synchroblog

Hey everyone,

So today (Tuesday the 13th for those who read this in the future, assuming the world hasn’t been vaporized by insectoid war-machines from beyond deep space) is the launch of the synchroblog. At 9am EST a variety of posts from a variety of people who believe a variety of things will be collected and displayed here! I encourage you to check them out and see how other people are pursuing the restoration of sanity in the midst of the tension. I imagine some of the entries will be quite beneficial.

I apologize that I won’t be able to publish the next post for a few days; I’m visiting Wheaton after finishing up my three months in South Africa and between all the conversations and hang-outs that need to happen there simply isn’t time. It’s been amazing, though. This was such an unbelievably formative and blessed place for me, and it is an incredible encouragement to reconnect with friends and mentors to marvel at what God is doing and enjoy each other’s company. Coffee dates, everyone, are the best ever.

I hope you are all well and that the opinions and stories expressed in the synchroblog are a catalyst for deep, loving reflection.

Peace,

Jordan

framed, pt. 4 (in sanity)

This is the fourth and final entry in this series. If you haven’t, I would highly recommend you read the first three before continuing. Would you watch Mulan 2 without first watching Mulan? Of course not! (Actually, would you even watch Mulan 2 at all? It looks…terrible.) Anyway, moving on.

The question I keep running up against whenever I think or talk about the “gay debate” (the best-dressed debate in town) is Can we find reconciliation in the midst of a seriously divisive disagreement? Or, in my more plaintive moments, Is there any hope?

If this conversation were simply about divergent tastes in worship music or crunchy vs. soft communion bread, then “agreeing to disagree” would be a possibility. However, I think such an easy answer is not only impossible in this case, but would do great violence to the integrity of everyone involved – it would be like shouting Peace, peace! when there is no peace.

We must start by being honest about what we believe and gracious in understanding those who do not share our views, especially when the contention is so great. How can any progress be made if everyone is simply talking past each other or dealing with straw-men? The past three posts in this series attempted to recenter the debate for those who claim to take the Bible as authoritative, moving past the tired, worthless arguments that seem to be all the rage these days.

But before honesty there must come a commitment to act in love and humility even at great personal cost. Honesty not grounded in love quickly becomes little more than a barbed whip, leaving open wounds and aching scars everywhere. It is impossible to speak Gospel truth in an unloving way, for once “honesty” becomes an occasion for abuse it ceases to be truth at all. There is an enormous distinction between debating someone because I want to be proven right and speaking what I believe to be true because I genuinely desire good for the other person. The former turns all who disagree with me into obstacles to be destroyed, whereas the latter sees them as the humans they are: complex, frustrating, loved, and not to be manipulated or treated with contempt.

But, still, is there hope? Well, I guess that depends on what we are hoping for. I have little hope that there will be an end to the disagreement any time soon, but I do have hope that the manner in which we disagree can still proclaim the Gospel and bring about intense healing in its own way.

To that end, this particular post was written in response to the GCN’s rather wonderful Justin Lee instigating a synchroblog (that’s trendy internet lingo for “a bunch of people writing about the same thing all at once”) on the topic of restoring sanity to the dialogue surrounding homosexuality and the church. (I’m going to give you a few minutes to let the now-apparent brilliance of this entry’s title sink in.) Acknowledging the increasingly manic nature of this conversation, Lee and others of vastly differing opinions hope the synchroblog (which goes live on Nov. 13, so stay tuned) will sound a clear call to return to Christian sanity.

Such a simple call, of course, does not magically eliminate the pain and struggle that will continue to define the experience of many men and women caught in the middle of it all; it does not give any answers to the most tortured of questions; it does not change the fact that, even at their most moderate, we are confronted by two mutually exclusive visions of community. But it does give me hope for future progress and reconciliation.

Christlike love, says William Placher in his ultra-phenomenal book Narratives of a Vulnerable God, is demonstrated when one is willing to make oneself vulnerable to pain and rejection so that the Gospel might be proclaimed. A return to sanity, for Christians, would be a return to that kind of love in relationship with one another. On a broad, ecclesial level, I’m not sure what that would look like; I wish I could offer something more concrete. But it probably isn’t a bad idea to start with person-to-person interactions. Here’s how it might play out in my own life:

As I hold to a more conservative sexual ethic, my convictions are inherently painful to my side-A brothers and sisters. I hate that. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish text and tradition would unilaterally bless same-sex unions, not just for my own sake as a gay man but so that this horrible tension would be dissolved. But, as Walter Brueggeman once wrote, “Wishful thinking is inadequate theology.” So I’m stuck with the reality that I personally have yet to be convinced that the Bible sanctions faithful, monogamous SSUs. I’m stuck with the reality that I represent something deeply traumatic to countless people.

