Speech-Act, Pt. 2

Having briefly explained why I’ve struggled to consistently write over the past few months, we now turn to a vastly more important/ less whiny topic: how I hope to constructively engage the conversation surrounding homosexuality and faith.

I don’t know how to describe this without devolving into some kind of horrendously embarrassing INFP psycho-babble, but I feel like I need to “rediscover my voice” (oh god it burns!). What I mean is I am distinctly aware that I must reevaluate how I speak/write about sexuality because I have changed significantly over the past year. It’s like my fifth puberty of the soul.

Before I took a break from blogging in May, my goals were primarily to help the conservative evangelical church understand something it didn’t seem to understand very well at all and to show men or women who may have been wrestling with their sexuality that they are neither alone nor doomed to isolation and pain. With a few exceptions I never really spoke much about “the conversation” as a whole or how I aspired to, in the ever-catchy phrasing of The Marin Foundation, “elevate” it.

So when I came out in July and returned to writing, I was surprised by how difficult it had suddenly become to say anything. My original desires hadn’t changed too drastically, but the way I wanted to go about pursuing them had made a few significant shifts.

This post is mostly for myself – a rhetorical measure to which I want to be held accountable – but I hope it can also incite reflection and a renewed sense of gracious commitment in anyone who feels they have something to say. Which, I might add, is everybody to some degree or another.

I don’t want to cheapen pain or suffering by using it as a crutch to maintain reader interest. Finding new, particularly potent ways to communicate the ache of being different or controversial or rejected or alone seems to be the calling card of many a blog that addresses being a Christian who is gay.

People respond well to confessions of pain, and, what is more, really treasure a description of pain that resonates with their own experience. That is a very good thing. I’ll never forget how powerful it was to encounter Henri Nouwen’s work for the first time, his words casting some alchemical spell over my despair that changed it from monstrous to human. I just wanted to do the same for others.

But when pain seems to be what increases blog traffic and reader response, it can become so easy to start peddling it like some shiny trinket. The internet rewards drama, and I must admit I’m growing incredibly weary of how often conversations or posts about sexuality and faith – mine included – are mired in agony-laced sensationalism. Though it produces (not altogether bad) results in the short-term, I think it ultimately compromises the integrity of our witness and the character of the dialog.

By all means I want to speak honestly about pain and struggle (which also requires I admit when I experience neither) and give others the opportunity to speak honestly about theirs, but I’m not sure honesty pairs well with ceaseless metaphors about “some kind of flaming/icy/abyssal/dark serpent/dagger/monster/dementor crushing/piercing/rupturing/devouring my heart/brain/bowels/soul.” Pain can be too important a thing to devalue with dramatic excess.

I want to show grace to those who disagree with me – constantly asking myself how they may hear my words and trying to avoid the ever-alluring strawman arguments.  This is obviously easier said than done, and it is difficult to feel that those who disagree really understand your beliefs or whatever (because if they did they’d totally change their minds, right?). At the same time, one of my greatest frustrations stems from seeing certain ultra-flimsy, thoroughly bankrupt ideas blindly recycled in article after article – as if the author isn’t very interested in the hard work of listening and reflecting. I hope those two powerful actions, listening and reflecting, increasingly define the way I live.

I want to communicate with clarity and nuance. At times, in order to feel like I was “clear” about what I believed, I have sacrificed patience and grace. Conversely, in an effort not to step on toes, I have sometimes been vague and noncommittal. Attempting that fabled rhetorical balance can feel as futile as smashing two positive magnet-ends together or keeping a millennial in a room without wi-fi, but striving for it, however imperfectly, is so very necessary and so very worth the effort.

I want to write with a sense of levity, when appropriate.  Many things can and should be taken incredibly seriously; human life is fraught with tragedy and lament. I don’t ever want to exploit someone’s very real suffering for a laugh. At the same time, I think it’s impossible to write accurately about sexuality without a strand of humor, and reading post after deadly-serious post can so easily make one feel hopeless about everything. Learning to laugh at myself and my absurd experiences as a sexual being, like everyone, was and is an exercise in hope.

I want each post to proclaim the gospel, explicitly or not. Because this is how it all begins and ends for me: I am only who I am because God has reconciled me to himself and has called me to live each day serving others in light of the gospel. For all the seasons of doubt and darkness, I keep coming back to that truth; I am here because I am loved, and I am here so that I can love others. I want everything to point to that reality so that others might know it for themselves.*

Certainly this list isn’t exhaustive, and there are other personal goals I intend to aim for (e.g. be at least 20% less annoying than Scrappy-Doo or Snarf, and include as many childhood pop-culture references as I can without over-saturation), but this is a start.

If you have any suggestions of your own, I’d be interested in hearing them. Uh, I mean, I’d love to listen to and reflect on them. Yes, that.

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Matt

* Pretty sure I used up my monthly quota for “Christianese” with this paragraph, and that was even after serious editing. 

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6 thoughts on “Speech-Act, Pt. 2

  1. Yes! INFP for the win (although those last two letter seem to change at the drop of a a hat).

    I know what you mean about the peddling of pain or the ultra-seriousness of the discussion. It is why I ultimately (at least for the moment, as paradoxical as that is) decided that I could never blog. My posts would just be those two things. It is what I really have appreciated about your blogs over the last few months; it has such a better tone. Glad to have you back.

