zero-sum

I can’t tolerate racism. Ideologically and systemically people are still subjected to injustice simply due to the color of their skin. As someone who inherited the privileges of being a racial majority in the States (let’s just say sunlight isn’t very friendly to me), it could be so easy for me to ignore the suffering of others, so simple for me to cling to the persistent lies that “we solved racism a while ago” or that “it’s not that big of a deal” or that “the real problem is the reverse racism of affirmative action and the liberal media.” I believed all of those, once. I’ve had to repent many times of my blindness and carelessness, of my stereotypes and ignorance that contributed (and, as I’m sure I’m not perfect, still contribute) to the pain of many men and women and children, including brothers and sisters in the Church.

Because of all that, I try to call out racism whenever I see it (whether in the form of overt prejudice, unexamined assumptions, or systemic imbalance) and encourage my friends to do the same, hoping that the Church, as well as our society, will become free from the scourge of such injustice. In short: I want to absolutely crush it without compromise. I may be constitutionally required (to a degree) to allow certain organizations to hold to their gross ideologies, but I want to make sure they are at least reduced to an impotent and laughable sham.

So, I get it.

While I personally hesitate to completely equate the African-American civil rights movement with the current push for LGBTQ rights (though there are definitely similarities!), I totally understand why many frame the conversation in those terms. And I understand why, for them, there can be no compromise. I may think there is no commonality between the segregationists’ acidic trash-of-an-ideology of MLK’s time and traditional Church teaching on sexuality expressed in love and grace, but of course I wouldn’t!

Many conservative Christians exclaimed in horror when Chick-fil-A’s first amendment rights seem to be under attack, but, honestly, I wasn’t upset. If it turns out the founders of Burger King financially supported the White Supremacist party, I would seriously hope every Christian (well, everybody) would absolutely boycott them. (I actually try to avoid fast-food joints anyway, due to concerns of food quality, chemicals, and animal abuse, but for the sake of illustration…)

My concern during the whole Chick-fil-A thing (gosh I hate to bring it up again) was simply that we appeared to be on the defensive end of another zero-sum cultural land grab, which creates an atmosphere largely toxic to nuanced and peaceful dialogue. But would you want to create an atmosphere that allows White Supremacists to “nuance” their evil ideology? No, absolutely not.

So, again, I get it.

In fact, every time I think about writing a post about how I hope the zero-sum mentality doesn’t take hold of the discussion on sexuality, especially within the Church, I can never think of a convincing reason why the “affirming”* position shouldn’t want things to go that way!** It just makes a lot of sense to me.

Not everyone believes American society is headed toward complete marginalization of the Church because of this,*** but some certainly are, and are sounding the alarm to take up the banner of Christ and go to war.

I get that, too.

This post is directed primarily at them. I am not trying to assume any particular course of future history, but if things do turn (more) against the traditional Church teaching, and the conservative Church in general, it’s not the end of the world. Unless you’ve never been exposed to, you know, anything about the historical and global Church, the idea of being a  marginalized minority should be neither scandalous nor an existential threat (though it is, I admit, highly undesirable).

Being that the Church’s existence and behavior is never, in any theologically determinative way, bound by human kingdoms (please don’t misunderstand me), it is unsurprising that, historically, persecution has come less from random prejudice and more from Christians’ occasional inability to be a good citizen as defined by the State (e.g. early Christian refusal of all military service and civic religion, which painted them as anarchist deviants unconcerned by the common good). Honestly, the fact that we’ve had such power and privilege in Western civilization probably**** means we’ve made a few serious compromises along the way.

Without advocating some sort of passive collapse or retreat from the public sphere, I do think those within conservative evangelicalism would be wrong to allow the vocabulary of “zero-sum” or “cultural land grabbing” to shade our understanding of how we must interact with those who disagree with us. Such overly-eschatological dominionist terminology has no place within a people who worship a God who died scorned and outside the city walls.

We must instead busy ourselves with becoming a community relentless in fighting injustice, proclaiming love, modeling forgiveness, speaking truth, and treating everyone with the human dignity they deserve and are often denied. Sometimes our work won’t be recognized as such. Sometimes it will be seen as societal poison or as a primitive disgrace. Sometimes our terms will be defined differently. But, with a few exceptions (see Andrew Marin’s recent rejection by the UN), I don’t think the Church has practically manifested a clear ethic of love and support for LGBTQ people that would make us totally innocent of cultural backlash.

I’m writing this because I smell fear and anger within certain evangelical circles, and I don’t think there is reason for the former nor use for the latter. I’m worried such emotions will cause leaders and laypeople to proliferate language of holy war and persecution,***** allowing the creeping film of anxiety to rob them of the clarity of Christ’s witness of neighbor-love, which never depended on the possibility of reciprocation or guarantee of respect.

I don’t want to see my community batten down the hatches and take up arms in response to recent events. Such a hardening of our hearts is antithetical to our calling and will only serve to further isolate us and harm others. And, should we reject the loving practice of meekness, whatever ground the Church may gain in this “culture war” of attrition must only be recognized as a bitter wilderness compared to the abundant inheritance of Matthew 5:5 that we will have forsaken.

