November 20, 2022
My Trip to Mexico
I grew up in a very conservative area and in a very religious household. I’m not sure whether my dad ever really believed in Christianity or not, but my mom certainly did. We went to church every week. I was the weird kid who at some point decided I’d rather sit in the sanctuary and listen to the sermon than go to Sunday school and have fun with the kids.
Before that, however, when I still went to Sunday school, there was one day when us kids were all at the table and our Sunday school teacher told us about how to get into heaven. She said that if we convert one other person to Christianity then we get to go to heaven. That person then has to convert one other person if they want to go to heaven too. I think she used the phrase “bring them to Jesus” as opposed to “convert”.
Prior to this I didn’t know that Christianity was an MLM, so naturally I began frantically thinking about who that one person could be for me to convert and win my ticket to heaven.
Years later, when I was in middle school and going to youth group, the youth leader showed us a video about four friends who die suddenly in a car crash. Only one of them was a Christian. The Christian kid starts talking about “I thought I had more time” before he gets whisked away to heaven and the other three are thrown into hell to suffer forever.
These things, as they were meant to, had a profound impact on me. On top of all of this, my mom was consistently telling me every time I made a new friend that I should invite them to church. It’s sort of funny actually because years later when I went on a date with another man for the first time my mom didn’t know I no longer believed so I told her I was going out with a friend. When I came home she made small talk about it and told me to invite him to church. I’m sorry mom, I don't think he wants to go to church with us.
When I was in high school, my church’s youth group joined a mission trip to Mexico. A number of youth groups in Oregon (where I grew up) and the surrounding states all met up at my church (due to the convenient location) to drive to Mexico and build houses for two families. Having been instilled with the urgency to convert everyone I came in contact with to Protestant Christianity, I jumped at the opportunity.
My passport arrived in the mail too late. It came a few hours after the parade of vans filled with Christian high schoolers left the church. I was disappointed, but my mom, sister, and youth pastor were devastated, so they came up with a plan to get me to Mexico. My mom drove me, with my sister in the passenger seat, from Oregon to Redding, California after she got off work that day at six. With all the stops we made, we arrived early in the morning not long before the mission group was about to leave for the next leg of the trip.
My mom and sister drove through the day back home. I think the extreme actions taken to get me on the trip reinforced in my mind the urgency of bringing other people to Christ.
A lot happened on that trip. My favorite memory is that every night a group of local kids would congregate on the dirt road outside the church we stayed at and we would all play a huge game of soccer together. There’s three things I wanted to talk about in this post though. All of them are, at their core, negative experiences, but they all had a hand in shaping me into the person I am today, although at the time I had no idea how profound they would turn out to be. Two of the events involve my youth pastor. Since I don’t want to name anyone’s real name here without permission I’m gonna call him Frank. We all called him by his first name anyway.
It was the last of two nights on the drive to Mexico, it was just past midnight, and everyone was hungry. We were also in a small town in Arizona bordering Mexico. All of that meant we had dinner at Denny’s that night. As we walked into the restaurant, most of us kids stayed with our own group since that’s who we knew, so my friends and I followed Frank into the Denny’s.
As we entered, Frank turned around and had us all stop. He told us in a quiet voice that sitting at the table we would walk past was a gay couple. He said that as Christians we know that being gay is a sin, but the most loving thing we can do right now is to ignore these two men and not even look in their direction.
I had already come to the conclusion on my own that God doesn’t care if people are gay, but having grown up in a small, conservative town I had never seen a gay couple together before. If you’ve read this far you know that I grew up to date other men so you’ve probably assumed by now that I’m gay or bisexual, and you’d be right; I’m gay. It might be easy then to imagine that seeing this couple together was my great gay awakening, but it wasn’t. My awakening came from memes but that’s another story. In reality, this scene, as many scenes that take place at 1 AM in a Denny’s in rural Arizona are, was much quieter in its profundity.
I held a lot of stereotypes of gay people that I had grown up hearing time after time. In my mind, men didn’t love each other, they lusted after one another. Even at the time I wouldn’t say that out loud about gay people, but it was certainly in my mind though perhaps in a more subconscious way. Other LGBT groups were rarely talked about.
When I looked over at that table in Denny’s, however, I saw what very much appeared to be two people in love and nothing more. I saw them for no more than two seconds before they were out of my field of vision once more. It seems that two seconds was plenty to shatter the conception of gay men that had been painted in my head by friends and family my entire life until that point. But again, it was quiet. A mere thought of “oh, they look very happy together” was all it took. The reason I list this as an experience that is negative at its core is because of how Frank acted.
I still held plenty of stereotypes, but I think that this opened the door to me realizing those ones are also false. Fast forward to today and I’m writing this blog while I text with my boyfriend, looking forward to tomorrow when I see him next.
