Poem: Easter Sunday

So that’s that:
another matter-of-fact year
with another matter-of-fact re-conquering
of death and all death’s forces done
while we – and you, I guess – slept.

But they tell me you were lightning
coursing through the earth’s crusted veins,
quickening plasma crashing in
with all the thunder
of a fluttering gasp and a heartbeat back

into the quiet dark. Which makes me
wonder, How long did you lie there,
loving the stale air and calm
before rolling off onto the
ground and into glory?

Do you miss them,
those few minutes when
no one knew you were alive and
you could finally rest with your miracles
of breath, stone, and solitude?

And is this to be my sanctification,
darkening blood and a stone-turning chest?

Well – sit with me then, in silence,
and think of those first moments.
I will learn to find life in this,
and you will find a home
in my slow-warming grave.

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Poem: Holy Saturday in L.A.

The darkest day on earth was stone-dry and sunny,
light breeze, vain clouds behind their blue-veil screens and
not sure what to wear to the funeral.
Anything would do, I muttered
while squinting and wandering
past tile, concrete, fake lawns and
ugly fountains perfectly constructed as
ugly toads, spitting.

And the old stone church spit lies
out the back door,
some rogue organist playing God
by playing Christ
the Lord Is Risen Today
and I had to bite back a surging
Allelujah! and lenten blushing
amidst brashly assenting birdsong.

Jesus felt more dead
when I lived in Chicago,
where numbness crept early over me
along with the wet dark
and my shivering might have been theirs
as they stared at brick walls, waiting
for the rising star or falling crescent to
press through and tell the truth.

But here I am watching drought
transform dust only to dust –
nothing new under the mundane sun.
The miracle would be in the mud,
in the witness of darkness
salving our blighted eyes that believe
in life before resurrection
and vision before first light.

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Poem: Good Friday

So, a goal of my Lent this year was to reflect upon the coming Easter weekend through the lens of the various realities that Lent so inevitably confronts me with – human mortality, desolation, need, and disorientation – and then to (probably unadvisedly) respond with three poems, one for each day (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday), addressing how these days, too, can be sources of pain and confusion in their own ways. (Especially since they came up too fast to really finish the poems!)

All that obnoxious introduction to say: they’re messy and maybe a little bit blasphemous, but perhaps only in the way Psalm 39 or Christ’s cry of abandonment on the cross might have been. Feel free to ask questions.

____________________

Good Friday:

 

I swing passion like hammer blows
to pin you up, keep you
from peeling off
blood-keeping beams –

I need time to see meaning in this,
more time to find mystery or some
shook-foil reflection flipped in your
concave chest as it dilates

wild eyes sliding down you like sweat
that makes the coverslip stick.
And yet for all the burnt-black prayers your
flat stare sees crust over white-knuckled believing

every fucked up year
isn’t it us you leave hanging

because one-thousand nine-hundred and eighty five
days of you dying have not been enough to
explain this earth
you so love

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Label Makers

Well, three months of pretending I had better things to do than blog have come to an end. I have a new post over at Spiritual Friendship on labels and social identity and why the energy some Christians are putting into fighting words is preventing them from truly serving others. Check it out here.

An excerpt:

‘In high school, before I ever used the word ‘gay,’ before I had even admitted to myself that I wasn’t attracted to women, I was being psychologically torn to pieces by other Christians’ (and my own) manner of talking about gay people. Even as I trumpeted things like, “There’s no such thing as a gay Christian,” “They chose to be that way,” and other homophobic aphorisms, I knew that something about me was a lot like something about them and that I could never, ever be open about it.

 

By trying to clearly maintain a linguistic boundary between gay people and people in the church, Christians not only make Church teaching unnecessarily unintelligible to non-Christian gay people (and, really, non-Christians in general) but run the risk of inflicting harm on young people in the church. Whether people want it or not, some youth in the church will see aspects of their experience reflected in the broader culture under the social category of ‘gay’ and not be able to simply divorce their self-understanding from it. Nor should they have to.

