…just like everybody else

I shifted my legs around to restore pin-prick circulation as the conversation stretched into its second hour. Coming-out was rarely a quick ordeal during those early stages of growth and he was only confidante number eleven, I believe. Equal parts disarming sincerity and riotous impulsivity, he had been a dear friend from the first month of college. And then, two years after he first learned my name, he learned my deepest secret.

As the conversation began to lull, he decided to change the topic a bit. Looking me in the eye he asked, in his typical directness, “So, are you attracted to me?”

Uh. I diverted my gaze and threw out my honest answer with a less-than-natural laugh, “Ha, no, you’re safe, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Worry about? Dude, I don’t care if you’re attracted to me. It’s not like it’d be a bad thing. I’m attracted to, like, lots of my close friends who are girls. I just wanted to know.”

Leave it to this guy to turn such an ill-advised question into one of the most profound offerings of grace I’ve ever experienced.

You see, at that point in my life I lived in terror of being attracted to anybody, especially friends. I mean, this is a common anxiety of coming out, right? That not only will those closest to you distance themselves from fear that you might fall for them, but also that, well, you might fall for them.

But more than that, I was still in the midst of a painful war with my body. While the rest of my hormonal peers were frolicking in their dopamine-addled pairing endeavors,* I was beginning to despair of ever feeling at peace because attraction, that bewildering spacial distortion that would sweep over me when I saw him, whoever he was, made me feel abusive and criminal.

It was, I think, the inevitable result of being told, and believing, that an uncontrollable, biological response is a willful act of sin. Like most underexposed evangelicals, I equated homosexual attractions with lust; they were one and the same – abhorrent failures of holiness to be avoided at all cost.

I remember ranting to my accountability partner (poor soul greatly to be pitied) time after time about my crush(es), “I have no right to even look at him, much less tell you his name! It’s disgusting. I just feel like such a monster.”

And to think this was during the “stable” phase of my college career. Good times.

But this is why that friend’s comment lingered so forcefully in my mind. By saying that it wouldn’t bother him if I was attracted to him because, duh, attraction happens to everybody and is totally not a big deal, he offered a distinct manifestation of grace that I had refused myself; the grace of being normal.

The grace of a common experience. The grace of not being a monster. The grace of being human, just like everybody else.

In the two years since we sat together in that light-filled prayer chapel, tears in our eyes, rejoicing in the goodness of it all, I’ve found profound healing as I daily live into my humanity – a lifetime of aching otherness slowly finding its place in the humbly unfolding narrative of becoming whole.

And lust? I’ve finally begun to understand what it really is. By binding that willful vice up with the inescapable neurological occurrence of attraction, I not only turned my body into an enemy of holiness but I also crippled my ability to effectively fight lust.

I used to conceive of it as little more than excessively strong attractions, something beyond my control, something that was ultimately about me and my “purity.”** Wrong. Lust is about ignoring the dignity and inviolable humanity of another and turning them into an object for my own personal pleasure. Lust isn’t so terrible just because it makes it harder for me not to type Google searches of questionable character, though that’s a part of it; it’s so terrible because it makes it harder for me to treat every person as the absurdly beloved-by-God people that they are, because it turns them into a “thing” and turns me into a hypocrite.

But what is more, I’m no longer hopeless in this struggle. Back when I thought it was lustful to even notice another guy, the overwhelming impossibility of “purity” haunted me. I think I knew then, even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time, that to be free from lust as I defined it – as others had defined it for me – would require me to eviscerate a part of my humanity, to deaden myself to the very real desirability of others. But now, rather than fear I will lose my humanity in the good fight against lust, I am thrilled to see it come more vibrantly into focus and fullness as I reclaim the true purposes of the struggle and realize what is actually at stake:

that I might see each person, whether or not they possess that indefinable breath-sapping spark, as beautiful, worthy of love, full of dignity, and to be served with joy.

I’ll be the first to say that I’m a weak and rather pathetic “purity warrior,” but at least now I know that I’m not a lost cause, that I’m not some exceptionally broken screw-up with an entirely different set of rules. At least now I know, and at least sometimes believe, that my body is good and that there are much worse things I could do than realize someone has incredible eyes and great hair.

Jordan

* … or something like that. I might have been a little bitter at the time.

** I don’t really like how we use the word “purity” to almost exclusively reference sexuality, especially as it has historically contributed to the social marginalization of women. Biblically speaking, someone who is greedy or who gossips is just as fraught with impurity as is someone who has committed sexual sin.

saboteur

I had another post written up, but it’ll have to wait. This one has a slightly different tone than the rest, so please bear with me.

I am consistently my own greatest obstacle to happiness. This is a problem, because I’m always around myself. More than that, this thing, happiness… it gets me into trouble. You see, I’m not the greatest at discerning, moment by moment, what will actually make me truly happy. Hence nights like last night, where I spent four hours in front of my computer watching… Glee.[1] God have mercy, I just wrote that.

I often joke that there isn’t a single thing I do because I am gay… except watch Glee. For a multitude of reasons I don’t really understand or have time to explain, that show makes it hard for me to be content with chaste singleness. So you think I would just stop watching it, right? Wrong. Because I’m insane and addicted to the way it makes me feel. Somehow the writers hacked into my brain and constructed a character that is kryptonite to my willpower-of-steel. Blaine Anderson could shoot me in the knee and I’d be like, “Wow, he’s so dreamy and good at singing and stuff!” The whole thing is like some big, beautiful, Blaine-shaped train wreck from which I can’t avert my eyes. I know it’s all a dangerous trap,[2] and yet I gladly comply with Satan’s plans for my downfall.

For these past few years God has been so good to show me ways in which my sexuality can be a holy blessing to myself and others. Binge-watching Blaine try to express any emotion beyond “adorable” is not one of those ways.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we, to borrow C. S. Lewis’ famous saying (I am a Wheaton alumnus, after all), content ourselves with building mud pies by the highway when God has prepared a seaside vacation for us? Why are we often the saboteurs to our own sanctification? Do I really have such an impoverished understanding of the true character of happiness that I’m willing to settle for such a shabby counterfeit?

Sometimes I feel like I’m a bit too comfortable with my attraction to men. It’s one thing to accept that it’s a part of my life that simply is, and that that’s ok and I’m not magically less holy because of it, and it’s another thing to be able to re-watch a certain scene four (or eight) times without even a twinge of conscience.

I’ve had periods of darkness that were partly caused by an overactive conscience ascribing intense moral weight to things that were never meant to carry such a load. But I’m pretty sure I’m stuck in a kind of opposite scenario at the moment, where much of my ease is the result of a very lazy mental watchman who simply can’t be bothered to sound the alarm.

The question is, am I willing to reintroduce some friction into my life for the sake of holiness that won’t be so instantly gratifying? It’s silly that I’m saying all this about a TV show, but much like the massive crush I had this past year, which transcended attraction and came to represent the full force of my physical longing for intimacy, Glee has become a symbol of something larger than itself. So… that’s unfortunate.

I’m sure we all have things like this, little things that we have let slide because dealing with them would potentially upset a fragile calm. They seem so small, so inconsequential. It’s just a TV show, after all. But there are no “inconsequential” sins, no “small” rebellions against a God who has given his life for us and called us to an ultimate happiness that will often require sacrifice in the present.

I just wish this sacrifice didn’t have to take place before I’ve seen the season finale.

Jordan


[1] Ha! You were probably expecting porn or something.

as holy as thou

It seems almost stupidly brash to say that my attraction to men is no barrier to holiness. But, as I mentioned in my last post about reorientation therapy, I think the above statement to be true, though perhaps I should nuance it a bit.

I believe my attraction to men is not intrinsically a barrier to holiness.

Sexuality is a gift, a startling, bewildering blessing given to us by God for the nourishment and flourishing of all creation. As it is with many aspects of life, the journey to understand my sexuality begins with a divine question rather than an intractable declaration. That question is simply, “So what are you going to do with this?” Everybody, regardless of their orientation, must face that question.

Sexuality is an invitation to disciplined, life-giving stewardship for God’s glory and the good of others. The fact that, for whatever reason, I just so happen to think some guys are attractive does not instantly derail everything. It does limit my opportunities for romance, which is painful, but it does not limit me or my pursuit of holiness. It does not limit what God can do to draw me to himself.

It has taken me a while to believe this. I’ve had some pretty dark moments, thinking, How could God love me if my sexuality is repulsive to him? I’m so pathetic! No wonder he avoids me. Even I don’t want to spend time with myself. I’m going to be lonely and isolated my whole life, and I guess I deserve it. 

I never thought God actually hated me, but sometimes it felt as if he had an awfully unloving way of showing affection. This was all happening at the same time I was feeling socially isolated and neglected by my friends, which is, you know, super unsurprising. (Side note: my friends are awesome).

One of the oppressive, looming questions gay Christians (or non-Christians, sometimes) face is this, “Is my entire existence before God a sin because I am attracted to the same sex?” My sexual attractions feel so natural and are such a daily presence that when I begin to beat myself up about my homosexuality or doubt God’s loving nearness it’s hard not to let every part of my life get sucked into the vicious whirlpool of “divine” disapproval.

Thus I consider it a miracle that I am now so convinced that my orientation can actually contribute positively to my desire for holiness. If being same-sex attracted is not intrinsically sinful, then I am also certain my attractions do not automatically make my sexuality less holy than a straight person’s. All sexuality is prone to error and excess – it’s just a bit more obvious what errors and excesses threaten me.

But let’s be honest, we’ve all objectified someone, turned them into a thing to be consumed by our hungry imaginations. We’ve all sinned, forsaken the good purposes of our sexuality. My sexuality poses a constant challenge to me – I’m reminded of it every time I see a guy I’m attracted to, or not attracted to, or maybe attracted to, or hear about anything relating to sex or romance or love or marriage or a million other things that bombard me every day. But everybody’s sexuality is a challenge. I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you of that. Being gay is a unique experience with its own burdens and hurdles,[1] but one of those hurdles is not an intrinsic unholiness that renders me especially distant from God.

Am I making sense? I’m not totally sure. It’s still something new to me, something profoundly different than what I used to think. I’m stammering here, grasping for words that aren’t wholly solid.

All I mean to say is that although my attractions make some normal human behavior unhelpful/sinful/unavailable for me, they do not inexorably compel me to unholiness. I can use my sexuality, just like anyone, to bring God joy and glory by using it chastely to serve him and my neighbors.

The frustration of unmet desire can turn me to a God who satisfies; the longing for intimate touch reminds me I am always being held; the fear of rejection points me to the open arms of Christ who has already accepted me and calls me to embrace others; the overwhelming awareness of the brokenness of things moves me to be a source of healing for those around me. And in all of this I know God rejoices over me as he empowers me to falter forward on this beautiful path of sanctification (can I call it “running?” It seems so unlike it[2]).

I hope that lends some clarity to my previous statement. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section, I’ll try my best to answer them well.

Peace,

Jordan


[1] I can’t read this without switching it to “burdles and hurdens.” Enjoy!

[2] If it is, it’s little more than this.