Fifty-Five. Remember.

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I carry all of these moments

of all these years wherever I go and to whoever I become

I keep them loose

because they hold you

I keep them close

because they hold me.

When the bow broke,

the day the cage released,

when my throat opened

and I learned I was free.

Pulling

Pushing

Longing

Falling

When I fought you

I was only fighting me

When I loved you

I learned to love me.

I carry all these moments

of all these years wherever I go to whomever I become

sore

worn

& faulted

because they hold you

sore

worn

& faulted

because they hold me.

Fifty-Three.Current.

“And a part of you was drawn to her, and a part of you resisted–wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath you felt the strength of a man, and a self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Please don’t look at me. If you don’t, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.” – Nicole Krauss

Fifty-One. Luna.

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to have and not to hold

 near and farther, still.

you are for me to love and not for me to hold.

tide tied to your light

pull me low and pull me high, still.

you are for me to love and not for me to hold.

Longing, pulsing, rising, falling

my coasts swallowed, this shore crashed

star crossed and night bound, still.

you are for me to love and not for me to hold.

Forty-Six. Dimmesdale, Derek, The Church & The Gay.

“Before Mr.Dimmesdale reached home, his inner man gave him other evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling…At every step he was incited to do some strange, wild, wicked thing or other, with a sense that it would be at once involuntary and intentional; in spite of himself, yet growing out of a profounder self that that which opposed the impulse.” (The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne)

If one isn’t familiar with the classic (you, like me, obviously lied to your high school English teachers about your summer reading at some point between 9th & 12th grade) one should be. It’s an amazing narrative that addresses themes which include but aren’t limited to legalism, sin, guilt, and repentance. Even though I threw a temper tantrum for the first 60 pages trying to interpret Hawthorne’s formal (and kind of ridiculous) lofty language I would highly recommend the read. There are at least seventeen different aspects of the story I could address and unpack but I’ve decided it most important to address the dynamism Mr.Dimmesale experienced as a result of committing his sin,  the torment that ensued in trying to hide his sin, and the actions that transpired upon coming to terms with his sin as mentioned in the excerpt above.

The more people I interact with across the LGBT spectrum, the more convinced I become that at least half  of us not only arise out of a strong faith background but at one point or another even went so far as to make sense of our whole identity in the person of Jesus and His gospel message which (for most of us) meant a total rejection of our sexual orientation and all associated emotional impulses. Most of these men and women after years of struggle, prayer, and study eventually came to embrace their orientation, began pursuing relationships, and because of this were rebuked, judged by, and ultimately ostracized from their faith communities. In experiencing this kind of trauma it is no surprise to me that at best many LGBT people continue to identify with Christianity but not whatsoever with the Church…and at worst many LGBT people no longer feel as though they can identify with Jesus at all. Regardless of what the means to these ends look like, it seems there are a few steps along the journey to disassociation with the Body of Christ and/or Christ altogether that run standard in both Dimmesdale and those who have left the Church because of their sexual orientation.

1.) Disillusionment  with the Church

“Something about who we are as a faith community is wrong, dishonest, and harmful towards other people and I don’t know if I can be a part of it anymore.”

2.) Questioning of faith all together.

“If I have been deceived by those who are understood to be the ambassadors of God then perhaps I’ve been deceived by the notion of God as a whole.”

3.) Wandering.

“If the worldview by which my entire life has been underpinned has proven false by my experiences where else can I go?”

4.) Exit.

“I don’t know where I can go but I can’t stay here.”

I understand this trajectory, I can empathize with this trajectory, I hurt with those who have been hurt because of this trajectory, and yet I am deeply challenged and encouraged by the stories of people who the ‘Exit’ wasn’t the final answer for them. I am deeply challenged and encouraged by the stories of people who refused to give up on on their love for the Church when the Church had rejected and refused their fellowship because of something about themselves that was unchosen and unchangeable. I am deeply challenged and encouraged by the stories of people who after a season of raging against the institution and being so troubled by her inconsistencies… looked inside themselves to find the problem instead of harboring bitterness towards the limitations of our humanity that live inside us all. Regardless of what the means to these ends look like, it seems there are a few steps along this part of the journey to reconciliation with the Body of Christ and/or Christ all together that run standard for those who have left the Church because of their sexual orientation (…or really any of the things that put us in a position where we feel like one doesn’t fit.)

