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

link: “To Come First for Someone”

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but a dear friend’s tumblr alerted me to a recent post I had missed by the incomparable Eve Tushnet on the subject of the common desire to be the most important person in someone else’s life (which I’ve written about here and here). If you haven’t read much of Eve’s stuff (she’s a lesbian Catholic), I would highly recommend you do. She’s a phenomenal writer and thinker with a profound gift for expressing ideas that are surprising and thought-provoking and resonantly human.

You can find her post here.

At the risk of you deciding not to expend the herculean effort to depress your mouse button or track-pad, here’s an excerpt:

“There are a lot of pieces to this emotion [of wanting to come first]. To be always the one who watches the love between spouses or parents and children, supporting that intense your-needs-first love but never receiving it yourself… Feeling like you’re burdening people when you need them–like you’re asking them to do something outrageously above and beyond the call of duty when you ask them to sacrifice time, effort, or their own priorities to care for you, even when you’re really seriously in need…

This is an area where our refusal to honor or even imagine important vocations other than marriage causes a huge amount of pain, loneliness, and sense of worthlessness. If we took friendship seriously as a potential site of devotion and sacrifice, far fewer people would feel neglected and unwanted. If we considered lay community life (“intentional communities”) more seriously, and if we expanded our concept of family and welcomed single people into familial homes (for a season or for life), many more people could have the experience of living in a realistic familial love in which we all come first at times, and nobody is just there as support personnel…

And finally, maybe the most important thing to say about this desire to ‘come first’ is simply that I’ve felt it too. It’s been really hard for me sometimes. Other times, like now, I don’t feel it as strongly. But maybe the most important thing I can offer in response to this painful and pretty humbling cry isn’t advice or theology but just solidarity. I feel it too.”

There’s plenty more to read, and you simply must clink the link. Here it is again. Click it. Then click all her other links, because they’re great too.

Peace,

Jordan

/rant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jordan

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

hugs and other such wonders

The last week has been spent gallivanting around and taking in the many manifestations of beauty that are to be found in the Pacific NW. My friends and I have witnessed many amazing things, from the misty coast with its towering sea-stacks to the dazzlingly bizarre displays of urban creativity, from the bucolic wine country to the small host of snow-covered mountains standing guard over the fragrant pine forests and waterfalls cascading over shimmering rocks and mossy logs. It’s been utterly refreshing and exhausting at the same time.

It simply feels wonderful to be running around with these friends again, to be able to slip back into that easy state of being where I am profoundly known by others and where I know them in return. I don’t have to defend myself, and how I bear myself is not an apologetic but a simple expression of personality.

Some people think vulnerability is dangerous and taxing. I get that. It takes a while to build trust, to believe you won’t be torn up and cast aside the moment you are honest with someone. But having had the chance to live in a community where I could be vulnerable without fear, it has become comfortable. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or devoid of risk – being vulnerable is never safe, by definition – but it is so profoundly good that having to live any other way feels wrong, itchy, and almost perverse.

I have come to see this happy existence as a gift, not a right. It’s a gift because it is something that can only be had if others give it to you. It is impossible to unilaterally establish a community of vulnerable ease. But praise God that we need each other to truly live the abundant life, that we can never simply remain inside ourselves, happy hermits whose universes are contained and so drably uninterrupted by the urgent presence of others.

I love how my friends constantly impress themselves into me – with their sudden laughter, wit, prayers, wisdom, tears, passions, and life. I feel like, if I really am clay, then they are the fingers of God which move and mold me into a greater semblance of the Potter’s design. And I, in turn, shape them. What a daunting thought. What a beautiful, frightening, thing.

They leave tomorrow, and that really sucks. On the plus side, I’ll finally catch up on emails and reading and learning how to coax some semblance of music out of my poor, neglected guitar. But though I still have email and Facebook and other such things, I will lose them – their bodies, their buoyant energy.

For when their fingers dig into my back in a joyful hug I know I am being molded into the likeness of my Savior, and such a blessed reminder is a hard thing to watch board an airplane.

So praise God for good friends and good hugs, and a wonderful week of being alive.