 

I choose at times to use the label ‘gay’ both to remind church communities that they cannot talk about LGBT+ people as if they aren’t sitting in their congregations or aren’t beloved friends and family and to provide a visible example that might help other sexual minorities who are wrestling with their self-understanding to avoid some of the trauma I experienced. I didn’t have any role models for this while I was growing up and I desperately needed one. Out of fear of compromising its sexual ethic the Church has inadvertently compromised its more foundational witness of God’s reconciling movement toward humanity.’

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Reflections on the Gay In Christ Conference

A number of writers for Spiritual Friendship recently partnered with Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life to put on an academic conference titled Gay in Christ: Dimensions of Fidelity. The presentation topics ranged from exegetical frameworks to trans issues to discerning vocations to rehabilitating the Church’s concept of eros, all with the hope of urging church leaders toward greater understanding, compassion, and pastoral action.

Like any conscientious graduate student would do during midterms, I ignored all my responsibilities and jumped on a plane to Indiana. Here are three brief reflections as an attendee:

It matters who is speaking

A large majority of the presenters were themselves queer, so when they spoke about anything that would impact LGBT people’s lives they did so from a position of deep personal investment; they all obviously cared about how the Church talks and behaves toward sexual minorities because they have all suffered from the far-too-prevalent ignorance and bigotry that has already done so much damage.

For instance, having the person presenting on trans issuesactually be somewhere on the trans spectrum makes an enormous difference. I know, wild. As bad as many Christian conferences have been about addressing LGB concerns, they have been unequivocally worse when it comes to respecting and learning from trans people. Melinda Selmys’ talk was thus a remarkable breath of fresh air, and future conferences must take note.

Rhetoric and posture are close to the heart of the gospel

Let me keep picking on Melinda for a bit. As important as it was that she was speaking on trans issues while being on the spectrum herself, it was equally important how she adamantly made it impossible to universalize her story. She spoke openly not so that the audience members would think they had a firm grasp on trans experience but rather so that they would become more aware of just how little they knew and thus be more capable of (and passionate about!) learning from trans people.*

Melinda typified the posture of all the speakers, who proved that how we speak about these topics truly reflects our commitment to the gospel. Language of the “culture war” was absent, along with any alarmism or arrogance. Although the church was called to greater unity and public witness, this was done not by suggesting it become some inward-turning enclave but rather by urging it to conform more into the body of Christ who is and always has been for the world. I see countless people trying to defend “truth” with language and rhetoric that seem entirely uninterested in communicating the reality of Christ’s love (and thus in all actuality abandoning the truth they’re trying so desperately to defend), so to witness presentation after presentation that spoke truth in such a way that it encouraged the audience toward more profound displays of openness and service was a revelation.

There is so much beauty to be found in the Church

Even as someone who spends a decent chunk of time thinking about and living into the goodness of a traditional sexual ethic, I have to admit that the fever-pitch yelling of the broader “conservative” Christian demographic sometimes makes me doubt there actually is an abundantyes somewhere beyond the cacophony of no. The visions cast by the various speakers powerfully testified to that yesand called the Church to repentance for shackling it to suffocating millstones of legalism and hypocrisy. (As Ron Belgau said in his talk, “Most Christians’ sexual ethic is neither Christian nor ethical.”) It has been a long time since I’ve been so concretely hopeful, and many of the attendees (and speakers) voiced a similar joy.

To catch such a clear glimpse of the beauty that can be found in the traditional ethic made the prevailing homophobia and self-protecting laziness that so often “passes” for it immensely more grotesque and upsetting (as if the devaluing and endangering of sexual minorities wasn’t already enough). As the ideas from the conference begin to disseminate and find a wider audience, I pray people’s hearts would be changed.

The conference wasn’t perfect,** of course, and everyone involved would agree there is much room to grow, but it was certainly a move in the right direction toward a more faithful witness of Christ’s hope for the world.***

____________________________________

* I say this as someone who has much to learn, myself.

** For instance, the speakers were (with one exception) all caucasian. This is a problem with the LGBTQ conversation as a whole, but the Church should ideally be working ahead of the curve on this one.

*** I would be the absolute worst if I didn’t bring it to everyone’s attention that, for Halloween, Eve Tushnet wore a squid hat. There now exist photos of a squid devouring Eve’s head while simultaneously, it seems, reading Infinite Jest. And the world is a better place because of it.

