There was a time, not too long ago, when I could never picture myself moving away from Minnesota, from my family, and from my friends who in some ways became more like family than the one I inherited.
Before coming to Minnesota, my family lived in a small college town in central Kansas from about 1986 until 1993, when we moved to Minnesota (20 years ago this past August) after my dad accepted a teaching post at a Christian liberal arts college in Saint Paul.
It’s amazing how quickly a place can become your home. I was never too crazy about living in Kansas as a kid, although in retrospect, summers of running through wheat fields, exploring creeks, and discovering “secret” places that seem forbidden and mysterious to a child’s eyes were pretty idyllic. It was in Kansas, with few other distractions or entertainments, that I first learned to employ my imagination and creativity.
Once in Minnesota, though, all of that was swept from my mind. I’d found my home in the big city. I loved both how big and how small it was. It was an hour and fifteen minute drive to the nearest big city from where we lived in Kansas, so visits there were rare. In Minneapolis, most everything was within a twenty minute distance. (It is curious how Minnesotans measure distance in minutes or hours. We all do it.)
More than that, we found a church in Roseville that was a great fit for our family. My dad quickly got involved with both the music and teaching ministries, my mom was drawn to the children’s ministry (she’d taught third grade at our church in Kansas), and my sisters and I finally found friends in our Sunday school classes. We didn’t have many friends prior to Minnesota, and we enjoyed the community and the camaraderie.
I too got involved with the music ministry at church, first singing in the children’s choir, playing piano in the youth orchestra and later with the adult orchestra, joining the adult choir at age fifteen or so, and later playing percussion with the orchestra. I was also heavily involved in the youth group, so the church was essentially my home for most of my teenage years.
When I started college, my involvement at church lessened as my community focus shifted to a new group of friends and responsibilities. My connection there lessened even more once the senior pastor left and a new cadre took over to “grow” the church, so my reliance on the friends I’d made at college for community deepened. And for a while we formed a very tight-knit group that felt more like family than anything I’d ever known.
As often happens with twentysomethings, people started getting married, having children, and moving away. Our close little family broke up, and it felt as if I’d been set adrift. During this time I’d also left the church I’d grown up in, moved to a different church, but was beginning to really question my beliefs—and my sexuality. That was in 2008, the year that I also came out gay.
It was around this time that I found myself amongst a group of friends from my old church who I’d got to know in a new context. We were “spiritual refugees,” of sorts, dissatisfied with the Evangelical fundamentalism we’d been raised with. I was still trying to get a handle on my new identity as a gay man, and they were planning to start a church geared towards gay Christians and others who’d been rejected by mainstream Christianity.
And, of course, there was Seth. That’s a story I shan’t rehash again. If you want, you can go read about it here, if you don’t already know the story.
Basically, after the events of my birthday on 2011, I felt abandoned by most everyone in my life. Many of my Christian friends stopped talking to me after I came out gay and made it clear that I saw nothing wrong with that. Virtually all of them stopped talking to me after I came out atheist and proceeded to declare war on religion. To be fair, I didn’t make it easy for anyone who had a belief in anything to stay friends with me.
After I was outed to my entire family on 16 November 2009, my relationship with them changed dramatically. I’d never been close to them to begin with, but knowing that they thought of me as broken and mentally ill (which is the general consensus of the Christian community concerning homosexuality—it’s either demonic, rebellion, or a “gender disorder”) put even more of a wedge between us.
I was driving up towards Minneapolis one afternoon when a thought popped into my head: This isn’t my home anymore. It was the same thought I’d had one Sunday while listening to the new senior pastor give a glib sermon with flashy PowerPoint slides: I don’t belong here. For years, I couldn’t imagine leaving my family and the people and places that had meant so much to me. After the Seth fiasco and being thrown out of orbit in my own world, I realized that there wasn’t much of anything holding me there anymore.
The reason this has been in my thoughts is that I’m contemplating starting my Master’s in music composition. To do so, I’ll have to move somewhere—hopefully the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The last time I contemplated this was in 2006, and the thought of moving away was terrifying. Now it excites me.
I’m tired of working dead-end office temp jobs, answering phones, doing filing and data entry, and watching everyone around me have a life, or at least what looks like a life. My passion, what truly drives and ignites me, is music. The only times I felt truly alive was college, and when I was working on music for shows.
One of my professors once said to me: “You need to go away.” For school, she meant. And I think I’m finally ready to do that.