ugly

The waiter hands me the receipt, folded over my credit card, and looks me in the eye as he tells me to have a nice day. I wish him the same, then weave my way between the haphazardly placed tables toward the exit of the crowded Thai restaurant.

A hundred feet from the entrance I casually pull out the still-creased lunch bill, make sure neither of my friends is watching me, and unfold it. Date, cost, tax… no phone number. That odd, electric feeling fades, thirty minutes after it first flared up. As it bleeds out of me and mixes with the dirtied rainwater running to the nearby drain, a cold disappointment takes its place. I am so, so, so stupid! I’m a ridiculous infant! What did I expect, what did I want? But I knew the answer to those questions already: I wanted to be flirted with, and I wanted to throw away his number. I wanted to know I was attractive, desirable, intriguing…something… with the easy out of not having to actually deal with the guy.

Semi-flirting (if it could even be called that…which it probably can’t) with the waiter was immature, selfish, and, retrospectively, embarrassingly laughable (emphasis on embarrassing… and laughable). Hey, I’d never been in New York City before, and I assumed that was just how things happened there.

But there was something more profound going on amidst the foolishness. I’ve talked frequently, both on the blog and in real life, about how important it is for Christians attracted to the same sex to turn to the infinite beauty and desirability of Christ when they find themselves longing after someone. I’m not suggesting God’s love for us is a direct substitute for the good of human romantic/marital love – it is of a different character entirely – but for those of us who are giving up romance and sexual intimacy, the natural ends of attractions, such a practice is a redemptive act that allows us to still affirm our sexuality as good and holy.

However, there is an obvious flip side to all of this that I have mostly taken for granted and not explored. For me, wanting to have someone toward whom I can direct all of my romantic and sexual impulses is only half of it, and it’s often the less compelling half. On a daily basis I struggle with feelings of being, you know, ugly. I can usually tell how I’m doing mentally and spiritually depending on my initial reaction to looking at myself in a mirror. Consequently, I can be horribly vain, switching clothes multiple times in a few minutes, moving my hair around (when it isn’t cropped super short), or just staring at myself trying to figure out what is wrong with me, why I can’t seem to shut out the whispering informants of my insecurity detailing the million little imperfections that render me particularly undesirable.

Praise God the fog is lifting, slowly, and I’m becoming more comfortable in my skin, learning to love it, rejoice in it, admire it. But I have a long way to go. I don’t perceive myself as attractive to women (or I am simply oblivious to any hints they give to the contrary…which is not unlikely), and my life would be easier if I weren’t attractive to men (thus I don’t ever think it could be true). So, for me, it would be effortless to become fixated on feelings of being “non-attractive,” so to speak.

But just as I think trying to suppress all sexual desire to be an improper response to my homosexuality, I think it is harmful for me to perceive my desire to be desired as unavoidably problematic. It, too, must be redemptively redirected, turning me to dwell on the overwhelming fact that God. Loves. Me. He desires me. Me, of all people, and not for anything that I’ve done for him.

And that’s enough. I know it’s enough. Will I ever get to a point where that truth is more arresting than all the inventions of my mind? I don’t expect it to ever completely replace my longing to be the exclusive locus of someone’s affection, but I don’t think it should. Giving up sex and romance is always a sacrifice. It’s not just that I miss out on being able to fully give myself to another human, I also won’t know what it’s like to have someone find me so enthralling that they would be willing to become one flesh with me, to unite in a bizarre, sacred, holy way.

But! Isn’t it the blessed truth that Christ is willing to unite himself with me, with all who follow him? Isn’t it true that whenever I find myself longing to be desired, longing to be looked upon with love, I can cling to the assurance that the most pure and awesome love is already enfolded around me, piercing through me, and lifting me up? The best reaction to my desires is not to fear them, squash them, or hate them, but neither is it to try and become unshakably confident of how humanly desirable I am. Such responses would only contribute to the vanity spiral, turning me evermore inward. I am desirable to God because Christ lived, died, and rose again to reconcile me to himself.

Every part of my life should serve to point me to the work of Jesus, and this is no different. It can seem slightly more distant, slightly more abstract than is helpful, but it is anything but that – it is as near and real as Christ is.

The process of writing this post was very much an exercise in preaching to myself. I need to learn this, and I need to learn it every day, over and over and over. I have had many moments since that afternoon in New York, weeks ago, where I’ve found myself sinking into the same patterns of thought, and though I haven’t been perfect by any means, God has been good to help me find some encouragement in turning to him in those moments. And that, for me, is truly sufficient.

