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.

silence and sadness

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

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

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

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

Sometimes there is death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jordan

peace that passes understanding

I am, and have been for some time, incredibly content.

Holy crap, you guys!*

For so much of my life contentment, happiness, joy, peace – whatever – were anomalies, rare moments of lightness in the midst of a heavy atmosphere of depression and doubt. My bedrock emotion during that time was anxiety; there was always something that would cause my heart to seize up whenever it crossed my mind.

I was anxious that someone would find out I was gay. I was anxious that my friends woud leave me. I was anxious that, even if they didn’t leave me, they would secretly resent me. I was anxious that God would abandon me, that he might not really love me, or that his love would always have a bitter aftertaste. I was anxious about the future, wondering if all the little problems of the past that were nibbling at me in the present would consume me before I made it to shore, which is to say I was anxious that my convictions wouldn’t hold, that my faith would dissolve around the edges, and that the overwhelming desire just to be held and loved would flay my bleeding resolve.

Which is why this is so crazy! 

Every day, literally every day, I experience frequent moments of exhilarating joy, fiery instants of wonder in which the beauty of life and the excitement of following God are practically luminous. I’m not lonely. I’m not aching. I’m not anxious. I’m alive in the most abundant of ways.

I mean, gosh, I am doing everything in my meager power to restrict my use of exclamation points and question marks but it is very much not easy right now so I am compensating with italics for emphasis.

All this to say, a lot has changed over the year and I am in awe of it all.

But I need to be careful. I don’t want to make the same mistakes as before. When I was in the midst of my whatever-it-was sadness, I thought it would last forever. The anxiety felt so total, so enduring, that I couldn’t imagine life any other way. I was always going to be painfully different, always going to be afraid everyone would leave me, always going to follow God with a sinful flinch just beneath my obedient skin.

It could be so easy to feel the same about my current contentment: to think that I will always be filled with such excitement, always compelled by such passion, always so sure of God’s goodness and overwhelming beauty.

But I won’t. I know I won’t.

Some day, tomorrow or years from now, something will fracture, and the acid haze will return. I don’t doubt it.

I’m not feeling all great and stuff simply because I’ve done something super-right and God is rewarding me with steroidal warm-fuzzies. I don’t think the absence of pain is the direct result of faithfulness to God just as I don’t think the presence of pain is the direct result of unfaithfulness. Such useless theology has done too much damage. The whole witness of scripture speaks to the reality that sometimes the most faithful people sweat blood and sometimes the most debauched possess seemingly untouchable felicity.

But I do think our experiences of pain, the absence of pain, and all the variations in-between, are blessed opportunities to proclaim the goodness and nearness of God.

So instead of constantly wondering, “What am I doing differently that is making my life this fantastic and how can I keep doing whatever it is so that my life remains this fantastic?” I am trying to ask myself daily, “Am I following God with all my heart, soul, and strength and loving those around me as Christ would?”

The former question betrays a hope that is dependent on the balance of volatile chemicals in my brain, while the latter declares a hope that is dependent on the faithfulness of God.

Because let’s face it, there will likely come a time when my dopamine levels randomly drop again. There will come a time when following God will require me to sacrifice “happiness” of one form or another, when serving others will demand more of me than I would like to give, and I’m a little worried that I’ll become so addicted to this easy joy that when that moment comes I’ll just stand there, clutching my pet comfort and refusing to move forward with the confidence of one who knows that my Savior has already gone before me and will be with me through it all. And not just with me, but using me in ways greater than my own capacity or understanding.

I learned in depression that my God promises neither normalcy nor stability, but love and redemption, and that is too valuable a lesson to lose sight of just because I’ve finally caught a glimpse of that mythic species of peace that I sought through all those aching years.

And I’ve found that in both times of crippling doubt and times of quickening assurance this peace has remained, as I guess it always will, beyond my understanding. But I think now, for the first time in my short life, I believe that to be a very, very good thing.

Jordan

* But for serious, holy crap, you guys!

framed, pt. 4 (in sanity)

This is the fourth and final entry in this series. If you haven’t, I would highly recommend you read the first three before continuing. Would you watch Mulan 2 without first watching Mulan? Of course not! (Actually, would you even watch Mulan 2 at all? It looks…terrible.) Anyway, moving on.

The question I keep running up against whenever I think or talk about the “gay debate” (the best-dressed debate in town) is Can we find reconciliation in the midst of a seriously divisive disagreement? Or, in my more plaintive moments, Is there any hope?

If this conversation were simply about divergent tastes in worship music or crunchy vs. soft communion bread, then “agreeing to disagree” would be a possibility. However, I think such an easy answer is not only impossible in this case, but would do great violence to the integrity of everyone involved – it would be like shouting Peace, peace! when there is no peace.

