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

nailed it

Brent Bailey, the wonderful guy who writes the wonderful blog Odd Man Out, recently posted three heartwarming examples of how his friends “got it right,” specific stories of being treated so correctly that they stuck with him. He then asked a few of us to post something similar, and seeing as how I love what he writes I pretty much had to do it.

1. Camping

What happened: A large group of my guy friends had planned an international (ok, we were just going to Canada) camping trip that would take us to a remote island for a week. A friend and I needed to wait an extra day because I’m an idiot and left my passport at home 2500 miles away and it had to be Fed-Exed to me. As my friend (this friend) and I talked, I commented on how bummed I was that my accountability partner/one-of-my-absolutely-closest-friends flew home and wouldn’t be able to come to Canada with us. (I mean, come on, Canada has toffee and jell-o-in-a-cup and vast expanses of wastelandic nothingness, how coud he say no?!) The friend I was with, who knew I was gay, interrupted me and said, “Hey, you know he loves you a ton, right?” “I mean, yea, I know that.” “No, but listen. Before he left he told me to make sure to look out for you, and to be aware that when the guys decide to strip naked and jump over the fire or something I should go over and just talk to you. He made me promise to be there for you. Which is stupid because I was going to do that anyway!”

How he got it rightThey both were winners in my book, but I want to focus on the guy who had to go home. At that time of my life I struggled immensely to know if he really cared or not. He was the first friend I told I was gay in person and had been with me through the whole, slow, agonizing process of coming to grips with my sexuality, and therefore bore much (too much) of the weight of my anxiety. This small revelation made me feel overwhelmingly seen and loved in a relationship often punctuated by uncertainty and tortured invisibility. His comment showed that he took our relationship seriously, that he was thinking and learning and growing with me. We ended up not going camping anyway because of a certain, now-notorious, explosive incident that required a trip to the ER and some minor surgery, but the excitement of being known, of being carried in the hearts and minds of my friends even when we weren’t in the room together was a gift I haven’t forgotten.

2. Pillow Talk

What happened: My freshman year of college, while I was still deep enough in the closet to have one foot in Narnia, I went to a friend’s house for Easter. I instantly noticed there were no sleeping bags laid out in his room, and sure enough when night-time rolled around he simply asked if I wanted the left or right side of the bed. I tentatively chose the left side, unsure if there were, you know, rules to this or something. He slept with his arm draped across my chest, which was nice and not awkward but made it rather tricky when I woke up and needed to go to the bathroom really bad. Four years and an email saying I’m attracted to men later, I’m crashing at his apartment for a few nights. Still no sleeping bags. Left side. Arm across my chest as we talk late into the night.

How he got it rightHe’s always been a deeply affectionate friend, and I had no doubt he would still love me, but there’s this lurking fear that once straight guys know you are gay they’ll shy away from physical affection or closeness. Yet he displayed the same warmth and intimacy as before with the ease of someone who wouldn’t even have considered the possibility of treating me any differently in that regard. Having a friend like him is just one more nail in the coffin of my anxiety and fear.

3. Casual

What happenedI’ve mentioned this before, but at a recent wedding reception I was sitting next to a very dear friend who, during a lull in our conversation, asked if I was often attracted to people of different ethnicities. It was the first time anyone who knew I was gay had asked me for specifics about what I found beautiful, who talked about attraction in a way that included me and my experiences. The conversation shifted from that topic to others with ease, helped by a steady flow of sparkling apple cider, sometimes touching on my sexuality, sometimes not. Eventually we wound up talking about Harry Potter or something (as we always do), and that was that.

How she got it right: She treated the fact of my homosexuality like any other part of my experience and allowed me the privilege of being able to, finally, talk about my attractions concretely without having to lie (the answer, by the way, is yes, far more often than being attracted to people of my own ethnicity). Coming off of a summer in which my sexuality dominated my daily life and was a perpetual source of debate, she gave me a much needed reminder that my same-sex attraction could come and go in a conversation without shoving everything off center stage. It was a small thing, but it felt like a spell was lifted and I could finally see myself without the cursed distortion of being controversial.

So those are just a few – I have many, many more examples just as life-giving. If you’ve experienced anything like this, please tell us the story! Lord knows we could always use a bit more encouragement in our days.

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!

nuance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

Jordan

sinner

Recently, I’ve been having difficulty writing for the blog.