1. ) Re-exploration of Jesus as a person apart from the Church (Well, really Evangelical Conservatism.)

6.) Restoration of faith.

7.) Realizing that there is no mutual exclusivity when it comes to Jesus and His Church.

8.) Missing the Church despite her flaws.

9.) Falling back in love with the institution, flaws included.

10.) Sorrow, repentance, starting over.

Derek Webb, a writer, musician, and incredible thinker when it comes to ecclesiastical issues has often been painted a rebel by Conservative faith communities for the way his lyrics challenge their beliefs and more specifically the practice of those beliefs. Many have accused Webb of ridiculing and criticizing the very people his music aims to be made for (the Church.) Although I believe there have been times when Derek has surely been upset with the Church, I think he is also well adjusted to the reality that he is as guilty as they when it comes to both hypocrisy and folly. On his most recent album, ‘ I Was Wrong, I’m sorry, & I Love You,’ Webb explores many of the complexities associated with being a human trying to seek God alongside other humans… especially when inherent parts of one’s personal humanity bumps against the jagged edges of the Church’s shared humanity.

I love this for a lot of reasons but primarily because over the last 9 months I know a lot of the people from my own faith communities have been hurt and disappointed by things I have said and done (…or not said and done) in reference to coming to a LGBT affirming theological perspective. I cannot apologize for being gay, for my over all change in beliefs, or my convictions about the necessity of advocacy within the Church for LGBT people… but I am sorry for causing anyone to feel as though I thought of them less (or as evil or unintelligent) because they didn’t share the same conclusions. I am sorry that the hurt I experienced because of rejection led to resentment. I am sorry that I spent so much time trying to prove that I was ‘right’ instead of continuing to love people exactly where they were in the midst of their own journey to unraveling all of these hard things.

So in order to avoid the dark and dismal downward spiral of Dimmesdale and in the words of Derek,

Dear Church,

I was wrong.

I am sorry.

And I love you.

Thirty-Nine. Micro-Evolution.

“…it didn’t just ‘get better’ for them. They made it better. Each and everyone of those people rose at a moment in their lives – one that is very much like this moment in your life, suffocated- and at that moment they chose to tell the truth about themselves instead of staying “safe inside the lie.” They realized that, in fact, the lie wasn’t safe. That it threatened their (and so many others’) existence more profoundly than the truth did. That’s when it started to get better for these folks. When they had the courage to say , ‘this is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it.” – Cheryl Strayed

What accepting my orientation has meant for me as a fully-integrated person has been so much more than “embracing feelings and pursuing attraction.” Understanding the complexity of one’s identity is in all liklihood a life-long process but I do not believe one can actually enter into that process until they can say “I am what I am” without fear.

I ran from myself for a long time because that kind of denial seemed to make sense within the cross-bearing paradigm Jesus describes in this life of following Him. I thought I could think, pray, date men, and work myself into desiring hetero-normativity. I thought I could think, pray, date men, and work myself into connectivity that models the biblical picture of covenantal love between a man and a woman. When I realized that my experience was suggesting otherwise my objectives changed and I went back to the Bible and wise council. I dismissed reorientation and lived out of white-knuckled obedience  and this kind of ‘thorn-in-the-flesh’ celibacy. I did my best to maintain the notion that because life was absolutely possible without ‘homosexual behavior’ that there was in fact abundant life to be found in singleness. I thought by this measure surely I could delight myself in Christ and Christ alone and grow out of the incessant heartache and emotional paralysis that is born of believing that this one part of my personality was so beyond the scope of redemption that it needed to be suppressed in totality. I believed that in my “healing” looking like “holiness” I would live above the part of being made in the Image of God (the soul-craving for companionship and intimate camaraderie) that biblically served as His most fundamental metaphor  for His love and communion with me and the rest of humanity. When I realized my experiences were suggesting otherwise my objectives changed and I went back to the Bible and to wise council.

