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.

_______________

* 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.

_____________________________________________________

* 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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Poem: Silentium

If you’ve read a decent chunk of my posts you’re probably very aware of themes such as grief, darkness, and the silence of God - both because I talk about them a lot and because you made the grave mistake of reading a decent chunk of my posts and thus suffered the consequences.

I will write more about Psalm 39 eventually as I think it is one of the most important chapters in the Bible, but for now, a poem. It is meant to be read alongside the psalm, organizing the verses into seven sections loosely based on the Catholic sacraments – outward expressions of inward graces. There’s a bit more but Foucault is like so over me trying to explain the text’s meaning.

Here’s the Psalm. And here’s the poem:

***

Poenitentia 1-3

A prayer dies burnt
in my throat
and utterance erupts into hot ash,
yet no voice rebukes this
purifying wildfire.

Baptismus 4

Through stirred glass I see
the angel of death hover
over these healing waters.
I crawl deep beneath the riverbed
and hold my aging breath.

Confirmatio 5-6

Surely I am what you made me;
no more than a flexed-lung away
from returning, undone,
to the mud of apathy,
a more honest crown.

Eucharistia 7-9

My lips fear solitude
as your harvest moon gently arcs.
If only eyes grew teeth and tongue,
for I have nothing but groaning desire
and the taste of my own souring blood.

Ordo 10-11

The birthright of dust-eaters
mountains over my shoulder;
commissioned to carry out
the apostolic ministry of
growing bone.

Matrimonio 12

I never grew into a son,
and the children of your favor
shall not wed strangers.
So shattered feet, lead me home;
shuttering eyes, lead me home.

Unctio 13

I paint the sky with incense
and beg for a salve
of lightning
to pour over me,
blessed and final unction.

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When Snow Fell In Summer

I would always sit in the back so I could kick off my flip-flops without anyone noticing; for some reason I preferred church barefoot. Besides, with only thirty people in the room on any given Saturday evening the back was still closer than most get on a Sunday morning, which meant I didn’t know what to do with my eyes during the sermon.

When I wasn’t preoccupied with proving I was attentive to the message, I liked to watch people, how their heads bobbed up and down in agreement or how, for some, their Adam’s apples would plunge as if a profound “Amen” was thinking about emerging from their throats only to realize that this was a white-suburban-Baptist church and crawl back into their spirited lungs. (Affirming and thoughtful grunting was, however, encouraged.)

One evening, as I scanned the blessed others surrounding me, I was startled to have my stare met by two restlessly blue eyes, widening for an instant and then shifting somewhere beyond me. The young boy twisted in his chair to touch his sister’s shoulder. She didn’t look up from her fierce scribbling and he didn’t care. He glanced back toward me, then his sister, then me, then nowhere in particular, slowly sliding off his seat in clearly-beloved airplane pajamas.

Some faint whisper of a recent conversation suggested he and his sister had just been adopted, but I couldn’t remember if they were biologically related. It seemed unlikely that two siblings with Down syndrome would be born within a year of each other, but all I remembered from high school genetics was that I lacked talent at sorting fruit flies.

Anyway, that didn’t matter.

As I watched him play on the ground and watched her excitedly draw… something began to press sharply into my soul. My eyes widened in a sudden panic and my body jerked awkwardly.

It wasn’t the most stable time of my life, and I had spent much of that gentle summer being stalked by one red-toothed question:

Why do beautiful things have to suffer?

It had found me again.

I blinked, embarrassed, and then had to keep blinking to stop the tears from brimming over. I wanted nothing more in that moment than to know that these children would make it through every day without ever having to hear someone argue that their lives weren’t worth living, that their joy and sorrow and laughter were formed of some cheaper thing. I needed to know that the bloodless ideology of efficiency and pragmatism would stay the hell away from them. And I knew it wouldn’t. I knew they’d have to learn, at some point, that there are people who say they would have been better off dead.

The boy smiled at me.

And the savage question bit down.

My soul darkened, twisted in confusion, and I left church with a furious prayer blooming around me like a thunderhead on what should have been a cloudless evening.

At some point earlier in the year I had forgotten how to trust God. It probably happened during one of those sleepless nights where I curled up in the corner and begged him to be who he said he was: protector of the orphan, father of the fatherless…where my hope was eventually suffocated by the crushing inevitability of statistics and “Every three seconds…”

So I sped toward the reddening Oregon hills, my prayers lashing out like mindless lightning – striking broken systems, human sin, my own weakness, and God himself with abandon.

