“non-“

Over the past few years I’ve found that it’s one thing to talk about my general experiences of being gay – what it’s been like in the church, how my theology has developed, the struggles and joys of it all – and it’s another thing entirely to talk about the specific, daily reality of finding certain men attractive.

During the hormonal maelstrom of insanity (i.e. grades 6-12…and college) I constructed an identity of being almost “non-sexual,” as it were. I didn’t do this intentionally, of course, it was just the natural result of years spent sitting silently while everyone else talked about girls/boys without ceasing; I didn’t even know what was happening. In fact, while I was still closeted, my lack of participation in those “conversations” (a.k.a. objectifying sin-fests) gave me an inflated sense of self-righteousness, as if I were floating above the lustful mire in which my peers were happily glutting themselves. Meanwhile, gay porn. Let’s give a round of applause for cognitive dissonance and emotional stunting.

Because I thought it was literally impossible for me to be attracted to guys (despite some pretty substantial evidence to the contrary), I simply ascribed my lack of opposite-sex attraction to greater spiritual maturity – I thought, In college I’ll fall in love with a girl, it’s just that these ones are far too frivolous and strange for me.

But college was more of the same, especially for the first three years. It felt like the only things people consistently talked about were movies, predestination vs. free will, and dating, and I found myself telling lie after lie after lie after lie; “What’s the first thing you notice about a woman?” “Uhhh, hair.” “What’s the most attractive part of a woman?” “Uhhh, hair.” “Describe your ideal woman.” “Uhhh, she has a good personality…and hair.” Everyone else was able to go into great detail about their dream partner, their dream date, their crushes and their “types,” but fear and confusion and shame constricted my lungs and I could only manage short, shallow responses. Although I knew I came across as abnormally disinterested in romance, at least no one would find out the real answers to those questions.

Even now that I’m fairly open about everything, I’ve found that I still don’t know the proper place of my attractions in every-day conversations. I’ve put so much effort into not allowing my sexuality to “define me” that I’m afraid I’ve rendered it unhelpfully abstract. My sexuality is anything but abstract, and yet bringing it up in concrete, personal ways is fraught with ambiguities, questions, and doubts. It took me six months to finally tell someone who I had my massive crush on because I didn’t want it to become more of a “thing” than it really was (there are some hideously embarrassing stories buried in those six months, by the way), but keeping it a secret only reinforced my feelings of shame and isolation. I felt free to talk about the emotions I had to deal with every time I was near the guy, but for some reason it seemed unacceptable to actually say who it was and why I found him compelling. For what it’s worth, once other people knew, I became much less obsessive and much more peaceful; something that used to incite feelings of anxiety was transformed into an occasion for community and the extension of grace.

Maybe it’s because I’m so tired of feeling like I need to cover-up or ignore the fact that I’m a sexual being, maybe it’s because I hate hiding things from those who are close to me, or maybe it’s just because I haven’t realized that this may be something that falls under the category of “painful sacrifice,” but I think it does more harm than good to be so guarded about the specifics of my attractions, especially in the context of close and empathetic friends.

Toward the end of the summer, one of those friends leaned over to me in the middle of a wedding reception and casually asked if I was often attracted to people of different ethnicities. This led to a brief exchange that bounced around topics with ease. I was filled with a profound sense of gratitude and a little bit of wonder at how great it felt to be treated as someone acquainted with the common human experience of finding another person mysteriously captivating. The good intentions of trying to keep my homosexuality from dominating my self-perception were leading me to sever ties with my sexuality as a whole, with occasionally disastrous results. It may have made it easier to feel “in control,” but it definitely made it harder to feel human. To have my sexuality addressed with the nonchalant levity appropriate for the setting ended up being an unexpected gift for which I am still thankful (love you, K.!).

Is this a common problem? I’d like to hear your opinions on this because I’m still very much in medias res. How to simultaneously avoid both complacent “acceptance” of every aspect of my homosexuality as well as retreat into the simplistic-yet-harmful experience of appearing non-sexual? I imagine the word “tension” will show up at some point.

