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.

other

Sometimes I forget that I’m gay.

Seriously. I’ll just be walking around, doing my thing, thinking about coffee or tennis or sleep or whatever, and suddenly:

Wait a second, I’m attracted to guys. Woah.

Then I resume my espresso daydream and life goes on. I probably don’t need to explain why such an occurrence is a little odd.

I mean, I’m going to just assume that straight people don’t know what it’s like to spend all day worrying over how straight they feel and wondering if other people can tell. “Oh crap, a beautiful woman! Was I staring? I think I was. Was someone watching me stare? Everyone must have noticed my eyes dilate. That man over there looks like he’s judging me. Great, now I have to leave the country…” “Did I play this sport too competently? Ugh, I hate myself…” “That old woman said she had a niece I should meet… does she think I like girls? How did she find out? Oh god, what if she tells my mom?” “Maybe if I just wear scarves and skinny-jeans no one will question my sexuality.”

But I could be wrong.

Either way, I used to be entirely preoccupied with image-control. I was almost always aware that I didn’t quite fit in and, therefore, pathologically tried to disguise that otherness, certain that should people find out I was gay the internal isolation that scraped and slithered around my brain would become an external reality and encompass me.

But a couple things are happening now: I am feeling less “other,” and my otherness is slowly shedding the fear and stigma of its youth.

I am not saying I expect, or even hope, to ever be “non-other”. Not at all. So long as I’m attracted to men, and so long as the late Jerry Fallwell’s elite team of ninjas succeeds in stopping President Obama’s diabolical plan to infect America’s drinking water with the gay gene, I will experience the otherness that comes from being a sexual minority until I die. However, such difference is no longer an inevitable occasion for anxiety because it is starting to reveal its role in the grand unfolding of God’s grace in my life.

(It is necessary to say that, even though I will be referring to “otherness” in the abstract, I can really only speak to my particular experience as an evangelical Christian man attracted to men – which is a reality that doesn’t externally mark me for marginalization. More than that, I happen to have inherited almost every other kind of socio-cultural privilege imaginable, which has, I am sure, significantly diminished the potency of my experience with “otherness.” While I may find myself occasionally camping in the margins, I do so with a $500 tent.)

The reason I’m even commenting on these brief flashes of “unawareness” or whatever-it-is, of not being consumed with feelings of “otherness,” is because this is the last place I expected to experience something like this. I flew down to Central America alone, re-entered “la bodega”, and have daily come up against rampant and incessant homophobia from the teenage boys I live with (and Central America’s machismo culture in general) – a recipe for angst and feeling super-gay and isolated. And yet…

I’m intrigued by the fact that I can feel so at home in my body while in a context where, honestly, I think bad things would happen if it got out that I’m gay. I’m experiencing almost-ideal self-perception in regard to my sexuality* in a less-than-ideal environment to be gay because, I think, they do one thing really well at the orphanage: work with the kids through diverse gifts and histories. I may not be “out” here, but the fact that I’m gay, and the way I’ve grown and deepened because of that fact,** has enabled me to serve these kids in a manner that is different from other staff members and yet still important and valued – namely, I tend to be more aware of how certain kids are being pushed to the fringes, more aggressive against bullying, and less rough in my behavior toward even the most obnoxious boys (one of whom, as I type, is randomly pressing buttons on my computer forcing me to engage in manic typo-prevention).

This is why I think the Church has so much to offer those attracted to the same sex.***  So many people can only dull the ache of difference by staying in communities comprised of those who are equally “other” and thus experience a kind of normativity.**** Though the Church does, in some ways, serve a similar function, it does not do so through the normalization or flattening of otherness; the Gospel is not about homogenization (this is one reason I think we have four notoriously idiosyncratic Gospels accounts), it’s about redemption, conformation, and scandalous equality before God.

I don’t love Christian community because I get to spend time with people “just like me,” though Christ-followers do share certain unshakeable foundations. I love Christian community because it reminds me that I am united in purpose and worship with a bunch of crazy people around the world who aren’t like me at all and who reveal Christ to me in ways that would be otherwise unknown.

In this community my otherness, once an occasion for feelings of distance and loneliness, can, and should, take its rightful place as a site of revelation of the goodness and beauty of God. And thus, somehow, otherness – the multiform, embodied experience of being wrongly marginalized for one reason or another – becomes a catalyst for a more profound unity and depth. And while I hesitate to ascribe any sort of moral exceptionalism to marginalization, we must acknowledge that we serve a Christ who seemed far more at home on the dusty fringes than in the cushioned halls of privilege.

