tense

Well, everybody, it’s time to admit the humiliating truth: I can’t see into the future.

I know, I know, it’s embarrassing, but I’ve got to be honest with myself, and the reality is that, for all my effort, all my reading, all my thinking, all my praying, I simply don’t know what my life will look like five, ten, or fifty years from now. Heck, I can’t even guarantee an irradiated dino-spider isn’t going burst into my room within the next three seconds.

No worries guys, I made it.

My inability to pierce the hazy veil of time usually stings most when I’m at home; because I spend so many months away, people want to know who I am now, how I’ve changed, and who I am becoming. That is all wonderful, and I appreciate being able to process through things with people and share what God has been doing in my life, but since I began coming out to people this past summer a new question has started to dominate certain conversations: who will I be in the future?

People who love and care about me want assurance that I will always be staunchly conservative and celibate. I mean, I want that assurance of myself, too. It would make life so simple to be able to say, “I will always and forever believe all the things I think to be true right now. I will never doubt, never question, never reconsider, never ‘switch sides.’ So don’t worry.”

Simple and, I think, totally miserable. It would be miserable because I know I’m not right about everything. In fact, I count it as one of God’s greatest gifts that we can learn and grow and be challenged and changed. I am thrilled I am not now who I was five years ago, and I suspect, five years from now (if I am still alive), I will be similarly amazed at what God has done to draw me closer to him in, I’m sure, surprising and unforeseen ways.

Before I went to college, I thought I would always be a “creationist,” never question gender roles, always be a Calvinist, never be a pacifist, always avoid an espresso addiction and, of course, never be gay. 

Oops.

So I can’t promise I’ll always be convinced that celibacy is my requisite (though not unhappy) path. I just can’t. I know myself too well, and I don’t know the future well enough.

What I can promise, though, is that I will live each day pursuing the glory of God, seeking to rest in his love and display it relentlessly to others. I can promise that I will place myself under the authority of scripture and Christian community, and that I will ask hard questions and, I hope, obey hard answers.

As it is, if I continue to live that kind of life, I feel confident the convictions toward sexuality that I have now will remain, though enriched, nuanced, and deepened. I hope they do.

I hope they do, because I’m scared they won’t.

I hope they do, because, when I lay in bed some nights, I hope they don’t.

I’m not some invincible dogmatic war-machine, impervious to any and all pain or insecurity. There are enough people telling me exactly who I need to be now because of my sexuality that I’ve found the added demand to simultaneously guarantee and justify who I will be in the future both beyond my capacity and deeply exhausting.

For so long I felt the need to put up some kind of iron-clad front to earn people’s approval, to dispel any doubt that I will always believe what I believe now. That I will be strong enough. That I will be wise enough.

Ridiculous. I’m a Christian. I should be the first to admit that I am both weak and unbearably stupid on my own. I am, as all humans are, an ever-changing work in progress.

No, I need God desperately, and trying to come across as sufficiently immutable was just smoke and mirrors to deter people from piercing me with that uncertain stare that says, You aren’t going to make it past forty, little more than a small rebellion against my utter dependence on Christ and the Church.

Because I am weak, I need to cling to the God whose strong embrace surrounds me and lifts me up. Because I am irrational and inconsistent, I need to draw near to the God who will lead me in righteousness all the days of my life. Because I can’t rely on my own feeble promises, I need to trust solely in the God whose promises never fail, who will guide me and teach me and nurture me and place before me a joyful path of discipleship that will lead me ever further into his marvelous light. Because I don’t know who exactly I will be as I grow, I need a church community to continually remind me who I am and who I serve.

Precisely because the future is hidden from me, I need to seek God in the present. My fear-fueled visions of what may be will always overwhelm me because I don’t yet have what it takes to overcome them. I suspect I won’t until that future becomes the present and God, as he always does, meets me in a way that is more astounding, more good than I could conceive of right now.

