Arid Faith- David Owens [Love Letter Series]

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I must admit, I was SO SO SO very excited when David Owens agreed to contribute to this series. I knew, from following his tumblr and interacting with him through social media and mutual friendships, that he would put his whole heart and soul into this piece. That he would bring all of his life here and lay it out, hold it high, let us feel it, let us fall into it. I am so grateful for the words you are about to read. Allow this man’s story to bless you today. It has blessed mine.

Also, be sure to check out some of his fantastic work at David Owens Design!

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The final strains of another obscure but meaningful hymn faded in the dappled stained glass morning light spilling across the old Baptist sanctuary. A slender girl stepped up to the podium to deliver the reading. “This morning’s passage is taken from 1 Cor 6:9-11.”

 

My ears burned red. My fingers twitched and bruised the Sunday worship guide in my lap.

 

“…neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality … will inherit the kingdom of God.”

 

I blinked deliberately and focused on pacing my breath. “Lord, I need you.” A silent plea.

 

The agonizing journey through 1 Corinthians with my church had finally ground to a halt at the passage I knew we’d have to face eventually. It felt like that suspenseful climactic movie moment when I cower behind my hands as the music builds — terrified of whatever awaits but also desperately wishing it would hurry up and just happen already. Gay Sunday (as I termed it) had arrived. I sat with legs crossed, back rigid, chin defiantly aloft above my perfectly pressed shirt, tie, and vest. I could at least look fabulous today even if I inwardly felt dehumanized, misunderstood and cast aside. They could “struggle” with my same sex attraction all they darn well pleased but I refused to be dragged back into the culture of fear and shame to which I’d been shackled for so long.

 

It wasn’t like I was going to hear anything new this morning. My eyes glanced across the sanctuary to where Kris sat with his family — the same Kris I’d been meeting with for pastoral care off and on for the past several months. My mind reflected back to our first appointment.

 

“Tell me about your relationship with your father,” he said with concerned eyes.

 

I cringed at the trigger words that reeked of my experiences in various ex-gay therapies.

 

“Actually, I wanted to ask you for some perspective on some passages that I have questions on.” I flipped directly to Romans 1.

 

What ensued was several months of speaking past one another. It seemed obvious to Kris that I wouldn’t face the irreconcilable truth because, as he saw it, I must be caught up in my bias, letting my depraved desires drive my interpretation. While I, on the other end, found myself grappling with severe doubt and questions of faith. I was unable to hide from the fact that so much of what I’d been taught simply didn’t line up with what I was discovering as I lay my heart before the lord and honestly wrestled with scripture.

 

In spite of all the pastoral conversations and Gagnon sermons/papers, I continued to move toward an affirming theological conclusion — something I found horribly frightening. What if my soul really was on the line as I’d been warned now by several of my well-intentioned friends. What if I was simply a “vessel of wrath” created to bring glory to God through my destruction? What if my conscience had been seared and I was horribly deceived? After all, who was I to contradict 2000 years of church tradition, my parents, and every spiritual leader I respected?

 

“But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail, I fear to call thee mine. The springs of comfort seem to fail, and all my hopes decline. Yet gracious God, where shall I flee? Thou art my only trust. And still my soul would cleave to Thee though prostrate in the dust”

— some phrases in my journal from a hymn by Anne Steele

 

Then, somewhere in the emotionally rending chaos of my mind, a calm voice tenderly resounded. “My grace is sufficient for you.” As someone who leans admittedly Reformed in theology, I don’t believe I’ve ever had anything to do with my salvation. He is, after all, the Author and Finisher of my faith. My story begins and ends with Him. To live according to someone else’s convictions out of a place of fear and shame is hardly what I call living in freedom. Rather, I recognized that I would have to respond authentically to what He’d revealed to me. If I believed that God is good, then I would also have to trust that He wouldn’t let me remain on a path that would lead to my eventual destruction but would lovingly intervene as a good father.

 

As it so happened, God has the strangest sense of humor. When I coordinated communion that Sunday morning, we had a no-show and I of course could not find anyone to fill the spot. That’s how I ended up standing in front of the very pulpit that had just finished laying forth its indictment upon my precarious soul, looked my pastor Kris directly in the eyes, and spoke those words of blessing reminiscent of our Lord, “This is the body of Christ broken for you.” That same week, I submitted a letter resigning my membership rather than wait to find out what church discipline and potentially excommunication might look like within my church.

 

And so I walked away from Christianity and discovered faith.

 

Thomas Merton speaks beautifully of “arid faith” refined in the scorching winds of the wilderness as “a hope that burns like hot coals under the ashes of our poverty.” As tempted as I am at times to drown in bitterness and resentment, I can’t help but smile at how powerfully God has chosen to show me his goodness and faithfulness. Beauty for ashes.

 

My life doesn’t really look like what I’d imagined at all. As I felt my community of faith being painfully stripped away from me, God opened my eyes to a world of people who’d similarly experienced exile at the hands of his followers. One conversation opened the door to another and another. Before I knew it, there was a loosely connected rag tag group of young gay believers at various places of belief and unbelief, coming alongside one another to pray and read scripture together.

 

Each person’s story is so very beautiful to me. Against all odds, God has seen fit to unveil his plan of sovereign grace and love in the lives of the very people who were told they had no place in the house of the Lord. I feel blessed when Dustin shares how God burdened his heart with a desire to see his party scene friends come to faith. I get excited when Kevin tells me about how he felt the Spirit urging his soul to pray and speak scripture over his friend while performing drag at a local gay bar as six and a half foot tall Monique. But perhaps most shocking of all to me is my own recent experience of pursuing a dating relationship with a wonderful Christ-centered man and embarking on the joy and challenge of intentionally loving and honoring him.

 

I’m reminded of Misty Iron’s words at a recent GCN conference. “Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That is something the conservative church taught me as orthodox doctrine, but the gay Christian community has shown me by living faith. You are saved by grace alone — not your own strength. You are saved by faith alone — not your ability to change your life. You are saved by Christ alone — not your membership in some church or denomination.”

 

The journey is rough and continues to hurt painfully at times. Yet in spite of it all, I can’t help but smile in wonder at His goodness and faithfulness.

 

Much Love,

David