And yet I have side-A, gay friends whose friendships I treasure dearly. I hope they know they are free to talk about their crushes and significant others without fear of condemnation and that I am genuinely happy for them. But I’ll admit, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and celibate unicorns for me to hear/watch affirming gay Christians experience romance. I often find myself awash in intense desires and confusion, especially because, you know, I still think they’re Christians.

Being in community together will cause both of us pain. It is inevitable that there will be moments in which I simply cannot be the friend or support they need me to be. I can only hope that, in those moments, our friendship, our mutual pursuit of God and his glory, will be able to bear our tears and anger, that we would somehow have the clarity to see where the other is coming from, to feel the weight of their beliefs, and to receive the wound in love and move forward. If we are unwilling to be hurt by others even in friendship, then the only “safe” course of action is to continually manipulate or coerce them to do our will, which is antithetical to the vulnerable love of Christ.

Now, I’m a white, gay male, so the pain and tension I face is going to vary from those of straight Christians of a different gender and ethnicity, and thus I am hesitant to suggest what their struggles could be. Though for the majority of conservative Christians, I imagine the greatest challenge will arise from having to relinquish the power that comes with being a cultural majority and peel off that protective shell of privilege that effectively insulates them from the serrated arrows of others’ marginalized experiences and the whole range of complexity they introduce into previously “simple issues.” I’ve found that, for myself, even though I’ve been exposed to countless examples of poverty and alienation not my own, I am still constantly surprised by how much that tacit privilege blinds me to the suffering of others whose experiences I’ve never shared.

To be clear, I do think those within the conservative evangelical church should be the ones to take the first blows on behalf of affirming brothers and sisters. LGBTQ people have been on the receiving end of religious violence, stigma, and shame for so long… and even with four huge legislative victories this past election our societies, especially our churches, are far from safe.

I’m sorry, my words feel empty and there is so much more that I want to say. I struggle endlessly with this. I don’t blame anybody who reads this and sees nothing but a refusal to make the necessary compromises to really bring about reconciliation, who only hears vacuous calls for a mutual understanding that does little to remove the root of oppression. I can’t force anyone to believe that I love them.

But maybe that’s ok, for now. Maybe it’s time we stop requiring others to “understand” us before we show them grace. Maybe if we hope to display the exhilarating love of God through the unity expressed in John 17 we must become better at existing in the tumultuous, maddening tension so definitive of this broken world we call home. I don’t have any hope that things will be easy or clean, but the more I get to know men and women of various stances, the more I receive love and acceptance from those who disagree with me, the more I dig deep into the profound mystery of Christ and his body, the Church, I become more hopeful that this borderline obscene call to community amidst fractious pluralism will, by the power of God, be transformed into a clarion beacon shining forth with the furious radiance of the Gospel.

It seems like an insane hope, but, well, sometimes insanity is the sanest option we have.

Thanks for bearing with me in grace.

Jordan

framed, pt. 3 (exclusively inclusive)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (it’s funny because you can’t; such power!):

“Jesus lived out his earthly ministry among the marginalized and outcast, preaching a gospel of radical inclusion that upended the sinful exclusivism of the hypocritical religious elite. Today, many religious leaders are denying full acceptance to gay men and women in local congregations due to disagreements about the moral status of same-sex unions. Jesus, who embraced the stigmatized, would side with those being denied total inclusion by the judgmental majority. To be Christians, then, requires that we cast off arbitrary requirements for acceptance that were made by power-seeking Pharisees and realize that those in monogamous, faithful, loving, same-sex unions (and the LGBTQ community in general) are the new Gentiles to our self-righteous 1st century Judaism; Jesus’s table is set, and all are welcome. Refusing full inclusion to affirming gay men and women goes against the very nature of Jesus’s embodied ethic of acceptance.”

There are some good biblical/theological arguments to be made in support of sanctioning SSU’s (same-sex unions). This is not one of them. It’s not even close. If arguments were colors, this would be taupe: the world would be better off without it, and I become depressed and angry whenever it is used.