Jordan

P.S. My use of the word “Church” throughout this post doesn’t do justice to the fact that I obviously think there are many within it who disagree vehemently with my sexual ethic and would see any “persecution” as totally unnecessary and a result of clinging to a misreading of the Bible and a rejection of the true calling of the Gospel. Language is often inadequate, I apologize.

* I’ll take “Terminology I Dislike” for 800, Alex.

** Though sometimes I marvel at the gracelessness of some LGBTQ advocates, and hope for something better.

*** So many evangelicals assume they are being attacked only because people hate the Church. Sometimes that may be true, but I think it’s a bit disingenuous and self-serving to say that “affirming” (gah!) advocates are motivated by hatred rather than by their love of LGBTQ people and their desire for their flourishing.

**** definitely

***** And now for a Karl Barth moment: If you think you are being “persecuted” for “Gospel truth” but are, in fact, simply being rebuked for hypocrisy and homophobia – you had it coming! Examine yourself! Repent!

 

dear pastor

Dear Pastor,

Do you remember when I showed up to the Saturday service alone, as I always did, and you called me up to to sit next to you and your wife in the front row, during worship, pushing a few chairs aside and making enough of a scene that I had to comply? Thank you.

And do you remember the following Saturday (or maybe the one after that), when all the lights were dimmed and we were about to celebrate communion and whoever was speaking gave the usual call for families to go up and partake of the bread and cup together, how your wife came over and asked if I wanted to share in the ritual with you two? And do you remember how I had to decline because I was allergic to the bread but didn’t really care because I was overwhlemed with gratitude anyway? And how, while your wife was asking me, you were asking an older, single woman the same question, and how, I didn’t tell you this, I started to cry from joy because perhaps in fifty years I would be that woman and your simple act of generosity struck me like a bolt of lightning? And how that was such a beautiful gift because, for the ten minutes prior to communion, I had been watching what I thought must have been the church’s happiest family and was achingly aware that the seats next to me were empty? Do you remember that? Thank you.

And do you remember how, when the pastoral staff responded less-than-favorably to my testimony, you began to conclude most of your emails with “I’m for you”? And how you kept inspiring me, kept affirming me, kept speaking wisdom to me, kept being there for me even as I started to lose confidence that I would ever be welcome in the church again, and reminded me that this wasn’t “us” vs. “them” but just “us,” the church, striving in a fallen world to preach the gospel amidst disagreement? And how you never stopped asking me hard questions, either, because you desired to know truth and to encourage me to live in that truth? Thank you.

And there was that other time, and I still find this hilarious, a day or so after you and I met with your son and his ex-roommate who was gay to talk about how the church could more profoundly minister to people like us, and you told me, “You know, sometimes I’m impulsive, and last night I was thinking that if the church won’t let you guys serve because of your orientation, we should just start a gay church!” Do you remember that? I hope I always will. Thank you.

And I haven’t forgotten how much research you’ve done, how much time you’ve spent in prayer, how many hours you’ve put into helping my dad process through the revelation that his son is attracted to men, and how, because of that, my relationship with him is better than it ever has been.

And you fought for me! When it seemed like the drafting of the church’s position statement on homosexuality wouldn’t be too friendly to me, you worked hard to defend my right to membership and inclusion and community. Do you remember how pleasantly surprised I was when I read that first draft? Thank you.

Do you remember, I’m sure you do, how you sent me another email just last week, which casually mentioned how you pray for me often? That amazes me, even still. Thank you.

And do you remember (as I hope this brief note has reminded you) just how grateful and blessed I am to know you, to learn under you, to serve alongside you, and to call you my friend? Please don’t ever forget.

Thank you for being the arms of Christ to me in a difficult and formative time, for relentlessly pointing me back to the very great love of God, and for taking my discipleship so seriously that you would be willing to spend far beyond the requisite number of hours talking with this dorky kid who was, and still is, trying to figure out what on earth it means to serve the church with faithful devotion.

I love you, and hope you are well.

Sincerely,

Jordan

to know you belong

On December 23 I received a $10 Starbucks gift card. It was handed to me nonchalantly by one of the long-term missionary staff here at the orphanage as I was leaving the house to play some soccer. “It’s just a Christmas present from Rachel and I,” he said, “so… Merry Christmas!”

He was right, of course, it was just a Christmas present. But with it he and his wife had unknowingly given me something greater: they had surprised me with community.

My love of chatting over espresso is no secret – within the first week I had asked/begged/drugged/jedi-mind-tricked this guy into driving me to the nearby Starbucks – but I was blown away by the simple fact that he and his wife would have even thought, “Hey, let’s get Jordan something for Christmas even though he’s only been here for two weeks and we barely know him and he hasn’t really done anything except mess up easy spanish phrases and we have no obligation to get any of the volunteers anything because we’ve been here for almost a decade and have seen thousands of them come and go and he’s no different.” I mean, seriously!

Then, later, they invited me to an impromptu worship session of music and prayer. Five of us sat in a circle, enjoying the acoustic simplicity, the apple-cinnamon scented candles, and each other’s company. We left knowing it wouldn’t be long before we met again.

