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 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 fully recover 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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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.

37812379

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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A Step into the Open

The first time I came out to anybody, my hands were shaking.

I was sitting in a dark room, accompanied only by the sound of my increasingly panicked breathing, typing out the e-novella of pain and triumph, confession and terror that would change my world the instant I hit “Send.” I doubt if I have ever experienced, simultaneously, such fear or such boldness since that night.

That was four years ago.

Things are a bit different now. I am writing this in a gently sunlit room to the swirling melodies of an electronic indiepop playlist I’ve had on repeat for a few days, and I’m at rest. And the only reason my hands are unstable is that I haven’t had coffee in a while and my body would like to kindly inform me that I’m about to shrivel up and die from withdrawal. I didn’t even like coffee four years ago.

For those of you who don’t know me, I should probably introduce myself; for those of you who do know me, a little reintroduction may be helpful:

Hey. I’m Matt Jones, 23, from Portland, Oregon, which means that rain simultaneously depresses and excites me and that I’m so pale I could die naked in a snow-drift and nobody would find me until Spring. This is why I avoid Canada. Anyway. I am a Wheaton College graduate, a Fuller Seminary student, and if Hogwarts were real I’d be in Ravenclaw. I love poetry and magical realism, I’m addicted to tennis/ping-pong/badminton/soccer (Real Madrid and Manchester City), and I slightly prefer staring up from the shadows of a mountain to hiking it, but both are great ways to spend a Saturday. (For those of you from the Midwest, read this.) I’ve spent some time traveling and volunteering and would consider a Guatemalan orphanage to be my second home. I am passionate about social justice, can hardly sing, try to live out a grounded ethic of nonviolence and peacemaking, generally struggle to embody any of my own ideals of faith and life in Christ (by, in, and for whom I exist and find joy), and I’m attracted to men.

For some people, only four of those words really matter. Usually it’s not the Ravenclaw part.

The instant myopia that can result from the statement “I’m attracted to men” is one of the reasons I considered not writing this post. Wiser people than I advised me against making myself captive to the chains of people’s preconceived notions of what it means to be a guy attracted to other guys. It goes without saying that the current social climate regarding homosexuality is a little bit volatile – so why throw myself into it? Why put myself out there?

Why can’t I just be content to keep this between close friends and family? Certainly strangers don’t need to be involved, and certainly there doesn’t need to be another blog. What is, ultimately, the point?

I hope to address those questions more specifically in a separate post, but I figured it was probably a good idea to, you know, “come out” first and then discuss the pros and cons of the process, otherwise everybody would be all freaking out in suspense over how the series would end.

But before I wrap this up I guess I should probably give a brief sketch of how I understand and interact with my sexuality. So:

I’m trying in my own imperfect way to live with integrity, wisdom, and nuance. For me, this means first and foremost processing what I know to be true about myself in light of what I believe has authority over me – in my case my relationship with Christ and the Church. However, I don’t think such a hermeneutic is as one-track as some people make it out to be. Thus, although I have chosen to pursue a life of full and dynamic celibacy, I spend about as much time explaining why I think my brothers and sisters who possess and even practice an affirming theology can still be Christians as I do explaining why I’m not a self-hating homophobe. Thanks to the cultural furor, I am generally unsuccessful in both endeavors.

This isn’t something shameful for me – I don’t think my homosexuality compromises my humanity, masculinity, close relationships, or faith-witness (in fact I think it brings something beautiful to all of them), and thus I see no reason to hide it or lie about it. I can’t ignore the testimonies of a few people who claim to have made some sort of shift in their sexual orientation through “therapy,” and I don’t want to silence them or disparage their stories, but I find the practice of trying to make someone switch from “gay” to “straight” (via reparative therapy or some forms of “biblical counseling”) to be misguided and harmful in almost every conceivable way, damaging to the gospel and those involved. Therefore, I generally condemn it. If the only hope the church thinks it can offer non-straight people is the possibility of heterosexuality, then it offers no hope at all.

That said, I’m also not particularly interested in trying to construct a personality or “identity” around my sexuality. It’s an important part of my human experience and I am who I am because of it, but it’s just one strand in the web of my existence and it’s not even the most interesting one.

So, yea, that’s that. It’s a lot to process, and I realize some of you may be confused, concerned, upset, or various combinations of those (upfused, for instance), and that’s fine. I am more than happy to dialogue or whatever via email or Facebook. But it may be helpful to wait a bit, as I will continue to blog about various things that may answer some of the more common questions. Or, if you just can’t wait, you can check out a blog I wrote pseudonymously throughout the last year. I grew a lot over the months, so maybe start with the most recent material. My name was Jordan.

I hope you all are well.

Peace,

Matt

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