We must start by being honest about what we believe and gracious in understanding those who do not share our views, especially when the contention is so great. How can any progress be made if everyone is simply talking past each other or dealing with straw-men? The past three posts in this series attempted to recenter the debate for those who claim to take the Bible as authoritative, moving past the tired, worthless arguments that seem to be all the rage these days.

But before honesty there must come a commitment to act in love and humility even at great personal cost. Honesty not grounded in love quickly becomes little more than a barbed whip, leaving open wounds and aching scars everywhere. It is impossible to speak Gospel truth in an unloving way, for once “honesty” becomes an occasion for abuse it ceases to be truth at all. There is an enormous distinction between debating someone because I want to be proven right and speaking what I believe to be true because I genuinely desire good for the other person. The former turns all who disagree with me into obstacles to be destroyed, whereas the latter sees them as the humans they are: complex, frustrating, loved, and not to be manipulated or treated with contempt.

But, still, is there hope? Well, I guess that depends on what we are hoping for. I have little hope that there will be an end to the disagreement any time soon, but I do have hope that the manner in which we disagree can still proclaim the Gospel and bring about intense healing in its own way.

To that end, this particular post was written in response to the GCN’s rather wonderful Justin Lee instigating a synchroblog (that’s trendy internet lingo for “a bunch of people writing about the same thing all at once”) on the topic of restoring sanity to the dialogue surrounding homosexuality and the church. (I’m going to give you a few minutes to let the now-apparent brilliance of this entry’s title sink in.) Acknowledging the increasingly manic nature of this conversation, Lee and others of vastly differing opinions hope the synchroblog (which goes live on Nov. 13, so stay tuned) will sound a clear call to return to Christian sanity.

Such a simple call, of course, does not magically eliminate the pain and struggle that will continue to define the experience of many men and women caught in the middle of it all; it does not give any answers to the most tortured of questions; it does not change the fact that, even at their most moderate, we are confronted by two mutually exclusive visions of community. But it does give me hope for future progress and reconciliation.

Christlike love, says William Placher in his ultra-phenomenal book Narratives of a Vulnerable God, is demonstrated when one is willing to make oneself vulnerable to pain and rejection so that the Gospel might be proclaimed. A return to sanity, for Christians, would be a return to that kind of love in relationship with one another. On a broad, ecclesial level, I’m not sure what that would look like; I wish I could offer something more concrete. But it probably isn’t a bad idea to start with person-to-person interactions. Here’s how it might play out in my own life:

As I hold to a more conservative sexual ethic, my convictions are inherently painful to my side-A brothers and sisters. I hate that. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish text and tradition would unilaterally bless same-sex unions, not just for my own sake as a gay man but so that this horrible tension would be dissolved. But, as Walter Brueggeman once wrote, “Wishful thinking is inadequate theology.” So I’m stuck with the reality that I personally have yet to be convinced that the Bible sanctions faithful, monogamous SSUs. I’m stuck with the reality that I represent something deeply traumatic to countless people.

And yet I have side-A, gay friends whose friendships I treasure dearly. I hope they know they are free to talk about their crushes and significant others without fear of condemnation and that I am genuinely happy for them. But I’ll admit, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and celibate unicorns for me to hear/watch affirming gay Christians experience romance. I often find myself awash in intense desires and confusion, especially because, you know, I still think they’re Christians.

Being in community together will cause both of us pain. It is inevitable that there will be moments in which I simply cannot be the friend or support they need me to be. I can only hope that, in those moments, our friendship, our mutual pursuit of God and his glory, will be able to bear our tears and anger, that we would somehow have the clarity to see where the other is coming from, to feel the weight of their beliefs, and to receive the wound in love and move forward. If we are unwilling to be hurt by others even in friendship, then the only “safe” course of action is to continually manipulate or coerce them to do our will, which is antithetical to the vulnerable love of Christ.

Now, I’m a white, gay male, so the pain and tension I face is going to vary from those of straight Christians of a different gender and ethnicity, and thus I am hesitant to suggest what their struggles could be. Though for the majority of conservative Christians, I imagine the greatest challenge will arise from having to relinquish the power that comes with being a cultural majority and peel off that protective shell of privilege that effectively insulates them from the serrated arrows of others’ marginalized experiences and the whole range of complexity they introduce into previously “simple issues.” I’ve found that, for myself, even though I’ve been exposed to countless examples of poverty and alienation not my own, I am still constantly surprised by how much that tacit privilege blinds me to the suffering of others whose experiences I’ve never shared.