These are just two examples of a larger phenomenon. As I’ve thought about it, as I’ve marveled at a month devoid of anxiety and loneliness in a context in which I should almost certainly feel both, three things seemed to stand out as essential to the joy of my experiences here:

1) The first and perhaps most obvious observation is that it has taken the efforts of many people for me to feel that I am being included in the community. Yes, one young couple in particular is responsible for a majority of the warm-fuzzy feelings, but almost everyone here has said or done something that has made me know I am welcome. From offering to drive me places to telling me that I had permission to knock on their door at any hour of the night if I needed something, people have gone out of their way to demonstrate an easy self-giving that has been definitive of most of my relationships. Nothing like this is required behavior.

I totally didn’t see it coming, at least not to such an alarmingly generous degree.

But it’s not a unilateral accomplishment. I, too, have had to make an effort to include myself. Even on days when I’m feeling sick or tired (which have been frequent) I have tried to be involved. This is especially important, I think, in the early stages of entering a new context. Granted, if I’m utterly exhausted or dangerously ill, I’m not going to go play soccer or spoons or anything that doesn’t involve sleeping or vomiting as its main activity, but by this point people know that if I turn down an invitation it isn’t because I don’t want to be with them.

2) I’ve needed to grow up. A lot. I have generally suffered from a deep hypocrisy that usually compels me, in my feverish desire to be included, to distance myself from the people I don’t see helping me in my quest for social mobility. Even if I can tell that someone is lonely, if I think they are “weird” or “awkward” it becomes difficult to ever want to include them. They threaten my social stability, and when you are as desperate as I can sometimes be such people easily become burdens and competition rather than brothers and sisters. Such behavior is, honestly, one of the ugliest things about myself.

But I’ve realized it’s impossible to feel fully included in a community, fully rooted in the life-giving grace of belonging, if I am not willing to go out of my way to become the kind of person I so passionately hope everyone else will be to me. It’s simple, biblical logic. My own inhospitality, my haunting hypocrisy, corroded my ability to find peace. I was always worried other people resented my presence, my idiosyncracies and social failures, my struggles, because I knew myself all too well; I knew that if everyone else were like me, all my fears would be realized.

There are, in fact, people here who my sinful selfishness would want me to avoid. I am not. In fact, I spend more time with one of them than anyone else. And you know what? We have fun. I increasingly enjoy his company, and he has taught me some things that, well, I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. I am still in many ways an inhospitable person, but by the grace of God and the patience of others I hope to daily put such toxic hypocrisy to death.

3) I am confident that, should it somehow be discovered that I’m gay, there are numerous people who would stand by my side and advocate on my behalf. Latin America is not always the friendliest place to be attracted to the same-sex, and I’ve encountered some astonishingly aggressive homophobia among the teenagers I work with. But even so, I’ve had numerous conversations about homosexuality with some staff members and other volunteers and I’ve been amazed at the kindness and passion that has been displayed, even without anyone knowing I’m gay. These are safe people. I am safe.

Sure, it would be nice to have an hour where I didn’t need to creatively explain why I wasn’t dating one of the numerous single women in the orphanage, but I’ve matured enough to the point where it doesn’t really bother me all that much. And sure, sometimes it’s frustrating to work with an older woman who has a strange and magical ability to materialize whenever romance comes up in conversations, with a twinkle in her eye and a list of eligible women in her hand, but arguing with her (in spanish) has become more of a cheerful game than anything else.

I’ve learned that one community doesn’t have to fulfill all of my needs in order for it to be profoundly good.

I’ve learned that shifting my focus from “How can this community meet my needs” to “How can I meet the needs of this community” allows for surprising manifestations of care and love to flow more freely from myself and those I live with as we seek to encourage and strengthen each other.

***

These are not comprehensive observations, but rather just some small points that have been rattling around my dopamine-flooded skull for the past few weeks.

It isn’t a perfect community by any stretch of the imagination; there are some very serious problems that need to be addressed, some very real failures that vitiate the witness of this place. But my, our, passion for this place and these kids is greater than those troubles, and I consider it a privilege to be both aware of and fighting against those things which threaten the growth of this community. It means I really am a part of this place, that my life is in some serious way bound up with the future of the orphanage. It fills me with a fiery sense of purpose that is usually reserved for when I’m engaged in social peacemaking, studying theology, or eating pizza, and I am in awe of it all.

For what little reflection I’ve done on the subject, the blessed occurrence of community remains, like so much of what makes the world beautiful, a mystery.

And that $10 Starbucks giftcard? It bought a couple of mochas for some of the other volunteers before we saw The Hobbit. It just seemed like the only right thing to do.

Jordan

a modest(y) proposal

(This is in response to an article by the lovely Emily Maynard, titled Is a Woman Responsible For a Man’s Lust? It’s a great piece that deserves to be read. She was incredibly bold to write what she did, and I admire the sincerity and truth behind much of what she says. Check it out. Even if you don’t read what I write in response, you should read what she has to say.)

***

I’m pretty sure nobody knows what the word “modesty” means anymore, especially within the context of the evangelical church. And when I say “nobody” I include myself. Over the years my understanding of the word has always seemed terribly shallow and distressingly tangential, as if its charged and controversial outer layer denies all attempts to comprehend its blessed center.

But we sure think it’s important to talk about it! Well, at least for women. It seems that modesty has become, primarily, the rope with which the evangelical church hopes to pull each junior high girl from the deep-v abyss into the light of unassuming crew-necks and inner adornment.

