knew that Daddy “drank a little,” but they never worried that he was going to start spiking the Tro-Fe Dairy orange drink with vodka! The vodka stayed well-hidden. It was behind the firewood in the garage. It was in a filing cabinet in his private office at the store. It was in an old golf bag at home (that was fun to find when I was actually playing golf one day as a teenager!). The only thing that was more well-hidden was my fear and uncertainty.  

I know a lot about rushing headlong into situations where I have no clue about what to do. At a moment’s notice I could become my mother’s therapist or my dad’s rehab counselor. It really wasn’t a surprise that God called me to ministry; I’ve been in ministry since I was 11 years old. I was ordained in a Buick Electra (which was roughly the same size as the office in which I sit today) on the way home from school in about 1975 when Mama said, “Your daddy has a problem . . .”  

After that, any time there was an office to run for, an award to win, a team to make, I was there. I had really no idea what Class President, Student Body President, or Fraternity Rush Chairman was supposed to do, I just knew that if I won that office, no one would ever guess the truth – that my family was broken because my daddy was an alcoholic. I was the “Standard Bearer.” It was easy because I was tall, so I played basketball; I was white, intelligent, and well-mannered, so principals and teachers liked me.  

I know a lot about putting on a mask and playing a role. I was good at it – until I wasn’t good at it anymore. That happened about age 25, after college, after seminary. I couldn’t fake my way through real life (marriage, job, etc.) on my good looks and charm.  

Somewhere along that way, I realized I had to be real. I had to own up to the fear and uncertainty. I had to acknowledge when I didn’t know what to do next, when I wasn’t sure how an adult acted because I had been faking it for so long. Thanks to a really good Pastoral Counselor named Luther (No, really. Not the Luther-15th-century-reformer – a real man named Luther Kramer), I became real. 

I’ll resist the temptation to lapse into quotes from “The Velveteen Rabbit.” You’re welcome. 

I’ve come a long way to tell you that I am uniquely prepared for this slow-motion train wreck we call “General Conference.” I’m scared and worried (and believe me, I know the feeling!). I’m not sure what to do next. I am guilty of some catastrophizing, spending many hours worrying about not having a church to serve, or having to work at Wal-Mart (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  

I have survived enough “Ends of the World” to know – it’s never the end of the world. There is always a tomorrow. “Tomorrow is another day,” “It’s only a day away,” yes, Scarlett O’Hara was right. Annie was right. Someday we’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind us . . . thanks, Dorothy.  

We remember those lines because they are true. I know that. I’ve lived that. 55-year-old Earl would say to 11-year-old Earl, “It won’t always be this way. You’ll be okay. It will be over soon.”  I would sit there, on that Sear’s NFL bedspread, or maybe we’d sit on the shag carpet, and say, “It’s going to work out. Pay attention and learn some stuff on the way.” Like learning to be calm in a crisis. Like learning to be able to talk about anything (when you can ask your daddy where he hid the bottle, you can talk about anything). Like knowing that nothing is the “end of the world.” 

I know. Some of you are saying (shouting, maybe), “But what if it really is the ‘End of the World?’ What about that, Mr. Smart Guy?!” In that case, the day after the real “End of the World,” I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong. 

I’ve survived an alcoholic family. I’ve survived moves (try moving from Huntsville to California with a toddler!). I’ve survived loss (our first year of marriage also saw the loss of my mother and Belinda’s grandmother within a month of one another). I’ve survived church conflict like most have never seen (one side to be “guarding the Holy Spirit” from the other side – no lie!). I’ve survived being an Atlanta Braves fan in the 70’s and 80’s. We will survive this!  

At first, I was afraid. I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. But, other than a disturbing tendency to lapse into disco at inappropriate moments, I’ve come through it. This post really needs a soundtrack. I’ll make you a playlist.   

It occurs to me that we know what is coming and we know when we will know for sure what the consequences will be. A week from today (February 19) we’ll almost be there!  

It also occurs to me that Jesus knew what was coming. He knew the cross was coming, and even that wasn’t the end. He knew the cross was coming but he still invited the disciples to go on living. He even cooked them breakfast (John 21:12) – how normal was that!? 

It’s hard to be normal these days. It’s hard to even act like things are normal. They aren’t. But they are survivable. I know. I’ve been through some stuff. God has been with me, even redeemed some pretty awful stuff! God will be with us, too. We will survive.   

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