Tuesday, May 22, 2018

I'm So Happy To Be Here

By Charles Schlussel                                                                                                  

Pastor Debra recently asked if I’d be willing to share what the Urban Abbey means to me. I hesitated for a moment or two and then said of course I’d be happy to. I’ve only been here for a few short months but I must say that the Urban Abbey has some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met, either that or I’m guessing it’s just hard to miss a six foot five tall bald guy with a huge smile continually plastered on his face and just maybe curiosity got the best of you wondering what in the heck all the non stop grinning was about. Seriously though from the very first time I walked into the Abbey I was greeted so warmly and made to feel so welcome that it was incredibly easy to feel at home almost instantly. As to what all the non stop grinning is about I’ve shared some of my back story with a lot of you but in the words of the late great Paul Harvey soon you’ll know the “rest of the story,” and if you don’t understand that dated reference, as Debra would say, congratulations!

To start this story we’ll need to jump into our trusty DeLorean, or for you of a younger generation we can borrow the good Dr.’s Tardis… Our first stop is the 1960s where I grew up in the small town of Norfolk Nebraska, all in all it was quite idyllic. I had a fairly happy childhood and everything was going well, the hippy movement was in full swing and had finally inched it’s way to Nebraska, I still had hair, a full head of shoulder length hair no less.    

Life seemed pretty grand, that is until around circa 1974 at which point I turned fourteen and the hormone monster visited me full force and suddenly my world spun out of control. All of my guy friends had started noticing girls, but for me they were speaking an unknown language and I was starting to have feelings for which I had no known reference point.
A side note here, I know this will be unbelievable for anyone born after the 1990s but there was no internet NONE! and there were a total of about four or five TV stations to pick from, I had really never heard the term gay or homosexual ever used in any conversation. I was terrified. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I had absolutely no idea if anyone else had ever experienced this before. There was no one to talk to because I was sure no one could possibly understand and if they did, they would surely be utterly and completely repulsed.

Fast forward to my high school years and I did find that there was at least one other guy who had similar feelings and I had my first awkward and fumbling experimental sexual encounters. Of course all of this had to be completely hidden for fear of hateful verbal ridicule and or the very real potential of physical violence or worse.

Fast forward again to 1980 and I found myself lonely and alone working in a strange city and was approached by some charismatic Christians who told me how to be born again, all my problems would be gone and life would suddenly become magically wonderful.

All I had to do was confess all my sins and promise to never do them ever again and I would escape all the terrors of hell. Actually sins were all bad but were easily forgivable by a quick I’m sorry prayer, except for one sin, the sin of being gay, this was the grandaddy sin of them all. This particular sin was so offensive it was labeled as an abomination to God and there was no passing go just a straight shot into a fiery hell of eternal torment.  There was one loophole to the abomination of being gay though, you could admit that you had a same sex attraction as long as you remained celibate and never acted on it. I really did love God so I took the pledge and at age 21 gave up my sexuality and remained totally celibate for three plus decades until after years of talking about it I finally had the courage to start the process of coming out and started dating for the first time in my adult life.

So how did I end up here at the Abbey? Approximately four years ago after spending multiple years in prayer, studying stack after stack of theological books combined with years of tearful heartfelt talks, and encouragement by some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for, I finally came to the conclusion that I needed a new theology, One built on love, grace and inclusion rather than fear, judgement and exclusion. I left the charismatic evangelical church where I had faithfully served the last few decades.

It was a terrifying journey to set out in search of a new church home but a journey I knew I had to make.

Now please understand that the pastors at my old church are wonderfully sincere in what they believe and really do care about their people, but they have absolutely no idea of the hurt and unimaginable pain and harm that is inflicted on their LGBTQ members and that’s the reason I found myself on a journey looking for a new place to call home.

I had searched the last four plus years looking for somewhere to belong, a church that would accept me for who I am and encourage me to grow and that trek ended here when I walked through the doors into this beautiful loving community ensconced in this coffee shop-bookstore-church called the Urban Abbey.

The Abbey is a place I’ve dreamt of and yet conversely never imagined could really exist. For me it’s been an oasis that is quenching a thirst deep within my heart and soul. For the first time in my adult life I no longer have to compartmentalize and hide parts of who I am for fear I’ll be discovered, I’m understanding what it means to fully integrate myself into one person and to let down all my guards and know that I’ll still be completely accepted and loved and this is transforming me in ways I would have never thought possible.

I’ve heard it said many times that almost everyone respects Jesus and his teachings, it’s always the Christians they have the problems with…

What I’ve encountered here at the Abbey though is a true living out of Jesus teachings summed up in loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves and who is our neighbor? Everyone!… and since I’ve been coming here the one thing I’ve seen truly embodied in this community is the actualization of those teachings in a total and complete acceptance of absolutely everyone regardless of race, creed, gender, lesbian, trans, gay, straight, believer or unbeliever everyone is welcome here. I’ve been equally astounded by the sheer volume of out reaches, special events and speakers that are touching peoples lives in very real and tangible ways. And finally I love that the only qualification for communion here at the Abbey is the question, “Are you hungry”? … Kinda sounds like someone else’s dinner parties that caused a bit of scandal because of who he dared to eat with. I for one am ready to see if we can cause a bit more scandal with our outrageous loving inclusion of absolutely everyone.

I still pinch myself almost every time I drive down to the Old Market and walk into the Abbey wondering if all this can possibly real and then I see all my new friends and that’s why you’ll see the big smile on my face as I walk in the door and “now you know the rest of the story.”