This is important, the common rhetoric goes, because to reveal “flesh” or dress to enhance the feminine figure is just asking the male masses, dominated as they are by uncontrollable sexual urges, to lust. It’s inevitable because men are “visual” creatures (as opposed to the tactile and verbal females), and can’t help themselves. By dressing immodestly, women are causing their vulnerable brothers to stumble, striking a critical blow to their pursuit of purity. This has been the standard discourse on modesty for some time.

But things might be changing. Courageous women are coming forward and opening up about the harm they have suffered on the receiving end of this kind of rhetoric. In the linked article above, and in the subsequent comments, we hear numerous stories from women whose relationship with their bodies, with men, other women, and even God, have been vitiated and filled with poisonous, painful lies.

Implicit in the rhetoric of “modesty” is the idea that women are responsible for male lust. In a nutshell: (straight) men lust because women dress immodestly. There’s more, obviously, but that is the consistent emphasis. I know I thought along similar lines growing up, and it’s taken the testimonies of brave friends and strangers to open my eyes to the horrible consequences of “modesty” as we know it. (Again, read the article for greater detail.)

For the sake of space and time, I simply want to ask some questions and throw around some ideas that may help us move forward as a loving community dedicated to mutual responsibility. I don’t claim to have answers – I’m new to this discussion – so bear with me.

  1. Modesty is not just a female virtue, and lust is not just a male vice. So often the relational dynamic is framed as “Men struggle with lust, and women struggle with a desire to be lusted after.” This goes hand in hand with the lie that porn is just a male problem, and contributes to the sinful stereotype that women are naturally designed as “responders” rather than “actors.” What is more, I, as a male, never had a message on modesty addressed to me. Bluntly, that is ridiculous. How can we reclaim modesty as a non-gendered virtue that is integral in the life of the church?
  2. The sin of lusting is not merely the presence of “dirty thoughts,” but exists, primarily, in the act of stripping someone of their inherent dignity and worth before God. Emily Maynard’s article addresses this point beautifully. It’s impossible for a woman to be responsible for male lust defined in this way. The question needs to be asked, however, When does “natural, non-sinful desire” end and “lust” begin?
  3. Modesty as an ecclesial virtue (akin to humility and an awareness of one’s value before Christ) is not a cultural construct. Modesty as an apodictic shopping list for women is a cultural construct, and means vastly different things all around the world. Topless women in rural Africa are not being immodest; Victorian-era women showing ankle are. Women’s hair in 1st century Palestine was considered sexual; now, we are totally fine with whipping it back and forth in public.
  4. I worry that the truth of #3 too often leads critics of “modesty” to say standards are arbitrary and therefore theologically irrelevant. I don’t think this is the case. Paul’s understanding of modest dress in his letter to the Corinthians and elsewhere is certainly culturally bound (head coverings, anyone?), and yet transgressing those cultural constructions was still a sinful transgression. Are current standards the problem, or is it found primarily in the rhetorical failings of those who speak about them? Are we past the point of being able to deal with the two separately?
  5. Paul’s culturally bound instructions, however, do not primarily frame modesty in terms of sexuality and lust, but in terms of power and excess and a failure to live into one’s status as a new creation. Though we cannot ignore the present reality that modesty intersects significantly with sexuality, we need to reclaim it’s broader purpose of challenging the selfish use of wealth, the refusal to consider the good of the community more important than your own desires, and the maintenance of unchristian power dynamics (e.g. to wear the ignomious “braided hair” Paul references would require the tedious labor of a servant).
  6. Emily Maynard says, “…nothing you do or do not do can influence lust in someone else.” This is, I think, incorrect. Temptation is influence. You can’t force someone else to lust, but you can sure make it harder not to! Women have been the locus of blame for so long, that I understand (in a limited way) the desire to be totally blameless. But autonomy has never been the modus operandi of the church, or of Christian morality.
  7.  She continues, “…you’re only responsible for taking your own heart to Jesus.” In the sense that we are not responsible for the salvation of others, and that women must be freed from the crippling guilt of male lust, this is true. But, as I said above, the Church is built upon mutual responsibility to the other. The solution to the problem of “modesty” will not come from emphasizing individualism, autonomy, or freedom from responsibility, but from reclaiming a just mutuality that requires men to bear the weight of their own sin and to acknowledge their role in the suffering of women and to strive alongside them to eradicate the stigma and shame. This won’t be resolved by “men doing something” or “women doing something” but by the Church doing something. What this looks like, I’m not sure yet. But it certainly wouldn’t be a mistake to begin by giving women a safe space to tell their stories and be heard, as they always should have been.
  8. Romans 15 (“Do not cause another to stumble…”) has been used incessantly to charge women to be modest. But it also mentions that if we unduly cause others in the church pain, we are accountable for it. It’s about time we realize that the old rhetoric is causing many women and girls incredible pain, and that this pain has been largely ignored or demonized by those in positions of cultural and ecclesial power. Whatever male “need” there is for women to dress certain ways may have to take a backseat to the female need to know their bodies are good, beautiful, loved, and their own.
  9. Women need to be listened to, more and more. Their voices have been historically muted in the Church, and we must do everything in our power to acknowledge the worthiness and truth of what they have to say, especially in regard to (though certainly not limited to) their own bodies. If I hear another sermon with someone “mansplaining” to a woman about her body, I may go crazy.
  10. The radical love and mutual submission taught by Christ must be the posture we assume as we move forward. To continue on as we have been would require us to blind ourselves to the demands of the Gospel.