Unfortunately, it’s everywhere, and not just in fringe blogs or rash YouTube videos. Authors I deeply respect have, at times, gone on in a similar vein. In fact, the prevalence of this argument across various media makes me wonder if I’ve simply misunderstood the logical sequence and dealt only with a straw-person; it’s certainly a possibility, so please correct me if I misrepresent this particular position. However, if I’m right (fingers crossed, everybody!), then such a polemic must be put to rest in order to move forward in constructive dialogue as it avoids the central questions, cheapens the Gospel, and displaces the centrality of the biblical text in favor of foreign standards of morality.

That large paraphrase up there? I actually agree with most of it. Jesus really did align himself with the poor and marginalized, really did devote himself to the scandalous inclusion of “the other,” really did excoriate the religiously hypocritical for their wretched xenophobia. And make no mistake, such actions were not peripheral events in the grand narrative of his life – they were central to his Gospel, and are therefore central to us. I think feminist/liberation/subaltern theologians have it right: if we proclaim the Gospel without simultaneously declaring that this good news is for everyone, no exceptions, then we’ve missed it.

We Christians (especially those in positions of cultural power) don’t get to choose who is invited to the feast table. We are not the gatekeepers. We are the messengers joyfully telling everyone that the Lord wants them to come and experience the abundance of his love. To do anything less is to play the role of deluded Pharisee, and the world is right to condemn us. We must be throwing ourselves to the aid of the sinfully stigmatized, showing love to those who receive undeserved hatred, and telling them of Christ. This definitely includes the LGBTQ community in all its multiformity.

That being said, and this is the crux for me, the Gospel is not just an invitation, it’s a new way of existing. And praise God for that! He doesn’t just leave us as we were, draped in tattered rags and caked in filth. He bathes us, clothes us, and sets before us a path of obedient faithfulness, promising to walk with us every step of the way. And, as we walk, we are changed, we are challenged, and we are daily having to cast aside old behaviors and patterns of thinking.

After Jesus came to the rescue of the woman in John 8, saving her life and exposing the sins of those judging her, he didn’t walk away and yell over his shoulder, “Cool, welcome to the kingdom of God, have fun sleeping around! I love you!” He told her to “sin no more.” The rest of the New Testament is univocal in expounding on that call: if you have accepted Christ’s universally offered invitation, then you must also live as he prescribes. If you truly love him, you will obey his commands.

This is Christian discipleship at it’s most basic, which is why it is so bewildering that the aforementioned argument, in all its popularity, fails to display even a rudimentary understanding of the concept. We come to the table as we are, but by the grace of God we cannot stay as we were. There are, believe it or not, rules. There are demands, prohibitions, standards, and consequences woven into the Christian faith. The Church is not an inchoate mass of autonomous individuals that answer to no one but their own consciences.

This argument seems preoccupied with conjoining the figure of Jesus to a secular manifestation of inclusion that demands nothing from anyone except self-identification and a laissez-faire approach to community.

In contrast, the Jesus testified to in the New Testament demands everything from those who would aspire to follow him to everlasting life. When he says “sin no more,” the question becomes, “How then shall we live?” And, there you have it, we are driven back to exegesis, to mining the text to understand what Jesus requires of us, what it means to be a Christian. In this context (for me as an Evangelical), it means scouring the biblical canon to determine what it is saying about homosexuality, how that applies to the church today, and then, whether I like it or not, obeying.

Jesus is not simply the best example of inclusion in abstracto, he is the true expression of what it means to be inclusive – he is the form and character of the thing. And the inclusion he embodies is not simply blind acceptance that costs nothing, it is a lightning, wide-eyed gaze that sees us all as we are, and shakes us to our core with the good news that the God of the universe loves us and has not left us to our own bitter devices, and that the daunting sacrifice of obedience, though it require everything, leads to unfathomable abundance, namely a relationship with God and his Church. It is a free gift that still costs all that we have.

The contended argument gets it half right, but, unfortunately, “half right” is still totally wrong. When I read it, I cannot help but think that the author has given up wrestling with scripture for fear of coming away with a dislocated hip. But we must keep wrestling, lest we forfeit divine blessing. The Church is a community of those who limp, yet we walk proudly, bearing with grace the mark that we have been touched by God. We simply cannot have it any other way.

I hope we can move past the kind of shallow arguments I’ve briefly described in the past few posts and begin to, with great humility and love, press into the heart of the disagreements for the sake of truth and unity. On that point, at least, we should all be in agreement.