I turned on some music to drown out the fury, and burst into tears.

But nothing could halt the implosion and I became more manic with each turn, the blushing serenity of the mountain fields amplifying the dissonance within me. I needed rain, I needed nightfall, I needed chaos.

The warm breeze whipped around me as I took each corner, repeating over and over and over in a frenzy

Why do beautiful things have to suffer?

and

Why do beautiful things have to suffer?

and

How dare you let beautiful things suffer!

And with a last crank of the wheel I found myself in a midsummer snowfield.

I slammed on the brakes, leaned out my window, and released a low, inhuman moan.

Scrambling out of the car as quickly as possible I rushed toward the animal that served as the quivering point of a fifteen-foot exclamation mark written in lace. Laying on the darkening asphalt, surrounded by a pinion snowfall, was a white peacock.

Oh God no, no no no no, please no!

I tried to get closer but it immediately grew agitated, swiveling its head around and emitting a hoarse, rattling cry. I froze, just staring at it, trying to assess the damage the unwitnessed collision had caused.

There was blood, the albino-red of its eyes spilling haphazardly onto its face, and I realized it couldn’t see.

Not one more thing!

With trembling hands I tried to pick it up and move it out of danger, but the moment I touched its wing it panicked and stumbled onto its feet and let loose a series of horrible gasps. It limped noticeably.

“Stop moving, damn you, stop moving stop moving stop moving!” I screamed, unsure what to do as it tripped at the edge of the road and fell into the shallow, grassy ditch, once again screeching in confusion and pain.

The next thirty minutes passed in a blur. I called my parents who lived right nearby; they knew the peacock’s owners; the owners arrived and wrapped up the struggling animal; their red Land Rover disappeared around the forested bend; I picked up three shimmering tail-feathers; the sun finally collapsed into the bruising horizon; and I was suddenly sitting on the edge of my bed, trying to figure out if I was supposed to think any of it meant anything.

I just sat there, the news that the peacock would recover fully barely registering, running all the possible spiritual interpretations past my inner skeptic. I craved significance, and he was unimpressed – though really, what are the odds that the album I was crying to when I came upon the wounded creature displayed a white peacock on its cover?* – so despite the massive effort my head fell onto the pillow with the magicless explanation that some reckless driver hit a rare, domesticated bird, that I soon-after arrived on the scene, that the stupid bird decided it would rather blindly throw itself into a ditch than let me cradle it and weep into its plumage and revel in the tragic beauty of it all, that it was apparently far healthier than it seemed, that once its owners showed up I had nothing else to do except drive home, and that one of the tail-feathers I took was apparently off-white and ugly.

The world doesn’t owe you something profound, you know.

I know.

You’re not some great savior, you know.

I know.

You’re actually laughably finite, you know.

I know.

So stop trying so hard.

Whatever.

I mumbled a laughably finite prayer and for the first time in a few weeks fell asleep quickly.

_________________________________________

By Dina Dargo

By Dina Dargo

_________________________________________

* This one.

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Album Review: I Am Only Me by Kevin Marble

I had the immense pleasure of being a sophomore the year Kevin Marble matriculated to Wheaton College with his guitar and harmonica in hand. Over the next four years Kevin became somewhat of a famous figure at Wheaton, known for providing killer acoustic shows whether on campus or around a campfire. People would request personal favorites and the crowd would sing along, Kevin’s talent for penning clever lyrics and hummable melodies making it easy for listeners to pick up his songs and remember them.

Kevin’s first album, What Are You Afraid Of (which you can download here), was a cleanly produced selection of twelve songs showcasing his considerable talent as a multi-instrumentalist alongside guest vocalists and the occasional string accompaniment. Throughout his debut effort Kevin proved more than capable of crafting engaging arrangements that accented his rewarding lyrics, and I was interested to see how he would move forward.

Two years later, Kevin has released a six song “live” EP. Recorded in one afternoon –  just Kevin, his guitar, his harmonica, and the occasional guest backup singer – I Am Only Me is a warm throwback to all those up-close-and-personal shows during college (without the added benefit of being able to meditate on how much his harmonica holder looks like headgear).

Really though.

Really though.

The EP opens with the mid-tempo “Maybe Not,” a surprisingly catchy reflection on the difficulty of moving on, even from something that may or may not be love.