It’s partly because I’ve been busy. There’ve been family functions, apartment searching, and lots of work.

It’s also partly because I’m not always exactly sure what to write about. When I first started the blog, I had many thoughts and feelings about homosexuality that were pent-up inside of me and that I desperately wanted people to hear about because I was so exhausted and frustrated by the ignorance around me. I felt like I had to do something about it. The first month of the blog and the wide range of its impact has somewhat satisfied that appetite, at least for now.

But as I’ve reflected on why it has been so hard for me to write, I believe a deeper reason is that I feel like a fraud, like I’m unworthy to be doing this. The truth is that during the last month, I’ve struggled with my faith. Except for a few momentary exceptions, God has felt distant, and I don’t really know what I’m doing right now to serve and love Him. There isn’t any passion in my faith, no excitement for how I am contributing to the Kingdom. And when it comes to my same-sex attraction, I am letting my thoughts go too far. In short, lust has been an issue, more so than usual for me.

And for whatever reason, I feel that if I want to maintain integrity while writing this blog I need to have my faith in order, especially when it comes to my homosexuality. I seriously feel like I should only write a post if I’m not struggling, if I’m not having any lustful thoughts.

Now after seeing that last sentence written out on my Word document, I see the absolute absurdity and arrogance of it. Since when did I ever expect myself to be perfect, or think that I could be flawless? Since when did I expect myself to be beyond sinning (or at least to never pass my arbitrary “acceptable allotment” of sin). How prideful of me. I’ve been sinning in how I’ve been viewing my sin.

If I try and present myself as the “perfect” gay Christian who never struggles with lust or wrestles with depression and doubt, then I defeat the entire purpose of this blog. The point of us writing has always been to tell our narratives truthfully so as to shed light on a group of people that many conservative Christians have no idea actually exists. More than that, we also want to help the Church (and the rest of the world) understand, a little better, what it’s like to be a conservative Christian who is attracted to the same sex. Experiencing lustful thoughts about men is a reality of my life, and thus I have no idea why I felt like I needed to “hide it” from the blog.

I’ve believed the lie, like I have many times before, that God can’t use a sinner – that God only uses people who have their lives put together. This is entirely false, and the Bible unequivocally speaks against it. As I write this, I’ve been thinking of the many sinners who God has used for His Kingdom, like Peter, who denied knowing Christ, or  Paul, who went from killing Christians to writing most of the New Testament.

What has made this “lie” have more power in my life right now is the nagging fear that perhaps my theology of homosexuality is the catalyst for my struggle with lust. Maybe I’ve been wrong this whole time; maybe those with more fundamentalist views on homosexuality are right and I really do just need to try and “stop” being attracted to males. I fear that my admission of lust will give credibility to these people, or that someone could be reading the blog and think “see, he wouldn’t be struggling with lust if his views were right, so he must be wrong.” I know this isn’t true and that whether one is struggling with sin is not really an indication of correct beliefs. After all, the Bible says that even the demons acknowledge that Christ is Lord, yet they don’t follow Him. Correct belief does not always equal appropriate action, and I think Satan really wants me to believe that I wouldn’t be struggling with lusting  after men if I had the correct theology. Satan would rather I believe that my same-sex attraction is the real sin (rather than lust), and that I need to wallow in guilt every time I have any inclination towards a guy because I am choosing to be attracted to him, somehow. This would take me out of the picture, turn my focus away from  pursuing Christ, and prevent me from contributing to the Kingdom.

God always wants to use us to bring redemption and healing to the world. No matter what we’ve done, He’s ready to forgive us, to put us back on the battle line. His arms are always open wide, waiting for us to return to Him.

This doesn’t mean we take that for granted. As I believe Paul says, we shouldn’t keep on sinning simply so that grace may increase. And ultimately, our behavior can be an indicator of how much we actually love God (John 14, 1 John 2). If we love Jesus, we will obey Him. I know that I must keep on fighting the sin in my life by pursuing Jesus more determinedly. I will only be able to face the lust in my life if I am strengthened by Jesus’ overwhelming love, which is why the first thing I must do in this fight it is turn to Him.

There’s a strange tension between not falling into despair when we sin (i.e. realizing we are still human) and not taking grace for granted. This tension is true for everyone, including me, a sinner.

Tony