I’m only 22. I still struggle with child-proof Advil bottles and sometimes daydream about being a Pokémon master. I have a lot of maturing to do. As I have recently engaged in the conversation surrounding homosexuality and the church, I have realized that no matter how much research I may do, no matter how many blog posts I may write, I simply cannot change the fact that there is much I am unable to learn about myself and my sexuality except through the passing of time. There are fears and trials I cannot fully address until they actually materialize. Now, I’m in no rush – the future can hold on to its crow’s feet and baldness – but, well, patience doesn’t come naturally.

So, I’d rather not have to pretend that I have all, most, or even a decent chunk of the answers right now. What I do have is Jesus, transcendant and imminent, and his assurance that he will be with me as the seconds pass like gravel or grass beneath my uncalloused feet. And, as he’s told me in the past, I shouldn’t worry so much about the future because it distracts me from the present moment in which he is working miracles.

My goal in life is to glorify God in all that I do, not to merely be successfully celibate. Just because I’m confident the former leads to the latter, and just because I am committed to working hard to develop as someone who flourishes in singleness, doesn’t make the distinction any less important.

Why do I get the feeling that I’m just now beginning to learn what it looks like to really trust God? Maybe it’s that I’m finally having to admit that I don’t trust myself. Not yet, at least.

Well, whatever it is, to God be the glory, forever and ever, amen.

Jordan

walls

To follow up Tony’s post on interacting with Christians who are “affirming,” I thought I’d offer a reflection on my own journey of moving past the simple stereotypes and pervasive fear than can cripple church unity. I hope it is helpful and encouraging to you in your walk.

                                                                    ***

“So, before we leave can we just maybe go around the table and see where everyone is at with, you know, understanding their sexuality? Like, how you’re planning on living and stuff in the future?”

The girl who asked the question, Lea, was sitting to my left and volunteered the first response. Like good Americans we went clockwise around our little five-person group, each taking the time to explain if he or she planned on, or was open to, marrying someone of the same sex after graduating. I was in the unenviable position of going last, and grew increasingly anxious as each member talked happily about the possibilities of marriage that awaited them, or how they hoped to find churches that were affirming but not flaming (except with the presence of the Holy Spirit, of course). The whole time they were talking I felt a foreign twinge of…something, and it only got worse as the meeting went on.

By the time it was my turn, I realized I was going to be quite the black sheep. “What should I do? Will I offend them if I say I don’t think having a boyfriend is theologically permissible? Will I damage our new friendships if I talk about my convictions? Will they think I look down on them? Pity them? Fear them? Will they feel condemned?”

I stammered out some rushed sentences accompanied by my own nervous laughter and diverted eyes, “Well, uh, I’m still totally a conservative evangelical so no sex for me! Haha ha aha…” Not the most auspicious beginning, and it only got worse from there. I peddled meaningless clichés and abruptly concluded my ill-fated response mid-sentence, hands waving as if I had actually said something of consequence. I felt like there was a chasm in between me and them, and I didn’t know what to do.

I barely noticed the beautiful spring weather as I marched back to my apartment. “What was that? What is wrong with me?! Am I ashamed? Afraid?….. Jealous? Dang it, why does my chest hurt so bad? Crap. Crap! Not now. I’m stronger than this. Not now! I promised God I’d never feel this way. God please don’t let me feel this way! God, make me stronger, make me stronger, make me stronger…”

I made it home, numbly mumbled at a roommate, shut my door, fell into my chair, and started journaling. My painfully etched words helped bring focus to my frantic imagination as thoughts, laced with profanity and madness, began to coalesce into something solid. One of my fears was becoming reality. For the first time in my life my convictions seemed inadequate to sustain me. They were like a bitter vapor before me, and I resented them. I felt that if I tried hard enough I really could convince myself they weren’t true. I started to cry.

Up until that point I had never questioned if God really did require me to remain single and abstain from same-sex romance. Of course he did! If I wanted to live otherwise I would have to throw Scripture and salvation out the window, right? My counselor always praised the strength of my convictions; they were seemingly unshakeable. No matter the pain, the heartache, or the loneliness, I never wavered. But now…

I felt so exposed. Something had shifted in my half-manic mind. Something was different. And then I saw it.