I believe this is something conservative evangelicals really need to think through carefully, for even though it doesn’t have any urgent theological significance, it deeply affects how we interact with our brothers and sisters navigating the complex and frequently confusing social wonderland of same-sex attraction.

Jordan

link: a battle I face

This is an interview with Vaughan Roberts, the rector of a church in England who recently came out as being attracted to men. While still holding to a more conservative understanding of sexual ethics, he articulated himself in such a way that, I think, avoided the usual defensive and abrasive rhetoric that is all too common in this conversation, especially from behind the pulpit. I particularly appreciated how he answered the question of what the Bible says about sexuality by first speaking of God’s perfect love… because, you know, duh.

It obviously won’t satisfy every objection, but his approach strikes me as worthy of consideration.

So here it is. Enjoy!

Peace,

Jordan

presence, pt. 2

I strained to hear God’s voice as I walked along the quiet coast of eastern South Africa, the star-flecked darkness unbroken except for the rhythmic intrusion of a distant lighthouse signal. Waves, wind, and footsteps, that was all. No divine whisper met me in the night.

I wondered why I kept doing that, kept trying to experience God in a way entirely divorced from material reality, kept trying to collect some kind of paranormal “proof” of his presence. I thought back to that night in the prayer chapel almost two years ago, remembering all the pain, the anxiety, the confusion… Why am I not like that anymore? Is it that I’m free of the depression, or have I simply stopped asking the hard questions and succumbed to an unreflective materialism? Or, somewhere along the line, was I given an answer?

I hadn’t totally overcome the feelings of abandonment and absence that were burnt into my heart when I threw my journal at the painting, and I occasionally battled against that brand of cynicism reserved for only the most tortured kind of jealousy. And yet, somehow, as I looked out over the ocean, I knew I was loved, I knew God was near, and I knew I had nothing to fear from the future.

But what about all the complaints I had? My experience of God still seemed precariously dependent on material things. And what about the hellish scenario of being trapped in solitary confinement, stripped of Bible, friends, music, nature, and, God forbid, soy lattes?

I think I was standing on a barnacle and mollusk encrusted boulder when Matthew 6 came to mind. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (I use the NRSV; Not Really Scripture Version [evangelical humor…slay me, please]).

The verse kept crashing into my mind, in sync with the rising tide. Why on earth am I worrying about solitary confinement?! Why have I let blind speculation about the future dictate my present? But, really, why did the particular details of my current experience have to supply assurance for every possible permutation of my imagination? Isn’t it enough that I can look at my life now, and, if I’m seeing clearly, recognize a million little affirmations of God’s loving presence and trustworthiness?

On days when I’m sane, I think the answer is, “I don’t know, I don’t know, but yes!”

I’ve been perceiving all the physical things that God has used to communicate his grace to me as inadequate or less desirable just because I don’t think God should speak to me so mundanely. And yet wasn’t the most stunning manifestation of God’s love for humanity a physical, tangible, mundane reality? My discontent doesn’t seem to make me much different from those first century Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah and cheered for his crucifixion because he wasn’t the revelation of God that they wanted, because he didn’t arrive with military fanfare and drive out the Romans with a supernatural display of power. He wasn’t obviously glorious enough for them, and, I guess at times, for me.

But what could be more glorious than the hazy swath of the Milky Way as it holds together the night sky, the warm embrace of a loved one, the bubbling laugh of a child, or the humble and holy blood of God congealing into black rivulets outside the city walls for the salvation of the world? Truly they are enough for me. I still have questions, and maybe none of this will be of much comfort the next time my devotion seems more like farce than faith, but for now, praise God, it is more than enough.

And solitary confinement? Who cares. I’d love to know how I would land myself in that predicament, but I suspect that, even there, the hard, stone floor would remind me of Christ’s unfailing power upon which all things are founded, and the urgent cries of my stomach would proclaim the sustaining providence of his word.