There is so much more to this, and I have this nagging, dreadful feeling that, even still, I’m perpetuating some of the same terrible binaries, stereotypes, and inconsistencies so prevalent in this discussion. I had hoped to write more constructively about what modesty actually is, how it must also be articulated as an essential virtue for men, and how American culture generally devalues and abuses women’s bodies, but living in an orphanage with a crazy schedule and a lack of resources has made that a bit more of a task than I could manage right now.

Please, let’s talk about this. Any ideas? Thoughts? Rants? Stories? It’s about time we create a space to have this discussion in love.

Jordan

tense

Well, everybody, it’s time to admit the humiliating truth: I can’t see into the future.

I know, I know, it’s embarrassing, but I’ve got to be honest with myself, and the reality is that, for all my effort, all my reading, all my thinking, all my praying, I simply don’t know what my life will look like five, ten, or fifty years from now. Heck, I can’t even guarantee an irradiated dino-spider isn’t going burst into my room within the next three seconds.

No worries guys, I made it.

My inability to pierce the hazy veil of time usually stings most when I’m at home; because I spend so many months away, people want to know who I am now, how I’ve changed, and who I am becoming. That is all wonderful, and I appreciate being able to process through things with people and share what God has been doing in my life, but since I began coming out to people this past summer a new question has started to dominate certain conversations: who will I be in the future?

People who love and care about me want assurance that I will always be staunchly conservative and celibate. I mean, I want that assurance of myself, too. It would make life so simple to be able to say, “I will always and forever believe all the things I think to be true right now. I will never doubt, never question, never reconsider, never ‘switch sides.’ So don’t worry.”

Simple and, I think, totally miserable. It would be miserable because I know I’m not right about everything. In fact, I count it as one of God’s greatest gifts that we can learn and grow and be challenged and changed. I am thrilled I am not now who I was five years ago, and I suspect, five years from now (if I am still alive), I will be similarly amazed at what God has done to draw me closer to him in, I’m sure, surprising and unforeseen ways.

Before I went to college, I thought I would always be a “creationist,” never question gender roles, always be a Calvinist, never be a pacifist, always avoid an espresso addiction and, of course, never be gay. 

Oops.

So I can’t promise I’ll always be convinced that celibacy is my requisite (though not unhappy) path. I just can’t. I know myself too well, and I don’t know the future well enough.

What I can promise, though, is that I will live each day pursuing the glory of God, seeking to rest in his love and display it relentlessly to others. I can promise that I will place myself under the authority of scripture and Christian community, and that I will ask hard questions and, I hope, obey hard answers.

As it is, if I continue to live that kind of life, I feel confident the convictions toward sexuality that I have now will remain, though enriched, nuanced, and deepened. I hope they do.

I hope they do, because I’m scared they won’t.

I hope they do, because, when I lay in bed some nights, I hope they don’t.

I’m not some invincible dogmatic war-machine, impervious to any and all pain or insecurity. There are enough people telling me exactly who I need to be now because of my sexuality that I’ve found the added demand to simultaneously guarantee and justify who I will be in the future both beyond my capacity and deeply exhausting.

For so long I felt the need to put up some kind of iron-clad front to earn people’s approval, to dispel any doubt that I will always believe what I believe now. That I will be strong enough. That I will be wise enough.

Ridiculous. I’m a Christian. I should be the first to admit that I am both weak and unbearably stupid on my own. I am, as all humans are, an ever-changing work in progress.

No, I need God desperately, and trying to come across as sufficiently immutable was just smoke and mirrors to deter people from piercing me with that uncertain stare that says, You aren’t going to make it past forty, little more than a small rebellion against my utter dependence on Christ and the Church.

Because I am weak, I need to cling to the God whose strong embrace surrounds me and lifts me up. Because I am irrational and inconsistent, I need to draw near to the God who will lead me in righteousness all the days of my life. Because I can’t rely on my own feeble promises, I need to trust solely in the God whose promises never fail, who will guide me and teach me and nurture me and place before me a joyful path of discipleship that will lead me ever further into his marvelous light. Because I don’t know who exactly I will be as I grow, I need a church community to continually remind me who I am and who I serve.

Precisely because the future is hidden from me, I need to seek God in the present. My fear-fueled visions of what may be will always overwhelm me because I don’t yet have what it takes to overcome them. I suspect I won’t until that future becomes the present and God, as he always does, meets me in a way that is more astounding, more good than I could conceive of right now.

I’m only 22. I still struggle with child-proof Advil bottles and sometimes daydream about being a Pokémon master. I have a lot of maturing to do. As I have recently engaged in the conversation surrounding homosexuality and the church, I have realized that no matter how much research I may do, no matter how many blog posts I may write, I simply cannot change the fact that there is much I am unable to learn about myself and my sexuality except through the passing of time. There are fears and trials I cannot fully address until they actually materialize. Now, I’m in no rush – the future can hold on to its crow’s feet and baldness – but, well, patience doesn’t come naturally.