There is so, so much more to this, and I apologize for all the nuance I couldn’t include in less than 1000 words.

But I want to finish by saying that I am hopeful. I am hopeful that the Church (specifically the North American church) will become less concerned with the maintenance of social power and position and more passionate about proclaiming the Gospel through myriad stories of redemption lived out in a community dedicated to loving service of the world.

Jordan

Edit – Please do not think I am glossing over the gross sins of the church in regard to the LGBTQ community or the serious hurdles we face as we try to move forward in love. For slightly more critical posts, see What Is Love (which I think is one of the most important posts I’ve written), and Family Talk, among others.

* Almost-ideal not in that I forget that I’m gay, but in that my sexuality does not dominate my self-perception as it used to.

** Though such growth and depth are, I would say, the result of interacting with my sexuality through the primary and total filter of my Christian faith.

*** Aside from the, you know, relationship with Jesus and eternal life and all that.

**** I’m not saying such communities are bad. Not at all. In many ways they can be both necessary and life-giving. I greatly benefitted from my time in the gay student-group at Wheaton, which is but one example among many. I just don’t think they are an adequate substitute for what the church is called to be.

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!

 

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

why gay is not choice: we are biological beings

I am furious.

As he posted on our Twitter account, my brother Jordan was told by a counseling pastor to his face (and to his mother) that he chose to be gay and that he might not be saved. Are you kidding me? Are you serious? For starters, if you knew Jordan in person, you would know that questioning his salvation is just foolish; he gives ample evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. It is clear that he is saved.

I have difficulty taking seriously individuals that hold to beliefs like this. I question their theology, and I even question their intellectual capabilities. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that these individuals have been taught a heavy anti-psychology bias. Every mental issue becomes spiritualized. Feel depressed? You must not be seeking the joy of the Lord. Anxious? You clearly aren’t casting your fears unto the Lord. Paranoid? You must not trust God.

To assume that people have “willful” control of every emotion they experience, of every impulse they feel, of every thought that crosses their mind is flat out heresy.

It’s heresy because it denies that our conscious experiences —- our thoughts and emotions —- do not have biological components. It denies that we have bodies, that we are physical beings. Everything that we do involves neurons firing in our brain. If I activated certain neurons in an individual’s brain, I could make them feel certain emotions, even make them move certain body parts. If you drink a bunch of alcohol, you will exhibit certain behaviors, regardless if you want to or not. If I give you a sedative, you will feel more relaxed and act more subdued. If I kept you awake for several days, you would be unable to sustain attention.

The reality is that all of our brains have been wired in particular ways. They’ve developed that way due to the genetic code that we have inherited, the chemicals exposed to that genetic code, and even how our cultural environment has interacted with us. Some people’s brains become wired in ways that make it easier for them to exhibit acceptable behaviors. Others don’t. Would we expect people who are mentally challenged to be able to grasp complicated concepts? No. Would we expect a child on the autism spectrum to always act socially appropriate? No. Would we expect someone who has no brain area for producing speech to suddenly talk? No.

So then, tell me, why do some churches/Christians expect some people who are consistently depressed, or have a high level of anxiety, or who experience same-sex attraction to suddenly have volitional control over these areas?

Some of you, same-sex attracted or not, have been spiritually abused and manipulated when it comes to whatever mental calamity or deficiency that your suffer from. You’ve been told that you’re not trusting God enough, not turning to Him, that you simply need to pray more for whatever you’re experiencing to go away.

Sometimes our struggles are the result of our failure to turn to God. But sometimes, no matter how many times we pray, our brain cells are going to stay that way and things aren’t going to change. And this isn’t because you’re doing something wrong; it’s because you live in a world that has gone wrong.

I’m not trying to be a pessimist. I’m not trying to say there isn’t relief for people who suffer from mental anguish. But to assume that people are only experiencing brokenness because they haven’t prayed in the “proper” way is dangerously tinted with shades of a triumphalism that does not do justice to the confusing depth of human suffering. To assume that every conscious experience of ours is spiritual (or within our control) is naïve, it’s bad theology, and to be blunt, it’s stupid.