I started smiling, enjoying the cold sand as it squished between my toes. Unexpectedly, that slightly trite poem about Jesus’ footprints intruded into my thoughts, and in a last gasp of self-pity I looked back to observe my lonely path. But instead I saw three trails; I’d forgotten about my friends, whose footprints kept good company with mine on the right and left. I was surrounded by two brothers who, in their own unique and beautiful ways, preached Christ to me. I wasn’t alone. I turned into the friendly wind and laughed, content.

Jordan

presence, pt. 1

I hate disclaimers, but I feel one is necessary here. I wanted to write about God’s presence, but the post felt hollow without a little explanation as to why it’s such an important/conflicted topic for me. So I wrote about one of the darker moments of my college career in which the “presence of God” felt like a cruel yet tantalizing pipe dream. In trying to convey the emotions and immediate thoughts of that night, I decided to leave the ideas half finished and flawed (unlike, you know, all my other perfect and flawless thoughts), unedited by future reflection. I’m assuming I’m not the only one who has had thoughts like these. I’ll publish a followup post to work through the issues raised in better detail.

******

Wheaton has a small prayer chapel in the student center that was a kind of second home to me. I spent so much time in that dim-lit, stifling, little room that, by my senior year, the hushed quiet that greeted me as the door closed had become a kind of sacred encounter – drawing out a long, deep sigh as I waited for the ringing in my ears to dull before pulling out my Bible and journal. Rarely would a day go by without a visit to the sound-proof haven; which is why my inability to enter it for the month of October during my Junior year was so difficult.

But I couldn’t, or at least I didn’t want to, so long as that painting was still hanging on the wall.

I had found my desperate way to the chapel around 11pm on a warm, September night, my mind beginning that familiar process of implosion that was characteristic of Saturdays. (Like most fun-loving young adults, I spent my weekends contemplating the agony of existence). The self-loathing that wouldn’t lift until the end of that year was boasting over me – I had just been the recipient of a fairly caustic remark that seemed to confirm one of my greatest insecurities. My breathing had become shallow before I even grabbed the door handle with my frustratingly shaky hand. I needed… I needed to know, somehow, that God was still there, still full of love and willing to embrace me when I felt utterly alone.

I sat there, not really sure what I wanted except, in that moment, not to feel as if I were distant from God. I wanted to catch a glimpse of that beautiful mystery where my voice really does reach him and his arms really do reach me, a mystery that so many people seemed to understand in a visceral way that was entirely foreign to me.

So I sat, I prayed, I pleaded, I fell silent, I claimed promises, I repented, I begged, I yelled, and I tried as hard as I could not to doubt. I even cried – which was something I hadn’t done for six years – and yet the room remained a mundane vacuum, as if the “supernatural” encounter I desired couldn’t cohere within a twenty foot radius of my heart. I had never heard a comforting whisper before, never had my anxiety miraculously melt away as a warm peace took its place, and it looked like that night would be no different.

And then I saw it. (Well, saw it again, as it had been hanging there since I first set foot in the chapel as a Freshman). It was one of those earnestly saccharine paintings in which Jesus, face contorted in sympathetic compassion, held a sobbing man to his chest. The man was clearly grief-stricken, and yet all was well because, when he collapsed, the body of his Savior was there to surround him. It was everything I wanted: to be held, to be consoled, to be told I wasn’t worthless, to find rest, to know I wasn’t hated, disgusting, or being kept at an arm’s length. A bitter hatred for that painting overtook me – I grabbed my journal and threw it across the room, clipping the cheap frame and knocking it askew.

Two things happened in that moment: I was confronted by a host of things that made me feel loved and alive, and I decided they weren’t enough. They weren’t God, and that was all I wanted. The joy of digging into the Bible, the thrill of learning, the hug of a friend, the wisdom of a mentor, the beauty of a golden horizon, or the evocative power of an expertly crafted musical refrain – all good things, things that pointed me to God, that made me aware of his love for me and drew me out of myself… all things that could be taken away from me.