  2. Hey! I’m an INFP too!

    Matt – I truly appreciate your very difficult choice to pursue celibacy; and I admire the faith that sustains you in your life of faith. Please, please take the comments I’m about to make in the vein they are intended – that is, to engage in productive conversation.

    You’re touching on something I struggle with as someone who’s journey has taken him to a much different place. The fruit of the doctrine to which you subscribe is, in my view, bitter. The abuses of the Church have been engendered by a theology that says the suffering associated with forced celibacy is necessary in order for humanity to flourish (i.e., being faithful to the conservative understanding of God’s design for human sexuality). I see the conservative mandate for celibacy to be emotionally coercive and a heavy, cumbersome load placed on gay people by those in the sexual majority. I see the suffering of gay people in the conservative church as both needless and unjust.

    Is there a way to reconcile our perspectives under the cross? In my understanding, shalom is the hallmark of Christianity – not undue suffering. I have said for a long time that if the Church is truly interested in loving people who are gay better, it must change its theology. We must believe differently in a way that doesn’t cause harm. What am I missing? What’s your perspective on the need for suffering of sexual minorities?

    Again, I’m truly not trying to be provocative or disrespectful. I’m focused on the system of belief, not on the individual believers.

    All my best to you!
    Ford

    • Seriously, INFP’s are the greatest. One of my best friends is an INFP as well, and one chilly night at college we passed each other on the sidewalk as we wandered aimlessly, thinking. “Hey, what are you doing up at this hour?” “Composing poetry in my head. How about you?” “Looking up at the stars wondering why I’m so finite.” “Cool. See ya.”

      We were both wearing purple. A very INFP moment.

      Thanks for the comment! I always am both appreciative and envious of your gracious yet no-holds-barred tone. I never feel attacked or anything like that.

      I started writing out a response and, quite frankly, it became way too long, even by my standards. So if you don’t mind waiting I’m going to edit it into a post to go up some time in the next few weeks.

      Thanks for your patience!

      Matt

    • Ford,

      Your reply is maybe the best thing I have read in this day in which I have read a lot of amazing things! You posted a while ago; hopefully you still see this. A few thoughts:

      1) This is the place where INFPs find each other, apparently! Ah, kindred spirits. :)

      2) Your different perspective married with your genuine desire for reconciliation is one of the most beautiful things ever. I totally relate to Matt’s thought that “it is difficult to feel that those who disagree really understand your beliefs,” and to hear you disagree with an honest desire for mutual agreement and understanding is so beautiful and inspiring. I hope to one day have that level of humility and grace.

      3) I am pretty new to this conversation, though I’ve been out to friends for about five years now. I only started to find these blogs by celibate gay Christians about a month ago! As such, my thoughts are still pretty rough and undeveloped; but your questions struck a chord in me and I wanted to see if it was possible to start bringing together our perspectives “under the cross,” as you said so beautifully (because isn’t that where this conversation HAS to end up?).

      I don’t know where your thinking is now after seven months, but this is where I have come to, in a very abbreviated form. I’m gay, and that is what it is, despite prayer and heartache and confusion in the past. More importantly, I’m a Christian who has come to be convinced of the authority of the Bible, the unearned love and grace of Christ, and the importance of genuine Christian community. All this has led me to think that my best response to everything is probably celibacy, unless somehow I end up in a mixed-orientation marriage or God changes my orientation, which are both things I would be open to but are not at all what I assume will happen. And I think you’re right that the weight of celibacy is heavy and cumbersome, given the status quo concerning relationships and such in our culture and in the church.

      But I don’t think it HAS to be. I mean, it may be that there will always be this thing that gay people can’t do that straight people can, but I don’t think that has to lead to a heavy, burdensome suffering. Maybe the theology change that you speak of is more practical than theoretical. I still struggle at times with loneliness and even very mild sorts of depression, I think of the sort that all people do (what exactly do you mean when you say it is a burden to you and something to suffer through? That is, how has pain manifested itself in your life?); but I have been surprised in recent years to find myself in places of incredible community and love, and I think that has made the burden bearable.

      I’m sure you’ve seen the blog Spiritual Friendship; it’s been a big encouragement to me. I don’t agree with everything that is posted, and I don’t think that having intimate, deep friendships rooted in Christ is going to solve every problem and eliminate all pain, but it might be a starting point where we can better see the grace and love of God for us, and it might be a place where a lot of our need to know and be known is met. Here, love can still be a real possibility for the person who is gay, in a slightly different form but not necessarily less intimate. Does that make sense?

      I hope this is all productive and not in any way volatile. How do you see your suffering and pain play itself out? What needs do you have that need to be met? And how did your journey take you to the perspective it did? Thanks again, Ford, for this reply!!

  3. Hey Matt,

    Long time reader, first time replying.

    I just want to give you some words of encouragement. I love reading your posts – the parts I agree and disagree with! I also really appreciate the parts of your posts that make me laugh (please make sure to continue lots of childhood pop-culture character references).

    So thank you. For doing what isn’t easy. For being a voice of grace in a warzone. For being a reminder that we can and should laugh too. For being a voice of truth about God’s love, grace and mercy. It is an encouragement to know there are people like you in the world.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Micah

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