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…just like everybody else

This was originally posted in February 2013. There have been a number of great articles written recently about similar topics (Julie Rodgers wrote one today), so I figured I’d repost this. So much could be said against this kind of stigma that was and still is so pervasive in more conservative churches – how it tears into young people’s hearts and promotes a brand of poisonous neo-gnosticism – and if you’re interested Spiritual Friendship’s “Identity” tag has some further exploration.

***

I shifted my legs around to restore pin-prick circulation as the conversation stretched into its second hour. Coming-out was rarely a quick ordeal during those early stages of growth and he was only confidante number eleven, I believe. Equal parts disarming sincerity and riotous impulsivity, he had been a dear friend from the first month of college. And then, two years after he first learned my name, he learned my Deepest Secret™.*

As the conversation began to lull, he decided to change the topic a bit. Looking me in the eye he asked, in his typical here-is-a-thought-I-am-literally-having-right-now directness, “So, are you attracted to me?”

Uh. I diverted my gaze and threw out my honest answer with a less-than-natural laugh, “Ha, no, you’re safe, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Worry about? Dude, I don’t care if you’re attracted to me. It’s not like it’d be a bad thing. I’m attracted to, like, lots of my close friends who are girls. I just wanted to know.”

Leave it to this guy to turn such an ill-advised question into one of the most profound offerings of grace I’ve ever experienced.

You see, at that point in my life I lived in terror of being attracted to anybody, especially friends. I mean, this can be a common anxiety of coming out, right? That not only will those closest to you distance themselves because they’re afraid that you might fall for them, but also that, well, you might seriously fall for them.

But more than that, I was still in the midst of a painful war with my body. While the rest of my hormonal peers were frolicking in their dopamine-addled pairing endeavors,** I was beginning to despair of ever feeling at peace because attraction, that bewildering spatial distortion that would sweep over me when I saw him, whoever he was, made me feel abusive and criminal.

It was, I think, the inevitable result of being told, and believing, the toxic lie that this particular uncontrollable, biological response was a willful act of sin. Like most underexposed evangelicals, I equated homosexual attractions with lust; they were one and the same – dire failures of holiness to be avoided at all cost.

I remember ranting to my accountability partner (poor soul greatly to be pitied) time after time about my crush(es), “I have no right to even look at him, much less tell you his name! It’s disgusting. I just feel like such a monster.”

This was during the “stable” phase of my college career. Good times.

But this is why that friend’s comment lingered so forcefully in my mind. By saying that it wouldn’t bother him if I was attracted to him because, duh, attraction happens to almost everybody and is totally not a big deal, he offered a distinct manifestation of grace that I had refused myself:

The grace of a common experience. 

The grace of not being a monster. 

The grace of being human, just like everybody else.

In the years since we sat together in that light-filled prayer chapel, tears in our eyes, rejoicing in the goodness of it all, I’ve found profound healing as I daily live into my humanity – a lifetime of aching otherness slowly finding its place in the humbly unfolding narrative of becoming whole.

And lust? I’ve finally begun to understand what it really is. By binding that willful vice up with the inescapable neurological occurrence of attraction, I not only turned my body into an enemy of holiness but I also crippled my ability to effectively fight against lust.

I used to conceive of it as little more than excessively strong attractions, something beyond my control, something that was ultimately about me and my “purity.”*** Wrong. Lust is about ignoring the dignity and inviolable humanity of another and turning them into an object for my own personal pleasure. Lust isn’t so terrible just because it makes it harder for me not to type Google searches of questionable character, though that’s a part of it; it’s so terrible because it makes it harder for me to treat every person as the absurdly beloved-by-God people that they are, because it turns them into a “thing” and turns me into a hypocrite.

But what is more, I’m no longer hopeless in this struggle. Back when I thought it was lustful to even notice another guy, the overwhelming impossibility of “purity” haunted me. I think I knew then, even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time, that to be free from lust as I defined it – as others had defined it for me – would require me to eviscerate a part of my humanity, to deaden myself to the very real desirability of others.