Was the entirety of my experience of the presence of God propped up by such vulnerable crutches? My hazy, anxious mind couldn’t seem to recall any evidence to the contrary. What would happen if I were thrown into solitary confinement, removed from everything that I had known? Would God be there? Here I was, barely starting to come to grips with what a life of chaste singleness may look like, settling into convictions that seemed to require a future of “aloneness,” struggling against an overwhelming fear of future abandonment, and all of a sudden I didn’t even know if I could trust God to show up in the present.

It was too much. Everything went dead. I remember calmly telling God, I’m going to get up, read some Psalms, convince myself that I just need a better theology of your presence, and go to bed. You don’t have to do anything, don’t worry. And that’s what happened. I walked out of that room still convinced, as always, that God was good, that he loved me, and that he was near, but it was with a tortured resignation that I left, barely clinging to the dimming hope that, someday, I might understand how God was present in all of this.

I wasn’t sure if my prayers were breaching the stratosphere, so I settled for a satellite and called my mentor. By the grace of God he picked up, and lovingly consoled my breaking heart as I sat in the quiet darkness.

Jordan

signs and blunders

Like many evangelicals, I suffer from a seriously conflicted pneumatology. I absolutely believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well and capable of moving in powerful, tangible ways to direct and convict people. It’s just that I’m also rather wary of over-attributing phenomena to “divine activity.”

It’s usually a great system…until I ask God for specific guidance/wisdom/signs/help. The moment I pray that prayer my post-enlightenment parietal lobe goes to war with my mystic cortex, and life gets crazy. I become, simultaneously, a jaded cynic and an avid cloud watcher – looking for some kind of sign from God only to disbelieve anything I might ever think to actually be one.

Well, friends, I prayed that prayer.

If you follow us on Twitter (which you totally should; we do awesome, exclusive things like post links to this blog), then you maybe saw that, recently, someone I love and trust suggested that the joy and growth and ministry opportunities I’ve experienced this past year that have helped me arrive at my current understanding of my sexuality have, in fact, all been a part of Satan’s plan to distract me from what is best for my life, from what is God’s will for my life, with a host of addictive and ultimately unfulfilling “goods.” This person’s perspective doesn’t resonate with what I believe to be true of God or Satan, but I’ve certainly been wrong before.

So, like I wrote in the last post, I’ve been daily praying that God would bring some sort of clarity into my life after a series of small bombs has kicked up a discouraging cloud of debris. It’s a good prayer; I’m just spastically impatient. The Sunday sermon titled People Can Change: sign or true-yet-vaguely-unhelpful platitude? The driving directions to “try going straight”: divine message or vicious attempt to get me hopelessly lost in South Africa? The friends that encourage me about all the ways God has been working in my life: BFFs or USOTFOLs (Unwitting Servants Of The Father Of Lies)? Ultra-creepy stray cat outside the window that just held eye-contact with me for way too long: Ehhh, probably just an ultra-creepy stray cat.

Semi-joking aside, it has been a problem. (But seriously, every time someone tells me, while driving, to “go straight” I’m like, Is that you, God?) It’s one thing to be looking for the will of God, staying alert and humbly seeking wisdom from others, and it’s another thing to see hidden messages behind every banal occurrence: the former is standard Christian discipleship and produces a patient focus on God, while the latter is some kind of pseudo-panentheistic schizophrenia that distracts me from dwelling on the central reality that God loves me, Christ died for me, and that my whole life is being gloriously redeemed through his power.

Maybe I really have just missed an obvious message – I’m one of those people who has on more than one occasion searched for my lost cell phone while talking on said cell phone – but I feel like the messages I seem to be looking for in my frenzied impatience are more characteristic of a cunning and deceptive serial killer than the very good God of the universe.