The two standout tracks, for me, are “Wide Open World” and “I’m Alive,” the former a quiet meditation and the latter a folky celebration of life. In each track Kevin’s earnest vocals convey all of the requisite emotions and then some.

After repeated listenings, I only find myself mildly disappointed in one track, “I’m a Fool For You,” the slightly-predictable quality of its lyrics seem out of place in Kevin’s notably clever body of work. Still, that’s more a testament to Kevin’s higher standards than anything.

Overall, I Am Only Me is an intimate and enjoyable EP that is perfect for the summer months. The fact that it’s free makes it even more irresistible. So do yourself a favor and become acquainted with the wonderful Kevin Marble; you won’t regret it.

The EP drops July 1, and you’ll be able to download it from his NoiseTrade page here.

Finally, here’s a video of the first single from I Am Only Me. Check it out!

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Growing Pains

I was rummaging through old documents when I came across an unpublished post from November 2012, just before I left for Guatemala, signaling a more definitive break with my life in the bucolic Pacific NW. I was struck by how much more the hope I allude to at the end has continued to take root, especially as I build a life down here in So Cal. In lieu of not having time to write actual posts (finals week, guys… it’s the greatest), I figured I’d share this with you all. (NB: my parents continue to be awesome.)

***

What is it about a place that can exert such emotional power over the human mind? As if I stored little pieces of my sadness and sin in the pictures and trinkets that litter my room, which return to me the moment I rotate the cheap-gold handle. I’m quickly reminded the creeping spores of apathy and cynicism thrive in the damp chill of a Pacific Northwest winter (which lasts from October-May, for the uninitiated).

Welcome home.

Home, with the stairs that I have, generously, a meager 40% chance of running up without tripping. Home, where I spent countless hours staring across the valley at the horses running around, happy creatures unaware that they had never known freedom. Home, where I forgot how to cry, and where I sharpened a razor-wire tongue that made me, I thought, invincible, if only because I never bled first.

Home, where I taught myself to shave behind two closed doors, blushing and ashamed; where I watched dad take my brother to go camping on his 13th birthday to talk about what it meant to be a man, where I convinced myself it wasn’t such a big deal, anyway, because two years later he missed mine for a business trip. And besides, camping in the winter is stupid.

Home, where, at sixteen, I decided Jesus was worth giving everything to follow, where I encountered that contagious flame of passion that altered my life forever. Home, where I discovered that this holy flame within me wasn’t enough to stop me from looking at porn or to dull the hidden ache of loneliness, and every time I repented I knew that God knew that each sorrowful promise would never be the last, and I couldn’t bear to abuse his mercy so I stopped praying altogether. Home, which I then left.

I learned to pray again at college. I learned to feel, to love, to be loved, and to, for once, be honest with myself. Through a million little miracles, God repaired my maimed soul, weaving the fragments together in a painstaking labor of grace.

But then I would board a plane to the Northwest and the stitching would loosen.

Home, where I finally told my family that I’m gay; where they promised to love and support me, and where I learned that love and support don’t always look to the same to everyone. But we are growing together.

Welcome home.

I wonder how long it will take me to mature beyond the grasping shadows of a childhood ill-spent. I mean, look at me, my penchant for writing maudlin, self-serving complaints about my youth goes up by 1200% when I’m here. It must be all that My Chemical Romance I listened to.

I catch glimmers of hope. My dad and I have never been closer. I’m not hiding like I used to. I pray, often. I wonder what would happen if I stayed here longer, poured myself into reclaiming the history of this place. Maybe, just maybe, I could exorcise the bitter spirits and find that sought-after sense of integrity that evades me even still.

I may never know. I leave again in a week, this time for four months. Shortly after I return, bilingual and much better at soccer, I begin graduate studies 1000 miles away. I’ll continue to grow up, change, move deeper into the warm embrace of that blessed fire, and become increasingly aware of how fortunate I am to have the parents I do, to have lived the life I did. Perhaps the confusion will fade along with the myopia of youth.

I will say, however, that things are not entirely the same as they used to be: back then, I couldn’t love myself, but now I know without a doubt that God loves me, that even in the midst of my apathy and willful rebellion he still wants to be with me, to speak with me, to surround me with grace. And even as I’m unsure if I know myself as well as I think I do, I remember, resolutely, that he knows who I am, fully, and rejoices over me as I am conformed into the likeness of Christ.