But now, rather than fear I will lose my humanity in the good fight against lust, I am thrilled to see it come more vibrantly into focus and fullness as I reclaim the true purposes of the struggle and realize what is actually at stake:

that I might see each person, whether or not they possess that indefinable breath-sapping spark, as beautiful, worthy of love, full of dignity, and to be served with joy.

I’ll be the first to say that this is easier said than done, but at least now I know that I’m not a lost cause, that I’m not some exceptionally broken screw-up with an entirely different set of rules. At least now I know, and at least usually believe, that my body is good and that there are much worse things I could do than realize someone has incredible eyes and great hair.

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* Y’all, being closeted was just so unhealthy. If you ever doubt that, read my journals from college. (But actually no don’t you dare read those.)

** … or something like that. I might have been a little bitter at the time.

*** I don’t really like how we use the word “purity” to almost exclusively reference sexuality, especially as it has historically contributed to the social marginalization of women. Biblically speaking, greed and gossip and whatever else are also fraught with “impurity.”

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A Short Prayer: The Middle East

Every week at my seminary there is a time during the chapel service for “prayers of the people.” I was asked to write a brief prayer for the unrest in the Middle East.

***

Loving Lord, God of the oppressed, today as a community we pray for the Middle East, and yet at the same time struggle to know how to pray, how to speak when confronted by the sheer enormity of pain being experienced by individuals, families, communities, and nations so many miles away. But even though we can only stammer and groan, empower us to draw near to you and cry out, full of the Spirit.

Merciful God, protect those who are vulnerable from the raging wildfire of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and their horrifying anger. May those who are fleeing find refuge, and those who are unable to flee be spared violence. We mourn the slaughter of Christians and the loss of worshiping communities all over Iraq as a shroud of silence falls where bells and holy liturgies have proclaimed your presence for 1800 years.

We pray, as we have been for many months, for Syrians, notably those now fleeing the border-town Kobane, whose lives have been torn apart in the ongoing civil war and ISIL encroachment.

We pray for the Gazan families trying to rebuild their lives in the midst of rubble and chaos, and ask especially that young Palestinian men would not be consumed by hatred at the unchecked injustices and thus turn to violence that will only perpetuate the cycles of destruction.

We pray for the Bedouins and African refugees, increasingly threatened by prejudiced land laws and xenophobic policies.

We pray for those in Israel, that they would not have to live in fear but also that their leaders would not use their fear as pretense to occupy and oppress others.

But we thank you, God, for those blessed examples of vibrant faith being displayed in the midst of the darkness, for moments of grace, compassion, and humanity.

For those of us from the United States, we ask forgiveness for the ways our nation has contributed to the plagues of instability and violence that characterize vast swaths of the Middle East, and we repent of our sinfully short memories that so quickly absolve us.

Lord, do not let our prayers be reduced to a holy anesthesia that numbs us to the suffering of others, that too easily satisfies our sense of responsibility, but may our prayers instead increase our capacity to embody a just expression of love and grace.

May our partial awareness of the suffering around the world not cause us to grow weary, but may we be inspired to serve those living here in Los Angeles with a greater passion and dedication.

And may we all look more like Christ as we pray this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen

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Tense

(This post is a slightly edited version of something I wrote on December 7, 2012.)*

***

Real talk, everyone: I can’t see into the future.

I know, it’s embarrassing, but I’ve got to be honest with myself, and the truth 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 that in the next three seconds a mystical vortex isn’t going to open up and transport me to a land of magic and adventure in need of a hero.

Sigh. Anyway…

Whenever I see friends and family after spending time away, it’s not uncommon to touch on topics such as who I am nowhow I’ve changed, and how I am still growing. That’s all fine and good, 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 the ever-ongoing process of “coming out” a new question has started to dominate certain conversations: who will I be in the future?

People who love and care about me (and sometimes people who don’t know me at all but have been given The Unassailable Right To Say Things by the internet) want assurance that I will always be staunchly conservative and celibate. I mean, I guess that would be nice. 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,** I will be similarly amazed at what God has done to draw me closer to him in, I’m sure, surprising and unforeseen ways.

