in weakness

There are certain words that we carry with us wherever we go. Sometimes tacked onto us by friends or strangers, sometimes dragged behind us by leashes of our own making, they follow us and seem to declare their existence at every moment.

Mine is weak.*

It’s like some indelible curse, scrawled on every mirror, sports field, tool, or disappointed face – a damning refrain of inescapable truth. I hate it. And yet I continue to grip the worn tether.

I think it’s because I have generally understood weak to be a safe word; one that demands nothing from me and gives me a reason to push away all that might complicate my life. If I’m so weak, I must protect myself. Tension and complexity and nuance become the enemy – threats to my fragile stability and brokers of an inevitable compromise. After all, I’m weak, I can’t handle it. A pious and poisonous half-truth that I’ve believed for most of my life.

But that’s changing.

The conviction that I need to speak up and step out, to move deep into the tension and dedicate myself to truly loving those around me, allowing their lives to press into mine, is overriding the base urge to shield myself from any and all pain. And as pin-prick circulation returns to my knuckles I am realizing that being weak isn’t the problem: being selfish and afraid is.

Because I am weak. And yet as I started to see a year ago, such weakness can be a beautiful opportunity to move forward in trust. That one word, weak, used to bring forth a comprehensive, anxious distrust that paralyzed me, but now it’s starting to have the opposite effect. Over the past year as I’ve blogged, emailed, met-for-coffee, and prayed, I’ve never ceased to be filled with wonder at the ways God has proven himself faithful to use my weakness to bring life…

…as a hushed confession of shame erupts into a boisterous oh-my-god-metoo! and a newfound freedom takes root amidst the shared laughter.

…as friends step up and become heroes.

…as an “issue” becomes a living, breathing, hurting human for someone and their world changes.

…as I find myself feeling more alive, more loved, more hopeful, and more passionate than ever before.

I could go on. I’ve had the chance to meet and become friends with so many incredible people as a result of that one decision to move beyond my frightened comfort zone. Friends who agree with me, disagree with me, think I’m crazy, force me to dig deep and reexamine what I thought to be true, inspire me, frustrate me, and point me to Christ. I would have never met any of them, never encountered the gospel of their lives, if I’d let my fear of pain decide it was more important to shelter myself from it all.

So you think I’d get it by now. But…

A few weeks ago, the damning refrain crept back into my mind.

You’re pathetic.

They’ll tear you apart.

You’re so disgustingly weak, you’ll never make it.

I was sprawled on the couch of a friend unsuccessfully trying to convince my exhausted brain that, really, it’s more fun to sleep than implode, watching tattered visions of all that could undo me flicker in an out of focus. It was my first week back in the States; DoMA and SCOTUS were still trending on Twitter and lighting up my Facebook feed. From the moment I deplaned I was confronted with the fact that I was, once again, caught in a controversy. An old anxiety started gathering around the fringes of my awareness and I couldn’t shake it off.

You’re going to give in.

I pulled the blanket over my head. I’d spent the afternoon hanging out with new friends – a warm and hilarious couple who let me tag along on a date – and I was wrestling with my tired mind about it.

You’re weak. Protect yourself.

Those old lies that would have me believe it was “dangerous” to hang out with a loving, affectionate gay couple – two passionate Christians, at that! – kept replaying because wouldn’t life be simpler if you isolated yourself from anything that would complicate your beliefs?  Wouldn’t it be easier if you spent all your effort on drawing lines and defending yourself and pushing away those who disagree? You’re going to crumble if you keep this up.

I carried these bitter thoughts with me to church the next morning. It had been almost ten months since I’d attended a eucharistic service, though I wasn’t really thinking about that as I waited in line to receive the elements. I was starting to feel a little bit crazy. The decision to begin living and writing more openly about my sexuality and faith seemed increasingly foolish in light of the mounting tension and you won’t be strong enough to help anyone, much less —

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.”

— yourself and the controversy will consume you and you’ll be —

“This is Christ’s blood, shed for you.”

ridiculed and misunderstood and abandoned and —

The accusations ended abruptly as I watched the chunk of bread slowly turn crimson. My mouth started to water. Then my eyes. I gently placed the elements in my mouth, and breathed deeply.