To be clear, I do think those within the conservative evangelical church should be the ones to take the first blows on behalf of affirming brothers and sisters. LGBTQ people have been on the receiving end of religious violence, stigma, and shame for so long… and even with four huge legislative victories this past election our societies, especially our churches, are far from safe.

I’m sorry, my words feel empty and there is so much more that I want to say. I struggle endlessly with this. I don’t blame anybody who reads this and sees nothing but a refusal to make the necessary compromises to really bring about reconciliation, who only hears vacuous calls for a mutual understanding that does little to remove the root of oppression. I can’t force anyone to believe that I love them.

But maybe that’s ok, for now. Maybe it’s time we stop requiring others to “understand” us before we show them grace. Maybe if we hope to display the exhilarating love of God through the unity expressed in John 17 we must become better at existing in the tumultuous, maddening tension so definitive of this broken world we call home. I don’t have any hope that things will be easy or clean, but the more I get to know men and women of various stances, the more I receive love and acceptance from those who disagree with me, the more I dig deep into the profound mystery of Christ and his body, the Church, I become more hopeful that this borderline obscene call to community amidst fractious pluralism will, by the power of God, be transformed into a clarion beacon shining forth with the furious radiance of the Gospel.

It seems like an insane hope, but, well, sometimes insanity is the sanest option we have.

Thanks for bearing with me in grace.

Jordan

patience

Many of my friends are going through some extraordinarily difficult trials at the moment; the kind of situations that reduce articulate prayers to urgent, wordless begging. I feel particularly useless on the other end of our satellite-mediated conversations. These are the kind of blessed people who don’t need to be regaled with a litany of pseudo-spiritual platitudes about trusting God more, or letting go of pride, or learning to look on the bright side of things; they just need to talk, to know they aren’t alone.

When I was in the midst of my own little bout with the acidic fog of depression and loneliness, my mentor weekly exhorted me to two things: to claim the promises of God regardless of whether or not I felt like they could possibly be true, and to be patient. It was good advice, albeit incredibly frustrating at times. Often when he would remind me of those two things I would whine, “But I’ve been patient for weeks! What more does God want from me!” Apparently one does not master the divine art of patience in a month. Go figure.

I’ve been reflecting a bit on the character of patience, especially now that I have more clarity about what God was doing in those three years of struggle. It isn’t much, but I thought I’d share with you the image that has come to define my perception of a patient endurance of suffering:

Keeping my eyes open in the dark. In those moments where it seems as if there is no light at all, when the repeated assurances of the existence of light seem absurd or unhelpful, I have to keep my eyes open. I have to keep looking for that foreign glimmer, fighting against the constant temptation to succumb to weariness, to close my eyes. After all, I sometimes find myself thinking, there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable difference if they’re open or not; the world is still shrouded in an impenetrable night. It’s hard enough to deal with the pain of suffering without having to daily experience the sting of unfulfilled hope.

It’s relentlessly tiring to stay focused, to refuse the urge to sleep, to deny that the darkness could be the totality of things, to believe the light will appear as weeks, months, and years pass without that glorious inbreaking of the sun.

But if I close my eyes, how will I ever see the light when it comes?

To strive for patience is one of the least passive ways to fight against the darkness. Patience is not just a neutral state of inaction as I wait for something to change – that’s apathy. Patience is a fiery rejection of suffering’s power to limit reality. It is a stark and magnificent witness to the hope uniquely found in Christ and his work in history.

My friends are fighting to own that truth, to live in bold expectation that God will make his redemptive power known even as the overwhelming pain demands they forsake that hope and give in to despair. The quality of their convictions and faith is beautiful and challenging to behold. Their decision to be patient, to trust in the midst of suffering, is a profound proclamation of the gospel and a sign that, even now, redemption is real.

Jordan

pain

“If acting on your homosexual attractions is really such a terrible sin, why are so many people who deny themselves same-sex romance depressed or constantly anxious? When Christians faithfully combat greed, lust, rage, or any other sin, isn’t there supposed to be a feeling of liberation, of joy, or of peace? If you really were doing God’s will, don’t you think it would make you feel better, more content, rather than crippled by a compelling and unfulfilled longing?”

This is a composite question made from various opinions I’ve heard over the last few years. The basic idea is that sin is bad, purging sinful habits and desires is what God wants, and doing what God wants should result in happiness and feelings of freedom. And yet most men and women who are not acting on their same-sex attraction have been terribly depressed in the past, are currently depressed, or are planning on being depressed some time in the near future.

So… isn’t that the opposite of what’s supposed to happen? Isn’t that maybe a sign that we who hold to the conservative ethic should reexamine how we are living?