As my understanding of both the Scriptures and human sexuality expanded so did my need to suspend my Conservative Fundamentalism on sexual ethics. It wasn’t that I became stimulated by “liberation” or “revolution” so much as I felt pain-stakingly sure that the love of which was natural to me was no more in need of being restored than if my affections were for men. It occurred to me that perhaps being reborn and yet persisting in attraction to women was about so much more than my own journey. This was about reformation. This was about providing a voice within the Church and within public discourse about the horrifying discrimination that well-intentioned Believer’s are fostering in the name of what they perceive to be God’s Kingdom.

You see, what I learned in Bible college about the Early Church within the New Testament text was that the whole Body was responsible for bringing whatever they had- whoever they were – to mutually encourage one another and BUILD UP, not tear down the Church. That being said, the Church should then in theory express the whole range of God’s created order of what it means to have a sexuality which (arguably so) includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight people. This in a lot of ways is why Evangelicals formally fought so hard to suggest that homosexuality was entirely a matter of environmental factors…and in so could be cognitively behaviorally changed. It works for safe thinking because it doesn’t challenge the categories we have for what is a Christian and what isn’t a Christian – it doesn’t force us to dig deeper into the author’s intentions for our holy book – If we are told in church that “hermeneutically its just really sloppy and irresponsible to believe that Paul was talking about anything besides gay and lesbian orientation in these passages” then we don’t have to put the hours into personal study, meditation, prayer, research, bullets of sweat or sleepless nights of being baffled by the idea that God would craft in us something special and mysterious just for it to never be understood, or explored, or to find Him in the midst of.

But this ceased to be an option for me. I had to be more honest, I had to be more sincere, I had to really search, and I had to reach. Not for the sake of defending what I was becoming convinced of…but because I needed a way to describe what I was becoming convinced of.

It has come to my attention that the general populous of the faith communities I have long been a part of disagree with these developments of belief and life. Because of this my non-gay affirming friends have pulled me aside to encourage me of how much I’ve been deceived and reminded me how accessible (and necessary) repentance is. Because of this then my gay-affirming friends have suggested that I distance myself from such “insidious oppression” and the various sociological factors (like the institutional church and aforementioned well-intentioned Christians) that have incited such “confusion and pain…”

And I get that, but the fact is that love, life, and faith are messy… People are far better and far worse than the groups or ideologies that they choose to identify themselves with…and the life that I believe Jesus called me into at the ripe ‘ole age of 14 was one that insisted “I must be who I am even if they crucify me for it” on either side of the debate.

Thirty-Eight. The Five-Second Rule.

Last week our household was paid a visit…but what I mean by that is we were solicited by the people at good ole’ American made Kirby vacuums. If you have never witnessed one of their demonstrations I highly advise it…or against it because you will be both mystified and filled with horror. Through their machine not only does one become visually exposed to all the dust, grime, and filth that lays ahold of one’s carpeted and hardwood floors…but then one is also informed of all of the various illness and disease that can be born of such waste left untreated.

That being said, it is with great pride that I still will eat any dropped food item off the floor.

I have no aversion…. nor even the slightest delay when it comes to picking up the pieces of stir-fry that fell to the ground and enjoying them (perhaps even more so) because of that journey to the grimiest crevices of this rainbow palace that they just partook of. I know probably too good and well where those tomatoes and bell peppers have been, what they have possible contracted, and furthermore how socially unacceptable my pending consumption is… but the fact is that A) I am an impoverished, post-graduate who works for an ever-developing non-profit organization who will eat any and all things given to me and B) To throw away said food items is in stark contrast to my over-arching values of stewardship, Creation care, gratitude, and doing my best to use all of what I take from this earth. To forsake what I know to be true in respect to both my present reality and my on-going understanding of identity to pursue something that could possibly be true in respect to a vacuum salesman and a few Google searches seems a bit counter-intuitive. A bit counter-intuitive and harmful…Because I didn’t state is explicitly before, I hate throwing away food. I REALLY hate throwing away food. It literally feels inhumane when I throw away food.