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 there are moments 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 right 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, 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 hilariously limited 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 can be frighteningly 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. I can’t win an argument against The Future; fear-fueled visions of what may be can easily overwhelm me because I don’t yet have the experiences necessary to combat them. And, of course, 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 24. 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 faith and sexuality, 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 or even most of the answers right now. What I do have is Jesus, transcendently imminent, and his assurance that he will be with me as the seconds pass like gravel or grass beneath my uncalloused feet. And, as I’ve learned 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 chaste. Just because I’m confident the former leads to the latter in my life, 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.

As Eve Tushnet recently noted, an obsession with “safety first,” with expending all of one’s energy just to “not mess up,” is actually not safe at all: it misses the heart of the gospel and can ultimately undermine the very goals toward which one is striving.****

This strikes me as profoundly true. Ascesis is a risky path sometimes, and I am grateful for the reminder of where my priorities must stand, where my eyes must be fixed, in order to move forward with purpose and joy even as the future continues to stubbornly resist the desired clarity.

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* It is worth noting that when I first wrote this two years ago I was primarily dealing with suspicion and anger from more conservative Christians who thought my refusal to try and become straight spelled doom for my future (eternity counted as part of said future, of course). Over the last year, however, burning condescension from more progressive types has definitely entered itself into the “things-that make-me-most-tired” competition, even as I understand where it’s coming from and am less upset by it than the utterly damaging beliefs of some conservative Christians.

** Assuming the mystical vortex doesn’t show up and I die while gloriously sacrificing myself to save the world from the sinister Arch-Mage.

*** The future is coming way too quickly, guys.

**** Pre-order her book! It’s going to be AMAZING.

[The block print at the top is by Yoshida Hiroshi]

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The New Ex-Gay

While observing the conversation about faith and sexuality over the past few years I have witnessed a depressing number of harmful and untrue words come out of someone’s mouth right after the preface, “Well, as someone with a conservative ethic…” or “As someone who is ‘side-B’…” (Side-B being clunky shorthand for a more traditional sexual ethic, for those who hadn’t heard it before.)

I understand that some of these people are new to the discussion, are becoming more aware of something that they used to not even have to think about. But…

It’s hard, sometimes, to watch people who are insulated from the consequences of their words keep saying the same harmful things over and over. And it becomes harder when these words are used by others as the example of a “traditional sexual ethic.”

“These words” range from banal prejudices that cast all gay people as exceptionally promiscuous or obsessed with any number of threatening agendas to more contextually specific comments like “Shouldn’t we, as Christians, not have to talk about this so much? Can’t they just keep it between them and a few friends or a counselor? We all have problems; can’t they just find their identity in Christ and stop whining?”

And they’re being heard.

Over the past few weeks there has been a rash of articles “introducing” the internet to celibate gay Christians. The responses have been, unsurprisingly, mixed. The most common reaction I’ve seen has been a reflexive categorization of “side-B”* beliefs as “the new ex-gay,” as nothing more than the next tool of homophobic fundamentalists to marginalize gay people.

These “response” articles – and particularly the subsequent comments – are often uninspiring, caustic, and full of caricature. I also don’t think they are entirely wrong.

Rant with me, please?

"I can admire your rampage against the hegemony much better from here, thank you."

“I can admire your rampage against hypocrisy much better from here, thank you.” “Ugh, whatever Darcy.”

As I’ve engaged the conversation surrounding faith and sexuality, one of the main sources of frustration has been the persistent sense that most conservative straight Christians are more passionate about gay people not having sex than they are about gay people flourishing in church communities and in society at large. Put more witheringly, I get the sense that when people say things like “Why do they even have to ‘come out’ at all?” what they mean is that it would be better if gay people simply didn’t exist.

This is why the ex-gay narrative was (is) so attractive – it literally removed the “problem” of gay people. As that narrative continues to unravel some people are searching for a new way to pursue their unchanged desire to pray the gays away.**

Some may balk at that claim, and maybe it’s ungracious – there are some important differences in rhetoric, and I get that. But here’s what I see: one way or another, championing ex-gay ideology or appropriating a ravaged shade of the “traditional sexual ethic,” these particular people are looking for a belief that demands nothing from them and everything from sexual minorities.