I moved to my laptop, still in tears, and quickly wrote to a friend, “Today’s meeting was hard for me. This group is the first time I’ve ever talked with other gay people my age, and it’s also the first time I’ve ever talked about homosexuality with people who don’t hold the same convictions I do. This is a very good experience for me, but at this particular time in my walk hearing people talk about homosexuality without language of celibacy and with hope for future same-sex relationships…well…it’s really hard. I’m in a lot of pain right now, and I think it’s just because I’m being forced, and rightly so, to move past my flimsy shield of rhetoric that gay Christians who ascribe to non-celibacy are weak and disingenuous. This shield has to come down for me to grow in love and compassion, but it’s leaving me vulnerable in a way I was unprepared to deal with. My convictions are fine, I think, but life just became more complicated. A good, painful kind of complicated.”

What I had realized was that the strength that had sustained my convictions for so long, that was such a reliable stabilizer, was not so much drawn from a passionate, consuming love for God and my neighbors as it was from a self-righteous stigma and fear. My focus had shifted imperceptibly from being like Christ to not being like those weak, disingenuous Christians who caved and bought wholesale the shallow, faux-theology of the “affirming” camp.

Those people in that small group, those beautiful, hilarious, genuine, loving, passionate, Christian people, exposed the untenable basis for my convictions simply by being. Their hollow-point presence ripped through my previously bullet-proof pretensions and sent me reeling. Praise God for them. I never would have realized my sin unless they had befriended me.

From the chaotic haze, the truth that I had deprived these people of the love I owed them as brothers and sisters in Christ slowly emerged. The barriers I had erected were not so much protecting me from struggles as they were preventing me from loving others fully. The walls had to come down. I felt clearly that God was telling me, “Have your convictions, but if they are grounded in anything but the radical power of my Gospel and the desire to love as I love then they will never be holy. This will hurt, at least for a while, but know that I love you too much to let you love others so poorly.”

This was how I would move forward. The desperate cries of “Make me stronger, let me know that I’m right!” turned into a whispered plea, “God, teach me to love as you are love.”

I decided to stay in the group and to learn from the others in it, to patiently work through the rigor mortis of dying sins and live into the new flesh that was offered to me by the man who loved at the greatest cost to himself. I felt weak, I felt exposed, I felt inadequate, and I felt so, so free.

I quickly typed the final lines of the email, hit send, closed my laptop, placed my head in my hands, and wept harder than I ever had before.

Jordan

wanted for possession

There was a fairly long period of my life where one thought in particular would almost bring me to tears whenever it crossed my mind. “You know, Jordan, if everyone in the world paired up, nobody would choose you. You’d be all alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone…”

My subconscious was like a tool who had discovered a reverb machine.

It was only recently that I finally discerned what exactly was going on for those two or three years: I was craving exclusivity. In the throes of a crippling fear of a dark and lonely future, I felt, viscerally and relentlessly, that if I just had one person, one person who I knew would choose me above anybody then I would have peace and all would be well. It might also end world poverty! (I was a desperate prayer-bargainer).

This made me a terribly jealous friend. I knew it was bad, I knew I was ruining my ability to be content in my relationships, but I didn’t know how to stop that panicky ache from flaring up.

Wanna know what’s really helpful when trying to combat such bitter anxiety? Reading the Bible. Wanna know what’s really unhelpful? Reading the Bible’s stories about David and Jonathan. Man I hate those guys – all super non-sexually intimate and “you’re love is better than a woman’s” and “our souls are knit together” and stuff. They’re the worst.

I wanted that, and I let my journal know just how upsetting it was not to have it on a regular basis. But what did I really want? Well, I’ll you what I wanted, what I really, really wanted[1]: to have that one person into whom I could wholly pour myself, who meant everything to me and returned those feelings. It didn’t have to be sexual, it just needed to be a certain degree of exclusive.

Oh, the twisted siren song of that word, tempting me to passionately wreck myself upon the rocks in pursuit of an unattainable phantasm of desire. It almost had me.