Perhaps this is an odd comparison to make, but in the book of Esther from the Bible, the Jewish people are in grave danger in exile and Esther, a Jew who has become queen without the king knowing of her ethnicity, is in the position to request that the king helps her people although that would mean revealing that she is Jewish. Her uncle Mordecai says something like “If you do not do this, salvation will come to the Jews through some other means, but what if you have become queen for exactly a time like this?” I’m certain that if I hadn’t made it on the trip or if those two men hadn’t been at that restaurant, I still would have come to break the stereotypes in my mind about gay people and ultimately realize my own sexuality. It would have come from some other means. But I’m happy with how it happened. It might be strange of me, but I feel a sense of gratitude to those two men even though they have no idea I exist at all. It’s funny how things in the Bible take on a meaning so far removed from what I was taught in church.
That trip to Mexico was overall very good and I believe we did a good thing by building houses for less privileged families, but there were some strange occurrences. We were in Mexico for three full days. Every morning, all the male leaders of the trip and the boys of the youth groups involved would go to a separate part of the church compound away from “the women” for a weird, secret sort of meeting. I thought that was strange from the moment I heard it would happen. My suspicions about what the content of the meetings would be were confirmed when pastor Frank said he wouldn’t be participating as he disagreed with what was to be said. Good for him.
The first and third of these meetings stick out in my memory but I have forgotten the second one entirely. On the first day, the man who led the meeting told us all about how men are a special creation of God because God created men first and women second. I remember specifically the Bible verses he quoted. Anyone familiar with the Bible knows that there are two accounts of the creation of humanity, one of which details the creation of Adam and Eve and one which is far more general. This is only an issue for Christians who believe the Bible to be fully literal and factual, but those Christians are a small minority. I don’t think any sect of Judaism interprets the Bible as such but I’m less familiar with Judaism.
Anyway, at this meeting, the leader quoted from the more general account which goes like this:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
I remember having two thoughts about this. One was that being first in order of creation in no way equates to being more special or in any way better than the rest of creation and there’s no reason to think it does. The second was why not refer to Adam and Eve? The man said that because “male” is listed before “female” then men were created first. Seems like a stretch, but later in the Bible it specifically says that Adam was created first and then Eve. Oh well.
The rest of the meeting was all about how men need to protect women and be strong all the time and how we have more responsibility than women.
I continued going to these meetings out of curiosity alone. The third meeting is the one that really got me. We went up on the roof of one of the buildings at the church because men are supposed to face their fears (which is often a good thing to do but I was never afraid of heights anyway so I’m not sure it had the intended effect on me) and we learned a secret phrase. We were supposed to keep the phrase secret from “the women” but also drop it in conversation occasionally. The reason for this was that we needed to learn how to keep secrets from women.
It was really strange. The phrase was “eat frog” because sometimes as men we would have to eat frog. I have no recollection of what eat frog was supposed to mean.
I’m not even sure how to conclude this section to be honest. The entire experience was just strange and off putting. I don’t think there’s necessarily an issue with men protecting their wives and being the strong one as long as both freely agree to that sort of dynamic. Other relationship dynamics are fine too though. The most off putting things to me were saying that men are special and teaching us to keep secrets from women with the implication that we’re practicing to one day keep secrets from our wives. I guess what I learned from that experience was just the opposite of what they wanted me to learn. I think it made me realize how that sort of talk is just bullshit.
The last experience I’ll discuss came on our final night in Mexico where everyone joined in the church’s fellowship hall for a night of worship and a few short talks. In one of the talks, a trip leader discussed faith. Just in case anyone doesn’t know, according to Protestant Christianity one goes to heaven if they have faith in Jesus and our actions have nothing to do with it. This is referred to as “salvation by faith alone”. While faith can be interpreted in different ways it usually means believing that Jesus is God and trusting him to bring you into heaven which he is able to do after dying in your place on the cross.
This guy’s interpretation of faith wasn’t necessarily unique, but I’d never heard it presented quite this way before. He used the metaphor of circus performers riding unicycles on a tightrope. He said if we don’t trust Jesus enough that we would ride out on a tightrope like that without even a net underneath, then we don’t have faith and will not be going to heaven. Even though he said it in a very matter of fact way, I don’t think he meant it literally. I think he just meant that we should have that sort of faith and that strong of faith or we will, in his words, “miss heaven by eighteen inches”. He said a lot of people will miss heaven by eighteen inches.
Much like the gay thing, this planted a seed in my mind, a seed that would germinate and grow into the flower of apostasy. I knew I would never be able to ride a unicycle across a tightrope whether the unicycle was proverbial or not. Eventually, I gave up. There were a lot of other factors as well of course, but I ultimately left Christianity for the Baha’i Faith. That’s an entire blog post on its own though as I would also leave the Baha’i Faith and eventually become a practicing Buddhist.
Today I am very happy being the gay Buddhist that I am. It’s always interesting to me how these seemingly small occurrences can compound into life altering things like discovering one’s sexuality or converting religions. Some of us even convert twice.
I’ve never been good with conclusions whether it’s for a short story, blog entry, or college essay. I think it’s because I don’t like it when things end. Change is hard for me. But I guess I’ll just leave you with that.
Until next time.