So, I’d rather not have to pretend that I have all, most, or even a decent chunk of the answers right now. What I do have is Jesus, transcendant and imminent, and his assurance that he will be with me as the seconds pass like gravel or grass beneath my uncalloused feet. And, as he’s told me in the past, I shouldn’t worry so much about the future because it distracts me from the present moment in which he is working miracles.

My goal in life is to glorify God in all that I do, not to merely be successfully celibate. Just because I’m confident the former leads to the latter, and just because I am committed to working hard to develop as someone who flourishes in singleness, doesn’t make the distinction any less important.

Why do I get the feeling that I’m just now beginning to learn what it looks like to really trust God? Maybe it’s that I’m finally having to admit that I don’t trust myself. Not yet, at least.

Well, whatever it is, to God be the glory, forever and ever, amen.

Jordan

the times they are a-changin’

Hey there, you. How are you doing? Well? Glad to hear it. I’m doing fine, I guess. Lots of stuff going on, so I’ve been pretty busy.

Now that we got the awkward small-talk out of the way, I figured I’d let you in on what’s happening over on our side of things, including some info on how the blog may be changing in the coming months.

So, as you may know, I (Jordan) recently got back from a brief three month romp in Africa. What you may not know is that I (still Jordan) am leaving this weekend for a brief four month romp in Latin America to work with street kids and orphans. Internships are addicting, ok?

I (Tony… j/k it’s Jordan) am not sure how often I will post once I arrive down there. There are a few reasons for this uncertainty: 1) I’ll be living with a bunch of insane latino teenagers and may exist in a perpetual state of semi-unconsciousness, and 2) I’ll be focusing on blogging from a separate, non-pseudonymous website (assuming I can ever decide on a gosh-darn domain name) about my time with the kids and all the zany lessons I learn, and to effectively maintain both seems unrealistic given how lazy I am (on a scale from 1 to 10, I didn’t bother to fill it in).

I’m to the point, now, that I think it would be best for me to take a small break from writing and thinking constantly about sexuality and to grow up a bit while focusing on my other passions (of which there are distressingly many). But I hope to jump headlong back into the sexuality discussion when I return from Latin America, at which point I will “come out” on my personal website and continue things from there.

I’ve decided not to “go public” until then because I don’t want to risk complicating this internship. I’m not sure it would, but I can wait. Once I do, however, I will post links on this blog.

While I may not write as many full-length posts, I intend to become more active on GaySubtlety’s Twitter, so if you aren’t following us there, you totally should (I’ll give you, like, 20,000,000 GS points if you do). I’ll frequently post links to interesting articles and videos, though not necessarily opining about them. As for this blog, we are looking at ways of turning it into a more formalized, indexed resource, but more on that later.

Anyway, thanks for your grace as we move into a bit of a different season and try to figure things out. I’ve already finished a post that I’ll put up on Friday. It’s one of the more important ones that I’ve written, at least for myself. After that, who knows! I’ll keep you updated as things progress.

Oh, and have a blessed Advent. What an incredible time to meditate on the nearness of Christ and the overwhelming beauty of the incarnation. God is very, very good, isn’t he?

Jordan

link: “To Come First for Someone”

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but a dear friend’s tumblr alerted me to a recent post I had missed by the incomparable Eve Tushnet on the subject of the common desire to be the most important person in someone else’s life (which I’ve written about here and here). If you haven’t read much of Eve’s stuff (she’s a lesbian Catholic), I would highly recommend you do. She’s a phenomenal writer and thinker with a profound gift for expressing ideas that are surprising and thought-provoking and resonantly human.

You can find her post here.

At the risk of you deciding not to expend the herculean effort to depress your mouse button or track-pad, here’s an excerpt:

“There are a lot of pieces to this emotion [of wanting to come first]. To be always the one who watches the love between spouses or parents and children, supporting that intense your-needs-first love but never receiving it yourself… Feeling like you’re burdening people when you need them–like you’re asking them to do something outrageously above and beyond the call of duty when you ask them to sacrifice time, effort, or their own priorities to care for you, even when you’re really seriously in need…

This is an area where our refusal to honor or even imagine important vocations other than marriage causes a huge amount of pain, loneliness, and sense of worthlessness. If we took friendship seriously as a potential site of devotion and sacrifice, far fewer people would feel neglected and unwanted. If we considered lay community life (“intentional communities”) more seriously, and if we expanded our concept of family and welcomed single people into familial homes (for a season or for life), many more people could have the experience of living in a realistic familial love in which we all come first at times, and nobody is just there as support personnel…

And finally, maybe the most important thing to say about this desire to ‘come first’ is simply that I’ve felt it too. It’s been really hard for me sometimes. Other times, like now, I don’t feel it as strongly. But maybe the most important thing I can offer in response to this painful and pretty humbling cry isn’t advice or theology but just solidarity. I feel it too.”

There’s plenty more to read, and you simply must clink the link. Here it is again. Click it. Then click all her other links, because they’re great too.

