Forty-Four. People > Ideas.

Back in October I spent a few days at home with many of the people who have contributed to my personal and spiritual formation in the most fundamental  of ways. I am talking about  the people who appreciated and befriended me amidst the awkwardness born of my gender ambiguity in the 4th grade, the people who loved me through my angsty adolescence, the  people who first communicated the whole gospel message to me with both conviction and intellectual honesty, the people who designed my paradigm for true friendship, the people who introduced me to the kind of music you can hear with your heart …and not just your ears…And yes, the people who now though supporting me, do not share the same theological conclusions about my orientation.

As this was my first trip home since officially coming out and beginning my career with Planting Peace/The Equality House the questions of Christian ethics, faith, and sexuality were a centerpiece in many of theses conversations. Despite the fatigue born of discussing the debate, working through all the different aspects of such a discourse,  and the divisiveness associated with it all in general…I was overwhelmed by this single thought;

that is that people, if we let them, can pleasantly defy the logical conclusions of what their ideas suggest about them.

You see, it has been my long-held assumption that all of those holding a non-affirming position on gay relationships within the Church  inevitably have to exclude those with the opposing perspective from fellowship and from the consolations of biblical community at large. It has been my long-held assumption that my shift in theology puts me under their scrutiny, their criticism, and their judgment…And it has been my long-held assumption that those with a non-affirming position on gay relationships believe it within their jurisdiction to suggest both privately and publicly that I am no longer following Christ. Granted, there are PLENTY of those holding a non-affirming position who do fit into these assumptions the point I am trying to make is that not all of them do…

What seems to be happening, amongst my friends at least, is an increasing awareness of our (ALL of our) theological limitations. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to at length about these issues have expressed a profound interest in being able to be wrong, wanting to learn more and desiring a stronger understanding of the painful and confusing experiences associated with being a person who identifies as both gay and Christian. As my prejudices are being shattered, I listen to Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror’ on repeat, and I reflect on a concept a friend of mine refers to as “mutually transforming relationships” I feel encouraged to keep asking deeper, harder questions, and to never settle for my own understanding of Truth. In agreeing to disagree I think we have the potential to pull one another closer to the center of biblical tension and to do so in both love and respect.

This is civil discourse.

This is life-giving admonishment.

This is focusing on the majors instead of the minors.

Maybe this is bad for ‘activism’ but I think there is something to be said about pursuing/maintaining relationships with people who hold a different conviction than us instead of reducing our all conversations to tasks of conversion.

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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.

“Many of us view the world as an ugly place with a few beautiful redeeming characteristics. Unfortunately, that’s also how we view humans. But what I learned at Liberty was that this idea is the exact opposite of reality: The world and the people in it are really wonderful with just a smidge of ugliness about them. I think the really vocal anti-gay Christians display this smidge, but I also think the really vocal anti-Christian gays display it as well. Not tolerating someone for his narrow-mindedness is perhaps the epitome of intolerance. I learned from my time at Liberty that this bigotry happens on both sides: not only were there some Christians who wanted to stone some gays, but there were even some gays who wanted to stone a few Christians.”

– Brandon Ambrosino

Read because I promise conservative Evangelicalism isn’t always the monster the media paints it as and because this is honest, clever & oh so incredibly refreshing.  http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/04/being-gay-at-jerry-falwells-university/274578/

Twenty-Four. Mister Piper

“This is a wise and cautious balance. It is wise not only because with God all things are possible, but also because “either-or” thinking is especially unsuitable when dealing with sexual orientation.
There are not simply three groups: Heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. There are hundreds of variations of impulses that make up our peculiar sexual identities. This means that “change” is not a movement from one of three groups to another of three groups. Rather, it is a totally unpredictable reconfiguration of dozens of impulses and desires. And these desires and impulses are interwoven with dozens of personal and relational and spiritual realities, all of which are moving and shifting as God and his word and his people come to bear on the totality of a person’s life.
Is change possible? From this perspective change is inevitable. We are all changing — in a hundred ways including how sexuality fits into our lives. And for the Christian, the Spirit of God and the word of God are gloriously in the mix. It is a lifelong quest.”

John Piper on “Reorientation.”

Nineteen. In, Mostly ‘Out,’ & The Spaces Between. Part III

The first step in all of this meant admitting my total helplessness to restore myself or to be this awkward super Christian thing I formerly let people and even myself believe I was. As Brennan Manning or Donald Miller would both echo in their books, (Ragamuffin Gospel and Blue Like Jazz respectively) it is better to be a beggar at the door of God’s mercy than to live in rich man’s delusion.

I had been the “pharisee,” I had been the “sinner,” and now I was coming into an understanding of myself as a child of God in a way totally unexperienced up until that point. As it turns out I think we’re all a bit self-righteous at times, a bit rebellious at times, weird at times (most of the time) but all the more immeasurably loved by the Father. Amazing grace they call it and more than just saying that, singing that, or accepting that just as an idea it was becoming more and more of a transformative reality. I had been asleep and God came and woke me up. He woke me up and laid out the next steps of the path.

So after all this wooing and all the milage made I had the opportunity to transfer to Columbia International University which in its conservative approach to the Bible and lifestyle choices made me incredibly nervous… but I was just compelled that this was where I needed to be to start grappling with what I was finally able to reference as “same sex attraction.”

[…Which I’d like to just pause and laugh at because , well, that’s a really formal and impersonal phrase for something that hasbien (don’t act like you didn’t know that was going to get thrown in here)…and is incredibly informal and deeply personal. ]

August of 2010 rolled around and it marked my first exposure to group therapy and accountability partnership. I was received by a school and a congregation that made it clear that this fight was not my own. I was shown that God’s primary vehicle for waging war against my struggles, doubts, and insecurities was going to be His people…His Church and this was just as alarming as it was enchanting. 

There was room for me at the Table. And I became acquainted with the strangest and most beautiful sense of belonging .

Since this time I have stumbled along this funky …but very narrow path of sanctification, experienced defeat, known triumph, and been delivered of so much the confusion and shame that characterized the days of this former life. I’ve learned that there are no unique or ‘worse’ ways that we fall short but rather we’re all these peculiar hypocrites in transition…people who are no longer who they used to…but aren’t quite yet who they are going to be. I’ve learned that whether or not my impatience, my indulgence, my pride, or my ‘gay’ gets prayed away …I am nevertheless empowered to live a life free of the chains and identifying powers those things used to have on me.

I am learning what Philip Yancey calls “God’s alchemy of Redemption,” that God’s power is precisely in and through weakness, NOT in the absence of it. I am a daughter, a rascally one I’ll say though…of the Father and through all of life’s questions I am being  sustained by His promises. So whether ‘healing’ means that my ‘orientation’ changes, I form one specific attraction for a male spouse, or I live my life in celibacy, I am not my sexuality & neither are you, and  I count it privilege to be a part of the depth, height, and width of God’s true love. 

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot