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.

input

Well, good news, everybody: I have definitively proven that my tolerance for espresso is greater than the average human’s (this must be what mom meant when she told me I would be special some day). I have got to figure out a way to have deep, meaningful conversations without clutching a latte. Despite the minor annoyance of having my retinal fluid become caffeinated, my time at Wheaton has been truly wonderful. The “regular” posting schedule will resume over the weekend, I hope.

So, I have a favor to ask. I’m going to assume that there are people who read the blog and seriously disagree with any number of things in it, and I’ve been wondering, for a while, what I could be doing to better communicate in a way that is gracious and understanding. If you are one of those people, would you be willing to help me out by sending me an email with your thoughts or suggestions on how to improve the blog? I’m not so much looking for a flood of side-A arguments, though I guess you can send those along. Rather, I’m more interested in exposing my blind spots. Maybe I’ve stated things in a harmful way, maybe I haven’t done justice to an alternative view (as is inevitable, really), maybe I’ve dealt in false stereotypes, maybe I’ve incited feelings of alienation for some people. I’m sure I’m guilty of all those, and more, to one degree or another and I’m sorry for that.

I have a lot to learn, a lot of growing up to do. I hope to continually become a safer, more loving contribution to the conversation as a whole, and I think this is an important step forward.

Thanks!

Jordan

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.

when change never comes: reflections on reorientation therapy

I love weddings.

Except for the seemingly interminable delay between the end of the ceremony and my ability to eat food, everything about them fills me with joy.

I recently attended the wedding of some dear friends of mine. Everyone waited with bated breath for the stunning bride to enter through the doors and grace the chapel. This is my favorite part. Through a small window I caught a glimpse of her, bedecked in white, preparing to walk toward the altar. My world kind of stopped a little. I vividly felt the moment – her anticipation, fear, joy, bliss, and…the doors opened. She took a step. It was beautiful – the awed murmuring of the audience, the slight dilation of the groom’s eyes, the way her feet seemed to barely touch the ground, lifted by the swirling stream of piano chords and arpeggios – all of it arresting my usually distracted attention. They took each other’s hands and, before God, their friends, family, and a warm spring evening, became husband and wife.

And I thought to myself, “I still want this.”

*********

This overly long post is about “reorientation.” It’s about therapy, the possibility of change, and what it truly means to embody a healed sexuality. This is an essential subtopic in the discussion about homosexuality and Christianity. It is a commonly expressed sentiment within the evangelical church that working toward a “conversion” to heterosexual attraction is desirable and morally obligatory for all gay Christians. If you pray, I often hear, if you ask God persistently, if you are striving for holiness, then God the healer will take away your same-sex attraction and you can get married.

Bluntly, I think this is wrong. It’s just not true, and it is deeply harmful theology for men and women living with same-sex attraction. My main contention is with the certainty of the belief. God will “heal” me from my gayness if I ask. Tony has touched on this in various posts and comments, but there are simply too many Christians who have prayed daily and sought therapy and tried everything possible to change their orientation and never experienced any heterosexual desire. Was God unfaithful? Were they just not holy enough to merit his favor? Are they doomed to a broken, unholy sexuality until Christ returns or they die? No, no, and no. Those are the wrong questions.

We need some clarity on the subject. Conservative (and highly controversial) psychologists Yarhouse and Jones published a longitudinal study of Religious Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation. At the end of the report, we find that only 15% of men and women who underwent therapy experienced “conversion,” which does not mean the complete cessation of homosexual desire, but rather the appearance of some form of heterosexual attraction. That is a wildly important nuance.  Many of these people were still attracted to the same sex. 23% of the subjects only experienced a reduction in the potency of their same-sex desire, placing them in a category of “chastity possible” (which I don’t totally get… I mean, even if my desires were so strong I wanted to throw myself on top of every man I saw, chastity would still be possible and required).

This study (or any study, actually) cannot support the claim that God will make me straight if I ask him to. God can do that. Definitely. He’s, you know, God. But God can also rid someone of cancer. And yet Christians die of cancer all the time. I normally avoid making such a comparison between disease and same-sex attraction, but in this case I think they are remarkably similar.

God knows, even now, that I am open to the possibility of change. He was listening when I used to pray for it every single day, multiple times a day. I would sit in Wheaton’s prayer chapel, staring at the cross, and beg him in a million different tones of voice to please just let me be attracted to girls. Something so easy for him! Isn’t this what he wants for me? Why the heck can’t I be like everyone else?!  Why won’t he heal me? HEAL ME!

Then, at some point, after I had shut up a bit and started listening, I realized what God had been trying to tell me the whole time (in a James Earl Jones/ Morgan freeman voice, of course), “I have been healing your sexuality, but you are looking for the wrong fruit.”

…what?

Friends, with great joy and excitement and wonder I can tell you that God has been healing me in miraculous ways. It just so happens none of those ways involve me all of a sudden not having to combat the daily desire of wanting to make out with a dude. But honestly, at this point in my life, the mind-blowing reality of what God has done in  my life far outshines the continued presence of homoerotic longings. I used to think that if I had to live my whole life with these feelings I would probably explode in a mushroom cloud of lonely angst and self-pity. But isn’t this always the lie of Satan, that something will be too painful for us to endure, too miserable for us to possibly find joy, too compelling for us to bother resisting, or too overwhelming for us to see how God is transforming us into the likeness of the Son?

My desire to be straight had become an idol that turned my gaze away from God. Everybody, it seemed, told me that God would make me straight if I was a good Christian and asked him in faith. God’s faithfulness to me became dependent on him fulfilling this one request. I became God’s master, and he a tool in my own plans for social normality. This was my sin, my great folly.

Do not presume that it is God’s will to make all his gay children straight. Rather, it is God’s will to make all his gay children holy. I firmly believe my attraction to men is no barrier to holiness. I do not make that statement lightly, and I have certainly not always believed it. At some point I’ll write about how I came to this place of acceptance because I imagine I have a lot of explaining to do for some people. I just want to make perfectly clear that the primary reason I say all this is that God has been faithful to show me the ways he has used me specifically because of my experiences as a gay Christian to bless and heal others, grow in humility through otherwise impossible relationships, and build up the church in a unique and necessary way even as I remain firmly committed to a chaste singleness.

I am not in any way disregarding or impugning those who have decided to seek therapy. But I, and Tony, think that reorientation therapy should never be forced onto anyone, never prescribed as the path to Christian discipleship or human flourishing, and only entered into by men and women who feel called to it and are fully aware of the risks and challenges that face them. We both ask that in your dealings with gay friends and family that you not rush into suggesting such therapy as the key to freedom from their problems; anxiety surrounding one’s sexuality is often only a tiny part of other psychological or spiritual struggles that will not be healed by becoming straight. Do not make someone’s homosexuality the centerpiece of their existence before God.

There is so much more to talk about, but this is, I hope, sufficient for now. Please leave comments, we want to know what you all are thinking. We would also be unbelievably appreciative if you’d share this on Facebook or whatever. Don’t forget you can email us too! We’re so technologically available!

All this to say, I am trying in my own flawed way to be faithful to a faithful God who has been revealing to me in so many unexpected ways how he is working in my life for my own growth and healing as well as for the encouragement of others. Following Jesus has meant coming to terms with my attractions and finally releasing my white-knuckled grip on my sexuality and opening myself up to his creative and surprising invitations to sanctification and wholeness.

Peace,

Jordan