Peace,

Jordan

the happiest place on earth

I used to hate following the news. It was so depressing, so endlessly troubled and gloomy, that I would be filled with an ambiguous sadness at every new report; suicide, homicide, war, famine, rape, disaster, greed, ignorance… all of it overwhelming to my sheltered self – shadowy threats to my naive understanding of how things should be, at least for me.

So I adapted, developing a nearly manic imagination capable of wild flights of fantasy. I daydreamed my way through school, consumed so many fantasy novels and video games that the immersive worlds they depicted began to poison my perception of existence, and tried to distance myself from the pain and anxiety that comes with awareness. I wasn’t always successful, of course, and I didn’t really know what on earth I was doing, but nonetheless I had somehow become a self-described escapist. So much so, in fact, that a mentor once told me during freshman year that my connection to reality frequently seemed tenuous, at best. Please, don’t all line up to marry me at once.

I was recently reminded of this part of myself while running around Disney World on vacation with the family. You guys, I love Disney World. I could probably wander around Epcot’s World Showcase for, oh I don’t know, forever and ever.

But, was it just me or did the stone walls look a bit more like painted plaster this time around? Did the water always have such a garish blue tint? And were the security cameras always so obvious, and the costumes so lifeless? And I wondered, Is my increasing exposure to poverty and brokenness corroding my imagination…

…or are my experiences bringing it more to life?

While I was in Africa, one of the recovering drug addicts and I were walking by the beach talking about his newly emerging hopes and passions for a life of sobriety and Christian discipleship. As we walked, we passed an unassuming man wearing sunglasses, a loose jacket, and boring jeans. My friend (who has a fascinating history of gangsterism, murder, theft, and meth) leaned over and whispered, “He’s an undercover cop, I promise you.” I tried to remain as nonchalant as his tone of voice. “And that man over there, he’s a meth addict. So is that guy, most likely. There’s a drug den just around the corner; it’s a nice house. And make sure you never leave your keys or valuables unattended – syndicates have lookouts on that mountain right there and will send nearby runners to grab your stuff. Just, you know, don’t be stupid. So anyway….”

Welcome to reality, Jordan. Population: You and a bunch of scary people you probably didn’t want to know were absolutely everywhere. But that conversation got me thinking. How blind am I to the dark and unmentioned world that exists just beneath the surface of “normal”? You know how people talk about spiritual warfare, and say that we are constantly surrounded by angelic and demonic hosts? And how, if we could see that realm clearly, we’d likely explode from incomprehension? Well, my friend gave me a glimpse of something similar. How insular and near-sighted has my life been! How adeptly have I shielded myself from the grotesque underbelly of the communities in which I’ve lived! Why have I been so content to live with such a stunted understanding of reality?

I decided in that moment that, wherever I live, I want to be aware. I want to know where the drug deals go down, I want to know that crazy homeless man’s story, I want to know the names of the prostitutes that hang around Main St. for some tragic reason or another. And not just to know so that I appear socially conscious and “moral,” but so that my life, and maybe theirs, is challenged and changed and conformed more closely to Jesus’. I want my roots to go deeper than the anemic suburban strata.

My imagination used to be my escape from bitter reality. But I’ve learned, slowly, that we have been given the incredible gift of imagination not to transcend reality, but to inhabit it more profoundly. It is not for the abolition of reality, but so that we may see it in some small way as Christ does. Extricating myself, actively or passively, from reality, in all its ugliness, was actually denying myself the blessings of a Spirit-filled imagination. It was anti-incarnational.

I’ve realized that, without becoming aware of and rooting myself in that “hidden” world around me (which isn’t so hidden for countless others), with its abuse, addiction, violence, injustice, and insanity, I could never understand the true significance of redemption or hope, and my encounters with the brokenness within myself and others would continue to overwhelm me. This is why, I think, the book of Revelation is so powerful: John is calling his flock to see, not past, but more deeply into their circumstances, to the cosmic battle of good and evil and the insurmountable supremacy of the crucified lamb who reigns in love. (I read Revelation as poetic theological commentary on the nature of the way things are, a la Richard Hays and Greg Beale…and the original audience.) Such a vision empowers the Church to live boldly and with grace, embodying the Gospel with passion.

So maybe Disney World isn’t quite so captivating as it once was. But that’s ok, because life, in all its maddening complexity, has become so much more profound and engrossing. We who claim to follow the risen Christ have the unbelievable privilege of living, wherever that may be, amidst the darkness of the earth and proclaiming light, of encountering addict and dealer, pimp and prostitute, abused and abuser, poor and rich, and imagining them as the people they could become through the miracle of redemption and then walking with them on that difficult and trying road.

Is it simple? No. Is it easy? No. Is it painless? Not even close. Do I have any idea what I’m really getting myself into? Nope. But am I more excited about life and ministry than I ever have been? By the grace of God, yes. (Mostly) Gone are the days of wanting to cling to privilege and ease, to seek happiness in the absence of difficulty rather than in the midst of it. In their place is a renewed desire to be, as Barth repeatedly demanded, for the world, in it, living relentlessly and selflessly for the freedom of others in a way only Christians can. If the Church does not model such an existence it will find itself lost in an inward-turning labyrinth of isolation and comfortable folly – unaware and unconcerned with the brokenness across the ocean, around the corner, and in its sanctuaries. And, consequently, it will have ceased to fully be the Church, the body of Christ which has always embraced the downtrodden and marginalized.