Jordan

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link: open letter to LGBT or SSA freshman at Christian schools

Wesley Hill posted a link to this on his Twitter account, and I thought it was wonderful, especially as Wheaton begins classes this Wednesday. If you’re one of the intended recipients of this very truth-filled letter, know that we are praying for you. Cling to the goodness and trustworthiness of God and don’t ever, ever, ever let go.

http://oddmanout.net/post/30103321758/an-open-letter-to-lgbt-or-same-sex-attracted-freshmen

Jordan

running

It doesn’t feel like I’m running away. Usually running away is all about moving as far from the problems as possible, motivated by fear, anger, or bitterness. But right now I am content and excited. And though I am quite happy to take a break from life back home, I do miss my family, my friends, and my morbidly obese weiner dog. Still…I am unbelievably excited right now. I’m writing this as I fly over the Sahara after a brief romp around Holland and Belgium; it was a wonderfully refreshing time, seeing new things, meeting new people, and getting a blurry glimpse of what God is doing in Amsterdam, a beautiful/tragic city of paradox.

Moving around crowded streets, hopping on trains, dodging pedestrians on the back of a dutch bike and feeling terrible for the person doing all the pedaling – I love it. I feel so comfortable traveling. I’m experiencing a kind of confidence that is usually foreign to me. It’s nice. Aside from a brief encounter with a very aggressive lamp post that had wandered into the bike path, I enjoyed every minute of my time in Europe. (However, my terrible, misanthropic friends seemed to enjoy the lamp post debacle quite a bit, seeing as they were laughing too hard to cross the street and help me reassemble myself.)

This isn’t running away. But it is running; moving deeper into God’s will for my life, moving toward greater devotion to him. It reminds me a bit of the frenzied end of C.S. Lewis’ classic (and theologically questionable) The Last Battle where all the protagonists are sprinting faster and faster and faster, further up and further in. It kind of feels like that, minus the unicorns.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the summer, but I’m trying to focus less and less on it, turning my attention to what God has placed before me. I’m looking forward to being in a context where most of my significant experiences have nothing to do with my sexuality. Amsterdam was certainly not much of a respite from difficult questions and feelings, as fun as it was.

You see, though I tried to fight it, I have to acknowledge that I succumbed to a bit of myopia these past few months, especially toward the end. My sexuality became increasingly definitive of my experiences, and by the final three weeks I could tell I was beginning to reduce myself to to the fact that I’m gay. More than that, I began to feel entitled to the attention of others – being a kind of social anomaly can do that to you. But I got so used to people listening to me that a twisted impatience started to warp me in subtle ways. I was less receptive to the immense wisdom of others far more worthy of being listened to. And God knows I need to be listening to that wisdom. Oh, the wiles of Satan.

God has convicted me of many other little things like that, things I hope to more effectively uproot, by the grace of God, from my heart in this new context. I hope it will be a time of refocusing on the glorious reality of the Gospel and striving to live a life that proclaims Christ’s work of love to all people. I’m also hoping to deal with my burgeoning obsession with Anderson Cooper, but Jesus might have to come back before I get anywhere with that one.

Goodness, I’m still over the Sahara. What a wondrous thing.

Jordan

hospitality

Holy cow, you guys, weddings are awesome!

This past week I had the immense privilege of serving as a groomsman in the wedding of a college roommate. The four days of preparation and celebration came at a crucial juncture of events as I continued to process through the meeting with the counselors and the feelings of frustration that it brought about while preparing to leave home and travel abroad. Honestly, I was losing it a little. Destructive whispers of doubt and rebellion were creeping into my routine thought patterns, and some jerk kept throwing salty water into my eyes on a regular basis for no reason at all (I hate that guy!).

Thus, somehow, Philadelphia became a city of healing for me. A blessed joy snuck into my soul somewhere between dressing the groom up like Batman and forcing him to crash a calisthenics class in front of the Rocky statue, meeting new and wonderful people and becoming instant friends, receiving hug after glorious hug from old friends who know me better than anyone, sightseeing, watching two people I love embark on a thrilling new adventure to display the passionate glory of God to the world through their marriage, and being welcomed into the homes of numerous strangers as if I were a regular and cherished guest.

I can’t describe it. The sheer enormity of my feelings confounds my feeble attempts to capture them with mere syllables. All I know is that the awesome reality of this thing we call the Church, this thing we call the fellowship of saints, was so apparent to me in this time that I could hardly contain myself (you can ask some of my friends – I was, shall we say, overly appreciative at times). My time in Philly didn’t magically erase the pain – there have been a few moments of seeming insanity these past few days – but it went a long way in revealing how desirable, how refreshing, how Christlike a community of hospitality truly is.

Maybe it was the stark and stunning contrast between how rejected I felt at the counselors’ house and how welcomed I felt in Philly, but the goodness of the Church body struck me with all the force and urgency of an arrow to the heart (a happy arrow, mind you). And I am convinced, now more than ever, that hospitality is one of the most powerful ways to preach the Gospel to a weary and cynical world. I have grown up in the Church, and yet the way these people opened up their lives to us still startled me. They gave with an easy generosity that betrayed a history of practicing daily, radical hospitality. It was simply how they lived and, having experienced the fruit of such faithfulness, I am compelled to imitation. In my lifelong quest to declare Christ with every aspect of my existence, I have just received a behavioral model par excellence. When they told me I always had a place to stay in Philly, I could do nothing but believe them without a hint of doubt, their clear sincerity creating an atmosphere in which cynicism and suspicion couldn’t survive.