The correct answer is not, “God doesn’t care about happiness, he only cares about holiness! So buck up camper, sanctification is gonna hurt, and you’d better like it.” That approach to pain makes God sound way too much like my 5th grade P.E. teacher.

Pain is a part of Christian life, of human life, and it can produce astounding growth and glory when responded to with a faithful turning to God. But I am increasingly convinced that pain is never an end, never a good in and of itself. Evangelicals have, at times, idolized pain. The beauty of people worshiping joyfully in the midst of suffering is such a potent symbol of Christian devotion that we begin to see that suffering itself as a desirable thing, almost. Pain isn’t to be avoided at all costs. No. But I don’t see Jesus modeling any sort of holy masochism either.

For so long I thought the secret to living the chastely single life was to get used to the pain, to learn how to love it, because that’s just the way it was going to be. But that blinded me from seeing that the pain was actually the result of some pretty terrible things from which God wanted to free me. I thought misery was standard for people like me because that’s the message I was hearing from every side.

Pain arises for so many different reasons. It could occur because of poor personal decisions (I shoot myself in the knee), because of the sins of others (Blaine Anderson dreamily, but sinfully, shoots me in the knee), because of some uncontrollable event (lightning strikes me in the knee), or a host of other physical, emotional, social, or spiritual reasons. Sometimes pain is inexplicable and simply must be endured, and sometimes pain is a sure signal that we should immediately remove ourselves from that which hurts us. The human experience of suffering is staggering in its multiformity, but I’m going to focus on the common turmoil of gay men and women who share my convictions.

When I was in the midst of my season of despair (the first three years of college), should my pain have caused me to “reexamine” how I was living, what convictions I held to and why? Yes, absolutely. That part of the suggestion is dead on. I think all pain is an opportunity to reflect and grow; it’s a warning that something isn’t quite right. Was some of my pain due to the presence of distressingly strong attractions and my refusal to just “let them be”? Totally. A lot of people want me to think, therefore, that the solution to my angst is to remove the friction and become open to a future of same-sex romance.

When you are caught in the teeth of a deep sadness, such a suggestion can seem rather compelling because often the things you are denying yourself, even if it’s for a good reason, become more obvious and alluring in those moments and the will weakens. However, I had a mentor who lovingly reminded me that my homosexuality was one of the least of my “worries.” He rightly saw to the heart of things: to my desperate emotional dependence, my blistering self-loathing, my lack of trust, and my personal assortment of medical issues. Those things generated the pain that would often manifest itself in times of confusion surrounding my sexuality.

Looking back on it, I can only think of a few isolated surges of darkness caused predominantly by my commitment to leaving the option of gay romance off the table, and even then there were unresolved issues of lust and mistrust augmenting the emotions. What is more, as I’ve found healing in those aforementioned areas of struggle (which, just for honesty’s sake, are still not the strangers I would like them to be) I really have experienced the profound sense of joy and freedom that I had been told would come from ditching the archaic, inhumane convictions that guide my sexual practices (or lack thereof). On top of that, my convictions have only grown stronger as I’ve been more convinced of the great goodness of God and his brain-vaporizing faithfulness.

I know there will be dark days in the future that are tied to my convictions. But this past year has shown me that such darkness is not the inevitable pattern of my life as a chastely single gay Christian and that, in those moments, there is usually something else going on that is symptomatic of deeper issues.

I hesitate to post this because, well, I’m just a 22 year-old guy. There’s a lot of life I haven’t experienced, a lot of pain that hasn’t yet ripped into my psyche and challenged everything I know to be true. There are also many people whose personal histories might tell a radically different story than mine. I’m not trying to be arrogant, acting as if I’ve got it all figured out. I simply want to propose three things:

1) The conservative ethic does not and should not breed despair.
2) Often the suffering of people pursuing the more conservative vision is grounded in experiences and pain that wouldn’t be “solved” by pursuing a romantic relationship.
3) My own commitment to a chaste singleness is truly a source of a very real joy and calm in my life, but this didn’t really come to fruition until I found some freedom from actual causes of emotional and spiritual corrosion.

I hope that makes sense, I’m a little tired at the moment.

This post was brought to you by the tunes of Shiny Toy Guns (We Are Pilots. Their new stuff is terrible), AWOLNATION, Wicked, Two Door Cinema Club, and the delicate string and piano arrangements of Joe Hisaishi’s musical scores. Also, the letter B.

Jordan

P.S. I realized as I concluded this that Steve Gershom already wrote a similar post on his ever-blessed blog. You can find it here. He uses the word gregarious, which is delightful. This only reinforces my suspicion that the singular reason I’ve ever written about anything ever is that I’m simply oblivious to the fact that someone else has already done a better job of writing about it.