“Epiphany” is the only word I can use to describe that moment: a sudden burst of clarity that overwhelmed me and my whispering fears. The confusion of the preceding moments dissolved and in its place there appeared a calm certainty: this is the shape my life must take.

The eucharist rendered my life intelligible again.

Please bear with me as I gush:

We follow a Christ who was, and is every day, torn to pieces. He was misunderstood and ridiculed, or sometimes understood perfectly well and hated for what he said and did. He was nailed to a low-hanging plank and slowly suffocated outside the city gate. And this is how we are told to remember him.

Because this is our story. This is who we are becoming. People who love so fiercely that we throw ourselves into the midst of things so that there may be peace, so that the unloved would know the touch of a friend, so that the hopeless would see with new eyes and the neglected would discover what it means to have a family. We proclaim Christ, and him crucified.

And people may tear us apart for it. The tension will pull at our seams and always feel as if it is a second away from undoing us. We will have to struggle against the impulse to move back to safety, relieve the tension, remain untroubled, and bury our weakness.

But eucharist is the utmost display of weakness. The cross is weakness.

And this is the beauty of it.

The celebration of bread and wine is a sacrificial, destructive act. But the miracle of it is that as the body of Christ, the bread, is torn to pieces the body of Christ, the Church, is made more whole. We are nourished and drawn together and given the strength to carry on. We are empowered to boldly live in weakness.

This is how the power of Christ is made perfect in weakness: that although we are vulnerable we press deep into the suffering of the world and make it our own, although we may receive blows from every direction we refuse to let our capacity to love and forgive be beaten out of us, and although we are silenced and misunderstood we never disdain the sacred act of listening to another and seeking to understand. It seems like I will never cease having to relearn this most basic of truths, and I imagine that is why celebrating the eucharist will never cease to astonish and amaze me.

The fears that plagued me on my friend’s couch are still with me. Honestly, despite there being many incredible men and women who have gone before me, the idea of making information about my life and sexuality publicly available is a bit terrifying. I mean, gosh, writing under my real name about being an evangelical Christian who happens to be gay is just begging random strangers to take nasty, painful swipes at me.

Pictured: good times.

Pictured: a good time to be had by all.

And yet I’ve never felt so at peace about this process nor so confident that the Church will be there for me in and through it all. This is why I think now is such an important time for me to temporarily step away from blogging: to allow this abundant energy to drive me further into spiritual discipline and wise counsel so that, when I do finally “come out,” I will be more grounded in the living grace of my God with whom I’ll have sat in blessed silence and more in love with his Church that will sustain me and inspire me to act in truth and humility.

Thanks again for your kindness and patience with me over this past year; it’s been quite a journey. Thank you for all you’ve taught me and for all the ways you’ve challenged me to grow in my faith. I may never have the pleasure of getting to meet you, but I take great joy in knowing that our many voices sing together in awe of our Savior and our weary souls dance together toward the table of clarity and grace.

Peace, friends.

Jordan

______________________________________________________________________

* Like, if Harry Potter and all that were real (deep breaths deep breaths) my patronus would probably be an asthmatic woodland rodent of some kind.**

** Just kidding, I’ve actually thought about this a lot and it would totally be an otter, which is, according to trustworthy friend-sources, my “animal personality” (i.e. playful, creative, smelling of shellfish and brine, intelligent, et al.).***

*** It is also, I’ve been told, my gay bar body-type classification. Layers, you guys, layers.****

**** No, mom, I’ve never been to a gay bar. *****

***** I’d rather not end on that note, so here’s 2 Corinthians 12:9 –  “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (NIV). Blessings.

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silence and sadness

Very few people like silence. It’s uncomfortable and itchy, filling the heavy air and getting beneath our skin. It just sits there and demands we do the same.

Silence is a fragile tyranny, never far from shattering into a cloud of glass.