I had come to grips with giving up the exclusivity of marriage, but somehow the lie that I needed another person to “complete me,” so to speak, continued to ring powerfully in my ears. But exclusivity is not the end-goal of sexuality. Granted, in marriage there is a sexual exclusivity, but sex is not the totality of sexuality.

Sexuality is never about possessing someone. Never. It is, rather, all about giving yourself to another. And not just one other. We serve a Christ who has literally given himself entirely for the sake of everyone.

The searing myopia that was causing me such pain only began to fade as I slowly gave up on my quest to find the “perfect someone” who could provide me with that life-giving friendship and opened myself up to God’s call to serve others. My desire to give myself to someone was a good desire – but it was far too singular. How arrogant and vain was I to judge others unworthy of my time, my service, my love, and my friendship? Jesus doesn’t play hard to get, and neither should I.

Once I began opening up to people, abandoning my desperate quest for exclusivity, the loneliness, the anxiety, and the fear began to dissipate like an unwelcome morning haze. It was only when I stopped trying to possess my friends that I actually felt secure in my friendships. And on top of that I was finding increasing joy in my interactions with almost everyone because I was persistently asking myself how I could be used to bless them, to communicate to them their immense worth before God. I need to be careful not to over-do it, as always, being sure to pace myself so I don’t bleed out on the altar of self-giving. But thus far it has only been a fantastic turn of events in my life.

This is what sexuality, properly oriented, is designed to do – it draws us to others so that we might display to them the love of God and receive from them the same.

Do I still read the story of David and Jonathan with a twinge of longing? Absolutely. But God has given me a taste of something sweeter. I am rarely more like Christ than when I am casting off the shackles of an exclusive, possessive love and offering myself so that another may know life more abundantly. I have a lot left to learn about what it really looks like to live this way, but these are some of my initial thoughts. Feel free to fill them out.

Peace,

Jordan

P.S. All the major hurdles that arose when I initially came out to my family have been cleared, praise God. Praise God, praise God, praise God. Mom, who was having the hardest time of it, came up to me today and told me God had given her peace about it and had confirmed to her that I was living rightly before him, doing what he had called me to do. It blew both of our minds. Thanks for your prayers, it is truly a humbling thing to be so blessed.


[1] I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna zigazig, ha! (Betcha weren’t expecting me to quote the Spice Girls. Please don’t leave me.)

 

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

broadening sexuality

I rarely see gay couples.

Almost every local environment I’ve lived in has been conservative and homogeneous. Wheaton, although it is becoming increasingly diverse from its immigrant population, hosts mainly heterosexual, middle-class, white families, and even though it is probably one of those urban-legends based on unfounded statistics, people also boast that Wheaton has the most churches per capita in the United States. Not really the best place for a gay couple to freely express themselves.

Recently I was very near Boystown, Chicago’s gay-friendly neighborhood. I saw rainbow flags denoting welcoming places for LGBT individuals, advertisements for the upcoming gay-pride parade, and, not surprisingly, two guys who clearly loved each other romantically holding hands.

This threw my heart and emotions into a mess.

I wanted that. I longed for a relationship with another man, like these two guys had. This wasn’t really a sexually charged longing — it was an intimate desire to be known, to be in love, to wrap my arms around someone and have him mean the world to me. It felt so right.

The rest of the night was rough. I felt so conflicted inside and argued with myself about why a gay relationship might be okay.

“How could something that feels so beautiful and natural not be okay?!”

“Maybe God does want this for me. I mean, only good could come out of it, right?”

These thoughts and feelings aren’t new to me. I’ve had them many times before. And I’ve seen gay couples before (I hope to become friends with some). There was just something about seeing a gay couple this time that made my heart bleed the rest of the night.

_________________________________________________________________________

All of us want to be intimately known. We were created that way — not just to be in relationship with God but also to be in relationship with other humans. The only thing that God said “wasn’t good” about His creation was us being alone.

So we need human relationships.

But does the answer to aloneness have to be a sexual relationship? Since I don’t think God wants me to be married to another man, am I destined to suffer in aloneness my entire life?

Ask anyone to define the term sexuality, and most people will give you an answer that centers around sex. I define sexuality as our embodiment as human beings that allows us to interact with one another in meaningful ways. Genital-to-genital contact is only a small subset of this sexuality. Think of it this way:

I believe a sexual relationship is only one way God designed us to be intimately known by someone. And when we hyper-focus on relational fulfillment being about romance and sex, we miss out on the much broader vision God has for our sexuality. We take the “sex” circle and force it to fill our entire sexuality circle. We give sex way too much power over the significance of our lives.

It’s easy to have sex with someone. It’s easy to move quickly in a romantically charged relationship.

It’s much harder to build a long-lasting friendship and trusting bond with someone — what I call friendship love. What’s a common reason people get divorced? Because the relationship was built only on romantic love, and as soon as that died down, there was no friendship love to maintain the marriage.

I think our society has a problem with knowing how to build friendship love. And I think this is partly because we have hyper-sexualized everything. When two people start showing affection to each other, we start attaching sexual connotations to the affection. We have a relational script in our society that says if you become really close with someone, it means you should probably become sexually involved.

This script has both damaged many relationships and hindered others from becoming closer. I think it may particularly stunt male-male friendships. Two men, regardless of orientation, might fear being affectionate or emotionally close because this means people may start questioning their sexual orientation. Or perhaps a male-female friendship, that was mostly void of sexual feelings, is terminated because people start questioning their intentions. Society quickly conflates any emotional or physical affection with sexual feelings.

Our worldview has been shaped so that we think the only way to experience intimacy is through a sexual relationship. The problem with this worldview for Christians that uphold the traditional sexual ethic is that we can easily think that our lives are lonely and relationally unfulfilling just because we aren’t romantically involved. “If I could only find someone and get married, then I would no longer hunger for intimacy.”

However, being in a sexual relationship is no guarantee for relational fulfillment. Some of the loneliest people are in marriages. And even those who do find relational fulfillment in a marriage likely still struggle with loneliness and yearn to be better known. I’m not trying to downplay the beautiful unity of marriage, but sometimes I think we forget that no one except for Christ can ultimately satisfy our desires to be intimately known.

But still, no matter how close we are to Christ, we need people. I just think our need for people doesn’t have to be sexual. It’s just hard to build intimately close relationships that aren’t sexual in a society that equates intimacy with being sexual. But it’s possible, and I believe I’ve already experienced degrees of intimately close relationships with several of my friends. I am blessed to be able to say that I have had many nights of epic conversations and fellowship with friends where I have gone to bed feeling overwhelmingly loved without a hint of loneliness. It is those nights where I’ve seen my sexuality be expressed in satisfying, meaningful ways that didn’t center on sex.

_________________________________________________________________________

Jordan and I emailed back and forth that night as my heart bled after seeing the gay couple.

Here is part of what was said:

Jordan: Seeing those guys is just, you know, life. It’s like every time I saw Sam. I couldn’t help that I saw him, and I couldn’t really help the surge of emotions and longing within me. It’s seems unfair that it would be wrong to indulge, but that’s how it is. The Truth is life, you’re so right. It’s crazy that those particular moments where entering into a relationship with a man seems so right can overshadow the immense catalog of God’s faithfulness in my life, where truth won out and filled me with joy. I have a short memory, I guess.

Sorry for your suffering. I’m kind of down too. Sigh… let’s pray for each other.

Me: You’re right. God has been so faithful in our lives. We both know that. And we’ve both encountered his overwhelming love for us. The other reality is that everyone has let down in their lives regarding intimacy. Very few people actually have sustaining, intimate relationships — gay or straight. Plus, fulfilling relationships don’t have to be sexual or romantic. There are so many relationships out there to make us feel intimately known; they just aren’t meant to be romantic relationships. Glad that you know and get what I’m going through. And that right there is evidence enough that God will provide us with relationships without them having to be sexual/romantic. Anyway, I have to go to bed now, but I will pray for you!

I still went to bed that night feeling melancholy, but the email exchange also gave me a sense of hope. Hope in the assurance that God loves me, hope that I will continue to experience His perfect love, and hope that God will continue to put people in my life to show me His love.

-Tony