Jordan

framed, pt. 2 (constructive criticism)

As I said in the last post, I think, as Christians, we must frame the conversation about homosexuality in terms of the Gospel and solid exegesis; it’s futile to form intricate and immaculate theological justifications for whichever side if the text simply doesn’t support them. (Yes, this means I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and yes, that makes me rather conservative and no, I don’t feel like arguing about it right now.)

So for me, the questions have to be, What does the Bible say about homosexuality and how is that applicable to life today? Nothing new at all, and yet there has been a surge of interest in asking those questions in a more critical light and with a renewed vigor. Theologians, especially those identifying as side-A, are re-examining the traditional interpretations of the six or so “clobber passages” that have been so abused (and abusive) in the hands of “Christian” homophobes who treat gay men and women as plagues rather than people. These scholars bring a host of historical and cultural knowledge to bear on the text that help clarify what the biblical authors would have intended their words to communicate to the first century audience. For instance, would the perverse sexual practices condemned in Romans chapter 1 have any moral correlation with the loving, monogamous unions shared by numerous gay people today, if such a social reality did not exist in Paul’s time?

Many conservative evangelicals refuse to entertain such “obvious heresy,” casting those who would dare even suggest such an endeavor as pagan monsters that burn Bibles to fuel their pitchfork-making factories. Staunch defenders of a “literal” or “plain” reading of the text, they often summarily reject critical methodology of any kind, saying it only serves to confuse the faithful and give all the power to a few spindly, diabolical, ivory-tower academics.

But I would humbly (and, I think, rightly) suggest that, without critical methodology, without some brave (and slightly insane) men and women meticulously carrying out word-studies, historical analyses, and theological examinations, we would have absolutely no chance to arrive at anything that gets even close to a “literal” reading, mostly because it’s mighty hard for the average American to read Koine Greek. As a rapidly growing number of evangelical leaders will agree, our relationship with critical methodology should be one of cautious approval, evaluating each “critique” by its own merit and integrity for the benefit of all believers seeking a clearer understanding of the text.

In a recent video discussing how to interpret the endlessly contentious first chapter of Genesis, Dr. John Walton (who was one of many phenomenal professors of mine at Wheaton) said:

“We’re well aware that people have to translate the language for us. We forget that people have to translate the culture for us. And therefore if we want to get the best benefit from the communication we need to try to enter their world, hear it as the audience would have heard it, as the author would have meant it, and to read it in those terms.” That’s what it means to read the text “literally.”

Later in the video he reminds us that although the books of the Bible were certainly written for us, they were not written to us – we are neither the Galatian church nor the Israelites in exile. So we have a bit of work to do in order to extract the intended meaning from difficult passages, which Romans 1:26ff and others seem to be.

Rather than simply dismissing side-A scholars’ work as anti-Bible, I would love to see more conservative evangelicals willing to wrestle with the studies (some of which are more worthwhile than others) – evaluating the methods used, the motives of the scholar (or “scholar”), and the conclusions’ consonance with the whole witness of scripture. When we disdain historical/cultural inquiry on principle, we make ourselves hypocrites. Turn to John 5:4 in your Bibles to see but one tiny example. The fact that we can even read the book of John in English is the result of unbelievably painstaking research in multiple fields of study. This is important, and I think the Bible can hold up quite well under the scrutiny.

One final thing: should people read the disputed passages and interpret them as saying that “the gays” are all sinners who choose to be that way and are a threat to the church, the only thing I can say is that they are dead wrong. Even should it be proven that the Bible does not condone same-sex unions, an interpretation so devoid of love of one’s neighbor simply cannot be right.

In this ceaseless excavation for biblical truth, love of God and neighbor is the earth through which we dig, the gold from which the uncovered treasure is made, and the mysterious electromagnetic fields that lend it form and luster. Without love, not only is there no sparkling cache to be searched for, but there is no search to begin with! When I hear homophobic vitriol poured forth from pulpit or padded desk chair and labeled as “biblical truth,” I can only think that the person has, in this instance, actually forsaken the foundational purposes of the Bible, namely to know God and his love for all people. Instead of relentlessly digging into scripture with prayer and humility and discovering the vast wealth of God’s loving self-revelation, he or she is merely clutching a dry bone from the shallow dust while claiming to have plundered Solomon’s treasury.

I’m not saying that there is no meaningful disagreement between people adhering to either side-A or side-B (or whatever other sides there are). What I hope to communicate is that, given this disagreement, there is still much fruitful, Bible-affirming, Christ-centered wisdom to be gained from critical dialogue rooted in love and respect, and the all-too-common reluctance of conservative evangelicals to engage in that dialogue is one of my community’s greatest failures.