But wherever the Church is living into this Spirit-filled imagination, wherever that consuming love of God is breaking into and transforming the desperate brokenness of the world, that is, really, the happiest place on earth.

Jordan

(Though The World Showcase is totally a close second.)

thankful

…for friends, family, and the easy laughter that nourishes my thirsty soul.

…for beauty, and the joy of finding daybreak and nightfall equally inspiring.

…for food, and the miracle of gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free snickerdoodle cupcakes.

…for books of poetry, inspired ink married to parchment, and the mysterious way words can simultaneously arrest and excite the imagination.

…for abundance and privilege, and the opportunity to sacrifice both for the sake of the outcast and suffering.

…for the Church in all its myriad forms, and the beacon of hope it can be to a weary and cynical world.

…for the endlessly humbling command to serve, and the million little examples others have shown me of how to be like Christ.

…for love, and the ability to give and receive it.

…for Calvin and Hobbes.

…for levity, and the presence of peace that, even two years ago, seemed unattainably distant.

…for sanctification, and the fact that I am not now who I once was, by the grace of God.

…and for my infinitely loving, gracious, forgiving, holy, just, life-giving Savior who didn’t leave me to my own hell-bent devices, but bore the full weight of sin so that I might come alive in him.

For all this and more I am deeply thankful today and always.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Jordan

what is love?

Let’s just get this out of the way.

Now, on to business.

A sentiment I often hear within the evangelical church is, “If we want to love people, we must be willing to speak the truth about their sins. To ignore or sugarcoat them would be the most unloving thing we could do, even if other people don’t see it that way.” The basic idea is that sin, separation from God, is the greatest tragedy, and if you really do care about someone then you will want them to be free from that blinding, oppressive weight even if they refuse to acknowledge it – you will want them to know God. So we must preach the Gospel.

This is all true. But I’m beginning to wonder if the way that sentiment is commonly played out misses the mark of true love, especially when it comes to the church’s interactions with the LGTBQ community.

When someone raises a concern like the one above, my first thought is usually, The LGBTQ community probably doesn’t need to be reminded, again, of what the evangelical church generally thinks about about homosexuality. I’m pretty sure, actually, that the first thing that comes into most LGBTQ people’s mind when they hear the word “evangelical” is the anti-gay rhetoric that seems definitive of conservative Christians’ public discourse.

What strikes me as odd, and dangerous, is that somehow the message of “We don’t think you should be having sex” is considered more essential to the Gospel than “God loves you and so do we.” How the heck did that happen?

Why is it that any message to an LGBTQ person is not considered to be true, or truly loving, unless it contains a litany of his/her/their sins, and yet a message that is only about sin, devoid of any mention of God’s grace or a commitment to fight injustice on their behalf, somehow passes as an acceptable proclamation of the Gospel? As if, from the start, we don’t think LGBTQ people deserve anything better than judgment.

It’s like the church is chasing after them, hurling spears of condemnation and prejudice, all while shouting, “We love you! God loves you! No, seriously! Come back!” And when they keep running we just shake our heads and attribute their retreat away from us as a sign of their gross sinfulness, a refusal to accept the “Gospel-centered” kind of love we’ve offered them.

What the hell is wrong with us?! We treat them like crap throughout history and expect a different outcome? Maybe they reject us because we’ve never really loved them in the first place. Maybe they reject us because we are continually rejecting them.

Where were we when they became victims of abuse, hate crimes, disease, stigma, and bullying? We were either perpetuating their pain or apathetic toward it. And for those brave few who dared to stand beside them and model a different kind of love? We yelled across the chasm of our fear, “While you’re over there, make sure you tell them they’re sinful, otherwise whatever you’re doing doesn’t count!” Then we patted ourselves on the back for being “missional.” It’s maddening!

Ok, wow, deep breaths. The whole thing is just very frustrating for me. I once asked a gay man I was sitting next to on a plane what it would take for him to know he was loved by the evangelical church even if it never became “affirming.” It’s a question I had been dying to ask someone, and after I had so intently listened to his impassioned monologue about his spiritual connection to Diana Ross (who he’d seen over two-hundred times in concert), I figured he owed me. His short answer has stuck with me for the past two years: “I might believe it,” he said, “if you would at least fight the stigma that claims so many lives. But you don’t.”

If the only examples we have of showing the LGBTQ community “love” are the sermons where we preach the “truth” about the sinfulness of that community, then I would humbly propose that we repent of our anemic understanding of love, our exceptional failure to be consistent with how we live out the Gospel, and then to actually do something – not because we need a new conversion tactic but because we are Christians, and it’s simply how we have been called to live.

Read this article. Please, please read it. I’ve posted it so many times on Facebook and Twitter because it stands as a soul-crushing indictment of the loveless rhetoric so common in conservative evangelicalism. We cannot pretend we are blameless anymore, we cannot go on as we always have.

This is not an “easy solution” to a complex problem; it’s a reminder of what we have forgotten, what we have forsaken. How this will manifest in individual lives and church communities will vary, but it must be made manifest. Otherwise, honestly, I don’t think we have anything more to say.

Jordan