I imagine most of us have had experiences like this, where our healthy desire to know and obey the will of God actually gets in the way of simply following him. Inquiring after God should bring forth greater trust and patience in my life, and yet I find myself doubting whether or not he has even made it possible to discern the answers to my questions with any sort of assurance. Whatever God’s will for my life may be, it certainly ain’t that. Somehow I got blown off course.

So for now I must rest, and return to that blessed fount of the Gospel, and linger there. Lord knows why I was looking anywhere else. I suspect that, whether or not these particular questions are satisfied in the near future, I will find the answers I need there.

Jordan

swish and flick (and introspect)

I hate coming face to face with questions to which I have no answer, questions that back me up against the cold, brick wall of my limited wisdom and demand something I cannot provide. But it’s an inevitable human experience, I guess. This summer left me with a few haunting thoughts that have continually defied my attempts at mental exorcism, becoming mildly disruptive squatters in my little thought world.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if a powerful wizard (let’s say Albus Dumbledore, to add some fabulous irony) came to me and said he could, without fail, cast a spell that would make me attracted to women. Would I accept? Decline? Stand there like some dazed fool, unable or unwilling to speak?

Probably the latter.

As if the relentless indecision weren’t enough, I’m not sure if my inability to decide is, well, sinful… especially because, if forced, I think I would turn Dumbledore down. I think I would choose to remain as I am, and for reasons that are solid as iron or flimsy as wet paper, depending on the day and hour.

I’ll spare you all the angst-ridden back and forth. It mostly comes down to whether or not the fact that I am content with who I am, at peace with the life God has called me to live, and excited about what ministry opportunities may lay before me as a Christian who happens to be attracted to the same sex, is enough to justify the fact that I can no longer categorize my desires as “unwanted” (which is the standard language of most conservative churches). The counselors drove home, again and again, the point that I hadn’t really done all that much to remove the “unwanted desires.” They were so sincere, so certain that proper biblical counseling would produce results as surely as a wave of a wand, that it is hard not to at least wonder…… In the heated moment their stream of words merely flowed past me. But, you know, given time, water can bore a hole through a mountain, and they have been swirling around my brain for a while now.

So I have to ask myself, why would I be so hesitant to take Dumbledore up on his kindly offer (aside from wanting to spite him for his refusal to invite me to Hogwarts)? It’s not that I think I have to be gay for God to use me, teach me, grow me, reveal himself to me in powerful ways… It’s just that he has done all of that through my experiences of being same-sex attracted, and it’s terrifying to think of that changing.

Maybe it’s that I’m exceptionally afraid of becoming a stranger to myself, exceptionally afraid of losing that which often feels like the only thing that makes me worth listening to, exceptionally afraid of all that would change, or just exceptionally afraid of not being exceptional. No, not “maybe,” I’m definitely afraid even though I know there is nothing to fear, and that makes me wonder if a new idol has been carved from the stone of my heart.

But what idol, exactly, and how shall it be torn down? God give me wisdom (or a bird formation that spells out the answer in the air, whichever).

Perhaps these are the wrong questions. One of my mentors certainly suggested I put these to rest and focus instead on the reality of what God has placed in front of me now – trusting that the truth will bloom before me on the path of faith and draw me ever onward. I think he’s right, and I think it’s not always so easy.

There’s more, there’s always more, but I’m going to drive myself crazy if I try to keep qualifying and nuancing everything like I want. There’s no real point to this; these are simply the things that have been occupying my attention recently; please feel free to comment with advice or different perspectives. I first started digging into these questions hoping to arrive at sturdy conclusions upon which I could rest, but I’m beginning to suspect they’re the kind of questions that are worth asking not because I’ll arrive anywhere, but because they urge me on in the process of sanctification like some kind of holy gadfly.

But then again, maybe I’m just wrong.

Jordan

P.S. Thought I’d include a simple reminder that God is good and he loves you relentlessly. That’s all.