Then, my inability to trust myself silenced me before a God I knew deserved better. Now, my inability to trust myself provokes me to cry out to him more than ever, because he is trustworthy and will not leave me to muddle through life alone. The former isolated me, the latter binds me closer to the one who saves.

I guess I am slowly realizing that, even though the dust of apathy rises up from the carpet and a whole host of other struggles seem to rematerialize every time I come home, the one demon that I haven’t heard from in some time is despair, and that has made all the difference.

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In Weakness

This was originally written in May, 2013. I have edited and reposted it as I find myself facing a similar moment in my life: starting to speak publicly about faith and sexuality.

***

There are certain words that we carry with us wherever we go. Sometimes tacked onto us by friends or strangers, sometimes dragged behind us by leashes of our own making, they follow us and seem to declare their existence at every moment.

Mine is weak.*

It’s like some indelible curse, scrawled on every mirror, sports field, tool, or disappointed face – a damning refrain of inescapable truth. I hate it. And yet I continue to grip the worn tether.

I think it’s because I have generally understood weak to be a safe word; one that demands nothing from me and gives me a reason to push away all that might complicate my life. If I’m so weak, I must protect myself. Tension and complexity and nuance become the enemy – threats to my fragile stability and brokers of an inevitable compromise. After all, I’m weak, I can’t handle it. A pious and poisonous half-truth that I’ve believed for most of my life.

But that’s changing.

The conviction that I need to speak up and step out, to move deep into the tension and dedicate myself to truly loving those around me, allowing their lives to press into mine, is overriding the base urge to shield myself from any and all pain. And as pin-prick circulation returns to my knuckles I am realizing that being weak isn’t the problem: being selfish and afraid is.

Because I am weak. And yet as I started to see years ago, such weakness can be a beautiful opportunity to move forward in trust. That one word, weak, used to bring forth a comprehensive, anxious distrust that paralyzed me, but now it’s starting to have the opposite effect. Over the past year as I’ve blogged, emailed, met-for-coffee, and prayed, I’ve never ceased to be filled with wonder at the ways God has proven himself faithful to use my weakness to bring life…

…as a hushed confession of shame erupts into a boisterous oh-my-god-me-too! and a newfound freedom takes root amidst the shared laughter.

…as friends step up and become heroes.

…as an “issue” becomes a living, breathing, hurting human for someone and their world changes.

…as I find myself feeling more alive, more loved, more hopeful, and more passionate than ever before.

I could go on. I’ve had the chance to meet and become friends with so many incredible people as a result of that one decision to move beyond my frightened comfort zone. Friends who agree with me, disagree with me, think I’m crazy, force me to dig deep and reexamine what I thought to be true, inspire me, frustrate me, and point me to Christ. I would have never met any of them, never encountered the gospel of their lives, if I’d let my fear of pain decide it was more important to shelter myself from it all.

So you think I’d get it by now. But…

Sometimes the damning refrain creeps back into my mind.

You’re pathetic.

They’ll tear you apart.

You’re so disgustingly weak, you’ll never make it.

A year ago I was sprawled on the couch of a friend unsuccessfully trying to convince my exhausted brain that, really, it’s more fun to sleep than implode, watching tattered visions of all that could undo me flicker in an out of focus. It was my first week back in the States; DoMA and SCOTUS were still trending on Twitter and lighting up my Facebook feed. From the moment I deplaned I was confronted with the fact that I was, once again, caught in a controversy. An old anxiety started gathering around the fringes of my awareness and I couldn’t shake it off.

You’re going to fail.

I pulled the blanket over my head. I’d spent the afternoon hanging out with new friends – a warm and hilarious couple who let me tag along on a date – and I was wrestling with my tired mind about it.

You’re weak. Protect yourself.

Those old lies that would have me believe it was “dangerous” to hang out with a loving, affectionate gay couple – two passionate Christians, at that! – kept replaying because wouldn’t life be simpler if you isolated yourself from anything that would complicate your beliefs?  Wouldn’t it be easier if you spent all your effort on drawing lines and defending yourself and pushing away those who disagree? You’re going to crumble if you keep this up.

I carried these bitter thoughts with me to church the next morning. It had been almost ten months since I’d attended a eucharistic service, though I wasn’t really thinking about that as I waited in line to receive the elements. I was starting to feel a little bit crazy. The decision to begin living and writing more openly about my sexuality and faith seemed increasingly foolish in light of the mounting tension and you won’t be strong enough to help anyone, much less –

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.”

– yourself and the controversy will consume you and you’ll be –

“This is Christ’s blood, shed for you.”