The Day of Silence often fails to really live up to its name, frequently co-opted by various groups of various ideologies and becoming, instead, a day of blame, a day of “truth,” a day of snarky T-shirts, a day of argument and name-calling.

Meanwhile, more kids are being beaten and ridiculed for simply existing; more kids are realizing they are something controversial and that angry strangers are, in a way, arguing about them. There is fear and loneliness. There is shame.

Sometimes there is death.

This is why the concept of silence is important. The bitter reality that some children are driven to believe the lies that they should undo themselves, that it would be better if they didn’t exist, should cause us to fall silent. In the face of such tragedy, our words should stick to our throats and our lungs should be robbed of breath.

In light of this, our addiction to saying things, to instantly appropriating any situation to serve our goals, is absurd.

We politicize pain and enslave suffering to protect ourselves, to deflect the immense weight of tragedy before it crushes us. Silence is vulnerability, unburdened air doing little to protect us from the wounds of simply being human.

Permit me a small tangent: This week has been terrible for the US. It’s been a while since I’ve feared my news feed so much. Violence is a borderless disease, and every day I’m more certain of that fact. But the madness of this week has been the daily rhythm of other cities and countries for years and decades. Baghdad, Syria, Sudan, DRC, Burma, and so many more are mired in the dark night of perpetual violence. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by it all. It’s hard to keep the bursting sadness at bay.

I think it’s time we let it get a bit closer to us.

Maybe it’s because I spent a decent part of my life unable to express sadness, but grief is a kind of gift. The unconscious process of bifurcating myself in high school to avoid the obvious reality that I was attracted to men suppressed my ability to feel anger or sadness. The past three years have seen a blessed return of tears, but it’s still a struggle for me. I won’t ever forget the night, two-and-a-half years ago, as I sat tattered and unravelling in a small prayer chapel begging God to do something, when I realized I could possibly cry for the first time in six years. But it was up to me. I could make it all go numb again, return to the dull but manageable ache of denial, or I could dare to acknowledge that I was in deep, tortured pain and unsure if God would do anything about it.

It was worth the cost. I slumped against the wall, shaking from fear and exhaustion, and decided to risk healing.

I’m faced with that decision – to allow the pain and suffering of others to disturb me or to close myself off – on a daily basis. For me it’s not just a choice between crying or not crying (I still rarely do), but about choosing to push into the new growth that began years ago with five tears in that dark, too-warm prayer chapel.

I need to consciously decide to sit with the confusion and sadness because I am all too aware of how easy it would be to slip back into a defensive posture and default to ignorance. It’s a very human, very safe move.

But I’d like to think, and this is where The Day of Silence comes back in, that even in the midst of the unfathomable violence of the world and inescapable display of global injustice, that even in a society drowning in words like “nuclear proliferation,” “car bombs,” “school shooting,” and “yet another,” a young boy getting punched into a locker for being “different” might still cause us great pain.

To fall silent and grieve is not alien to the Gospel; Jesus was dead for more than an instant.  In Christian fervor to defend the sovereignty of God or rationalize the presence of evil I think we often forget that, when confronted by great sadness, our tears could preach a more powerful word than a million sermons and our silence could speak of a love far greater than any utterance could bear.

Silence and grief compose an overture to redemption, a defiant pronouncement that the unremitting insanity of the world has neither robbed us of the ability to share the pain of strangers nor weakened our resolve to love our neighbor and work toward a future in which suicide and bullying are no longer looming threats to our children.

I wish I had more to say or offer, but I guess today, of all days, is a good day to just leave it at that.

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

welcome to the family pt. 2

There is a reason why Christians call each other brother and sister; the Church is a family. But the Church, unfortunately, receives the most press time for certain congregations displaying the ugly side of family gatherings: the bitterness, the dark secrets, the infighting, and the awkward scenes in public. We can do better.

We all have to do better, because I am convinced the integrity and credibility of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality depend entirely on its response to actual gay people in its community. If the Church expects men and women to give up something that can seem so natural, so essential to happiness, so culturally acceptable, it needs to show that it has something even better to offer the gay person than marriage, sex, and the small thrills of a daily romance and companionship.