Thus for those whose interpretations are little more than thinly veiled justifications for their bitter fear, the Bible seems clear that “they have exchanged the truth about God for a lie” and have failed to unearth the most beautiful treasure in the text: deeper relationships with our awesome God and those he demands we love as neighbors.

I think we can do better.

Jordan

framed, pt. 1

This series will be, I desperately hope, one of my only forays into the various theological arguments regarding homosexuality. After observing the semi-renewed interest in Matt Vines’ Youtube video about homosexuality and Scripture as well as countless other posts, articles, reviews, tirades, and comments relating to the topic, I feel compelled to say one thing (which will then lead to many other things!): the conversations surrounding being gay and Christian must begin with a commitment to love, nuance, and solid, careful, biblical exegesis (the art of understanding the meaning of the text).

I’m so tired of reading one-dimensional arguments, from Christians, that simply peddle the same old tired rhetoric that avoids the real questions, namely, What does the whole of the biblical witness say, what does it require of the Church, and how should Christians then interact with those who do not share their convictions? Instead we pick and choose, proof-text, and pretend that we have it all figured out.

“I was born this way!” That’s fine, but let’s talk about the fall and Christian ascesis. “Leviticus says gay people are abominations!” Enjoy your shrimp and polyester graphic-T. “Genesis 2:18 says it isn’t good for man to be alone, so singleness is tragic!” I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the banshee-screams of your horrifying exegetical folly. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and—-” Banshee-screams, I tell you!

Ok, now I’m venting unhelpfully. Basically what I’m trying to say is that, as an Evangelical, I’m thoroughly dissatisfied with the shallow faux-theology that has been framing the popular discussion for the past few years. There have been some serious transgressions on both sides, mistakes that are then propped up by detractors and demolished in a haze of straw, as if something of consequence was actually communicated. It’s an elaborate dance of glancing tangents – sure, there’s contact, but nobody gets to the heart of the thing.

I intend to write a follow-up post on two approaches to the conversation that I find distinctly annoying: uncritical rejection of intense historical-cultural analysis that challenges the traditional status-quo, and uncritical acceptance of a distressingly anemic “gospel of unqualified inclusion.” The former is most commonly found among side-B Christians (though is by no means constitutive of that position), and the latter is most commonly found among side-A Christians (though is by no means constitutive of that position).

I’m quite solidly “side-B,” and it can be dangerously easy to slip into a “go team!” mentality when reading articles of divergent opinions; easy, that is, until I remember that my “team” is ultimately the Church and this Church contains men and women who are sincerely and ardently side-A because of their commitment to the Bible. When I approach material written by other Christians with the singular intent to expose all its weaknesses and deconstruct it, I do ecclesial unity a great disservice.

One of my mentors taught me to set my default question as, “What can I learn from this person?” As an intrinsically constructive inquiry, it encourages me to move past knee-jerk generalizations that only serve to feed the illusion of a simplistic us vs. them reality that fails to do justice to the complexity of the topic at hand (a “topic” that is intimately connected to the lives of beloved men and women) as well as the oneness of Christ’s body.

And I’m pretty sure I just ended up convicting myself. That sucks. I hate it when this happens! This is why it’s so hard being imperfect.

I found this article (consequently by a side-A brother) to be a helpful reminder of how the conversation must be framed: graciously, in terms of the Gospel. His last paragraphs especially gave concrete expression to my vague unhappiness, and I hope to build on his thoughtful clarity in the next post.

Does any of this ring true for other people? That it seems like, at least recently, there has been a small explosion of unreflective articles about homosexuality and the Christian faith? (And you’re like, Yea, I’m reading one. And I’m like, Oh.)

Anyway, more on this later, I need to go do this thing people call “sleep” (which, tonight, is mostly just a veiled pretense to lay in bed and listen to Mika’s new album). I hope you all are well.

Jordan

Correction: I mistakenly identified Steve Holmes as side-A when he is in fact not. My apologies. I think, in a way, that it stands as a testament to the humble grace with which he wrote that particular article.

gospel

Sometimes the Gospel bores me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced the occasional onset of slack-jawed numbness as some overly enthusiastic brother or sister prattles on and on about how, can you believe it, Jesus Christ died for our sins. If I don’t entertain myself with thoughts of tennis or food or something, I’ll probably fall asleep. I think it’s actually quite an amazing feat of the human spirit to remain so willfully unimpressed by the most mind-shattering truth that could ever be spoken.