– ridiculed and misunderstood and abandoned and –

The accusations ended abruptly as I watched the chunk of bread slowly turn crimson. My mouth started to water. Then my eyes. I gently placed the elements in my mouth, and breathed deeply.

“Epiphany” is the only word I can use to describe that moment: a sudden burst of clarity that overwhelmed me and my whispering fears. The confusion of the preceding moments dissolved and in its place there appeared a calm certainty: this is the shape my life must take.

The eucharist rendered my life intelligible again.

Please bear with me as I gush:

We follow a Christ who was, and is every day, torn to pieces. He was misunderstood and ridiculed, or sometimes understood perfectly well and hated for what he said and did. He was nailed to a low-hanging plank and slowly suffocated outside the city gate. And this is how we are told to remember him.

Because this is our story. This is who we are becoming. People who love so fiercely that we throw ourselves into the midst of things so that there may be peace, so that the unloved would know the touch of a friend, so that the hopeless would see with new eyes and the neglected would discover what it means to have a family. We proclaim Christ, and him crucified.

And people may tear us apart for it. The tension will pull at our seams and always feel as if it is a second away from undoing us. We will have to struggle against the impulse to move back to safety, relieve the tension, remain untroubled, and bury our weakness.

But eucharist is the utmost display of weakness. The cross is weakness.

And this is the beauty of it.

The celebration of bread and wine is a sacrificial, destructive act. But the miracle of it is that as the body of Christ, the bread, is torn to pieces the body of Christ, the Church, is made more whole. We are nourished and drawn together and given the strength to carry on. We are empowered to boldly live in weakness.

This is how the power of Christ is made perfect in weakness: that although we are vulnerable we press deep into the suffering of the world and make it our own, although we may receive blows from every direction we refuse to let our capacity to love and forgive be beaten out of us, and although we are silenced and misunderstood we never disdain the sacred act of listening to another and seeking to understand. It seems like I will never cease having to relearn this most basic of truths, and I imagine that is why celebrating the eucharist will never cease to astonish and amaze me.

The fears that plagued me on my friend’s couch are still with me. Honestly, despite there being many incredible men and women who have gone before me, the idea of opening my life and sexuality to the scrutiny of others is terrifying. I mean, gosh, public discourse in the States has proven itself to be a rather volatile thing.

Pictured: healthy dialogue

Pictured: healthy dialogue

And yet as I have committed to serving with my local church and growing in community with the wonderful not-like-me people I am blessed to know, I find I am more aware of the living grace of my God who offered himself to the world and more in love with his Church that sustains me and inspires me to act in truth and humility. I am seeing more clearly what will enable me, enable us, to proclaim the gospel of hope to an understandably cynical culture, and I am praying that we will allow that gospel to take hold of us in new and profound ways.

Please pray with me.

Peace, friends.

__________________________________________________________________

* Like, if Harry Potter and all that were real (deep breaths deep breaths) my patronus would probably be an asthmatic woodland rodent of some kind.**

** Just kidding, I’ve actually thought about this a lot and it would totally be an otter, which is, according to trustworthy friend-sources, my “animal personality” (i.e. playful, creative, smelling of shellfish and brine, intelligent, et al.).***

*** It is also, I’ve been told, my gay bar body-type classification. Layers, you guys, layers.****

**** No, mom, I’ve never been to a gay bar. *****

***** I’d rather not end on that note, so here’s 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (NRSV). Blessings.

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Obituary

Andy was the one who taught me how small my world really was.

He was the one who would walk next to me on the crowded beaches of Cape Town and point out all the undercover cops, the meth-heads, the gang members; the one who would tell me stories about prison and street-life, about the seemingly endless movement between the two.

He was also the one who made me feel most at home. As a skinny-white-kid intern at a South African rehab center for homeless and ex-con addicts it was pretty obvious from the start that I was out of place. But Andy laughed at my stupid jokes, initiated conversation, and treated me like I belonged there.

One time we were talking about golf. “You know Matt,” he said with his colored-Afrikaans inflection, “I am really sad I don’t have my golf clubs anymore. They were nice golf clubs.”

“Dude, I didn’t know you played! How did you lose them?”

“Well, a lot of them broke on this one guy’s head.”

“I… that’s… that’s unfortunate. Nice weather today, yeah?”

“Yes it is, I love the sunshine!”