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.

facing the loss of marriage

“But, Tony, I don’t want to be alone my whole life! I want to get married and have kids. I want a wife who I can love and who I can grow old together with. My biggest fear in life is being alone. So I can’t be gay because I don’t want to be alone!”

I’ve heard this many times from my handful of Christian friends who experience same-sex attraction and who still want to uphold the traditional sexual ethic.

Just about every Evangelical Christian I know plans on getting married. The conversations are never about if marriage happens but always when marriage happens. It’s assumed. We write in journals about what we hope to find in a spouse. We pray for our future spouse. We set people up on dates.  And after the first date, we talk about whether or not he or she is the one. “I just know we’re going to get married!” Obviously, these aren’t all bad things, but you get the point.

Just scan your church bulletins. You will find most events geared towards married couples or their families. “Dad’s supporting one another in fatherhood,” “Parenting 101,” “Couples group,” “Moms praying for their kids.” And it seems that everyone’s goal in the “Singles group” is to, well, pick from the finest available men and women.

We are obsessed with marriage. Sometimes we equate Christian faithfulness with getting married and having kids. We’ve framed marriage as the best thing in life, the holy grail of the Christian faith. All too often we fall into this idolatrous trap.

So it does not surprise me when every single gay Christian I know who wants to maintain the traditional sexual ethic is greatly distressed at the prospect of never getting married.

It happens to me too.  I’ve gotten depressed about having to be single.

For a couple of days during my junior year of college, I emotionally lost it. My relationship with a good friend went through a rough patch, which for some reason triggered a surge of fears within me.

I imagined myself in my 30s, in my 40s, all alone. All my friends married. No one cares about me anymore, all they care about is their families. I live by myself; go to work every day and come home to an empty house, with absolutely no one to talk with. No one to hug or embrace.  None I can love. No one.

With this image fresh in my mind, my life felt pointless. I had no energy during those few days; all I wanted to do was sit in my room and cry. Thankfully bawling to an older, Christ-filled woman made me feel better.

I’ve also gotten really angry about having to stay single.

There were a few days at Wheaton where I was just flat out angry about being gay. Really angry. I sort of hated… everyone. I would walk around Wheaton’s campus and think, “who gives a @#$! that I got an A on this paper when I’ll never experience romantic love with another person… that idiot got a C, but he will live a better life than me because he can get married.” Or when I listened to friends, I would think, “Wow, I’m so sorry you are stressed out about your girlfriend… please tell me more about how awful it must be to be able to experience an intimate relationship with someone.” Selfish and sinful thoughts? Yes. But I was angry. I wanted the world to suffer for my suffering.

But I’ve come to realize this: it is a lie to believe my life will be less meaningful or less satisfying just because I’m single.

Jesus did not tell His disciples, “Go and marry and make babies.” No, He told his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. He told us to be the “salt and light of the world.”

And I’m beginning to see just how exciting it could be to live this out as a single man.

My senior year at Wheaton, I was blessed to mentor an underclassman who is strongly and exclusively SSA. It has been one of the most important relationships in my life thus far. God has used my story to change him. God has used me to give him hope. This kid has grown exponentially, in surprising and awesome ways I never could have imagined. And I do not know if he would have grown like this without me.

This blows my mind and humbles me.

As I move away from being mainly in Christian circles, I know that it will be a door opener for dialogue with non-Christians too. There’s something about saying “gay” and “Christian” in the same sentence that gets people to listen and open up to you.

This is the sort of stuff God does. He takes messy stuff and makes beautiful things out of it (Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” anyone?). Redemption for me has not meant becoming straight; redemption for me is God using something I used to hate about myself to change mine and others’ lives.

I am convinced my life will still be filled with blessed purpose, without being married. God will use all the unique gifts and talents He blesses me with and He will use my gay orientation.  Every Christian — gay, straight, single, married, young, old — has gifts and characteristics God wants to use to impact His Kingdom. That is why we are all here. He doesn’t need us, but He loves us.  When we see those gifts make an impact, it is exciting. I know it breathes life into my soul.

This is a long post, but here is an important final thought: Who does love the single person? Who is the single person’s family?

-Tony