Given that the ex-gay narrative placed all the weight of “faithful response” on the gay people themselves, it makes sense that prior supporters of that ideology would continue to focus exclusively on what the gay person needs to do, just in different language. Unless the switch from the ex-gay narrative to the “side-B” narrative of celibacy/chastity coincides with a shift in one’s understanding of church community and personal responsibility, then the “traditional sexual ethic” becomes a rather cruel farce, a perpetuation of unequal power structures and shame.

Those highly critical articles are responding in part, I think, to this ultra-lame permutation of a conservative ethic. So, I understand the hate; ex-gay ideologies have left so many scars on beloved people, and to see the phantoms of those ideologies take on new skins merits unequivocal response.

I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone, or even most people, will accept the differentiation of what we are trying to do at Spiritual Friendship from the ex-gay narrative in all of its forms. Or, even if they do see the difference, that it will matter at all.

But, well, here we are.

One of the things that I find beautiful about the “traditional sexual ethic” as I see it expressed by people who have thought through it extensively is how it is about so much more than just what certain people do or don’t do with certain parts of their bodies.

Rather, it is a sweeping yet grounded reimagining of what it means to be embodied beings in mutual communion with each other for the sake of human flourishing and the demonstration of the gospel in our particular contexts.

In other words, it is just as much about churches and communities addressing their trenchant sins of inhospitality and marginalization as it is about an individual’s stewardship of her mind and body.

For me, such a reframing provides motion and purpose and is far more true to the reality of the gospel than the one-sided and apodictic platitudes that characterize the rhetoric of those interested primarily in maintaining the status-quo and keeping this “problem” at a distance.

What kills me is how these Christians think they are preserving the witness of the church, but because many of them are blind to the actual lives of gay people they are unaware of the destructive character of their words and actions, how they are so profoundly corroding the beauty of the gospel*** and, in a very real way, making all expressions of a “traditional sexual ethic” culturally equivalent to ex-gay ideology and homophobia.

And I hate how I can’t escape saying “these people,” as if “they” aren’t often friends and family who I know and respect, or how, even still, my brain gets so caught up in the distressing tension of it all and becomes paralyzed by weariness and the most boring kind of despair.

But then, when I’m tempted toward total apathy, I encounter beautiful moments of community done well and am reminded how much there is to be gained from pursuing, together, a better way forward.

So I guess I want to end with this: would you, whoever you are, just examine the underlying character of your beliefs about sexuality, whether or not they have been formed in relationship with gay people, whether or not they are also concerned with whole church communities becoming more tightly knit and hospitable and responsibly sexual beings, and whether or not they manifest the fruit of the Spirit in their expression?

Because, honestly, it often feels as if the church is asking gay people to walk through a minefield as everyone else just stands back and yells instructions, and I don’t think I’m the only one who has grown a bit tired of being one of its human minesweepers.

_________________________

* I will give my holographic Charizard to anyone who can institute a better-yet-still-pithy phrase to communicate “side-B” beliefs without having to actually use that arcane label.

** High-five!

*** I’m not unaware that most affirming Christians feel the exact same about me.

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Between Two Weddings

Two years ago, as I was just beginning to think more critically about my faith and sexuality, I attended a wedding. It has been interesting to revisit the memorialized emotions that accompanied the ceremony, to examine the well-worn paths down which my uncertain thoughts routinely fled when confronted by longing and sorrow.

Weddings used to primarily remind me of all I couldn’t have, my easily startled psyche darting away from the encroaching shadows of jealousy and isolation. I would think, over and over, “I want this. I still want this.” There was always a bitter ache, a subcutaneous anxiety. Pain threatened my convictions and wove itself into every sensation. Unsurprisingly, I imagined that watching my best friend get married would be a similar experience, just exponentially moreso.

I was wrong.

Earlier this month as I stood to his left, watching the proceedings through increasingly blurry vision, I was pierced by a lancing bolt of… well… I’m not totally sure. Something composed of shards of joy, wonder, loss, excitement, and pain – all emotions I am accustomed to feeling on any given day and yet so qualitatively different in that one moment.