When it comes to being gay, we have a part of our brain that is devoted to sexual arousal (the hypothalamic region). If I’m correct, all mammals have sexual arousal response systems in this part of the brain. In humans, it is a less “advanced” part of our brain, meaning we have less control over it. It isn’t part of our outer cortex. So it should not be hard to believe or come as a surprise, that there are males who have wiring that causes them to be sexually aroused by other males and that there are females who have wiring that causes them to be aroused by other females. Biologically, this could easily develop. There is sexual arousal in other parts of the brain too that is more plastic (changeable), and maybe this is why some people’s homosexuality is more malleable and flexible.

My point is that believing that people could be attracted to the same-sex isn’t a complicated concept. It’s not rocket science. Forgive me, I know I’m coming across as arrogant, but I’m so frustrated that there are people who refuse to believe this, especially those in some churches. It just makes Christians look dumb.

Now practically, no matter what we face in our lives, we are still called to turn to God — to trust that He is control of our lives, to trust that our God is bigger than anything we face, to trust that He can still use us despite any mental deficiency that we may face. And believe it or not, focusing on God’s love for an individual could help rewire a depressed person’s brain (thoughts have power to change connections and chemicals released). And focusing on how God is in control of our lives, could relieve some anxiety. But it may not bring complete relief. Some people’s brains are fairly hardwired, especially in regions that are less influenced by thought. They may always have a level of anxiety or perhaps a level of depression or perhaps a reduced ability to control their emotions.

But even with whatever affliction we face in our lives — whether it’s in our brains or pain in our joints or nausea in our stomachs — God is still God over our lives. He still loves us. He still uses us. And He will still set everything right someday.

I just wish that some Christians and some churches would stop denying the influence of our biology over our feelings, emotions, thoughts, and yes, even sexual attractions.

-Tony

nuance

A few thoughts have been rattling around my skull for a bit, so in this post I’m going to try my hand at identifying a serious problem in the church today. Here I go:

1)    It’s not lupus. ( Anyone? Anyone?!)

2)    We have done a poor job of distinguishing the social significance of homosexuality from its intrinsic theological significance. In other words, we have conflated two things that should, I think, remain separate.

Any cursory glance at a major news source will quickly reward you with at least one LGBTQ article (or 17 of them if you read HuffPost…which I do). In fact, media references to LGBTQ rights/struggles/triumphs are so common (Chich-Fil-A, anyone?) that 35% of Americans think that 25% of Americans are gay, when the actual number is probably somewhere between 2-4%. (And seriously, America?! 25%? That means the average family of four has at least one gay person in it. Holy crap, my family has four people in it! That means someone in my family is — ohhh wait.)

All this to say: society believes that the growing presence of LGTBQ people is one of the most important social developments of the 21st century, and I am inclined to agree (until the alien overlords arrive, at least).

I think the evangelical church looks at that (and the “war” on the traditional family), sees the potential challenge such a development could pose to its teachings, and becomes immensely sensitive (in the not-so-great way) and skeptical toward all things “gay.” This, unfortunately, has at times included me.

As I’ve said before, I really don’t think the fact that I just so happen to be attracted to men is of any great theological import. It isn’t entirely inconsequential, but, theologically, I wouldn’t categorize myself differently than any other single Christian. My attractions aren’t the result of some unaddressed sin, nor do they mark me as especially incapable of faithfully living the Christian life. Truly, before God, they aren’t that big of a deal. (See this post or this post for more on that.)

And yet in the current political/cultural climate I can understand why that would be so hard for certain church leaders to believe. From almost every direction they are being told that sexual orientation is a huge deal, and so it’s not terribly surprising that the nuanced distinction between the theological and social significance of homosexuality is overwhelmed by the static roar of a divisive, so-called “culture war.”

This is one of those wonderful areas of tension within the Christian life, and I’m not entirely sure how to best move forward in it. How can the church do justice to the very real social weight of homosexuality (abstractly and concretely) without burdening our church communities with a theology that wrongly inhibits chaste, same-sex attracted men and women from serving and living like other members (or wrongly promotes stigma against non-chaste men and women)?

Wow, this is harder to articulate than I expected, my apologies. While acknowledging that the church needs to put forth a very concerted effort to reach out and minister to those in the LGBTQ community, I also don’t want things to be blown out of proportion. Because certain leaders at my church are so aware of the current controversies surrounding sexuality, I became controversial myself despite living faithfully. To them, and many others, the fact that I am attracted to men can’t be anything but a glaring theological problem that affects how I serve the church. Because the public discourse is so fraught with language of a polarized morality, it is difficult for people to imagine that my attractions could possibly be morally neutral.