To be blunt, we are by and large terrible at that. For reasons we have previously discussed (notably in Tony’s excellent post on marriage), the Church (at least in the USA) is often less an invitation to a full and communal life as it is a sparkling infomercial for something unavailable to the chastely single gay person – marriage.

So I thought I’d write down a few of the things that I will be looking for in a local church, things I expect from every church, specifically in regard to my homosexuality.

– I expect to become family. This is possibly the biggest thing a church can do to make singleness seem bearable (and maybe even, gasp, attractive?). If I cannot start a family of my own, the families surrounding me should be darn well prepared to invite me to meals, holidays, children’s sporting events, movie nights, whatever. An enormous part of feeling loved and whole is knowing that people want you to be in their lives and miss you when you are gone. Lonely people are very aware that everyone else is probably having a good time without them.[1] It’s one thing to develop a healthy appreciation of solitude and quiet, and it’s another thing to have no other options available because people are not including you as they should.

I don’t think I have to write anything more about this here. It should be obvious what it would look like to treat someone as family. Honestly, I’m not too worried about finding “family” in my 20’s. Churches are used to twenty-somethings needing to be included in home life. But what about when I’m 40, 50, 60 (is there life after 60?). It kind of scares me. I trust God will provide, but the small whispers of anxiety linger.

– I expect to be able to minister, as God leads, in any role a straight, single guy could. I have heard too many stories of men and women being restricted from serving in leadership specifically because they are gay, notably in children’s ministry (even if they are celibate!). I don’t get it. If there is a Men’s Naked Mud-Wrestling ministry, I will happily take the advice that perhaps my strengths are needed elsewhere (though now we’ll never know if I possess as-of-yet untapped evangelistic mud-wrestling potential…sigh). Otherwise, I would love to be able to use the passions and talents God has given me as he calls me.

There are pervasive cultural messages out there that tell me I am broken, compromised, and tragic because I’m attracted to men or because I won’t have sex with them. Some days I believe it all. One of the most powerfully transformative times in my life was when I lived and worked with abused kids for a summer. The all-Christian staff were ceaselessly affirming, always letting me know how proud they were of me, how excited they were that I was there with them, and how much the kids loved me. For one of the first times in my life I was being empowered to use all of me constructively for the sake of these beautiful children and the glory of God. That summer was the least lonely I have ever been because I finally experienced, and believed, that I was not “broken” beyond use, was not “compromised” beyond love, and not “tragic” beyond celebration.

Making sure that the gay members of each congregation are being encouraged to minister in life-giving ways and are validated for their contributions is an important part of preserving the church’s role as a place of where all people, no matter their background, can humbly take part in blessed service for the sake of the world.

– Lastly, I expect to be used as a resource. For too long the church has tried to “solve the problem of homosexuality” without drawing upon the experiences of its gay members. Remember that time they successfully built a safe and sturdy highway bridge with zero input from qualified engineers? Me neither.

Not every person who is attracted to the same sex wants to be so “public” about it, and that is totally fine. I personally feel strongly that I can be a helpful resource for my church as it becomes more passionate and capable of loving gay people of every conviction. The pastor at my current church has been wonderfully open to talking and has shown an eagerness to learn that makes me feel both validated and hopeful – that the pain and darkness I have gone through might be used to save someone like me from the same anguish. I won’t have all the answers, but that won’t stop God from using my story to build up his Church.

***

I guess the longing behind much of these expectations is that I simply want to be seen and loved as I am. For the gay Christian, rarely do the two coincide. Often we remain invisible out of anxiety that we will lose what love we do have, or maybe just because no one has noticed we were there to begin with. But visibility frequently seems to draw out confusion and fear far more readily than love and inclusion.

But isn’t it a truth of the Gospel that God sees each of his children fully and loves us unconditionally? Isn’t the Church supposed to embody (literally) that same, startling, counter-cultural embrace? How can we expect the world to think we are anything but crazy homophobes with a ridiculously backward sexual ethic unless we display this kind of inclusive, Christ-centered love to the gay men and women already kneeling under our steeples?