The second we all bowed our heads and closed our brimming eyes I stumbled into that kind of prayer that is as much actively experienced as it is passively submitted to, like diving into a surging wave. I later ducked into a hushed room at the back of the church to scrawl a short note, trying to capture the fleeting pathos of that instant:

“I cried when I prayed for them. I’m crying now as I think about it. There is something profoundly affecting about throwing the full force of my relationship with God toward the well-being of another. True prayer. Or at least a glimpse of it. Intercession borne aloft by joy and distress; passion – unbridled and feral passion – clawing toward heaven with my halting breath in its lungs. Magnificent that my elation and sorrow might be used to surround them with grace – the fire of prayer engulfing and refining all of me as I beg that they have future of hope and abundance.

My chest is quietly bursting. Old wounds are tearing open – not from injury but because the skin of my soul is expanding, too much life to be contained within the old carapace.”*

I was ready to battle against the negative emotions that I had come to believe were inevitable facets of a not-entirely-voluntary celibacy; prepared to sublimate jealousy into gratitude, fear into trust, resentment into hope.

But I wasn’t ready, not even close, for the relentless salvo of devastating beauty that blew apart whatever fortifications I had previously constructed. I’m deeply thankful for this remarkable dismantling – my utter exposure being, I think, a catalyst for the eruption of furiously transformative prayer. Yes, there was a kind of pain, a kind of sadness and longing, and yet they were wholly caught up in – even a part of – an irrepressible exultation of abundant life.

Guys. This is kind of a big deal for me, and the slow movement away from those now-overgrown trails toward conversations about vocation and community has made all the difference.

While I imagine that the intensity of the emotions will diminish over time (I’m not particularly fond of feeling like a walking-talking-twitching nuclear reactor), and while I acknowledge that such intensity is problematic, the fact that I experienced the aforementioned emotions – in all their jarring multiformity – as constructive and good rather than as corrosive and threatening is a rather seismic shift.

Before, when my understanding of my sexuality was dominated by a severe and singular “No,” the various thoughts/feelings/anxieties would simply pile up around me like a suffocating tomb. Now, even as my understanding remains hazy and in-process, there is a definite sense that things are finding a place, that my experiences are being built into something more beautiful, more purposeful, and more solid. There is still a lot of mystery here, to be sure, but it is mystery suffused with anticipation rather than fear.

At the very least I feel more reconciled to myself.

One final point is worth noting: two nights before the recent wedding the groom-to-be asked me how I was holding up, if there was anything about the preparatory festivities that I was struggling with. (He’s a keeper, everybody.) It was this: watching how much joy the union of these two beloved people brought to their families and surrounding community – the eagerness with which everyone pitched in, the glowing smiles and knowing glances that flashed between the parents or other married couples, and the unabashed celebration of it all.

The persistent awareness of the fact that there was nothing I could do, or at least nothing that I could think of doing, that would bring this much happiness to those around me stung considerably. Whether this is just a failure of my imagination, a failure of society’s imagination, or simply the unavoidable reality of things, it’s a problem.

In any case, I am humbled by what I have learned over the past few years, between these two weddings. While there is still much to think through and work over, it would be hard to exaggerate how much gospel I have found in this conceptual reframing, how much hope I have encountered as I stumble along, constantly being surprised by the ways Christ is at work in me.

This language of vocation that the writers at Spiritual Friendship have been trying to flesh out isn’t meant to be a tacked on consolation prize or an apologetic for why celibate gay Christians are called to some super-special expression of the faith. It is, rather, an attempt to re-express truths that should never have fallen silent: that our sexuality, in its fullest sense, is not an irredeemable waste from which we must entirely isolate ourselves nor is it a moral desert in which our sanctification can find no sustenance.

Oh wait, no, you're NOT completely spiritually barren and dead. Who knew!

Oh wait, no, you’re NOT completely spiritually barren and dead. Who knew!

As a younger person who is very much right in the middle of that time of life where almost all my closest friends are married or moving toward marriage, this constructive framework of vocation, this promise of the attentive affection of God, has been an expansive source of grace and peace for which I am immensely grateful.

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* Let us all take a moment and be thankful that I don’t write whole blog posts when I’m that emotional.

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