I’ve heard this is a common occurrence for students of theology or people who have grown up in the church. Yes yes, Jesus cross death grave resurrection ascension hooray life-everlasting. Now get to the stuff that is interesting, like inverted parallelisms or etymological controversies; this is too basic. And all the saints and martyrs of the Church gape in horror.

Now, I would never verbally disparage the Gospel like that, but I’m sure I’ve come pretty close to such a sentiment in my heart. After all, I “prayed the prayer” when I was four, what do I know about the seismic upheaval Paul speaks of in Colossians 1:13? What do I know about salvation?

Consequently, I used to regularly come down with a bad case of “testimony envy.” I’d be sitting next to some guy tearfully speaking about how he was born in a slum, used to be an international crime lord, hourly smoked forty illegal substances, poached baby pandas, and watched the Bachelorette before Jesus rescued him from the pit of hell, and all I could think of was how my biggest spiritual crisis in the past month was having to eat a horizontally-cut sandwich my mom made for me (diagonal slices bring out the fair-trade, organic raspberry jelly flavor). It’s not my fault I became a Christian before I could spectacularly destroy my life like all the cool kids, growing up as a nice boy in a nice suburb with nice parents and nice things.

The Gospel bored me because my testimony bored me. The Gospel didn’t impress me because I had blinded myself to all Christ had overcome to save me. My life was so insular that I rarely observed the arresting transformation from sinner to saint, and thus I had a listless, lifeless faith for some time.

All I want to say is this: I was wrong. Dear God forgive me, I was so wrong.

This past year, God has revealed much to me about the overwhelming beauty and power of the Son’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and glorification. And not just abstractly, but played out like a mighty symphony in the lives of broken men and women – myself included.

Interning at a Christian recovery center for homeless drug addicts has afforded me countless, blessed opportunities to see this “boring” Gospel shake hardened, angry, desperate people to their cirrhosis-riddled core and draw forth something both unexpected and magnificent. I watch, daily, as dawning wonderment steals over faces unaccustomed to making such an expression, the reality that, can you believe it, Jesus Christ died for our sins slowly sinking into their souls, a megaton truth displacing the acid-pool of lies that had entirely corroded them.

And their smiles in those moments! Often toothless, usually crooked, but radiant all the same. And I find that, no matter what I am lecturing on, no matter what question they throw at the staff members, it always comes back to this:

We were once separated from God in the wild dark, adrift in the bitter sea of our sin and brokenness, when, in humble glory, Jesus Christ, the full faithfulness of God, reconciled us to himself with now-resplendent outstretched and punctured arms, catching us up into a binding embrace, filling us with life urgently abundant, and empowering us to go forth and joyfully demonstrate the healing love of our Savior to a sick and tragic world for the sake of his eternal praise.

And, wouldn’t you know it, I’ve become the overly enthusiastic prattler that I once disdained. Sure, I can’t relate to the clients’ abusive pasts, their meth addictions, or their homelessness, and I don’t think I’ll ever convince them that I made it to 22 without impregnating some poor woman, but we aren’t really so different as I might have once thought.

I may not know the weight of a father’s drunken blows, but I’ve binged on the lies of Satan and beaten myself into the mud. I may not know the head-splitting ache of a heroin withdrawal, but I have been tossed and torn by overpowering desires. I may not know what it’s like to have nowhere to sleep safely, but I have made my bed in the depths of Sheol and, unlike David, failed to sense the presence of God there.

But more importantly than any of that, they and I, we together, are in the thrilling process of discovering the endless breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us. And as I see, day by day, the very real force of the Gospel in their lives – as barriers are overcome, relationships are mended, and failures are met with grace – I become more aware of how that same Gospel is moving in me, and their testimonies become a part of my own.

I’m reminded that my testimony isn’t really about me – this isn’t a pageant in which I dress up my sins and struggles and put them on display to be judged more or less powerful than the next person’s. Rather, my testimony is all about God and how he has made himself known to me. And he has made himself known: on each page of Scripture and in each redeemed masterpiece that constitutes “the Church” he has revealed himself to be a glorious Christ who is love, who lived and died and rose to save the world from a deserved condemnation and only asks that we proclaim him as Lord and follow his perfect will, humbly serving everyone in need as we move toward the consummation of things, the everlasting feast in which all is as it should be and we finally behold the face of our Savior.

And for a dorky gay kid from the suburbs who just wants to know he isn’t alone, that is some seriously good news.

Jordan

“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