Does any of that make sense? I’ll stop there and maybe let this play out in the comments, if y’all have any. If I kept writing it would just be like subjecting you guys to watching me bowl – i.e. it would only confuse and frustrate you, and invite the wrath of God upon me. It’s…not a pretty thing.

Peace,

Jordan

/rant

Ok, I was halfway through a much more informative post on a different subject when I randomly switched topics and wrote an entirely separate entry. So, this is a detour post. It’s kind of like that time I was trying to get home but my GPS brought me to a dark, creepy wheat field in the middle of nowhere instead… except there’s a much lower risk of being eaten by a vivified Scarecrow this time around (though I’m not saying there is no risk, mind you).

What do Santa Claus, Bigfoot, appealing shades of taupe, leprechauns, and life-long chastity as a single, gay person have in common? They don’t really exist, apparently. (Please don’t argue with me about Santa, just accept it and move on). Obviously I’m being dramatic; with the exceptions of Santa and non-ugly taupe I’m actually open to suspending my disbelief.

Ill-crafted joking aside, I’m a bit discouraged at the moment. The source of this slight melancholy was hinted at above: it doesn’t seem like anyone around here actually believes I can live my whole life without having sex of one kind or another. Our culture is simply too sexual, our biology too compelling, to remain chastely single as a gay Christian.

Recently, it feels as if my life has become the unfortunate playground for the unfounded fears of many dear and wonderful people. Being honest, it’s a wearying thing to know that respectable men and women think of me as an exceptionally weak, sin-prone, sexually perverse man. They wouldn’t say it in that language, so I’m probably being unfair. Anyway, that’s how it feels.

It’s frustrating that so few people seem to have faith that I’ll remain chaste for any amount of time. If I were straight and single, even though I’m sure they would want me to get married, they would expect me to remain chaste until that day and would encourage me that such a life is possible and totally within the reach of my Christ-empowered, regenerate self. That is not the message I am receiving. And that, more than anything, has made these past weeks difficult. I hate being on the crappy end of a double standard (to which the rest of the whole world – after observing my upper-class, white, male self – says, “HA!”). This reaction bewilders me. I get that people are just trying to look out for my future, but I don’t think they realize they are literally sabotaging the holy path to flourishing.

Western culture at large already relentlessly smashes me in the face with ads, movies, shows, and music that tell me there is absolutely no way I can possibly control my sex-drive, that I’m some kind of deluded, Amish/Victorian/Alien freak-show for thinking, just maybe, I can go my whole life without sex and avoid shriveling up and evaporating from a severe case of being prudish and ultra-lame (little do they know I suffered from that in middle-school and have developed ample antibodies). But when I turn to the church and I hear basically the same message, it stings a lot, and I start to wonder if I really am crazy.

Over and over it’s implied that the best possible outcome is that I would get married to a woman some day (as soon as possible) because it is simply too hard to live in this culture without having sexual release in marriage. I hear things like, “Man, I wouldn’t be able to do that” or “You’re setting yourself up for a huge fall by the time you’re forty” or “I’m just praying that God will provide you with a wife because it’s so difficult to be single.”

Has the Gospel become less compelling than sex? Really?! We proclaim the same miserable message as “the world” if we cannot trust that chaste singleness is not only possible, but wonderfully blessed. Maybe instead of trying to be a glorified Christian Mingle the church should focus on being a stunning community of brothers and sisters so dedicated to the all-consuming power of God that the single members know without a doubt that they are living a beautiful and full life that is not any less profound because they haven’t taken someone to bed. Maybe we should be spending less time telling single people how tragically unlikely it is that they will be able to resist the siren song of sex and more time exhorting them to passionately model the inclusive and healing life of Christ, assuring them that, with God’s help, they are truly able to live chastely without being married and then coming along side of them every day to support them on that road.

I have nothing against marriage or the possibility of being married (I wrote a post about it), but it is no more “good” than being single. Maybe it’s just my context and I am over-reacting, but for this whole year I had been increasingly excited about being single in the church until that church started telling me singleness was going to effectively drag me to hell.

So go find a single person and give them a huge freaking hug and let them know, by the grace of God, they can make it! That their lives are wonderful beacons of hope in a culture drifting anchorless in a roiling sea of sexual obsession. And if you are single, find a mirror and tell yourself that God loves you, that he is with you, that chastity is not beyond you as you dive deep into the still waters of his grace, that you have astounding and unique gifts to be used for his glory through edification of the Church and service of the marginalized, and that one day Christ will look at you, whether you ever get married or not, with overwhelming joy in his eyes and welcome you into his eternal rest. Because God knows somebody needs to say it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger on repeat until my ears bleed and my parents take a shotgun to my speakers.

Sorry for the rant. Has this been the case for anyone else? I’m really interested in knowing how other church communities have responded.

EDIT: I felt the need to add that even if a person falls and gives in to the temptation to have sex outside of marriage, it’s not like they instantly become the most abhorrent of sinners. Sexual sin is a big deal, but it’s not any bigger than the power of God to forgive and not any dirtier than what he can make clean. Everyone screws up in some way, and I hope the church can be there to help pick them off the floor and point them back to Christ and walk with them along the way. Am I being naïve? I’d just like to think this is what the Gospel can do…

Jordan

P.S. And I know it doesn’t seem like it from this post, but I’m doing well. Still optimistic about my church’s progress in understanding where I am coming from and really becoming a community of safety for men and women like me. I am confident God will work in mighty ways here (and I swear it really is a wonderful church). I’ve had some good conversations with my family and some friends recently, and can definitely attest to the faithfulness of God in my life this summer. He deserves some serious praise, lemme tell ya. Peace.

fit for service

At the risk of becoming a prayer lecher, taking advantage of unsuspecting, innocent blog readers, I do have some things happening in the future for which I would appreciate some intercession.

A week ago on Tuesday I met with the pastoral staff of my church in which I am interning to give my full testimony (which the head pastor has known for a year) and open myself up for questions and wisdom. They were kind and receptive and I was encouraged by the meeting. However, I found out on Saturday that many of them actually had some pressing concerns that needed to be addressed before I did too much more in leadership.

More specifically, I wouldn’t be allowed to lead a co-ed high school Bible study session alone, and I probably wouldn’t get to preach as I was scheduled to do (and the congregation breathes a sigh of relief).

The underlying fears here are that my attractions are inherently sinful, that I’m not doing enough to change them, and that I might be at a greater risk of becoming a sexual predator. So this is all kind of a bummer, and something I was hoping wouldn’t happen. I love this church and have felt very known and loved during this past month.

Strangely enough, I’m not too upset about this development for a few reasons. The first is that these “decisions” are not final, at all. They are the initial reaction to encountering something that has not been publicly dealt with inside of this church, something that is fraught with confusion, misunderstanding, and tension. I am going to be meeting individually with each person, starting today, and working through the questions, hoping it will become clear that I’m not unfit for such kinds of service.

The second reason is that, well, I love these guys. They’ve known me for over a decade and have been a serious part of my Christian development. I’m sad, but not resentful, and I can see that they’re simply trying to be faithful to what they perceive Scripture teaches and  protect the kids. Yea, I’m not so happy that I could ever be seen as a threat to children’s ministry (see Welcome to the Family pt. 2), but, I don’t know… if this were happening to someone else at some other church, I’d be angry. But praise God, I think my relationship with these people is preventing feelings that would blast me off the path of humble grace and charity. This doesn’t mean I’m not going to do everything I can to show them how the witness of the Gospel is damaged by reactions like this, but the witness of the Gospel would also be damaged if I responded in anything less than a kind (but firm!) openness and vulnerability.

And lastly, if everything gets shot to heck, I’m only here for another month before I head off to spend the next eight months abroad (i.e. living in Africa, not in drag) and then move to another city.

I’m fairly positive, almost recklessly optimistic, that everything will turn out totally fine. The head pastor has been going to bat for me and has a good, though recently developed, grasp on the nature of things and was also saddened by the news of the staff’s response. And these aren’t unreasonable, hate-filled people. Not. At. All. I have been in awe this summer at the quality of their faith. I truly believe these conversations will prove helpful for all of us and that I’ll be allowed to do all the things about which they have apprehensions.

That’s all. I’ll let y’all know how it turns out.

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.

welcome to the family pt.1

This is a two part reflection on what the church can and should be for the gay Christian. I’ll begin with a story:

I loved the church I attended while at Wheaton – it was an exciting and nourishing blend of liturgical tradition, evangelical social awareness, and charismatic worship. During my final semester I decided to attend the Wednesday evening prayer and healing service, described as a time for people wrestling through darkness to come before the Eucharistic table and find rest. Each night the speaker briefly talked about specific areas of suffering and confusion that might be relevant to the fifty or so people in the audience.