Obviously I am not just talking about eating food off of the floor here.

I am talking about the human experience, I am talking about my own personal struggle with what it means to try and make sense of this whole spiritual quest to connect with God, to pursue justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. I am talking about transitioning to gay-affirming theology and I am talking about pursuing dating. I can read every 400 page defense of the ‘traditional perspective’ against gay relationships that is known to Intervarsity Press, Abingdon Press, Moody Publishers, Harper One Collins, and the list goes on but at the end of the day I just don’t experience the conviction to believe that the ‘gay issue’ is something that the Bible has prescriptively laid out clear cut answers for. Is there good biblical reason to believe that God designed sexual intimacy to be shared between heterosexual couples exclusively? Sure. But just about as much good biblical reason there is to believe that God designed sexual intimacy to be so much more about ‘why’ people were to engage in it versus ‘who’ should. What 7 years of research, conversation, prayer, and meditation affected upon me was a new found appreciation for vulnerability in the faith, for ambiguity, and a need to suspend absolutism when it comes to my understanding of Christian ethics. And how did this come to be? It came to be because even with robust, philosophical, biological, and theological arguments about the need for me to reject my orientation and to hold out for the possibility for ‘change’ or resign myself to involuntary celibacy…the fact was A) I was still gay. Gay as gay could be even having surrendered all of my heart and the whole of my identity upon the person and gospel of Jesus…the gay was just not going to go away and B) To ‘throw away’ my sexuality and to relegate what is different about me and different about so many others to some lesser form of humanity was in stark-contrast to my over-arching values of Image Bearing, of salvation, of adoption, of justice, of equality, of freedom, of inclusion, of acceptance, and ultimately of love. To forsake what I know to be true in respect to both my present reality and my on-going understanding of identity to pursue something that could possibly be true in respect to one (although, yes strong) interpretation of the ancient Scriptures and the limitation of the human mind in reference to theology seemed a bit counter-intuitive. A bit counter-intuitive and harmful…Because I didn’t state is explicitly before, I hate absolutism. I really hate absolutism. It literally feels inhumane for me to buy into the idea that someone can authoritatively determine what is right and what is wrong with no room for the nuances, no room for the particular shades and hues hold those two ends of the spectrum in tension with one another.

Long story short,

I didn’t buy the 3000 dollar vacuum, I eat food off the floor,  and I have a girlfriend.

Thirty-Five. And Then I Became An Activist.

g6e8siuo.3-0_1Two-thousand years ago the public ministry of Jesus turned the Palestinian world upside down. The Roman Empire’s understanding of power, influence, morality, and belief in its general sense were all challenged and left both scrutinized and exposed. Not only were the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized able to be seen and heard…the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized were put on display and esteemed. They were affirmed, accepted, legitimized, and qualified – not merely ‘tolerated.’

There is no historical gospel without the historically powerless, the historically stigmatized, the historically “least of these.”

And in this way, is it not reasonable to believe that this is the same type of work we are called to as we “follow in His steps?” Is it not reasonable to believe that instead of living our lives in fear of “slippery slopes” and  accidentally “fighting for the wrong side” in these culture wars that we’d actually DO SOMETHING about the variations of injustice and inequality that still pervade our society?

The idea of working in ‘advocacy’ was never something that I expected or even imagined. Quite frankly, I think I was taught to stay away from this type of work lest I ‘back slide’ and forsake the call to foster the life and way of Kingdom. However, I have become increasingly convinced by way of both the Scriptures and tradition that this…this fighting for the voiceless & ending the discrimination, hatred, and ignorance surrounding the dignity and pursuit of full life for all people regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and so on and forth is actually a central part of this ‘Upside down Kingdom’ we have come to understand through the message of Christ.