I’m excited. We have quite the opportunity here, I just hope we don’t miss it entirely.

Peace, brothers and sisters. Peace.

Jordan


[1] …and may fill 50% of their journal from Junior year with whiny complaints about it.

interacting with gay non-Christians

This post focuses solely on how Christians who are not pro-gay relationships interact with gay non-Christians who are in gay relationships.

There are two major things I think Christians need to understand about most gay non-Christians:

1. Being gay feels totally natural. Believe me, I know. The pull to be in a gay relationship is very strong, and it feels completely natural to me. When I’ve thought about kissing a guy before, it makes me feel….well….good. If you’re straight, think about how you feel towards someone of the other sex that you’re attracted to or with whom you’re in love — it’s the same feeling gay people have.

One implication of this is that gay people are not twisted people trying to engage in weird, perverted, and disgusting behavior. It may look that way to a straight person, but from a gay person’s perspective, it is natural. In fact, if you really got to know a gay couple, you would probably see a lot of romantic love in their relationship —romantic love that doesn’t look much different from a heterosexual relationship.

The other implication of this is that asking a gay non-Christian to give up their gay relationship makes no sense to them. Why would anyone want to give up a person that they love or a relationship that means the world to them? They wouldn’t. So they’re not going to join the Church, at least not churches that don’t endorse gay relationships.

Unless there was something better. And as Christians we know that the something better is following God and being a part of the body of Christ. But, unfortunately, we often make it impossible for gay people to believe that this is better because (1) we say hurtful and offensive things to gay people, causing our community to appear hurtful instead of loving, and (2) as my previous post indicates (see “some of Tony’s story”) – the Church often communicates that there is no place for a gay person in its community.

I think there’s actually a third reason too. The Church tends to emphasize that having a family and kids is the best life and best way to serve God. By joining the Church, most gay people will have to remain celibate, so because of the family emphasis, they feel like they won’t have a satisfying life. Thus, some may just decide not to become Christians or if they do, they decide to join churches that support gay marriage.

2. Gay non-Christians don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian God. Seems obvious? Yes. But not so much when you listen to what people say. It is unbelievable to me when I hear Christians talk about non-Christians practicing homosexuality or attempt to have dialogue with gay people when they say things like….

“God made Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve!”

“Why would they turn their back on God and forsake His natural law?”

“Don’t they know they’re going to Hell for being gay?” <<< many problems with this

“Marriage is between one man and one woman. God and the Bible say so.”

All of these statements presuppose belief in the Judeo-Christian God and make no sense to a non-Christian. If I don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian God, then I could care less what the Bible has to say about marriage or about being gay because I don’t think it has significance for truth.

So attempting to convict a gay person of their gay relationship with these statements is just about pointless and will probably result in the gay person developing alienation, bitterness, and anger towards the Church.

What a gay non-Christian needs is Jesus, just like any other non-Christian, and not some trite phrase that feels derogatory. What they need is people to respect them, to listen to their stories, to make them feel valued — something Jesus would do. If Christians think gay non-Christians shouldn’t be in a gay relationship, then they should be Jesus to them.

Then after the person knows Jesus is when dialogue about not being in gay relationships can occur. I believe Jesus saves us where we are at — He doesn’t expect us to be perfect before salvation (actually, He never expects us to be perfect). It’s after our salvation that He starts working in our hearts through the Holy Spirit’s sanctification.

Please note that I am not suggesting that we be manipulative to non-Christians and “trick” them into becoming Christians by hiding that we expect them to not be in a gay relationship once they are saved; rather, I am suggesting that we stop barraging them about their gay relationship and instead love them like Jesus.

So to summarize my post:

Being in a gay relationship is natural to a non-Christian >>> asking them to give this up is hard >>> there’s only credibility in asking someone to give this up if the Church can show they can be loved in different ways

Gay non-Christians are non-Christians >>> the Church’s rhetoric often paradoxically communicates that they are Christians >>> non-Christians who are gay need Jesus and not condemnation of their gay relationship that likely feels totally natural and beautiful to them

-Tony