My decision to show up that first evening in January was largely influenced by the topic of an upcoming session in February: Homosexuality. I was curious what they would say, and thought maybe I would find some unexpected answers to my vague questions. But I was not going to make my first appearance at the sanctuary on the day they discussed gay people. Please. So I went to “Attachment disorders,” and “Gender dissociation,” as warm-ups to throw people off. Sure, I struggled with both of those things, but at least they wouldn’t think I was gay.

That fateful evening in mid-February became more important than I would have imagined, and not because of the message that was preached. In fact, the topic was changed last minute to “Idolatry” and I daydreamed through the whole thing anyway (though I’m sure all the idolaters I saw showing up for the first time were listening well enough).

That was the night I realized the Church could be my family.

Earlier that week a nasty storm of emotional cross-currents began crashing down upon my hole-filled dinghy of mental stability. I was facing some relational difficulties with my closest friends, had reached a record imbalance in the ratio of thoughts-about-the-body-of-Christ to thoughts-about-the-body-of-Sam (my crush), felt increasing anxiety over my capstone thesis, was coming down with a cold, and was terrified by a resurgence of old lies I thought were defeated. I think at one point my roommate walked in on me curled up in a ball under my blanket with my head sandwiched in my pillow, shaking uncontrollably. Thank goodness I’d squandered my dignity long before that.

The last thing I felt like doing was dragging myself out of bed and going to the prayer service. But I did. Throughout the whole liturgy I was engaged in a yelling match with my brain, trying to figure out why I was feeling lonely again, why the dark fears about the future were taking root in my imagination after such a blessed span of peace. I needed prayer, and I needed it bad. Happily for me, finding prayer at a prayer service is like looking for a disappointing meal in London – discovery is inevitable (inedible?).

I don’t often have moments where I feel as if the Holy Spirit is actively trying to tell me something. When people advise me to listen for God’s voice, I only end up hearing things like “Simmbaaaaa.” But this time, this time I am convinced God was pushing me to receive prayer from one of the ministers around the room.

But I didn’t want to. I was shy, I was tired, I was beaten down by apathy, and I just didn’t want to try and explain all the relational things that were causing me angst. So God and I had a chat that legitimately went something like this (I am a weasel):

“Jordan, ask someone to pray for you.”
“Ummmm, wellll, the service is almost over, and…”
“That guy. He’s available. Go. Now!”
“Ehhhh, I’ve seen him around. Seems nice. Buuut…I don’t really like his sweater, honestly, and this song is ending. If there’s another song, I’ll go.”
Be Thou My Vision ends, Happy Day starts up manically
“Oh, darn, this song is too upbeat for a solemn prayer like I need.”
“Seriously?”
“Yea. And it’s probably the last one. Sorry God, I feel really bad about disobeying you,” (I did feel very bad about that)  “if there’s another song that is slower and more somber, then I’ll ask for prayer.”
Happy Day ends, It Is Well begins slowly and somberly
“#@^%$!!!”
“That guy. Go. I love you.”

I nervously walked the five, grueling miles to the man standing by the wall next to me, spilled my guts, was anointed with oil, prayed for, hugged deeply, and blessed. That was it. I still had a cold, my back still hurt, I still needed to talk to my friends, I still felt kind of awkward… but I had the goofiest smile across my face as I walked to my car. It was such a small thing, really, but it meant the world to me. The Church is awesome!

I realized I had never had to rely on the local church for my emotional and social welfare – my friends on campus filled that role for me. But much of my fear came from the awareness that, one day, I wouldn’t have these friends with me. The instability of my relationships at that time exacerbated latent anxiety about a lonely, partner-less future. Up until that moment, I guess I had never truly believed the local church could possibly be my family. But there I was. I had turned to the church in a time of desperate need and she had provided, by the grace of God.

My culturally standard vice of confining my vision of the local church to a two-hour, weekend ritual prevented me from seeing the full beauty of what it could be for me. A caustic medley of sinful terror had filled the empty space that should have contained a commitment to integrating myself into a church community. But I am fighting to reclaim that holy territory, and God has been faithful to redeem my imagination. As I continue to push into the local body, as they continue to welcome me in their lives and families, I anticipate great spiritual growth. And when my passion falters and I lose sight of the beauty of the church, I will hear God gently telling me,

“Rememmmberrrr…”

…ok, so maybe there are some things I still have to work on.

Jordan