This other time I was stuck in traffic on my way to work (the city was still finishing up road construction for the 2010 World Cup… in late 2012), when suddenly Andy came out of nowhere and jumped into the passenger seat. “I knew you would drive by here! I started walking later than normal and I thought to myself, You know, Andy, Matt is always late to work, so he is probably going to show up here soon! And here you are! Do you have any good music for this beautiful morning?” So we car-danced and talked about Jesus as we waited in traffic next to the glistening waters of False Bay.

Today I learned that Andy recently killed himself.

I know very little about the last year-and-a-half of his life, the nineteen months that have passed since we celebrated his graduation from the intensive rehab program. For me, the Andy that just died is the Andy who sent me a text message on my final morning in Cape Town reminding me that God was good.

For me, the world just lost a boisterous laugh, a quick smile, and a curious mind. His stories are what sparked my initial interests in studying alternative societies and helped me become aware of the unfathomably complex lives of those who I had never been able to see through my cataracts of privilege and apathy.

I’m not surprised by the news; the reality inhabited by all the clients I got to know in rehab is one thoroughly teeming with the possibility of death, and Andy had more than his fair share of demons.

But it still stings.

There was so much hope in him when he hugged me goodbye. He was the one who was making it, who was finding a way out from the crushing weight of meth-addiction, who was helping keep the ever-encroaching cynicism at bay.

For me, the Andy that has left us is the Andy who would not want his death to cause despair or cast doubt on the faithfulness of Jesus, that glorious friend about whom he loved singing “Hy’s ‘n Wonderbaar Heiland Vir My[1] every morning.

It seems crass to try and end with some tidy “takeaway.” There is no such thing. I am simply left with a deep sadness at Andy’s death and a deeper gratitude to have known him, however briefly, during his life.

I can only hope to honor him by living more passionately into the truths that his friendship began revealing to me, so that all people might be seen and all people might know love.

Meager as that is, I pray it is enough.

Miss you, brother.

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[1] “He’s a Wonderful Savior To Me”

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Before the Dawn Comes

I wrote this last year for Holy Saturday

______________________________

I’ve always wondered what it must have been like to live in that nauseous limbo between the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday, to wake up with the image of a limp and bloodied messiah (though maybe…false messiah?) etched into my vision without the healing salve of resurrection to bring significance and peace to the roiling ache.

How quickly would my trust and devotion bleed out of me to join the crimson mud beneath the cross of the dead man? Would I flinch at every little sound, just waiting for the soldiers or violent crowd to begin their search for the remnants of the incendiary prophet’s followers? And if they came to my door, what would I say? Would I bathe in a desperate mixture of tears, doubt, and denial so the angel of death might pass my miserable self by?

Would I despair?

Would I allow the dark current to pull me under?

Would I be able to keep living in a world suddenly and viciously rendered absurd?

I don’t know. It seems like the only honest answer that could be given on a day of lightless uncertainty.

But then: pulse. movement, speech, rumors, hope appearance touch restoration new-life.

And there is no going back, no undoing of this stark watershed of history. We now live in the irrevocable abundance of the resurrection, flushed with the infinite wonder of redemption.

Redemption - the miracle in which darkness augments the beauty of in-breaking light, suffering produces a hope that does not disappoint, and doubt becomes an invitation to venture trembling fingers into eternal scars of love.

Holy Saturday is a day to dwell on silence. For me, it is a day to confront my fear of silence, my anxiety that God has left me on my own to muddle through life. And yet, the resurrection has come: the hushed cosmos erupting into endless praise for what God has done.

I’m reminded that even in the tortured silence of Holy Saturday God was moving to break the chains of separation and dissolve the power of death.

So when I find myself wounded, sitting in a too-quiet room with a disquieted mind wondering why or why not, I can cling to the comfort that such doubt is not a shameful, disturbing departure from Christian life but is and always has been a part of our history. The question is, though, whether or not I will be faithful and keep my eyes and ears open even in the midst of the intense darkness or struggle because I have the promise that God has not, will not ever, abandon me and that some day, whether tomorrow or in eternity, I will see what beauty he was working in and through me and will be in awe of it all.

Easter Sunday doesn’t dismiss the anguish of Holy Saturday, but gives it purpose and direction. The resurrection doesn’t negate the suffering of life, but gives us the strength to declare that even in the throes of our suffering there is hope and the beauty of redemption; tear-choked voices can find a song, bruised feet can learn to dance, and weary hearts can beat with passion.

Peace, friends.

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