It could be so easy to expend all my energy trying to carve out a place in the Church, trying to prove I deserve to belong. And yet I was reminded that I am called to so much more than that. This whole process must be forming me into the kind of person who, like Jesus, is more concerned with welcoming others than being welcomed himself. What a daunting task; what a glorious calling. My words cannot do justice to the gift I received from interacting with these men and women for this short time, but I hope to some day live a life that succeeds where my words have failed.

Thanks for all the prayers; they are so appreciated and so undeserved.

-Jordan

A quick observation about the bride and groom: they have served as an example of how single people (specifically those who are gay) can be woven into the fabric of a married couple’s life together. After I came out to the groom, he sent me a letter explaining how, even should I never have a family of my own, I had to know that I would always be a part of theirs – that I was someone they wanted their kids to know and learn from. They have demonstrated that their love for each other somehow includes me. I can’t quite exlpain it, but I know it to be true, and as I rejoiced over them with friends new, old, and unintroduced, I caught the slightest glimpse of a future spent never too far from a warm living room full of people who will gladly call me brother and friend.

family talk

I probably don’t need to give a play-by-play transcript of the conversation I had with the pastor of counseling and his wife; I would most likely portray them less graciously than they deserve. It seems to be the case with these kinds of encounters that it is far easier to recount the perceived failures of the other. So pardon my vague summaries.

My mom had asked me if I would be willing to sit down with them so we could work through some of our disagreements about sexuality and holiness without placing unnecessary strain on our relationship. To my mom’s credit, she had no idea how intense the conversation was going to get.

Basically, the counselors’ position was that I was choosing to be gay, choosing to remain in sin, by not attempting to change my orientation through biblical counseling. Honestly, their conclusions are logical given certain foundational beliefs. They make no moral distinction between being attracted to the same sex and engaging in gay romance/sex. Thus, all of those sin lists in the New Testament condemn any person who experiences same-sex attractions. The counselors understand all sin as coming from the willful desires of the heart, and my attraction to men is no different. That means homosexuality must be a choice, according to the Bible.

When the words, “You chose to be attracted to men!” flew into the heated air, I lost any hope for the meeting. I appealed to the plethora of psychological studies, many of which were conducted by conservative Evangelicals, but the moment I did hands hit open Bibles and I was told, “The Bible tells us everything we need to know.” Neuroscience didn’t get me any farther. It was my first Bible-thumping experience, which was exciting.

[edit] As a side note, I felt like I needed to make it clear that I do believe that I have chosen to do things that have contributed to the strength of my homosexual desires. I simply cannot locate all causality in a biological fixedness free of human agency. So, in a way, I don’t entirely disagree with them, although we diverge at a very crucial juncture.

Two hours of disagreement later, all that had been accomplished was convincing them that I had succumbed to a great and sinful lie and was rejecting the true healing power of the Gospel, and convincing me that clinging to a rhetoric of “choosing to be gay” is going to do more damage to the church than I had previously thought.

We realized we had no reason to continue the conversation, made some more small talk, hugged, shook hands, and parted.

Here’s the thing: I’m not interested in making this a me vs. them encounter. There has to be a way to hold such diametrically opposed notions of truth while still affirming the common bond of Christ between us. More than anything, this is what I am trying to learn from the experience. I drove home annoyed, frustrated, hurt, and more determined than ever not to become bitter. We are a family. We are united together by the saving work of Jesus, and that is where I have to begin and end as I process everything.

This is not a war. This is not about “factions” or “teams” or “winning.” I think it was easier for me to feel that way about the topic before I encountered men and women that I respect who strongly believe things that I find repulsive. However much I want to be horribly offended by what went down, there’s really no point. I want to be, don’t get me wrong, but to nurse the feeling of being mistreated would require me to look past what I know to be true about the nature of the Church, the necessity of forgiveness, and the intentions of the counselors. I found their words offensive, yes, but that doesn’t mean I have to stay offended; such a disposition is rooted in pride and will merely hinder the process of growth and reconciliation.

This isn’t the same thing as rolling over and acquiescing. I firmly let them know that I thought their words were only going to harm the witness of the Gospel. But this is a distinctly “in-family” conversation, and it is imperative we remember that. If we expect the world to be willing to have civil discussions with us about homosexuality, if we want to be respected even in our disagreements, then we must examine ourselves first.

I don’t want to go through anything like that again; it stings with the force of a sharp, iron barb being shoved through my core. But I might, and I need to be prepared to respond to each person in love and humility, no exceptions.

Thanks for the prayers and encouraging words! I’m doing really, really well by the grace of God. I won’t be home for more than a week during the next nine months, so I’m turning my focus toward other interests that make me come alive.

My contribution to this blog will probably become a bit more sporadic, though I’ll shoot for writing something once a week. But once I land in Africa I’m not sure what will be possible. This was a blessed summer. My time spent in the local church, though not always easy, has only served to increase my love of God and commitment to serving the church in general. What more could I ask for?

Jordan

And please forgive the typos, I wrote this on a iPad. I have the finger dexterity of a sloth wearing mittens.